Friday, April 11, 2008

A brave new Holocaust exhibit

With a mix of excitement and trepidation, New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage announced this week that it is planning to stage an exhibition devoted to the writer Irène Némirovsky in the fall.

The exhibition, the first museum show ever devoted to the recently rediscovered French author, is in many regards a coup for the 10-year-old institution. It is also, by the museum’s own admission, something of a risk.

In certain respects, Némirovsky, who perished at Auschwitz in 1942, is a natural subject for the museum that calls itself “A Living Memorial to the Holocaust.” That one of the author’s final pieces of writing, the unfinished manuscript discovered more than 50 years after her death and published as “Suite Française” in 2004, has become an international sensation only enhances her appeal. And yet, choosing Némirovsky — a convert to Catholicism who published in right-wing journals and whose early work contains what can only be seen as deeply unsympathetic portrayals of Jews — is a departure. It is also, some observers of the museum world say, a daring and historic move.

“Holocaust museums are so often concerned with communicating a clear and unambiguous message,” said Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, professor of performance studies at New York University and an authority on contemporary Jewish museums. “By taking up the subject of Némirovsky, the Museum of Jewish Heritage is showing a willingness to lift things beyond the realm of black and white. The show may well be controversial, but it will open up a new kind of conversation.”
Read the rest of that story from The Forward here.

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