The Return of Richard Foreman, Rabbi of New York's Downtown Theater Scene
The Hank Greenberg Story That '42' Forgot
Vladimir Nabokov and the Jews
The History of Mel Brooks, Part I
How Do You Say 'Fuhgeddaboudit' in Yiddish?
How a 1976 Exhibit Changed the Way We Think About Jewish History
Vladimir Nabokov's Son Says Famous Father 'Was Close to Jewish Culture'
14-Year-Old Author Tells Story of Holocaust in Graphic Novel
Jews of Bukhara Helped Me To Understand Personal History
The Secret Jewish History of F. Scott Fitzgerald's 'The Great Gatsby'
Vera Gran's Biographer Reconsiders the Stigma of Wartime Collaboration
Ancient Tchotchkes Deepen Our Understanding of Jewish Pilgrims
What 'Girls' Could Learn From the 'Good Wife's' Wife
Man Thinks, God Laughs, a Reader Writes and a Columnist Contemplates
Francesco Lotoro's Mission To Save the Music of European Jews
David Roskies and Naomi Diamant Guide Readers Through Holocaust Literature
A Son's Journey Deep Into the Heart of Saul Bellow
Vasily Grossman's Armenian Sketchbook Finally Debuts in English
Remembering Hungarian Cello Master János Starker
Photographer Clemens Kalischer Survived Holocaust But Struggles To Adapt
The Tsarnaev Brothers Are Many Things. But Cowards? Not So Much.
Diary of Girl's Time in Concentration Camps Invites Comparisons to Anne Frank
Robert Alter Is Truly a Translator of Biblical Proportions
Jennifer Gilmore's New Novel Confronts the Mother of All Struggles
Stuart Nadler's Story of Interracial Love Explores Tensions in Jewish Families
Nothing Beat the Spa for Wealthy 19th Century Jews
Is Rise of Jewish Fundamentalism Endangering Israeli Democracy?
How Adam Kadmon Made the Leap From Kabbalah to Italian Television
Why Susan Steinberg May Be the Best Jewish Writer You've Never Read
Haifa Museum Brings Outsider Artists Inside the World of Israeli Art
Retelling Jewish American Story Through History of Cinema
Janice Steinberg Preaches Gospel of Second Chances
The Secret Jewish History of David Bowie
How Three Jewish Boys From Wilmette Became the 'Brothers Emanuel'
Yiddish Words That Punch Above Their Weight
Why Jews Are Among World's Happiest People
Harvey Fierstein Gets 'Kinky' and Discusses His Jewish Roots
Playing Jewish Geography From California to the New York Islands
Documentary Sheds Light on Andre Gregory, Star of 'My Dinner With Andre'
A.B. Yehoshua Looks Back at His Country and Art
Understanding Pope Francis's Surprising Affinity For Jewish Art
For D.A. Mishani's Hero, Police Work Is a Dull Gig
Why Jews Didn't Always Seem To Have a Word for Sarcasm
Was Hank Greenberg Braver Than Sandy Koufax?
In her first installments of “Collective Guilt vs. Collective Fear,” Randy Susan Meyers wrote about an essay in which the writer met with an elderly former SS officer and the plight of ordinary German citizen during World War II. Her newest novel, “The Comfort of Lies,” is now available. Her blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
“The schools would fail through their silence, the Church through its forgiveness, and the home through the denial and silence of the parents. The new generation has to hear what the older generation refuses to tell it.” ― Simon Wiesenthal
I worked for many years with batterers — men who were adjudicated into a program for domestic violence prevention, men who had beaten, hit, punched, and sometimes killed their wives. They sat and stared at me, denying with the most innocent of eyes the very crimes I had laid out in photos in front of me.
She ran into my fist.
I grabbed her arm and then she ran in circles around me, and that is how she broke her own arm.
She had a soft head, and that is why she died when her head hit the iron railing.
People ask if the men ever changed and my answer remains the same: only if they are able to face their crimes and cruelty. Denial, and the shame these men felt (whether shame at being caught, shame at hurting people they should have loved, or shame at their hidden crimes being brought into the bright sunlight), blocked their change. How do you change if you can’t admit what happened?
There was giant Hebrew letter Shin representing the Shekhina — the Godly presence — constructed out of large branches to be launched on a lake and set on fire, a 12-tone music system assigned to the Hebrew alphabet and the 72 names of God, and organic art installations hanging from trees in the forest.
These were just a few of the experimental pieces of land art being created by artists-in-residence at “The Jewish Waltz with Planet Earth Retreat,” a Jewish artists’ residency at the bucolic Eden Village Camp, in Putnam Valley, NY, during the month of May.
The retreat is the first artist colony run by Art Kibbutz NY, an organization set up to nurture Jewish artists and art collaboration, and to create a stronger community of Jewish artists.
