On Jan. 27Holocaust Remembrance Day, the 70th anniversary of Auschwitz's liberationLake View's Temple Sholom hosted a memorial and workshop that its LGBTQ organization, Am Keshet, sponsored. The workshop, "Overlapping Triangles," featured Danny M. Cohen, assistant professor at Northwestern University, member of the Illinois Holocaust and Genocide commission, and author of human-rights fiction.
Cohen asked his audience to consider the other victims of the Holocaust, such as Roma ( otherwise known as gypsies, according to several sources ), homosexuals and disabled. Cohen's grandfather escaped Nazi-occupied Amsterdam, and in his work as a human rights educator in London he met with resistance when he tried to include a Holocaust survivor in an anti-racism curriculum. "Not everyone understands or wants to understand the power of Holocaust education on ongoing atrocities," said Cohen.
Cohen encouraged discussion among the room, asking the audience to remember the first time they were engaged in Holocaust history. He decried the "Disneyfication of the Holocaust" that he felt some museums currently employ. "What happened to storytelling?" he asked. "The solutions lie in how we frame Holocaust history." Cohen's investigation into "hidden stories" of the Holocaust sparked his foray into young adult fiction, and his recently released book, "Train" focused on six young adults in the Holocaust, some Roma, Jewish and LGBTQ. "Completely by accident, I wrote a book," Cohen said.
To further illustrate storytelling's power, Cohen distributed a sheet of photographs and had the audience discuss how the photo's subject's appeared. He eventually revealed their identities as Nazi guards, gay men imprisoned in camps, and Jewish resistance fighters. He discussed how groups of victims, while experiencing different degrees of Nazi torture, still bore witness to other persecutions. Cohen illuminated an ongoing debate as to whether including non-Jewish victims in the Holocaust's definition detracts from the Jewish experience. According to Cohen, LGBTQ victims of the Holocaust were only officially recognized in 2002.
Throughout the evening Temple Sholom's cantor, Aviva Katzman, read work from Jewish authors and led the group in song. She concluded by reciting a Mourner's Kaddish for the victims and, at the suggestion of an audience member, singing a song written by Hannah Senesh. The subject of one of Cohen's photographs, Senesh was a Jewish poet who was trained by the British to parachute behind enemy lines to help liberate Jews, but was eventually captured and executed by the Nazis.
On Wed., Feb. 11, at 7 p.m., Cohen will sign and talk about his debut novel, Train, at Unabridged Books, 3251 N. Broadway. Visit www.unabridgedbookstore.com/event/danny-cohen-book-signing .