Forward Thinking

The Lesson of Angela Merkel's Hitler Mustache

By Sigal Samuel

Benjamin Netanyahu casts Hitler mustache on Angela Merkel / Marc Israel Sellem

Ah, the hazards of light and shadow.

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke at a press conference today with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, he didn’t mean to point his finger in a way that would cast upon her face a distinctly Hitler-mustache-like shadow. But point he did — and Jerusalem Post photographer Marc Israel Sellem captured the moment in a photo that’s now gone viral.

The image has unleashed a tidal wave of laughter, praise and puns. BuzzFeed ran it under the tongue-in-cheek headline “There Is Nothing Strange About This Photo of Angela Merkel — And You’re Crazy If You Think Otherwise.” Gawker’s headline joked that “Angela Merkel Did Nazi This One Coming,” engendering a slew of comments like “Something’s not Reich here” and “Heil get you every time.” Inhabitants of the Twittersphere have been busy nominating it for “Picture of the Year,” while the photographer’s personal Facebook page has been inundated with back-slapping comments from friends (“Congratulations!” “Bravo!”).

But the photographer himself, and his employer, seem to be taking an altogether more bashful approach. Sellem initially uploaded the photo to his Facebook page, but then deleted it, according to BuzzFeed. The Jerusalem Post has said that it will not use the photo, with reporter Lahav Harkov taking care to clarify that the image did not (despite appearances) get posted to the Jerusalem Post’s Facebook page, and tweeting in quick succession:

There’s a whiff of embarrassment and defensiveness about these remarks — and that’s probably just as it should be. Looking at this photo, you can’t help but laugh. But you also, well, kind of cringe.

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Hoarder Wants 'Nazi' Art Back — Looted or Not

By Rachel Stern

Art historian Meike Hoffmann speaks to the media regarding the seizure in 2011 of 1,500 paintings from Cornelius Gurlitt in Germany. / Getty Images

It looks like the German lawmakers will be too late.

Cornelius Gurlitt’s spokesman, Stephan Holzinger, announced today that Gurlitt’s lawyers filed a complaint at an Augsburg court, arguing that tax authorities’ seizure of the Gurlitt art collection was disproportionate and asking for the immediate return of the reportedly Nazi-looted works.

“In light of the immense public interest and political debate, we have a reasonable concern about the legality of this process,” defense attorney Derek Setz said. Is it irony or intent that this complaint was filed last Friday — the same day that a bill proposing retroactive abolition of the statute of limitations for claims on Nazi-looted art was filed and accepted to be discussed by the Upper House of the German Parliament?

In September 2010, customs officers caught Cornelius Gurlitt, son of Nazi-dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt, on a train from Zurich to Munich, carrying €9,000 in cash. Nothing illegal there. But the fact that he had traveled to Zurich the same morning, together with his nervous behavior, initiated a court-ordered tax investigation in 2011, which led to the 2012 search of Gurlitt’s home and the seizure of about 1,400 works of art by the authorities. The case became public in November 2013 through a leak to the German magazine Focus.

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Germany Weighs Flawed Bill on Nazi-Looted Art

By Rachel Stern

Art historian Meike Hoffmann speaks to the media regarding the seizure in 2011 of 1,500 paintings from Cornelius Gurlitt in Germany. / Getty Images

Today the Bavarian Minister of Justice Dr. Winfried Bausback presented a bill to the Upper House of the German Parliament proposing retroactive abolition of the statute of limitation for claims on Nazi-looted art. The bill was accepted to be discussed by committees in the Upper House, made up of representatives of Germany’s 16 states. Next, it has to be approved by the government and the Lower House of Parliament.

This bill is a long overdue start in the discussion of how to deal with Nazi-looted art in Germany, and it’s a necessary step toward changing the existing law. But it includes a condition for waiving the statute of limitations: the original owner has to prove that the present possessor bought the artwork with malicious intent. But what exactly is that malicious intent, and how do you prove it? The bill doesn’t say.

Almost 70 years after the Nazi regime, the German government still does not enforce the return of “Nazi-looted art” — art that was stolen by the Nazis mostly from Jews between 1933 and 1945. Recently, the authorities in Bavaria found a large art collection, the collection that Cornelius Gurlitt inherited from his father Hildebrand Gurlitt, a dealer who bought art in 1941-1944 in Nazi-occupied France for Hitler’s planned museum in Linz. It is clear that parts of the collection are “Nazi-looted art.” This accidental find became public last November through a leak to the German magazine “Focus.”

