Monthly Archives: June 2014

Only a great writer can share the suffering of Auschwitz

[From The Guardian]

Like Primo Levi, Otto Dov Kulka has the unusual ability to communicate what it meant to be a Nazi death camp inmate.

One of the mysteries of great suffering is how hard it is to penetrate from the outside. Otto Dov Kulka‘s account of his time as a child in Auschwitz tells us almost nothing of the history of the place and how it came to be. That is for the reader, as it was for the child Kulka, something given. The only concessions to conventional history come in digressions, as in the account of his mother’s departure and death, when the ramifications of the system and its long ghastly tentacles are explored.

As an adult, Kulka became a historian of the causes of the Holocaust. But one of the subjects of his book is the absolute disconnect between his studies and his experiences. In his work as a historian he stopped short of the camp gates: “in all my research I never had to deal with the stage, the dimension, of the violent end, the murder, the humiliation and the torture of those human beings.”

He avoided, also, a great deal that had been written and filmed about the Holocaust. He did not read camp memoirs, and he did not watch Claud Lanzmann‘s film Shoah. At last he was invited at a conference to attend a lecture on the subject of the Holocaust in literature, and felt that politeness compelled him to accept. He listened, and felt an extraordinary disconnection: that the language in which the Holocaust might be described by outsiders was one he could not understand himself, while the language with which he could make sense of it himself, his mythology as he elsewhere calls it, was entirely different.

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Break a leg – or get shot: the Jewish actors who braved Stalin’s terror

[From The Guardian]

Not precisely about the Holocaust, but Yiddish-related news

The Moscow State Yiddish Theatre had to please Stalin and his henchmen or face dreadful consequences. How did it manage to thrive for so long?

I first came across Solomon Mikhoels and the Moscow State Yiddish Theatre in the 1980s, as I researched a PhD in Yiddish. (I say “researched” as I didn’t quite finish it and that way it sounds as if I might have done.) Yiddish, the language of east European Jewry, was spoken by 11 million people before the second world war. Though the Holocaust and assimilation threatened it with extinction, its future is now safe in the hands of the ultra-orthodox Jewish community. You’ll often find me subtly eavesdropping on orthodox Jews in Clissold Park in London, trying to glean what words like the Yiddish for email might be (blitspost, in case you were wondering).

As a lover of Yiddish, I found myself constantly fighting stereotypes such as the charge that Yiddish is just a bastardised German. It isn’t. Or if it is, then so is English which, like Yiddish, is a fusion language or (to use a Yiddish term) a mish-mash of Germanic and Norman. I’d find myself kvetching (another Yiddish word) against those nebbishes (ditto) who have the chutzpah (ditto again) to say Yiddish is little more than a repository of admittedly brilliant curses, like my favourite: “May all your teeth fall out except for one, and from that may you have eternal toothache!”

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ידיעות פֿון וואַרשע

פֿון קאָבי ווײַצנער

[from Forverts]

דער עלטסטער ייִדישער מוזיקער לעאָפּאָלד קאָזלאָווסקי

דאָס לעבן פֿון לעאָפּאָלד קאָזלאָווסקי שפּיגלט אָפּ די געשיכטע פֿון פּוילישע ייִדן אין אונדזער צײַט. קאָזלאָווסקי, געבוירן ווי קלײַנמאַן, איז געוואָרן אַן ערן־בירגער פֿון קראָקע. ער איז 96 יאָר אַלט און איז דער אַזויגערופֿענער לעצטער גאַליציאַנער כּלי-זמר. „אַ דאַנק אים — האָט דער בירגערמײַסטער פֿון קראָקע געזאָגט — האָבן מיר דערלעבט צו אַ רענענסאַנס פֿון כּלי-זמר־מוזיק אין קאַזימיר, די ייִדישע געגנט פֿון קראָקע.‟ קאָזלאָווסקי איז באַקאַנט איבער גאַנץ פּוילן. זײַנע פּליטן און טאַשמעס פֿון ייִדישער מוזיק זענען זייער פּאָפּולער אין לאַנד.

געבוירן איז ער אין 1918 אין פּשעמישלאַנע, לעבן לעמבעריק. די משפּחה איז געווען מוזיקאַליש פֿון תּמיד אָן. ווי אַ קינד, האָט ער שוין געשפּילט מיט כּלי־זמרים. ער האָט ממשיך געווען זײַן מוזיקאַלישע דערציִונג אין קאָנסערוואַטאָריום. בשעת דער צווייטער וועלט־מלחמה האָט ער פֿאַרלוירן זײַן גאַנצע משפּחה. ער איז געווען אין געטאָ, אין לאַגער, און שפּעטער האָט זיך אים אײַנגעגעבן צו אַנטלויפֿן.

