Category Archives: Literature

Denial (movie) review – overwhelmingly relevant assertion of truth

[From The Guardian]

5620In 1996, the historian Deborah Lipstadt was pursued in the UK courts by the notorious Holocaust denier David Irving, for calling him a falsifier of history in her book Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory. This movie version of those events, written for the screen by David Hare and directed by Mick Jackson, stars Rachel Weisz as Lipstadt and Timothy Spall as Irving; it has been coolly received by some on the festival circuit, its drama dismissed as stagey and flat. I disagree. For me, it has clarity, urgency and overwhelming relevance. Because denial is fashionable again. Irving himself is gloating at the way “alt–right” fascists are threatening to make him and his poisonous flat-earthery acceptable once more. The US president himself believes in “alternative facts”. So for me this film, telling its story with punchy commitment and force, was a breath of fresh air.

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A personal glimpse into the aftermath of the Holocaust

[from TribLive website]

dt-common-streams-streamserver-cls-2The Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh opened its doors in October 2015 and its newly minted exhibition space, designed by Paul Rosenblatt of Springboard Design, has been put to good use with the exhibition “The Art of Lazar Ran,” which opened Dec. 12 and will remain on display through Jan. 31.

Including works from some of Ran’s most important print series, it details the life and career of Belarusian artist Lazar Ran (1909-1989) whose work was inspired by the Holocaust.

The prints come from the collection of Svetlana Belaia, a journalist and member of The Belarusian Writers’ Union who currently lives in Cleveland. She inherited the collection from her father, Anatol Efimovich Bely, who was a friend of the artist.

Belaia says that out of all the Soviet Republics, Belarus was most devastated by the Nazis during World War II.

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Remarkable story of Holocaust survivor who played in orchestra at Auschwitz comes to the stage

[From getwestlondon website]

How do you tell the story of a Holocaust survivor who can’t bring himself to open up about the atrocities he witnessed?

That’s the challenge which faced Gérald Garutti when he was charged with bringing to stage the remarkable tale of Haïm Lipsky.

The Polish-born Jew was a violin prodigy and survived Auschwitz after being selected for the orchestra there, but opted to work as an electrician rather than play professionally after his liberation from the Nazi concentration camp.

For Garutti the answer was simple: his task was not to write a Holocaust play in the traditional sense but one about the transcendent power of music and the succour it has provided for Lipsky and millions across the world in desperate times.

He describes the Holocaust as a “dark hole” in the middle of Haïm – In the Light of the Violin , coming to Notting Hill theatre the Print Room at the Coronet – which tells the story of Lipsky’s life from the age of eight to the 94-year-old of today.

“I wanted to convey how art, and especially music, can give a sense of meaning to our lives – especially in the darkest times,” he says.

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East West Street by Philippe Sands review – putting genocide into words

[From The Guardian]

1703A compelling family memoir intersects with the story of the Jewish legal minds who sowed the seeds for human rights law at the Nuremberg trials.

On 20 November 1945, exactly 10 infernal years after the Nazis’ Nuremberg laws had instituted the legality of antisemitism – robbing Jews of citizenship, rights, property, and eventually of life itself – the ancient Bavarian city was host to the war crimes trials that gave birth to the modern system of international justice.

For the first time in history, national leaders were indicted for their murderous acts before an international court. Hermann Göring and other leading Nazis such as the “butcher of Poland”, Hans Frank, Hitler’s preeminent legal adviser and the head of occupied Poland’s “general government”, met their ultimate judgment. It was here, too, that the concepts of “crimes against humanity” and “genocide”, so central to contemporary political life, had their first courtroom airing.

Philippe Sands begins this important and engrossing book in Nuremberg. The trial of Frank provides its climactic moment. It will come as no surprise that Sands is a leading human rights lawyer who was involved in Chilean dictator Pinochet’s extradition trial, as well as in many key cases that have made their way to the international criminal court. The surprise is that even when charting the complexities of law, Sands’s writing has the intrigue, verve and material density of a first-rate thriller.

