Intergenerational friendships aren’t the YouTube hits of interspecies friendships – but a new film, Joe’s Violin, might help change that.
The documentary short, which had its world premiere at Tribeca film festivalon Thursday, tells the story of a blossoming friendship between a 93-year-old Holocaust survivor and a Bronx 14-year-old schoolgirl, brought together by a violin he acquired at a displaced person’s camp in postwar Germany.
Joseph Feingold was born in Poland in 1923, to a loving family who all played instruments. He was a violinist. “Music meant so much to us,” says Feingold in the film. But when the Nazis and Soviets invaded Poland, Feingold was sent to a Siberian labor camp at just 17, where he remained for six and a half years. His mother and youngest brother were killed in concentration camps.
Feingold returned to Poland after the war, but fled to Germany with his father to escape the Kielce pogrom in 1946, a massacre that murdered 42 Jews.
Online DP camps collection is poster child of post-war Jewish rebirth.
In the years directly following World War II, more than 250,000 displaced Jewish people began to rebuild their lives. In the process of moving ahead after the horrors of the Holocaust, they renewed former religious, social, political and cultural interests while waiting in Central European displaced persons (DP) camps for permission to immigrate to other parts of the world.
For decades historiography tended to jump from the end of the Holocaust directly to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. However, in recent years, more attention has been paid to the experience of Jews who resided in the DP camps in Germany, Austria and Italy until 1952.
When Germany surrendered to the allies in May 1945 a debate was already under way as to how the country should be coaxed back to civilisation. For some it had gone so far down the road to infamy that there seemed no prospect of its being rescued. Others took a more compassionate view, and urged that a huge re-education programme be undertaken to expose German minds to ideas of peace and tolerance. One means of effecting this transformation was culture. Artists and writers would put shoulders to the wheel to help rehabilitate the country and its people – to cleanse its poisoned soul.
That was the theory. Lara Feigel’s absorbing book relives the era in all its uncertainty, and delves into the irreconcilable differences and contradictions that would come to thwart the project. One roadblock to the argument for renewal was the dubious efficacy of culture itself. After all, Germany had created, pre-1933, the most advanced and enduring culture in Europe. If the country of Goethe and Beethoven had failed to halt Hitler, what difference could British and American arts possibly make? The question was an especially raw one for those who had seen the concentration camps first-hand. In April 1945 Richard Dimbleby, reporting from Belsen for the BBC, struck a piteous note of horror: the starved inmates “looked so utterly unreal and inhuman that I could have imagined that they had never lived at all”. This central, unfathomable crime of the Nazis haunts those whose experiences Feigel has corralled here; some in fact regarded the entire German nation as complicitous in the crime. Repugnance took on physical symptoms. The photographer Lee Miller, recalling her visit to Dachau, found herself “grinding her teeth and snarling, filled with hate and despair”. Martha Gellhorn, also at Dachau, wrote that she had walked in there “and suffered a lifelong concussion, without recognising it”.
‘To write a poem after Auschwitz is barbaric,” wrote the German critic Theodor Adorno soon after the second world war. He later modified his statement by saying: “The main question is: can we go on living after Auschwitz?” This was the problem with which the Nobel prize-winning Hungarian Jewish writer Imre Kertész, a survivor of the Holocaust, grappled throughout his life and literary work, until his death at the age of 86.
Kertész’s first and most influential novel, Sorstalanság (Fatelessness, 1975), is the story of a 14-year-old boy, Gyuri Köves, who survives deportation to Auschwitz and captivity in Buchenwald, and, on his return to Hungary, finds it impossible to relate his experiences to his surviving family. The book was at first hardly noticed by Hungarian critics and only became a success many years later once it had been translated into German and then, in 2005, made into a film by the Hungarian cinematographer Lajos Koltai. While lacking the biting irony of Tadeusz Borowski’s Auschwitz stories, Sorstalanság differs from most accounts of Nazi concentration camps in its relentless objectivity, and as such is a unique achievement of its kind.
Whitehall officials subjected British victims of Nazi persecution to months and sometimes years of oppressive questioning as they applied for German-funded compensation – questioning their harrowing accounts of their experiences in concentration camps, newly released documents reveal.
In one case, officials spent years investigating the family background of the renowned secret agent Violette Szabó – the Special Operations Executive agent who was dropped by parachute into France, captured, tortured, and executed in Ravensbruck concentration camp – to determine whether her daughter was entitled to compensation.
Records of hundreds of claimants incarcerated by the Nazis, many of whom were unsuccessful, were released on Thursday at the National Archives, more than 50 years after the German government agreed to contribute a total of £1m to UK nationals or their dependants. The money was eventually shared among 1,015 individuals.
In all the controversy over the lack of diversity in this year’s Academy Awards, what hasn’t always been noticed is the remarkable story behind the Holocaust drama Son Of Saul, the front-runner for the foreign-language Oscar.
When it comes to the challenge of representing the Holocaust on screen, the risks of appearing clumsy, insensitive or downright trite are obvious (Roberto Benigni’s 1997 comedic Life Is Beautifulmay have won an Oscar but is still seen by many as ill advised).
Laszlo Nemes, 38, the Hungarian film-maker behind Son Of Saul, was born long after the Second World War. But he knew he was tackling taboos by recreating the horrors of the Nazi genocide on screen with his story about a sonderkommando in Auschwitz – an inmate who disposed of the corpses.
Jan Karski, a courier for the Polish underground, was among the first to reach London and Washington after observing the mass killing of Polish Jews. In an interview for Claude Lanzmann’s 1985 film Shoah, Karski, still astonished after so many years, gets to his feet as he recalls the reaction of Felix Frankfurter, Franklin Roosevelt’s confidant. “I don’t believe you,” he recalls Frankfurter saying. “I know you are not a liar, but I don’t believe you.”
Similar sentiments will occur to the half-attentive reader throughout almost every page of David Cesarani’s account of the Final Solution. How many Jews were killed? How were they killed? Did the Hitler project really imply the extermination of every single Jew in Europe? And what sort of person could be relied on to kill one human being after another – women and children, the old, the young – day after blood-drenched day?
