February 13, 2018

Ph.D. Student Finds New Ways of Understanding Holocaust Rememberence

By Sabrina Malekzadah

Maria Zalewska, a Ph.D. student in Cinema & Media Studies at SCA, incorporates work in media and memory studies with cinematic representations of the Holocaust. The endeavor combines her academic interests, and extensive professional experience, with something deeply personal. As Zalewska explains, “I grew up in Poland, where most of the German Nazi concentration camps were built, and my great-grandfather was murdered in Auschwitz.”

After speaking with survivors on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Zalewska became aware of the relationship between sites if institutionalized memory and broader spaces of Holocaust remembrance. As she collected first-person accounts of this horrifying time in human history, Zalewska began to question Holocaust interpretations across various types of media. She looked at cinema, TV, photography, holograms, and digital technologies. She further considered different categories of representation, such as documentary, fictionalized historical narratives, testimonies, and social media posts. The juxtaposition of all these platforms and their contrasts of stories about the Holocaust became Zalewska’s focus.

At the School of Cinema Arts, Zalewska is working towards answering the main questions of her dissertation: “What is the future of Holocaust memory?”, “How do new developments in computer science and digital media alter the way we deal with the existential question of forever lost survivors and witnesses?”, and “Who does the remembering? How? And why?”. An example of Zalewska’s work is her examination of Instagram selfies taken at the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial and museum, as she analyzes new media portals in relation to abstract understandings of the Holocaust.

Zalewska’s desire to attend SCA was rooted in the School’s relationship with the USC Shoah Foundation. The Institute currently has more than 55,000 video testimonies from survivors and eyewitnesses of the genocide. In 2017 Zalewska received the Summer Graduate Research Fellowship from the Shoah Foundation, which supported her during a month long residency.  “The Foundation’s Visual History Archive has helped me reimagine the landscapes of pre-Holocaust Europe,” Zalewska says.

 Zalewska is currently developing a syllabus for a tutorial she will teach this summer at SCA. “As an Andrew W. Mellon Digital Humanities Ph.D. fellow, I will lead a 4-week non-credit course open to USC undergraduate students,” she explains. Titled Media Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Digital Age, students in the course will learn the broad themes of media memory studies while critically thinking about different media technologies. They will look at film, social media, genres of visual representation, documentaries, selfies, and much more in a diverse context. But these are not the only things students will take away from of the course. Part of the Digital Humanities Ph.D. fellowship is that students who take Zalewska’s class get to leave with a bonus, courtesy of the program. “Every student receives a $1500 stipend for course completion!” says Zalewska, adding: “I encourage everyone to apply.”