Column JN issue December 2 2016 by Jenni Frazer
For reasons related to my career, I have, over the years, met a lot of Holocaust survivors.
Despite suffering and witnessing some of the most horrendous cruelties known to man, what many of the survivors have in common is a tremendous joie de vivre, a determination to make the most of the years they were spared to live.
Ask anyone who’s been to the Holocaust Survivors’ Centre in London, where the talk is feisty and the gossip engaging. Ask anyone who’s watched the massed ranks of the 45 Aid Society take to the dance floor at their annual dinner, who has seen a gang of joyous men and women, strutting their stuff, loud and proud.
It’s not, by any manner of means, that they don’t take seriously what happened to them. But it is, rather, that Holocaust survivors refuse to be defined by the tragic. They are grabbers of opportunity, people of hope rather than despair, and they are, largely, celebrants rather than mourners.
Nevertheless, there are red lines relating to the Holocaust which survivors and those close to them insist should never be crossed. I’m talking about a raft of things, from out-and-out antisemitism to a wealth of ignorant behaviour, including fashions featuring yellow stars or grey-striped pyjama clothing.
I’ve seen shedloads of this stuff, some offensive, some just plug-ugly ignorant.
But I have to say even I was rendered speechless at a story this week from Russia, about a reality TV show called Ice Age.
Tatiana Navka is an Olympic ice dance champion, who is also wife to Vladimir Putin’s spokesman. And she and her dance partner, actor Andrew Burkovsky, appeared to think it was perfectly appropriate to dress up in striped concentration camp uniforms complete with yellow stars in order to perform on the rink for the programme.
In what some, inevitably, have described as a “chilling performance’, the pair cut shapes in the ice to the musical accompaniment of Israeli singer Achinoam Nini’s version of “Beautiful That Way”, the theme song from the Italian Holocaust film, “Life Is Beautiful”. I’d love to know whether she was consulted over that — my guess is almost certainly not.
If readers are not sufficiently gobsmacked by that, what about reports that in April Russian TV showed an episode of “Dancing With The Stars” — their version of “Strictly Come Dancing” — in which a Nazi officer searches for a Jewish girl, who is hiding behind the piano he is playing.
Despite the Nazi and the girl improbably dancing to Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me To The Moon”, the girl ends up dead.
Now, as it happens, the current season of Strictly in the UK has featured “Judge” Robert Rinder, grandson of Holocaust survivor Moishe Malenicky. The barrister’s mother, Angela Cohen, is chairman of the 45 Aid Society.
Rob Rinder understands all too well the nature of reality TV shows — both his own daytime court show, and the cheerful spangled and sparkly lunacy of Strictly. I’ve never met him, but I can say with absolute confidence that Rob Rinder would no more contemplate Russian TV’s tasteless nod to the Holocaust than he would, indeed, fly to the moon.
It really shouldn’t need saying, but apparently it does: the Shoah is not a lucky dip for endless stupidity and crass behaviour.