Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Oprah goes to Auschwitz

I tell ya, this is what I get for taking it easy yesterday. Our cancer center was closed for MLK Day; so I only went to work for a few hours to take care of some odds and ends without the distractions of incoming phone calls and miscellaneous other distractions that occur when everyone's there and working and instead came home early. Because my wife likes The Oprah Winfrey Show, it happened to be on in the late afternoon, and I caught the tail end of it. Yesterday's show happened to be the one in which Oprah announced her latest choice for Oprah's Book Club. Mildly interested to see what new book she would instantly launch onto the bestseller list, I kept watching. If you don't already know, you'll never guess which book she chose:

Night, an account of Elie Wiesel's experiences in Auschwitz during the Holocaust.

Given the usual sorts of books I generally see advertised on Oprah's Book Club, I was amazed and pleasantly surprised. In a single stroke, Oprah had guaranteed that hundreds of thousands of people, if not even more, will read Wiesel's account of his time at Auschwitz and the horrors of what occurred there. She even started Oprah's National High School Essay Contest, in which the topic is: "Why is Elie Wiesel's book Night relevant today?" The combination of these two actions will undoubtedly educate more people about Auschwitz than almost anything else I could think of.

Unfortunately, the next thing Oprah said made me a little bit skeptical of the whole enterprise. She announced that next month she is going to Auschwitz to do her show. Such a trip certainly has the potential to raise awareness of the Holocaust among an American public that is really not that knowledgeable about it, and Oprah does have a history of having interviewed Elie Wiesel before. On the other hand, on the rare times when I have seen her show, I've gotten the impression that the way Oprah does many of her segments strikes me as rather cheesy and hyperdramatic. The thought of Oprah at Auschwitz doing her Oprah thing by the infamous Auschwitz gate (the one inscribed with “Arbeit macht frei,” meaning “Work makes freedom”) and the remains of the Kremas makes me a little nervous.

Should it?

Maybe I'm just being overly sensitive. Certainly it's a step up from having Tom Cruise jump all over her studio couch like a maniac proclaiming his love for Katie Holmes.

12 example(s) of insolence returned:

At 1/17/2006 12:21 PM, Anonymous Stephen Benson said...

at least she's trying. i don't care whether or not she's trying to rehabilitate credibility from the frey meltdown or what. the action stands alone as a good one. night is a brilliant book which needs reading. this will bring a personal account of events back into the light. oprah is above all a tv personality. she has to feed the cameras. when she can put a little substance on the plate to then OK.


At 1/17/2006 12:52 PM, Blogger Kristjan Wager said...

I would probably translate 'Arbeit Mach Frei' to 'Work Makes Free'. Though the sentiment is close to 'Work Makes Freedom', it's not quite the same (Freedom would be Freiheit(sp?)).


At 1/17/2006 1:07 PM, Anonymous Mark Paris said...

Wouldn't you say that the implication is "Work (will) make (you) free"? I am certain the irony was entirely intentional on the part of the nazis. As to Oprah and Auschwitz, I am not sure. It would be all to easy to trivialize the place and what happened there. It's almost impossible to say anything meaningful about it; impossible to say anything meaningful and new.


At 1/17/2006 4:30 PM, Blogger Kristjan Wager said...

" Wouldn't you say that the implication is "Work (will) make (you) free"?"

Yes, that would be the implication, and is actually a pretty accurate translation, in the general meaning of the sentece pre-WWII, though it can also be translated to something similar to "Work creates freedom".

Warning, German is not my best language (I'm actually pretty bad at it, for a Dane), so I wouldn't not trust my translations without verifications if I were you.
I do have the advantage of German and Danish being somewhat similar, which helps in translation.


At 1/17/2006 4:45 PM, Anonymous TheProbe said...

To Mark Paris (interesting initials):

I do not believe that it is possible to trivialize Auschwitz, or any of the death camps. I have been there, and to others, and there is no one who can trivialize the place. The place just feels different. I believe that Oprah will do a fine job.

If not, I will cancel my wife's subscription to her magazine.


At 1/17/2006 5:44 PM, Anonymous Catherina said...

the literal translation is "work makes free" and the interpretation is given by Auschwitz' first commander Rudolf Höß in his biography - roughly "there is a way to freedom. It's milestones are obedience, diligence, honesty, order, cleanliness, soberness, truthfulness, sacrifice and love for the fatherland (aka patriotism)".

Basically, sesquipedalian for "don't whistle while you work".


(source: Wolfgang Brückner: Arbeit macht frei. Herkunft und Hintergrund der KZ-Devise.)


At 1/17/2006 5:50 PM, Blogger decrepitoldfool said...

"I will cancel my wife's subscription to her magazine."

Let us know how that works out, OK?


At 1/17/2006 6:23 PM, Anonymous Camille said...

I would think that Oprah would be on her best behavior and try to avoid gushing or simplifying the reality. Still, I think someone else might do a much better job of it. I would prefer to see someone with a greater background on the subject, I don't know, a Bill Moyers type of person ... but then someone like that wouldn't bring Oprah's fan base with him... and getting the word out is important, too. If she let the experts (people who were there) speak the most, that would be best.


At 1/17/2006 11:40 PM, Blogger Greg P said...

Over the years as an early post-war baby boomer I have read various books, watched movies, seen TV shows about the holocaust. In that sense Oprah's show will likely be no more harmful than these. Martin Luther King himself is largely a figure of exploitation now, and much of it with good purpose.

A couple of years ago I went with my son to Munich and we took a trip to Dachau. Seeing these places in person is a humbling, mortifying experience, which countless hours of reading or watching videos cannot replace.


At 1/18/2006 11:28 AM, Anonymous Bruce Small said...

A pampered and spoiled ultra-rich star surrounded by yes women is going to Auschwitz to report on the Holocaust.

Oh, yeah, this can't miss.


At 1/18/2006 1:42 PM, Blogger LBBP said...

Several years ago I had a couple of opportunities to work on the Oprah show and I still know several members of the production staff. Though I personally am not a big fan of Oprah's gushy style, I am a very big fan of her work ethic and sincerity. I have worked for several celebrities over the years. Unlike say a Larry King, who is a major asshole, she is a very down to earth, straight forward, individual despite her success. Even though the style of her presentation may be a little over the top, I am confident in her honest intention to raise awareness in a solicitous manner. She doesn't need to work anymore, her whole purpose for the show now is to facilitate her personal causes.


At 1/18/2006 8:24 PM, Anonymous TheProbe said...

To decrepitoldfool:

If the timing is right, the cancellation will coincide with the non-renewal of the subscription.

To greg p:

A visit to one one the camps is truly humbling as you say. If I recall correctly, Dachau is not too far outside of the town and there was no way that the Germa people who lived there could not know what was happening.

I have done a few interviews for the Shoah Visual History Project. While they are not the same as a visit, they, too, had a major impact.


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