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Sunday, October 27, 2013

On Joan Rivers and Auschwitz

At 80, Joan Rivers is an inspiration to a lot of women, as well as men: she is energetic far beyond her age.  She is active writing, performing on stage, screen and on television. According to her website she also lectures, designs jewelry and creates cosmetics. Many people younger than her do not accomplish a fraction of what she does. And, she can be hilarious even if you do not like her coarse humor and vulgarity.

 On Friday, October 11, my husband and I saw her performing in Westbury Music Hall in Long Island. We actually went to hear one of our favorite singers and record producers Steve Tyrell, whom we follow when he appears in New York. That night he opened the Joan Rivers act.

As was evident from the applause Joan received when she appeared on stage, most of the audience came to see her, not necessarily the elegant Steve Tyrell.

Indeed, the crowd loved and adored her. They admired her outrageous outfit, and her jokes. No one could dispute that she was peppy and animated, enthusiastic and lively, and funny. She made fun of herself and her relationship with her beloved daughter, of every ethnic group, including her own, and she didn’t apologize for any of that. If you didn’t like it, you were too “stupid.” Everyone laughed, even me, for I am a tough audience when it comes to standup comedians.

She was gracious to some members of the audience, especially a gay couple that got engaged on stage, which was of course, part of her “shtick,” though, apparently the man whose hand was asked in marriage by his partner was surprised.

Watching Joan, I admired her energy and her wit, and allowed myself to enjoy a fellow Jew, and female, though, as you might have guessed, I do not appreciate her crudeness. Despite it all I thought that at eighty she was indeed inspirational.

Then she mad a joke about Auschwitz. To say that it was tasteless is an understatement. As a Jew, whose grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and other relatives perished in the Holocaust, I was utterly insulted by her. As every Jew in the audience should have been. I was even more insulted when I looked around me and saw the crowd laughing. There are subjects no one should joke about. Taboos. The Holocaust and other genocides are among them.

Shame of you Joan.

      Perhaps she never visited Auschwitz and its neighboring death camp, Birkenau. Or perhaps she did, but it might not have affected her the way it affected me. As I have written before, and don’t mind repeating, nothing I have studied, read, seen, not Yad Vashem, not even my previous visit to Terezienstadt, prepared me for Birkenau and Auschwitz—for their enormity and for the efficiency with which the Nazis ran their death-oiled industry.

What shocked me the most was that not even the minutest detail was left to chance: not the place where the trains would first stop, where victims would initially be "selected," where they first undressed, where they were first disinfected and shaved, their hair used by the Nazis to manufacture fabric; not where they were disinfected for the second time, where their clothing was first fumigated, where their clothing was fumigated for the second time, where their clothing and belongings were collected, sorted and stored, where they would die by Zyclon B poisoning gas, where their corpses would be burned.
It took merely 25 minutes from the time the human cargo arrived at Birkenau for those "selected" to become ash. Many of those who survived that selection were sent to the hell of Auschwitz. And Auschwitz and Birkenau were only two camps where Jews were slaughtered while the world kept silent.

Shame on you, Joan Rivers.


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