Cesarani’s justification for another book about the Holocaust is that a generation of new research has failed to find its way into public consciousness. “The nomenclature itself is increasingly self-defeating,” he begins. Terms such as “the Holocaust” or “Shoah”, even “genocide”, in the legitimate course of memorialising Jewish sufferings, have walled off mass killings from the events surrounding them. To that end Cesarani treats the subject in a stripped-down factual idiom, avoiding any pervasive explanation of motives. What we get in this context are facts, and these facts consist largely of killings.
This is a book as hard to read as a set of Human Rights Watch reports. But it’s difficult not to be first moved and then overwhelmed by the mere listing of what happened, and in this respect Cesarani, who died in October, has fulfilled his ambition of reclaiming the killings of Jews for another generation.
Had it not been for an unguarded conversation between Adolf Eichmann’s son and the Argentinian girl he was dating, the chances are that the shabby “Ricardo Klement” would have lived out his days in obscurity a few miles north of Buenos Aires. Unlike Josef Mengele, the sadistic camp doctor at Auschwitz, who was feted in the more glamorous circles of Argentinian society, Klement was a failure in his adopted country. He ran a laundry business for a while but it went bankrupt. He lurched from job to job. And when he was captured by Mossad agents on 11 May 1960, shuffling home from the bus stop, they couldn’t quite believe that this was the high-ranking Nazi officer who was responsible for the deportation of millions of Jews to the death camps.
Since his trial in Jerusalem in 1961, Eichmann has become the subject of continued controversy – much of it not so much about the man himself, but often more about the very nature of evil. Yesterday’s release of a hand-written letterfrom Eichmann to the then Israeli president, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, requesting clemency, will only continue the debate. “There is a need to draw a line between the leaders responsible and the people like me forced to serve as mere instruments in the hands of the leaders,” Eichmann’s letter pleaded. “I was not a responsible leader, and as such do not feel myself guilty.”
In other words: not my fault, I was only obeying orders. His self-delusion was unassailable, even at the end. Eichmann’s request was denied and two days later he was hanged in Ramla prison.
In her famous account of the trial, the philosopher Hannah Arendt described Eichmann as a small-minded functionary, more concerned with the managerial hows of his job than the moral or existential whys. According to Arendt, Eichmann wasn’t a man for asking difficult questions, he just got on with the job of managing timetables and calculating travel costs – thus her famous phrase “the banality of evil”.
Many people argue that it is crucially important for young people to learn about the Holocaust to prevent racism and prejudice in the present day. But in a focus group interview exploring secondary school students’ attitudes to the Holocaust, Ella, a year 12 student from Peterborough turned that idea on its head.
“I didn’t stop being racist because of learning about the Holocaust … I’ve always not been racist,” she said.
Ella is one of more than 9,500 students consulted by University College London (UCL) researchers as part of a three year-long national study looking at secondary school students’ knowledge and understanding of the Holocaust. This study (launched by the UCL Centre for Holocaust Education) drew primarily on survey responses from almost 8,000 young people and interviews of nearly 250 students. It aimed to find out what young people should know about the Holocaust and why.
The Holocaust has been part of the national curriculum since the early 1990s, but many teachers are uncertain about what the educational aims of teaching this subject should be and what content to include or to prioritise, especially when faced with limited time and a packed curriculum. The centre’s earlier study, Teaching About the Holocaust in English Secondary Schools, found that in a variety of subjects teachers’ intentions were most likely to enable students to understand the ramifications of racism, transform society and learn the lesson of the Holocaust to ensure it never happens again. However, as the study went to argue, such universal, trans-disciplinary aims are difficult both to assess and to translate into pedagogical practice.
Singing is perhaps not something that people associate with the Holocaust. But a wealth of music was played and songs sung while victims were interned in the ghettos and camps. Perhaps this marked a desire to maintain continuity with the past, or perhaps it represented a kind of “spiritual resistance” to the systematic dehumanisation. Whatever the reason, the victims left an enormous corpus of music and songs.
Victims sang about their worries, their captors, their lives before internment and their inner emotional worlds. When faced with what must have been a devastating and bewilderingly sudden change to their world, it seems as if they sang endlessly. We need only glance at the enormous body of songs in Yiddish compiled by collectors such as Shmerke Kaczerginski to get a sense of their richness and ingenuity.
Marceline Loridan-Ivens’s But You Did Not Come Back is a addressed to her father and tells the story of her time in the camps – and the years after.
Marceline Loridan-Ivens’s father had bought a château in Provence; a grand place, with 20 rooms – an expensive but certain way, he seemed to believe, of ensuring that he and his children would be thought of as French. He had come to France from Poland in 1919 to find freedom from persecution, but there was no escape. In 1944 he was arrested along with his 15-year-old daughter, Marceline, and taken to the Drancy internment camp, and from there to Auschwitz. “You might come back,” he told his daughter, “because you’re young, but I will not come back.”
It was a prophecy: Szlhama Froim Rozenberg did not come back. An official document from the French government confirmed his death – “missing and presumed dead” – following his “transfer” to Mauthausen and Groß-Rosen. It took five more years for him to be declared finally dead – because he was not French, despite having petitioned the government for citizenship since his arrival. He was, his daughter writes, “a foreign Jew”.
Loridan-Ivens’s slender memoir is written as a letter to her beloved father. She is now 87, and lives in Paris; she made her career as an actress, a screenwriter and a director, taking the names of her two husbands because she found them more comfortable to bear – yes, even in postwar France – than “Rozenberg”. Barely 100 pages long, set in large, well-spaced type, it is devastating all the same. Loridan-Ivens writes in a plain, conversational style (the translation is by Sandra Smith, who has translated the work of Irène Némirovsky, among others) that flows as memory does, observation and recollection in balance. It can be read at a sitting; and then asks to be read again.
A 95-year-old former SS member will go on trial in north-east Germany next month accused of assisting in the mass murder of Auschwitz death camp inmates.
The indictment says Hubert Zafke was an accessory to the murder of at least 3,681 people during one month in 1944. It says he was an SS medical orderly.
The trial is to start on 29 February in Neubrandenburg. Mr Zafke remains at home, a prosecution spokesman said.
The Nazis killed about 1.1m people in Auschwitz, most of them Jews.
During the month covered by the indictment – 15 August to 14 September, 1944 – the teenage Jewish girl Anne Frank arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau, the most notorious Nazi camp complex.
