The Auschwitz Tattoo in Visual Memory


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Phoenix, Christian Petzold, D  2014

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Phoenix (2014) tells the imaginative story of Holocaust survivor Nelly who miraceously returns from the war with heavy wounds that make her nearly unidentifiable. A surgery brings her back too life but she is only remebling her former self. When she meets her former husband, who had betrayed her hiding place to the Gestapo, he doesn’t recognize her. Presuming that his wife is dead, he asks Nelly to reenact his wife in order to offer him access to her heritage. During the film her husband tries to turn Nelly into a fictional model survivor. Thereby the film critically reflects the ambigious effects of memory and defense. Referring to icoinc images such as cattle cars and train tracks the final rehersal of Nelly’s return becomes a fictional and idealized version of survival that is stripped of the trauma, which is symbalized by the dominant shizofrenic struction of the “doppelgänger” in the film. The last scene then reveals Nelly’s real identity when she is performing a song together with her husband. The number tatto serves as the evidence of her real identity. Suddenly, the music stops and we see her husband starring at her, while the films cuts to a close-up of her forearm with the number tattoo. The indirect reference to the original shots utilizes its symbolic reference to the survivor by revealing the number as evidence. Furthermore, the mark is emphasised as a symbol of reality in contrast to the imagined past that is enacted in the film’s plot. It also serves as a sign of fundamental difference between the German and the Jewish experience and the perception of the Holocaust. After interrupting her singing, Nelly turns away and vanishes in a blurred image leaving behind the post-war German society.

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