Saturday, November 18, 2006

Holocaust education is child’s play

Is building a 400 square metre replica of the Warsaw Ghetto out of 50,000 Lego bricks ‘offensive’?

It had a wall around it. Built with bricks. The ghetto was made up of interconnecting parts. Get it? Er...well, not really. But offensive? Dan Sieradski certainly thinks so at the blog

“When I think about the senseless slaughter of 10,000,000 innocent Jews, Roma, queers, political dissidents and other undesirables, I think Lego …[sarcasm] …It makes me ill to see people trivializing the Shoah in the name of commemorating it.”

The model made of children’s building bricks was part of a history workshop on November 5 at the Alex Aidekman campus of the United Jewish Communities of MetroWest, New Jersey, US.

Lego bricks have been involved in Shoah controversies before. In 2002, Polish-born artist Zbigniew Libera’s Lego Concentration Camp Set (pictured above) a collection of seven empty boxes bearing pictures of death camps fashioned out of kiddie’s construction materials caused a small outrage. Menachem Rosensaft, founding chairman of the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, said that the show was “in excremental taste” and that “there can be no excuse, aesthetic or otherwise, for the crude desecration of the Holocaust inherent in the display.”

Dan at thinks that at least the Libera piece had some artistic merit – kind of - the new Warsaw Ghetto construction, he says, does not:

'Say what you will about Zbigniew Libera’s LEGO concentration camp... It at least is presented in a context which gives way to discussion, whether on the position of the Holocaust in popular culture, the marketing of violence to youth, or even the participation of mainstream German corporations (the proprietors of popular household brand names) in the Shoah. It’s supposed to be controversial.

Six year-olds reconstructing the Warsaw Ghetto with LEGO as an educational activity? That’s senseless and tasteless.'

But is Dan just being silly? Lego is a material kids relate too (and education must be ‘accessible’ nowadays, remember); any education about the Warsaw Ghetto is welcome; surly the material the exhibition is made out of is …well, immaterial? And why has left-liberal ‘identity politics’ made some people so hypersensitive to being ‘offended?


What were they thinking?, New Jersey Jewish Standard, Nov 10

And if the need for education about this subject is still in doubt then see Muslim leader sent funds to Irving, Guardian, November 18. But do young Muslims play with Lego? Perhaps they should…


Frank Partisan said...

I use tongue blades, when I build concentation camp models.

Anonymous said...

The operative word here is trivializing, using Lego Blocks, as a teaching aid for this subject isn’t good judgement.

beatroot said...

But Jan, how is building something out of Lego bricks ‘trivializing’ the subject?

The point about the Holocaust was that it used ‘industrialized’ techniques to commit mass murder. The uniform nature of the Lego bricks, and the way that they are put together, suggests this mass 'industrialization’ There is also something about such an ‘innocent’ medium as a child’s toy to make a point about the Holocaust which is interesting. That is not trivializing, it’s making us look at again at a familiar story. Surly that is the point of art and education?

Anonymous said...

Beatroot said:

“But Jan, how is building something out of Lego bricks ‘trivializing’ the subject?”

I hope a board game is not the next attempt to teach the Holocaust to children. Also the appropriate age for teaching this subject doesn’t seem to be a point of discussion.

Although younger children are taught about the Holocaust, as a matter of interest the following is educational policy in Israel:

“Since 1981 Holocaust studies have been compulsory in this country. High school students must spend 30 hours on the subject between grades 11 and 12 and will then be tested on their knowledge as part of their matriculation exams.”

They don’t seem to need Lego bricks to get the point across; I can see where people could view these teaching props as perhaps lacking a suitable level dignity and respect for the victims and the subject matter.

Anonymous said...

What's the youngest age of kid any of you would take to Auschwitz?

beatroot said...

Good question, Geez...many schools here take kids on special trips, and they start at about 14 years old upwards...

Anonymous said...

So at what age is it ok for them to be building death camps with Legos?

beatroot said...

But kids aren't building death camps with Lego. 'Artists' and 'educators' are. I don;t think anyone is suggesting that discovering fun ways to build the gas showers out of yoghurt cartons and paper mache is going to be on the national curriculum!

Do you remember Macarno? Strane things that kids used to build cranes and things with? How about a macarno gulag?

Anonymous said...

Took me awhile to realize you were being sarcastic when you wrote: "Lego is a material kids relate to(and education must be ‘accessible’ nowadays, remember); any education about the Warsaw Ghetto is welcome; surly the material the exhibition is made out of is …well, immaterial?"

Anonymous said...

The following Letter is published in this week's Forward:

Toys Can Be Used As Shoah Education Tools

While it is always flattering to see one’s past articles quoted on the front page of the Forward, a November 17 article erroneously implies that I disapprove of the recent children’s workshop led by architect Steven Schwartz in which Lego blocks were used to construct a scale model of the Warsaw Ghetto (“Lego My Ghetto: Sparks Fly Again as Kids Craft Shoah Model”).

In 2002, I was sharply critical of the “Mirroring Evil” exhibition at the Jewish Museum. That ill-conceived show included, in addition to the “Lego Concentration Camp Set,” one artist’s “Giftgas Giftset” of poison gas canisters packaged with Chanel, Hermes and Tiffany & Co. designer logos; the historical photograph of emaciated Buchenwald inmates into which another artist digitally inserted himself holding a can of Diet Coke; and my personal favorite, six glorifying plaster busts of the notorious Auschwitz SS doctor Josef Mengele. I believed then and believe today that individually and together, these works desecrated and trivialized the Holocaust.

Nothing I have read or heard about the workshop at the United Jewish Communities of MetroWest, New Jersey, suggests that Schwartz was anything but reverential and thoughtful in his effort to enable school-age children to relate to the Holocaust. The fact that he used a popular toy as an educational tool does not and indeed should not in and of itself invalidate the endeavor. I am also certain that Barbara Wind, director of the Holocaust Council of Metro West and herself a gifted poet as well as a daughter of survivors, would not have associated herself with a project that demeaned the remembrance of the Shoah.

Authors and artists have long used non-conventional mediums to convey Holocaust imagery. Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel “Maus” and Israeli singer Yehuda Poliker’s classic rock song “This Is Treblinka Station” are but two examples. In this context, the use of the Lego building blocks at the workshop strikes me as a legitimate creative effort to provide a new dimension to the daunting task of educating children about the Holocaust without utterly traumatizing them.

Menachem Rosensaft
New York, N.Y.

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