Her diary, describing the ordeal of her family hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam, remains a worldwide bestseller. She died in Bergen-Belsen, shortly before that camp’s liberation by the British Army in 1945.
When a group of German historians started work, six years ago, on an annotated version of Hitler’s Mein Kampf with the aim of republishing the text after it was due to enter the public domain on 1 January 2016, little did they know this would coincide with a time when Germany would find itself facing a rising tide of populism in the context of the refugee crisis. But even under quieter circumstances the initiative would have caused controversy.
Seventy years ago it fell to US occupying forces in Germany to decide what to do with the book, and they passed the copyright to the state government of Bavaria. Seeing as the recently deceased author had done nothing but damage to the region’s reputation, Bavaria might well have been determined to sit on its rights and see off any thoughts of republication even if there had been no fears of rekindling a Nazi ideology that had only recently been comprehensively routed. But republishing Mein Kampf at any time was bound to raise sensitive questions. Would it not lend prominence to a hate-filled 1,000-page tome that acted as a founding document for the crimes of Nazism? Might it not risk fuelling, even today, the twisted logic of Holocaust deniers or of anyone prone to be more fascinated than repelled by Hitler? Such qualms might have been justified had the text been reprinted in its blunt form, without any effort put into debunking its sick ramblings.
Yet that is not the case. Care, wisdom and admirable scholarship have all played a part in the creation of the two-volume Hitler, Mein Kampf: A Critical Edition, launched on 8 January by the Munich-based Institute for Contemporary History. It sets out to provide not just knowledge of what Hitler wrote, but a systematic dismantling of his manipulative theories and lies. And not just that: the book, now on sale in general bookshops in Germany for the first time since the war, details how Hitler’s prose of the 1920s (he wrote Mein Kampf while in prison) translated into concrete policy once he rose to power in 1933. This new publication is thus useful: it goes one step further towards demystifying the roots of the evil that unfolded. Exposure, not hiding, is the best way to neutralise the conspiratorial thinking and sinister fascination that can be aroused by a forbidden object.
Title: “Remembering the Event, Remembering the Place: Narratives of Bombing in Post-War Nuremberg”
This paper reflects upon how historians have conventionally considered the memory of wartime bombing as a set of narratives about historical events that gained cultural power in the post war era. Revisiting critically my own previous work on the city of Nuremberg I seek to explore in this paper how this memory of the bombing as event has obscured other memories present in the city after 1945 – most obviously memories of the city itself. I argue, therefore, that historians should think not only about the memory of the event, but also the memory of place, literally, in the sense of its physical and material substance, and more metaphorically, in the sense of a series of different life-worlds that were now the object of nostalgic affect.
Dr Beate Müller, Newcastle University
Title: “‘I thought I was going to die’: Allied Air Raids on Nuremberg as Remembered by Local School Children in 1946”
In 1946, Nuremberg’s schools inspector Otto Barthel had local school children write essays on their wartime experiences. They were also asked to fill in questionnaires which specifically addressed political attitudes of the young. About 3,000 pupils submitted their work. The texts tell a complex story about the thoughts and feelings of German adolescents in the early postwar period, demonstrating the ideological influence of National Socialism, trauma suffered during the war, as well as the shock, frustration, and desorientation after the collapse of the Third Reich. The pupils’ submissions are comparable in terms of their dominant themes such as the evacuation scheme KLV, the fate of male relatives, Allied bombings, the end of the war and the city’s occupation, or problems and hardships characterizing postwar life. Of these topics, the descriptions of experienced air raids are the most visceral; they also clearly dominate the essays penned on ‘An unforgettable experience’. This talk will argue that whilst the stories of the young differ considerably in terms of content, evaluations of events and narrative coping strategies, there is much less diversity when it comes to memories of the bombings, which indicates that these memories united the otherwise quite diverse young postwar generation.
Senior figures in Britain’s Jewish community have cautiously welcomed the republication of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf for the first time since the second world war.
The most notorious antisemitic text of the 20th century, Mein Kampf (My Struggle), was originally published in two volumes in 1925 and 1926, and was the first systematic exposition of Hitler’s thinking on race and the “Jewish peril” he believed was threatening Germany.
Since 1946, the copyright has been in the hands of the Bavarian state, which refused to consider a new edition. However, the copyright protection expires at the end of the year and on 8 January a new academic, or “critical”, edition will be launched by the Institute of Contemporary History in Munich, complete with comprehensive annotations.
German Jews have already expressed divided opinions on the republication. Levi Salomon, spokesman for the Berlin-based Jewish Forum for Democracy and Against Antisemitism, told American media that he was “absolutely against” the publication, regardless of its annotations. “Can you annotate the Devil?” he asked. “Can you annotate a person like Hitler?”
Outside it was burningly hot, the skies clear blue. But inside there was only darkness. For the next nine and a half hours, in the Jerusalem Cinematheque, they would sit, rapt and in silence, through Shoah, the film made by the French director Claude Lanzmann, which was already being garlanded by critics around the world as the greatest single film about the Holocaust and one of the very greatest documentaries in the history of cinema.
It was June 1986, eight months after the film’s release. Hushed audiences had sat spellbound at screenings in Paris and New York, but this June day was different. It was the first official showing of Lanzmann’s masterpiece in Israel, its premiere marked as all but a state occasion. Taking their seats at the Cinematheque, then a newly opened arthouse cinema facing the walls of the Old City, were Israel’s prime minister, Shimon Peres, along with the country’s president, chief rabbi and even the chief of staff of the military. A surging pack of press and cameras had greeted their arrival.
Less noticed as they made their way through the heaving crowd were the rest of the invited audience. Among them were several of those who appeared in the film: the survivors of the Nazi death camps, the resistance fighters, those who had witnessed the slaughter up close. They were in the room. Many had their children at their side.
Documentary takes sons of Nazis and professor whose relatives were killed back to the horror of occupied eastern Europe.
Seventy years after Hans Frank, the SS governor of Poland who oversaw the Holocaust, appeared before the Nuremberg war crimes tribunal, a documentary is released this week exploring his embittered family legacy and the possibility of reconciliation following the atrocities.