But after an international outcry, heated discussions and heightened public sensitivity, the Bavarian Minister of Justice is now suggesting a law that — given its built-in condition — has the potential to make it even more complicated for the original owners or their heirs to get their property back.

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Avant-Garde Aliyah to Berlin

By Martyna Starosta

“There’s always this joke that half of Tel Aviv is actually here,” Liad Hussein Kantorowicz told me when I interviewed her in her Berlin apartment.

The numbers back her up: According to the latest estimates, 15,000 to 20,000 people have left Israel in recent years to forge a new life in Berlin. Most of these new migrants come from Tel Aviv and are relatively young. Many are trying to make it professionally in a creative field.

But why Berlin, of all places? The idea of “historical irony” sounds like an understatement when you ask yourself: Why are so many descendants of Holocaust survivors deciding to move to the exact same city in which the Nazis planned the Final Solution 70 years ago?

Maybe it’s fair to assume that we are talking about a very different Berlin. Today, Germany’s gritty capital offers a lot more than just affordable rent. It’s a fertile ground for longing and transgression, especially for artists.

Keren Manor / Activestills.

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Germany's Not Just Faking Holocaust Contrition

By Liam Hoare

News that drunken revelers had, on New Year’s Eve, used Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe as a urinal came shortly after The New York Times published an op-ed by Yascha Mounk on the conflicts of being a German Jew.

Together, these items create an image of a Germany not at ease with itself, of a nation that still hasn’t come to terms with its past and found a place in its social fabric for Jews or the memory of Jews. Mounk suggests Germany has swung between “a bout of philo-Semitism” and “a new mood of ‘enough is enough’” when it comes to processing the Second World War, adding:

Clearly, there was something artificial about the ritualistic displays of historical contrition that had long been central to public life in Germany. But to assert that the time had come to move beyond the past, once and for all, was no less artificial. Normality cannot be decreed by fiat.

Mounk is right, on the one hand, to suggest that after the Shoah, things can never be normal again, neither for Germany as a whole or German Jews in particular. “Increasingly, I realized that the mere mention of my heritage erected an invisible wall between my classmates and me,” Mounk writes. “I realized that even my most well-intentioned compatriots saw me as a Jew first, and a German second.”

But to suggest that Germany’s public struggle to come to terms with the past is in some form artificial does a disservice to what Germany has achieved since the end of the Second World War in this regard.

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Ani DiFranco’s Slave Plantation Gaffe

By Ari Paul

At first glance, it seems that Ani DiFranco has become the latest example of how a mix of star-fueled insulation from the real world and white privilege can lead to bad public relations. After an Internet-inspired backlash, the feminist singer-songwriter has canceled a musical retreat at a former slave plantation in Louisiana, now a resort that promotes the quaint imagery of antebellum life.

But the dreadlocked diva isn’t to blame. Many have wondered how the normally socially progressive artist could be so insensitive. The answer is that for more than a century, since the South lost the Civil War, it has buried the horror of slavery to such an extent that celebrating at a site of such human suffering doesn’t seem so absurd. That a place like the Nottoway Plantation, where DiFranco wanted to have her event, exists as a luxury destination for weddings and other celebrations is telling enough. This is just one example of both collective amnesia and resilient pride in a racist ideology.

The fact is that it’s not that hard for a society to publicly condemn its own past and actively work toward a better future. As Jews, we know that Germany’s monuments to the Holocaust explicitly define the dead as victims of the nation. Those who resisted have museums in their honor. The death camps, both in Germany and outside, remind us of the dark possibilities of the human spirit, a sign that regular people can participate in unspeakable evil. Nothing about that era is celebrated.

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How Kindertransports Saved My Family

By Anna Goldenberg

Anna Goldenberg
Lizzie (center), Ilse (bottom right), Hans (bottom left) Fritz (bottom center) and their parents.

When her parents escorted 16-year-old Alice, my aunt, to the Vienna train station, her father was crying. Her mother on the other hand, remained strong and optimistic. “She said, ‘We’re going to see each other again,’” Alice, nicknamed Lizzie, remembered. ”And I was like, I’m going to England, and I’ll be able to improve my English.”

Seventy-five years ago today, on December 2, 1938, the first “Kindertransport” arrived from Germany in England. In the nine months that followed, around 10,000 children — including Lizzie — from Nazi-occupied areas travelled to England, and were placed in foster families, schools and shelters. British authorities agreed to grant visas, while private citizens and organizations had to find guarantors for the children up to the age of 17.

