There is actually a website called The Daily Hitler, and it’s not the product of neo-Nazis seeking their regular fix of the Fuhrer. It’s the work of Israeli artist Nir Avigad. And although I know I am going to get clobbered by both sides on this one, I have no choice. Why? Because we are the first generation that will outlive the Survivors of the Shoah.
That means two things: first, that continuing to remember the way we have until now is impossible and second, that forgetting would be obscene. How will we remember in the twenty first century? How will we recall our painful past without becoming hostage to it? No one person has the answer to those and similar questions, but we need to try. It’s actually why I edited Remember for Life: Holocaust Survivors’ Stories of Faith and Hope. And it’s why I think that attempts to wrestle with our use of Holocaust imagery are so important.
Avigad’s installation, a wall of images depicting Hitler’s face on a dog, on Theodore Herzel, and in a Looney Toons logo, just to name a few, went on display this week in Jerusalem. It can also be viewed at www.thedailyhitler.com to which he regularly adds new images. Needless to say many people have lodged protests against the display of this work which breaks a long-held taboo against such light-hearted depictions.
But objections to this work can not be that some things are simply beyond depiction. Isn’t that a status reserved for God? Do we really want Hitler on that same pedestal? So, what is it?
Among the things that struck me in the New York Jewish Week article which brought this to my attention, was the fact that on the page which tells the story on-line, there is an add for the Museum of Jewish Heritage, which I can not imagine being a real fan of Avigad’s work. Yet, they will profit from that work when people respond to their ad that accompanies it. Ironic, no?
I think that the real issue here is timing. Avigad uses Hitler as an icon or an image – he claims that it is one of evil, but I am not convinces. But it doesn’t really matter. An image is something that represents (or stands for) something else by association, resemblance, or convention, especially a material object used to represent something invisible. But there are still many people with direct experience of Hitler and they don’t need any help in making the association. For them, this art really is wrong.
But for others, with no such direct association, it may be a worthwhile effort. So like with all pain, the issue should be proximity not propriety. If we can remember that, there is room to both like this art and loath it – not because beauty is all in the eye of the beholder, but because memory is all always about the experience of the one trying to remember.