My Nazi Legacy is a compelling journey into the horrors of occupied eastern Europe in the company of Frank’s son, Niklas, Horst von Wächter – whose father, Otto, was Nazi governor of Galicia (now mostly in modern Ukraine) – and Philippe Sands QC, professor of international law, many of whose family died during mass murders of the Jewish community there in 1942.
The film deals with the relationship between the three men and their attempts to come to terms with what their parents inflicted or suffered, examining the way Germans have dealt with their poisoned inheritance and Ukrainians embroidered their fragile history of independence.
A vast and historically valuable trove of Holocaust-era documents, long thought destroyed during the second world war, has been found hidden in a wall cavity by a couple renovating their Budapest apartment.
The haul of 6,300 documents are from a 1944 census that was a precursor to the intended liquidation of the Hungarian capital’s 200,000 Jews in Nazi death camps.
Brigitte Berdefy, co-owner of the apartment overlooking Hungary’s parliament, said in August a worker detected paper after jamming a screwdriver through a crack in the wall.
“We thought we’d ruined the neighbour’s wallpaper,” Berdefy said.
But then her husband Gabor peered through the crack and saw what looked like handwriting.
Carefully removing each brick, the couple eased out around 61 kilogrammes (135 pounds) of dusty papers, many with bits of plaster caked on, but all more or less intact.
A new project at Yad Vashem analyzes the first letters that survivors wrote after the Holocaust, letting their loved ones know that they were alive
(By Yardena Schwartz)
When Tzipora Shapiro walked out the gates of Auschwitz on Jan. 27, 1945, the first thing she felt was guilt. Her father, grandfather, brothers, aunts, and uncles all died in the Lodz Ghetto, and when the Nazis transferred Shapiro and her mother to Auschwitz, she watched as they sent her mother to the gas chambers. As a young, able-bodied woman, Shapiro was put to work in the camp—and was the only member of her immediate family to survive.
After being liberated, Shapiro stayed in Poland, hoping to find a distant relative who may have survived the war. Thirteen months later, she finally found the address of a cousin who had fled to British Mandate Palestine before the ghettos of Poland gave way to genocide.
“At long last,” Shapiro wrote on Feb. 15, 1946, in her first letter as a free woman, “I’m hurrying to send you a living word from a dead world.”
In the grainy black-and-white photograph the girl poses with her cello, gazing down towards the bow. It was 1938 in Berlin, shortly before Kristallnacht, or the “Night of Broken Glass”, the
first Nazi pogrom that led to the incarceration of Jews. Anita had grown up in a house in Breslau, which was then in the east of Germany, that was filled with music. Lying in bed, she would listen as her mother, Edith, started her violin routine with the opening octaves of a Beethoven concerto. Her father, Alfons, loved to sing. Her two elder sisters played the piano and the violin. She, too, started learning to play an instrument “very young”, as she recalled recently when we met at the JW3 Jewish community centre in London.
“I remember that my mother had such a small cello that she could hold it under her chin,” said Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, who is now 90.
The Laskers’ quiet life soured after Hitler became chancellor in 1933. In the street, children spat at Anita or called her a “dirty Jew”. Schools were segregated. The anti-Semitism became so pervasive that it was no longer possible to find a music teacher brave enough to take on a Jewish pupil.
David Cesarani, who has died aged 58 following surgery to remove a tumour on his spine, was the leading British-based historian of his generation of the modern experience of the Jews. He was also a notable commentator and broadcaster on the Jewish past and present, and took a prominent role in Holocaust education in Britain and abroad.
In the mid-1980s he led research by the All-Party Parliamentary War Crimes Group into Nazi criminals and collaborators who had come to live in Britain after the second world war. The result of this was an official report that evoked considerable public concern when published in 1987 and ultimately led to the creation of the 1991 War Crimes Act, which controversially extended British legal jurisdiction to cover war crimes committed elsewhere.
The subject of the holocaust is a difficult one to discuss on film, not least because so much has been done on it before. Human rights lawyer Philippe Sands’s latest feature, My Nazi Legacy, alternatively titled A Nazi Legacy: What Our Fathers Did, begins as a fairly standard effort, with archive footage, moody music and a slightly monotonous voiceover. The subjects are two men in their 70s, an Austrian and a German, who are the sons respectively of Nazi war criminals Otto Wächter and Hans Frank. Both were key architects of Hitler’s policies throughout the eastern part of Germany, collectively responsible for thousands of deaths. Horst von Wächter and Niklas Frank are interviewed over a series of months about their fathers, families and lives during and after the war.
The film gains a real hold, however, when it becomes apparent that a rift is growing between the two men. Niklas becomes increasingly uncomfortable with Horst’s determinedly rose-tinted view of his father, who was known by some as “the butcher of Poland”. Niklas condemns his own father for his crimes and for his lack of paternal affection, while Horst firmly believes that von Wächter was good inside and had little idea over the atrocities being committed under his command. He pities Niklas, saying that he is an egomaniac whose “life is practically annihilated by his father”. The fascinating difference between two men with such similar backgrounds becomes the documentary’s most interesting element, with Sands’s increasingly difficult relationship with von Wächter adding an unusual tension not seen in the average history documentary.
[My Nazi Legacy is released in select cinemas on 20th November 2015.]
A historian and vocal critic of the Austrian government’s irresolute attitude towards returning properties stolen from their Jewish owners by the Nazis will be jailed on Monday after being convicted of defrauding the state, in what leading Holocaust historians have condemned as a “deeply troubling overreaction”.
Stephan Templ, the author of Unser Wien (Our Vienna), a book that catalogued hundreds of prominent Jewish-owned properties seized by the Nazis that were never returned, received a one-year sentence as punishment for having omitted the name of an estranged aunt in an application on behalf of his mother for the return of property seized from his Jewish relatives in 1938.
Templ’s book, co-written by the historian Tina Walzer, created a huge stir when it was published in 2001. It included little-known accounts of Viennese landmarks – from the city’s famous ferris wheel to luxury hotels – that had been Aryanised and for which owners or heirs had been either never, or insufficiently, compensated.
The Nazi genocide serves as a warning we should heed in facing today’s crises, Snyder claims. But was Hitler’s targeting of Jews really an act of ‘ecological panic’?