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Embracing Ambiguity: Reflections on Translating Yiddish by Anita Norich

[From In geveb]

thumbnail.imgTranslation theorists and many keners of Yiddish are remarkably alike in their mystification or obfuscation of what it means to translate. How often do we hear indignant exclamations of “S’hot nisht keyn yidishn tam,” or “you just can’t translate that” followed by such proofs as hak mir nisht keyn tshaynik or nisht geshtoygn, nisht gefloygn? And how often have we been stymied by illustrious theorists (Walter Benjamin’s opaque and pivotal “The Task of the Translator” chief among them) announcing versions of the following: “We only ever speak one language. We never speak only one language.” (Jacques Derrida). “Nothing is translatable… . Everything is translatable.” (Emily Apter). “Benjamin defines translation as untranslatable.” (Carol Jacobs).We would do better to simply acknowledge that “don’t knock on my teakettle,” or “didn’t rise, didn’t fly” really are inadequate literal translations of rich idioms. Or that Benjamin gives us the best and most difficult advice when he writes that “the task of the translator is to find in the translator’s language that latent structure which can awake an echo of the original.”

Fundamental to discussions of translation have been questions about fidelity and transgression. “Traduttore, traditore” (translator, traitor) goes the familiar Italian adage. Or, to cite a line perhaps closer to home, we read in the Talmud Rabbi Yehuda’s verdict that “one who translates a verse literally is a liar; one who adds to it is a blasphemer and a libeller.” Add to this the history of Yiddish and Yiddish-speaking people in the twentieth century and translators are, indeed, faced with a daunting task. The fear is not only that we may lose culturally specific nuances (always a concern in translation from any language) but the history and culture of pre-Holocaust Askenazic Jewry.

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The Bitter Taste of Victory by Lara Feigel review – writers and artists respond to the camps and Nuremberg

[from The Guardian]

3508When 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”.

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Imre Kertész obituary

[From The Guardian]

2667‘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.

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Final Solution: The Fate of the Jews 1933-1949 by David Cesarani – review

[from The Guardian]

3008Jan 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.

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British Jews give wary approval to the return of Hitler’s Mein Kampf

[From The Guardian]

2799

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?”

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Black Earth by Timothy Snyder review – a new lesson to be learned from the Holocaust

[from The Guardian]

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.

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Toni Morrison on Primo Levi’s defiant humanism

[From The Guardian]

Primo-Levi-in-Turin-1985-009The Complete Works of 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 philosophypoetry and the figurative uses of scientific knowledge. VirgilHomerEliotDanteand 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.

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Book Review: How I Stopped Being a Jew by Shlomo Sand and Unchosen: The Memoirs of a Philo-Semite by Julie Burchill

Interesting book review (not strictly related to this blog’s core topic, but interesting nonetheless)

[From the Guardian]

Review by Will Self

In 2006, as the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) were undertaking their second major incursion into Lebanon, I resigned as a Jew. I did it publicly in an article for the London Evening Standard. My resignation wasn’t a protest against Israeli aggression – why would they care about such a gesture? – but aimed, I believed, against prominent leftwing English Jews, who, despite the complete contradiction between their espoused values and the undemocratic, apartheid and territorially expansionist policies of the so-called Jewish homeland, continued vociferously to support Israel. A couple of years earlier, on Question Time, I had also challenged Melanie Phillips over her campaign to force British Muslims to take a loyalty oath, saying: if British Muslims, why not British Jews? But on that occasion, when she had accused me of being an antisemite, I was still able to play my trump card: I’m Jewish.

The reaction to my resignation was pretty muted. I did receive an email the following morning from a pressure group called Jews for Justice in Palestine, urging me to reconsider on the basis that it was perfectly possible for me to retain my Jewish identity while objecting to the activities of the Zionist state. In fact, I’d been surprised by my own apostasy (if it can be called that), and it’s only now, having read Shlomo Sand’s elegant and passionately felt essay, that I’ve come to understand why it is I resiled from … what? This heritage? Or is Jewry a people, a religion, or possibly – if pejoratively – a tribe?

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The Death Factory: Martin Amis’s “The Zone of Interest.”

[from The New Yorker]

When Theodor Adorno declared, in 1949, that “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric,” he could hardly have anticipated the ensuing quantity of poetry and prose that actually concerned itself with the Holocaust, still less its astonishing range and depth. The category now encompasses the densely narrated psychological-historical realism of André Schwarz-Bart and Imre Kertész, the Kafka-inspired dreamscapes of Aharon Appelfeld, and, later, the elliptical, deeply original fictions of W. G. Sebald. As the generations of firsthand witnesses give way to younger generations, literary works that confront the subject have often been more circumspect; recent novels by Susanna Moore and Ayelet Waldman achieve their emotional power by focussing upon characters peripheral to the terrible European history that has nonetheless altered their lives. The conflagration must be glimpsed indirectly, following Appelfeld’s admonition that “one does not look directly into the sun.”

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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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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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