ער איז צוריקגעקומען קיין פּוילן ווי אַ סאָלדאַט פֿון דער פּוילישער אַרמיי. נאָכן פֿאַרענדיקן די מוזיק־אַקאַדעמיע אין קראָקע, האָט קאָזלאָווסקי במשך פֿון לאַנגע יאָרן אָנגעפֿירט מיט אַ מיליטערישן אָרקעסטער. אין יאָר 1968 האָט מען אים אַרויסגעוואָרפֿן פֿון מיליטער אין איינעם מיט אַלע אַנדערע ייִדישע אָפֿיצירן. דעמאָלט איז ער געקומען צו אַרבעטן אינעם מלוכישן ייִדישן טעאַטער.

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2 Jewish Lawyers and Hitler’s ‘Butcher’ Share Stage

[From Forverts]

w-FrankandHimmler-060414.jpgThe improbable tale of three music-loving lawyers linked to Ukraine – two of them Jews and one a Hitler aide known as the “Butcher of Poland” – has made it to the stage in a work premiered at the Hay Festival.

“The Great Crimes” tells how the lives of Hersch Lauterpecht, who formulated the legal concept of crimes against humanity, Raphael Lemkin, who helped make genocide an international crime, and Hans Frank, World War Two governor of Nazi-occupied Poland, became entwined.

“It is about the origins of our modern systems of justice and the role that an individual can play,” Philippe Sands, professor of international law at University College, London, told Reuters.

Sands, baritone Laurent Naouri and pianist Guillaume de Chassy gave “The Great Crimes” its first public hearing at the Hay festival on May 25. Sands narrates the story, interspersed with music from Naouri and de Chassy.

It will performed at London’s Southbank Center in November.

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This Day in Jewish History / Birthday of legendary Yiddish performer Molly Picon

[from Haaretz]

New York-born actress appeared in some 200 productions written by husband Jacob Kalich in the 1920s, later starring opposite Topol in ‘Fiddler on the Roof.

June 1, 1898, is one of two birthdays that were claimed by Molly Picon, the beloved performer best known for her work in Yiddish theater, whose career spanned more than eight decades. (One version says that her actual date of birth was February 28, and that her grandmother invented June 1 so that Molly could celebrate her birthday twice each year.)

Margaret Pyekoon was the daughter of Clara Ostrovsky and Louis Pyekoon, both immigrants to New York’s Lower East Side from what is today Ukraine. Clara was a wardrobe seamstress in the theater, and the little-present Louis a shirtmaker who had neglected to divorce his first wife before leaving for America. Molly later described her father as being “just ‘anti’: anticapitalist, antireligion, antilabor, and antigirls,” until he finally “faded out of our lives.”

At the age of 5, Molly competed in and won a talent show at a theater in Philadelphia, where the family had moved after her father’s departure. As a teenager, she gave up her studies at William Penn High School so she could perform with a Yiddish repertory troupe and help support the family – Clara and her mother, and Molly’s sister, Helen. The company switched between Yiddish and English, depending on the composition of their audience.

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Review: ‘A Replacement Life’ by Boris Fishman

Fishman’s comic debut novel offers a glimpse of Soviet Brooklyn

This piece first ran in Printers Row Journal, delivered to Printers Row members with the Sunday Chicago Tribune and by digital edition via email. Click here to learn about joining Printers Row.

The star of the show is Slava Gelman, a “junior employee of a midtown magazine,” who does daily battle with his psyche to protect his assimilationist, Upper East Side life from the tidal pull of his first-generation South Brooklyn relatives. “If Slava wanted to become an American, to strip from his writing the pollution that repossessed it every time he returned to the swamp broth of Soviet Brooklyn, … he would have to get away. Dialyze himself, like Grandmother’s kidneys.”

Shortly after we meet Slava, his grandmother dies, triggering his reluctant hero’s journey, via subway, to “the swamp broth.” “Here was a foreign city, if you were coming from Manhattan. … This was still a world in the making. … These American toddlers were only beginning to crawl. Some, however, had already found the big thumb of American largesse.”

Slava is surprised to find his grandparents’ door unlocked. “(I)n this part of Brooklyn, eyes still roamed with Soviet heights of desire.” In the entryway, he suffers the suffocating embrace of an obese home attendant. “Like a Soviet high-rise, each floor of Berta was stuffed beyond capacity.”

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