We have got the Holocaust all wrong, says Timothy Snyder in his new book, and so we have failed to learn the lessons we should have drawn from it. When people talk of learning from the Nazi genocide of some six million European Jews during the second world war, they normally mean that we should mobilise to stop similar genocides happening in future. But Snyder means something quite different, and in order to lay out his case, he provides an engrossing and often thought-provoking analysis of Hitler’s antisemitic ideology and an intelligently argued country-by-country survey of its implementation between 1939 and 1945.
Hitler, Snyder correctly observes, was a believer in race as the fundamental feature of life on Earth. History was a perpetual struggle for the survival of the fittest race, in which religion, morality and secular ethics all stood in the way of the drive for supremacy. His political beliefs reduced humankind to a state of nature, sweeping aside the claims of modern science to improve the natural world. Interfering in nature, for example by improving crop yields in order to overcome the food supply deficit in Germany that had led to the deaths of half a million people during the allied blockade in the first world war, was wrong: the way to achieve this aim was to conquer the vast arable lands of eastern Europe in a parallel action to the American colonisation of the west. Both in his view were populated by inferior subhumans who should be eliminated.
The Complete Worksof Primo Levi is far more than a welcome opportunity to re-evaluate and re-examine historical and contemporary plagues of systematic necrology; it becomes a brilliant deconstruction of malign forces. The triumph of human identity and worth over the pathology of human destruction glows virtually everywhere in Levi’s writing. For a number of reasons, his works are singular amid the wealth of Holocaust literature.
First is his language – infused as it is with references to and intimate knowledge of ancient and modern sources of philosophy, poetry and the figurative uses of scientific knowledge. Virgil, Homer, Eliot, Danteand Rilke play useful roles in his efforts to understand the life he lived in the concentration camp, as does his deep knowledge of science. Everything Levi knows he puts to use. Ungraspable as the necrotic impulse is, the necessity to “tell”, to describe the “monotonous horror of the mud”, is vital as he speaks for and of the millions who died. Language is the gold he mines to counter the hopelessness of meaningful communication between prisoners and guards. An example of this is the exchange, recounted in If This Is a Man, between himself and a guard when he breaks off an icicle to soothe his thirst. The guard snatches it from his hand. When Levi asks why, the guard answers: “There is no why here.” While the oppressors rely on sarcasm laced with cruelty, the prisoners employ looks and glances to gain clarity and meaning. Although photographs of troughs of corpses stun viewers, it is language that seals and reclaims the singularity of human existence.
At the international symposium “Global Yiddish Culture: 1938-1949,” held at the University of Toronto this spring, singer-songwriter Psoy Korolenko of Moscow and U of T Professor Anna Shternshis brought to life lost Yiddish songs of the Holocaust in an all-new concert and lecture program.
During and immediately after World War II, the Kiev Cabinet for Jewish Culture, led by philologist Elye Spivak and folklorist Moshe Beregovski, began collecting and transcribing original songs composed by Soviet Jewish Holocaust refugees and survivors. But in 1949, before the Cabinet could publish their collection, these rare Yiddish artifacts were confiscated by the Soviet government and hidden from the public. Until recently, that is, when Shternshis found the collection while doing research at the Manuscript Department of the Ukrainian National Library. Shternshis then teamed up with Korolenko to reinterpret and present these songs to new audiences. The Toronto conference was their first time performing this old-new repertoire. Shternshis opened the program by unfolding the dramatic story of this major postwar Soviet collection project, as unfamiliar to many academics in the house as to the rows of community members. As Shternshis told the story of the Cabinet and the Soviet Jews whose songs they recorded, Korolenko interpreted select archival lyrics on vocals and keyboard.
Festival theatre, Edinburgh
You can feel the force of the anger in the flamenco dancer and choreographer’s fragmented show about the Gypsy victims of the Nazis.
Among the incalculable horrors of the Holocaust, one of the less well-known facts is that up to half a million Gypsies were among those persecuted and killed. It’s a tragedy that flamenco choreographer Israel Galván has long wanted to address on stage, but also one for which he feared dance might be inadequate. If Lo Real is partly about ethnic cleansing, it’s also partly about the artist’s despair of making sense of it.
On a starkly lit stage, Galván and his cast – two female dancers and a dozen singers and musicians – have the look of a displaced Gypsy community pitched between suffering and survival. Specific references to the work’s historical context are minimal: Galván raises his arm in a Nazi salute, then lets it fall into a flamenco curve; a woman dances between iron rails, as if tracing the train route to her death. There’s old movie footage of a Gypsy dancing for uniformed Nazis. And when the live dancers also perform traditional flamenco, the fact that they are accompanied by references to adverts for bleach and pest control underlines the point that even if the Nazis saw the Gypsies as exotic entertainment, they also considered them vermin.
New finding is first example in humans of the theory of epigenetic inheritance: the idea that environmental factors can affect the genes of your children.
Genetic changes stemming from the trauma suffered by Holocaust survivors are capable of being passed on to their children, the clearest sign yet that one person’s life experience can affect subsequent generations.
The conclusion from a research team at New York’s Mount Sinai hospital led by Rachel Yehuda stems from the genetic study of 32 Jewish men and women who had either been interned in a Nazi concentration camp, witnessed or experienced torture or who had had to hide during the second world war.
They also analysed the genes of their children, who are known to have increased likelihood of stress disorders, and compared the results with Jewish families who were living outside of Europe during the war. “The gene changes in the children could only be attributed to Holocaust exposure in the parents,” said Yehuda.
Project commemorating the killing of Jews reveals tensions between Soviet and modern Ukrainian historical narrative.
One day during the Nazi occupation of western Ukraine in the second world war, a young Jewish woman slipped out of the ghetto in the town of Rava Ruska to buy some butter in the market.
On her way, she was spotted by a German officer, who ordered her stripped naked, made the seller smear her body in butter, and then had her beaten to death with sticks.
This story was one of thousands relayed to a team of researchers led by Patrick Desbois, a French Catholic priest who has spent years investigating one of the most under-researched parts of the Holocaust.
Killings in western Ukraine were not carried out using the industrialised methods of Auschwitz and other death camps. Instead Jews were rounded up and shot, one by one. Sometimes they were kicked or beaten to death. No records were kept, so keeping track of numbers and locations is difficult.