When Lizzie arrived, a doctor’s family from Liverpool took her in for half a year. When they moved to a smaller house, she was passed along to another foster family. Meanwhile, her father, a Jewish carpenter, managed to get his hands on a New York phone directory, and reached out to a cousin, who sent an affidavit and tickets for a ship. Once they had arrived in New York, they organized Lizzie’s passage. In June 1940, she arrived in the United States.

“It was incredible, so beautiful,” said Lizzie, who is now 91 and lives in Valley Stream, NY. She has remained in touch with her foster family in Liverpool, who treated her with respect and love, and is grateful to the people who took children they didn’t know into their families.

Lizzie left Vienna with her maternal cousin Fritz, who immigrated to Australia soon after his arrival in England. Ilse, Fritz’s younger sister, had left Vienna a few months earlier, and found refuge at a Quaker boarding school in the south of England.

“I came without knowing a word of English,” Ilse, now 87 and living in London, said. “It was very traumatic.”

Her father had died earlier that year. Her mother remained behind in Vienna. Also trapped were her maternal cousins, Hans and Herbert, as well as their parents. Having lost the family business — a furniture store — they had no money left to flee the country and were unable to get on a Kindertransport of their own.

In the fall of 1942, the remaining family members received a deportation notice. A family friend, a non-Jewish pediatrician, offered to hide Hans and Herbert in his Vienna apartment, risking his own life to help them. Herbert, who was 14, didn’t want to leave his parents, but 16-year-old Hans, my grandfather, agreed.

When the end of the war came, Ilse received a letter from Hans. “I thought ‘That’s the first one.’ I went to the hockey field, because I wanted to be alone to read it,” she said.

“I was shocked. It was the first one, and the last one, because no one else had survived.”

Anna Goldenberg is the Arts and Culture intern at the Forward. She also writes about Jewish issues and science for various Austrian publications. Follow her on Twitter @angoldna.

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Live Tweeting the Kristallnacht Pogroms

By Anna Goldenberg

Exactly 75 years ago, between November 7 and 13, 1938, a wave of anti-Semitic pogroms swept across Germany and Austria. This year, a group of German historians chose to commemorate the events, which marked a turning point in the Nazi’s persecution of Jews, using an unconventional medium: Twitter.

On October 28, the five historians who stem from different German universities, started live-tweeting the events of 1938 in German, as if they happened now, using the handle @9nov38 and relying on historical data that include newspapers and postcards.

The first tweet reads “Starting on October 28 more than 15,000 Polish Jews were expelled from the Deutsche Reich, immediately effective.”

On the morning of November 8, the group posted a picture of the headline of the Nazi party’s newspaper “Der Völkische Beobachter” announcing the assassination of the German ambassador in Paris, Ernst von Rath, by 17-year-old German-born Jewish Herschel Grynszpan: “Jewish Assassination in Paris. Member of the German Embassy Perilously Wounded By Shooting. The Murderer Boy: A 17-Year-Old Jew. Villain to Europe’s Peace.”

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UK Report: 10.8 Degree F Warming by 2100

By J.J. Goldberg

The Guardian cites a new report from Price Waterhouse Cooper Consulting saying the world is on track for an average global temperature increase of 6 degrees C (10.8 F) by the end of the century at current rates of carbon emission, with catastrophic implications for human life.

New research by consultancy giant PwC finds an unprecedented 5.1 per cent annual cut in global emissions per unit of GDP, known as carbon intensity, is needed through to 2050 if the world is to avoid the worst effects of climate change and meet an internationally agreed target of limiting average temperature increases to just two degrees above pre-industrial levels.

Such deep reductions in carbon intensity would be over six times greater than the 0.8 per cent average annual cuts achieved since 2000.

The report also confirms that greatest rises in greenhouse gas emissions came from the emerging E7 economies of China, India, Brazil, Mexico, Russia, Indonesia and Turkey, whose cumulative 7.4 per cent annual increase in emissions swamped record levels of reductions in the UK, France, and Germany.

PwC warns sustained economic growth in these countries could “lock in” high carbon assets that will make it significantly harder for them to decarbonise over the coming decades, a point likely to be raised at the UN-backed Doha Climate Summit when it kicks off later this month.

It also warns that industrialised countries must accelerate their partially successful efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

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