Simone Gigliotti – “The real places!, the real people!, and the real story!”: Writing history with a camera in Meyer Levin’s The Illegals

Event Date: 14 March 2017

McCrea 336

Royal Holloway University of London
Egham, Surrey
TW20 0EX

Royal Holloway University of London Department of History


Departmental Research seminars 2016/2017

Dr Simone Gigliotti (RHUL) – “The real places!, the real people!, and the real story!”: Writing history with a camera in Meyer Levin’s The Illegals

This paper examines Meyer Levin’s film The Illegals (1947) as an important historical and visual document about Jews on the Brichah, or underground movement, from the Displaced Persons camps of postwar Europe to British mandate Palestine. It traces the depiction of displaced Jews as home-seekers and endlessly ‘wandering’ through a close reading of the film’s visual style, cinematic and film-making itineraries across Europe, and assesses Levin’s aspirations to historical authenticity through the import of the photojournalistic mantra of “writing with a camera.” It suggests that The Illegals’ ongoing displacement from histories of Holocaust filmmaking merits a re-placement in relation to postwar topographies of Jewish survivor mobility, and the historiographical neglect of intercepted Holocaust refugee ships as specific sites of testimony, activism, and challenge to imperial detention networks.

Simone Gigliotti is Senior Lecturer / Reader in Holocaust Studies at Royal Holloway, University of London. She is the author of several books, edited collections, and articles on the Holocaust and its representation. Her current research includes a book-length interdisciplinary project, Foot, Road, Camera: Home-seeking and Holocaust Cinema, which analyses the transnational movements of Jewish refugees and displaced persons from the 1930s to the early 1950s. This paper is drawn from that project.

Introduction by Professor Humayun Ansari (RHUL):

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