The Yiddish Summer Weimar has now become a permanent fixture on the international festival calendar. For 15 years, there are four-week learning and Concert Festival – and that’s why is the motto is also “Yiddishkayt [in Yiddish lit.: “Yiddishness and/or Jewishness”] Revisited”.
Lunch break in the Ottmar Gerster Music School in Weimar. The chairs set out in a circle in the auditorium are empty. A man sits at the piano and plays, just for himself. It is Ilya Schneyveys from Riga, professor of Klezmer music. Even as a child he came into contact with the Yiddish language.
“It was the same for my grandfather and my mother. I understand Yiddish because I’ve played a lot of Yiddish music; I haven’t sung so much, but accompanied a lot. I’ve been occupied with Yiddish music for 12 years, or so.”
Since 2006, Ilya has been coming every year to Weimar, to teach and to inform himself about new developments.
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For You the Sun Will Shine is a collaboration between vocalist Shulamit and musicians Frank London on trumpet and Shai Bachar on piano. The three artists perform are songs written by women during the Holocaust (Shoa).
”My greatest aspiration is for this music to live on as beautiful music, to be appreciated as art,” explains Shulamit. “It’s not about fancy melodies or complicated compositions. It’s about connecting with the immediate circumstances of the women who composed it, and it has the power to move people profoundly.”
Theodore Bikel, who has died at the age of 91 in Los Angeles, was a shtarker, unlike many showbiz stars who merely play shtarkers on TV or onscreen. The barrel-chested, booming-voiced actor and singer had talent and stamina, the kind that allowed him to play Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof” over 2000 times. After over sixty years as a folk singer Bikel offered resonant, blunt, direct performances that captivated audiences.
A lifelong fighter, as a youngster in Vienna after the 1938 Anschluss, he returned home bloodied from schoolyard brawls with anti-Semitic classmates, as he recounted in “Theo: An Autobiography” . Bikel was equally combative as an ambitious young Israeli actor after his family made Aliyah. Bikel’s Bukovinian Jewish father Josef, who toiled in an insurance company, was a deeply cultured, ardent Zionist who made sure his son’s Hebrew lessons began at age five, before any other schooling. At-home readings of Hebrew and Yiddish classics made Bikel ultra-aware of Jewish heritage, as to be expected for a boy named after Theodor Herzl, whose birthday he shared.
In Tel Aviv, Bikel struggled for roles at the Habima, Israel’s National Theatre, only getting a bit part in a 1943 adaptation of stories by Sholem Aleichem. So he co-founded his own chamber group in 1944, the still-thriving Cameri Theatre After training in London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, Bikel did not return to live in Israel after its statehood was declared in 1948, although he narrated the film “Ein Breira” (Song of the Negev;1949) a U.S.-Israel co-production directed by the Polish Jewish filmmaker Joseph Lejtes (1901–1983). Bikel wrote in “Theo”: “A few of my contemporaries regarded [not returning to Israel] as a character flaw, if not a downright act of desertion. In me there remains a small, still voice that asks whether I can ever fully acquit myself in my own mind.”
It started with a letter, a brief reference to samples taken from the bodies of Holocaust victims used in Nazi medical research. Decades later, the jars and test tubes found behind a glass cupboard in a locked room testified to history’s horror.
Raphael Toledano, a researcher from Strasbourg who has spent more than a decade delving into the eastern French city’s Nazi past, stumbled upon the 1952 letter from Camille Simonin, the director of the forensic science school at the University of Strasbourg, detailing the storage of tissue samples taken from some of the 86 Jews gassed for the experiments of August Hirt, a notorious Nazi anatomy researcher.
The autopsy samples were intended to be used to prosecute Hirt, who directed the construction of a gas chamber built specifically to provide victims for experiments carried out at the facility. At the time, Germans had replaced the French staff, which largely decamped elsewhere.
JERUSALEM– Laszlo Nemes, whose directorial debut “Son of Saul” won Cannes’s Grand Prize, attended the Jerusalem film festival to participate in the Sam Spiegel Film Lab’s Jury and took the opportunity to chat about his movie’s journey from financing to premiering it at the festival, as well as his views on the European film scene.
“Concentration camps were a mix of organization and chaos and that was our approach for this film,” said Nemes, who expresses a blend of determination, strength and humility. “Everybody came to the shoot with the Holocaust in mind. I had a lot of discussions with the actors, I told them to ban this feeling of self-pity, to bring (their act) down, do less. In a way it’s the most primitive way of directing.”
There has been countless movies about the Holocaust but Nemes says none truthfully “conveyed the experience of the camps, its limitations, its chaos, what it meant to be a human being living in the camps.”
“I wanted to make a film about the Shoah, but I didn’t know how to do it. I wanted to stick with one character but I needed an angle. After two or three years, the sentence came (…) it had to be about a member of the commando who was burning his own people,” explained the helmer.
“Yesterday we visited something that you might have already read about in the newspaper or heard about over the radio… Not very far from there is a concentration camp.”
These words, written by Private Hyman Schulman, to his wife, Sandy, in Brooklyn, while he was in Europe during World War II, are part of TK letter collection that has recently come to light, The New York Times reported this week .
Schulman, who was stationed in Europe as of 1942, worked as the aid to Rabbi Herschel Schacter, the first Jewish chaplain to enter Buchenwald, a Nazi concentration camp in Germany, in 1945.
On March 8, 1945 he wrote home about his recent promotion as the aid, saying, “Since I’ve been in the army I’ve always been hoping for a ‘break’ and I believe I finally got one… You won’t have to worry about your husband being hit by shells, living in muddy foxholes and generally roughing it in the E.T.O. for we are quite a ways back of the front lines.”
After the war, Sandy kept his letters, and stored them in boxes as they moved. They were recently rediscovered, the paper barely touched since she had received them nearly 70 years ago. The story was first reported by NJ.com
“Moses Man,” a musical about a family’s 9-year-long World War II survival odyssey that took them on a sanctuary search from Vienna, to Cyprus, Palestine and Africa before finally landing in America, has enough “now you’re safe, now you’re not!” twists and turns to justify being dubbed a Holocaust musical thriller. With book and lyrics by Deborah Haber and music by Casey Filiaci it is based on Haber’s father Kalman (Opa) and now 96-year old Lily Haber ’s true escape saga.
With a talented young cast of fourteen — and several playing multiple roles — it stars Kevin McGuire as Opa, Evan Daves as his grandson Moshe, Tess DeFlyer as Lia and Joanne Borts — a Folksbiene alumna whose credentials include the recent Broadway hit “Once” — as a Gestapo guard, Austrian, refugee and taverna owner. Other multi-character portrayers— Ryan Speakman as an SS Obersturmbannfuhrer Eichmann, Ship Captain, Cypriot, Sailor, British Major, and American Commander; Scott Scaffidi who plays a character Efra, Sailor, British Governor, refugee and super multi character actor T J Mannix who plays a police chief, Gestapo member, Italian Border Guard, British Officer and American Sailor. On stage there was an inanimate “cast” of large wooden crates—each with stenciled-in-black hoped-for destinations.
The death of Sir Nicholas Winton elicited eulogies from across British society. The prime minister tweeted: “The world has lost a great man. We must never forget his humanity in saving so many children from the Holocaust.” The chief rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, said Winton was “an outstanding role model for all”. The most heartfelt tributes came from survivors whose departure from Prague he helped to organise in the last months before the second world war.
Yet the chief rabbi at that time, Joseph Hertz, fulminated against evacuating Jewish children from Nazi-controlled lands only to place them in the homes of Christians. Winton arranged for at least 60 Jewish children, 10% of the total brought out of Prague, to be given into the care of the Barbican Mission, an organisation devoted to converting Jews to Christianity.
He saw nothing wrong with this and it may be germane to recall that he was a convert himself. He was born Nicholas Wertheim to German-Jewish parents who rejected Judaism. Decades later, when asked to comment on criticism from the Jewish community, he said: “I just confronted them and said in much politer terms, ‘Mind your own business … if you prefer a dead Jew to a Jew brought up in a Christian home it’s really not my problem’.” Today we would find it questionable to accept a change in religion in exchange for saving a life. But it was not self-evident that such a price was necessary even then.
O escritor Martin Amis volta a Auschwitz num romance que é uma espécie de comédia/sátira do Holocausto. The Zone of Interest é sobre o quotidiano de uma vila habitada pelos familiares dos SS onde se exterminam judeus. Que linguagem para falar do absurdo? Ele explica numa conversa intimista com leitores sobre o romance que chega a Portugal na Primavera.
“Sabemos muito sobre como tudo foi feito, sobre como Hitler fez o que fez; mas parece que continuamos sem saber quase nada acerca do porquê. Porque é que ele fez aquilo?” A interrogação acerca das verdadeiras intenções que estiveram na origem do Holocausto, do que motiva alguém a empreender uma tarefa com aquela “dimensão de horror”, surge como uma das razões apontadas pelo escritor Martin Amis para, quase meio século depois, revisitar um território que já tinha explorado em Time’s Arrow, or the Nature of Offense (1991).
É o princípio de uma conversa sobre o seu mais recente romance, The Zone of Interest (Knopf), o seu 14º romance, uma espécie de comédia sobre o Holocausto que divide opiniões especializadas. Há quem o considere uma obra-prima, como o norte-americano Richard Ford, ou a crítica inglesa que o considerou o melhor livro de Amis em 25 anos, desde London Fields (1989); e também há quem, como Joyce Carol Oates nas páginas da New Yorker, o tenha achado superficial no modo como trata questões tão profundas como a desse “porquê”. A discussão sobre The Zone of Interest mantém-se viva meses antes do romance ser editado em Portugal, na próxima primavera, pela Quetzal.
Police say two 17-year-olds stole buttons, a comb, spoons and other items near where prisoners’ belongings were originally kept by Nazi guards.
Two British schoolboys arrested at Auschwitz have each received a year’s probation, suspended for three years, and a 1,000 zloty (£170) fine after admitting stealing artefacts from the former Nazi death camp.
The boys, both 17, were released by Polish authorities on Tuesday afternoon after spending the night in jail. They were arrested on Monday while on a history trip with the independent Perse school in Cambridge.
Polish police said they had tried to steal a comb, spoons, buttons and pieces of glass from block 5 where Nazi guards stored prisoners’ confiscated belongings during the second world war.
In 1944, a half-million Jews were deported from Hungary to Nazi concentration camps. Along with the lives that were lost, an entire tradition of folk music became obscured during the Holocaust.
Seven decades later, Frank London began his detective work. “I’d call my informants,” said the trumpeter and bandleader, a longtime mover on New York’s “ethno-folk” scene, as he dubbed it.
Mr. London talked to old friends, like the song collector Bob Cohen. He studied Israeli websites that cataloged the songs of immigrants, looking for the Hungarians among them. He came across the music of Budapest cabarets from the 1910s and ‘20s. He consulted the songs collected by Béla Bartók, and other ethnomusicologists, before the war. “I spread the net as wide as possible.”
The cultural gumshoe was working up a concert repertory for the Glass House Orchestra, which honors the Hungarian Jewish folk tradition and adds something of its own—new pieces inspired by century-old sources, including the Roma, or Gypsies, and Hasidic dynasties reaching back to the 18th century. The eight-piece band was formed last year to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the mass deportations, taking its name from the Glass House—one of 76 safe houses set up by Swiss diplomat Carl Lutz to shelter Jews around Budapest.
Koch Theater at Lincoln Center, the iconic African American company has branched into new territory. In fact, it’s unprecedented, explained its artistic director Robert Battle, who choreographed the piece. Its musical score was composed by Erwin Schulhoff, a Czech-born Jew, and one of many musical artists who were killed or otherwise silenced by the Nazis.
“No Longer Silent” was conceived by Battle in 2007 as part of a Juilliard project — and the brainchild of conductor James Conlon — to commemorate three such composers, who include Franz Schreker and Alexander Zemlinsky.
“I was immediately drawn to Schuloff’s music for its urgency, rhythms, grandness, and ritualistic sounds,” said Battle as he sat in his corner office in the company’s West 55th Street complex. “It has tension and friction and reminded me of Stravinsky whom I love. It also reminded me of Martha Graham‘s early modern dance motifs. And then I got cold feet. Everything I loved about the music also terrified me.”
What finally anchored it for Battle was discovering just how much he and Schulhoff had in common. They both studied the piano, shared an interest in the avant-garde and jazz, and explored non-traditional artistic expressions in their own work. But there was also the human connection.
Auschwitz-set Son of Saul is focusing the film industry’s attention on the wartime atrocities committed by the Nazis – and it couldn’t be more relevant.
“No one could bear to look at these things without losing their sanity,” said WG Sebald, just before he died in 2001: he was talking about the Holocaust, and specifically the numerous acts of bestial persecution visited on the Nazi’s unfortunate victims. This has been a preoccupation of film-makers too, ever since the first newsreels emerged from concentration camps after their liberation. The desire to show, to tell, to educate, comes up against decency, taste and revulsion. What purpose, exactly, is served by documenting and/or recreating unwatchably violent and horrible images: hapless civilians murdered in their millions; shot, beaten, starved and tortured in greater numbers than ever believed possible; an entire national civilisation that prided itself on its sophistication undergoing the most spectacular moral breakdown in history. At what point do film-makers take responsibility for the trauma their images inflict, even if they are simply reflecting actual events?
The story behind the recently completed German Concentration Camps Factual Survey film attests to that: it was compiled from footage sent to London in 1945 by combat film units, as Belsen, Dachau, and Buchenwald were liberated: more was acquired from the Soviet film crews present at the death camps further east, Auschwitz and Treblinka. At some point the project – which briefly involved Alfred Hitchcock as a consultant – was abandoned, for no clear reason. The best guess is that its stated aim – to confront the surviving German population with atrocities carried out in their name, and partly in their midst – was neither effective nor expedient, as the allies sought to rebuild and reorganise in the already-burgeoning cold war with the USSR. But even at 70 years distance, the images it contains are appalling. The enormous mounds of emaciated corpses, tipped into giant burial pits; crowds of starving, disease-ridden survivors barely clinging to life; the unutterably gruesome remains of a man who had attempted to dig his way out under the wall of a burning building, only to be shot by soldiers waiting on the other side.
Frankl, a contemporary of Freud, lost his whole family during the Nazi’s attempted extermination of the Jews. He developed his theory of “healing through meaning”, known as logotherapy, while a prisoner in the Auschwitz and Kaufering concentration camps. He counselled his fellow prisoners, many of whom were suicidal, with a philosophy that argued that striving for meaning, not pleasure nor power, is what keeps us alive.
His book detailed the psychological reactions that an inmate progressed through during their time in the camps and how their behaviour changed if they survived and were liberated. He argued that men were “decent” or “indecent” regardless of their station. So a Nazi guard who showed kindness could be a decent man, while an inmate who exploited his fellow prisoners for personal gain, could be indecent.
Serge and Beate Klarsfeld have spent their lives tracking down war criminals so they can be brought to justice.
The Klarsfelds run one of the world’s more unusual family businesses. They are Nazi hunters. Seven decades after the end of the second world war, they are still as actively involved as ever in seeking justice for the victims and survivors of SS war crimes and the French Vichy collaborators.
In Paris today, Serge and Beate Klarsfeld, perhaps most famous for unmasking Klaus Barbie, the Butcher of Lyon, concede that their hunting days are over, but business is thriving as they busy themselves with the task of documenting the Holocaust in France.
“We are always working and always together,” says Serge Klarsfeld, 79, who can claim to have brought at least 10 war criminals and French collaborators to justice. As his wife, Beate, four years his junior, says: “It’s easy. We sit together. We work together, we play together.” To which Serge, a man not always known for his sense of humour, adds: “And we sleep together. But it’s like people having a small shop, you know, one is selling, one is buying. Yes, we are a family business.”
They have two children and their son, a lawyer, works with them. “Arno is very much involved,” Beate says.
David Toren remembers staring at Max Liebermann’s Two Riders on a Beach as his great-uncle signed over his estate to a Nazi general. Now his family has it back.
Most of David Toren’s family died in the Holocaust and he, then a teenager, only survived because his father got him to safety via the Kindertransport. Now Toren has spoken of the emotion of being reunited with a painting the Nazis seized more than 75 years ago.
“I felt the sense of victory – the second victory against the Nazis,” he told the Guardian.
Toren, now 90, was 13 when he last saw Two Riders on a Beach, an early 20th-century masterpiece by the German painter Max Liebermann, at the home of his great-uncle, David Friedmann, a passionate art collector, patron and prominent society figure in Breslau.
The painting was returned to Friedmann’s heirs this month. Toren, a retired lawyer, is now blind and family members have decided to sell the painting. It is a painful decision, but “there is no other solution”, he said. “You can’t cut up the painting [to share it].” An artist has created a braille version for him.
Two Riders on a Beach will be the first painting to be sold from the secret hoard of Cornelius Gurlitt, the reclusive son of one of Adolf Hitler’s art dealers, Sotheby’s has announced.
Painted in 1901, it was among more than 1,200 artworks found in Gurlitt’s dilapidated flat in Munich in 2012. They had been hidden from the world for decades and long ago assumed to have been destroyed in the war.
A sold-out US tour of ‘Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezin’ indicates a growing interest in recovering — and reinterpreting — the productions staged by Holocaust victims as prisoners.
BOSTON – It might be hearing the survivors’ haunting voices, singing Yiddish songs recorded after the Holocaust, or maybe it’s listening to romantic songs from the “cabaret” at Westerbork, where Jews awaited weekly transports to death.
With many back-stories to choose from, a new wave of researchers and artists is elevating “music as resistance” to the forefront of Holocaust education. A leading project is the traveling mega-production called “Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezin,” a memorial concert for the musical prisoners of the Nazi camp Theresienstadt, also known as Terezin, outside Prague.
Launched in 2002, the production hinges on a lavish, full orchestra performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s seminal Requiem, a Roman Catholic funeral mass. It was this complex Latin arrangement that Jewish conductor Raphael Schachter, imprisoned in Theresienstadt, chose to perform with a chorus of 150 fellow prisoners in 1943.
To build their story around the 84-minute Verdi masterpiece, “Defiant Requiem” creators interspersed it with live narration, video testimony from Theresienstadt survivors, and “show” footage shot by Nazis inside the camp. The finished product has been performed more than 30 times around the world, and recently wrapped a coast-to-coast US tour.