“We’ve brought together a diverse group of Jewish artists, of all different disciplines, ages — from 20 to 70 — religious denominations, and from eight countries, and they’ve all engaged and formed a community. I didn’t even have to do much facilitating — art is such a common language, and through this they’ve built their own community,” said Patricia Eszter Margit, Art Kibbutz NY founder.
At an “Open Studio Day” on May 12 artists ran workshops, concerts and performances and presented their art to visitors.
Print-maker Nikki Green, collaborating on the “Shin” installation with fellow artist Asherah Cinnamon, was displaying her ornate prints of Hebrew letters enrobed in motifs from nature at her studio. “In my art, I look at the juxtaposition of the letter and the land,” said Green, who came all the way from Western Australia to participate in Art Kibbutz. Green’s work is inspired by, and created from, the landscape around her, using dyes from native flora for her Hebrew letters series. “I’m seeing flowers that grow here that I’ve never seen before. It’s very exciting!” she said.
“London seems to be in my bloodstream,” said artist Leon Kossoff. “It is always moving — the skies, the streets, the buildings. The people who walk past me when I draw have become part of my life.”
Kossoff’s current exhibition, “London Landscapes,” which opened in London May 8, includes over 90 drawings and 10 paintings in a retrospective that depicts the changing rhythm of the city’s urban landscape.
Apart from evacuation as a schoolboy and military service with the Royal Fusiliers between 1945 and 1948, 86-year-old Kossoff has lived all his life in the English capital. His work displays his observations of London — a lifelong subject — including the bomb sites of the early 1950s, the regeneration of Kings Cross and a recent return to Arnold Circus, in Shoreditch in the East End. That was where he was born to Yiddish speaking parents, and where he subsequently grew up.
Built in 1896, Arnold Circus was Britain’s first council housing estate, a Victorian social experiment. Today, red brick houses circle a bandstand and small park, much like they did then. The building where Kossoff attended school is still standing but the area, which formerly was occupied by immigrants, has now been gentrified.
The Cannes film festival may get some of its swagger back on Wednesday when it opens with Baz Luhrmann’s lavish 3D period drama “The Great Gatsby,” an opportunity to shed the caution of recent years overshadowed by broader economic gloom.
Leonardo DiCaprio and his British co-star Carey Mulligan will walk the red carpet on the French Riviera to promote the $105 million adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel which has already opened in North America.
Over 12 days of world premieres, champagne parties and sun-and-celebrity worship, Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, Ryan Gosling, Emma Watson and Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchanare among the big names in town promoting their latest pictures.
Festival veterans are eager to see if Luhrmann can top his opening in 2001, viewed as the last truly extravagant launch on the palm-lined Croisette waterfront, when he filled the red carpet with can-can girls to promote his movie “Moulin Rouge.”
“For a few years the mood at Cannes was a bit more subdued but the economy has picked up a bit and business is good so people are expecting a big opening,” said Wendy Mitchell, editor of trade magazine Screen International.
“The Great Gatsby” was seen as a surprise choice for Cannes, given that the prestigious opening slot is traditionally reserved for a world premiere and all the media buzz and excitement that can bring.
A version of this post appeared in Yiddish here.
Academics and enthusiasts of Yiddish studies have long been pushing for the translation of Yiddish literature. Unfortunately, few efforts have met with much success, even among Jewish readers. The New Yiddish Library Series, from Yale University Press, had plans to translate and publish dozens of Yiddish books, but was forced to halt the project due to low sales.
Writer and translator Michael Wex hopes to change all that. On May 7, Wex, the author of “Born to Kvetch” and “Just Say Nu,” launched an indiegogo campaign to raise money to translate Yosef Opatoshu’s novel, “In Polish Forests.” Wex plans to render the book into English and then post it online for free. A comprehensive introduction will acquaint the reader with Opatoshu’s life and work.
Through this project, Wex hopes to “pioneer a new model for literary translation while rescuing a seminal work of modern Yiddish literature from undeserved neglect,” he writes on his indiegogo page.
In the novel, Opatoshu describes the decay of the Hasidic dynasty in Kotsk after the Napoleonic period, up to the Polish uprising of 1863. He focuses on the lives of backwoods Jews and their daily interactions with gentile Polish peasants. Contrary to the stereotype that Jews lived in constant dread of their Polish neighbors, Opatoshu shows us a very different reality: Jews interacting easily with Poles, and Poles displaying respect for their Jewish neighbors.
“Touching as it does on Hasidism, heresy, pre-Christian Polish folk customs, wife-swapping, messianism, and Polish nationalism, this book will change the way you think about Jewish life in Poland,” Wex writes.
In her first installment of “Collective Guilt vs. Collective Fear,” Randy Susan Meyers wrote about an essay in which the writer met with an elderly former SS officer. Her newest novel, “The Comfort of Lies,” is now available. Her blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
“It is obvious that the war which Hitler and his accomplices waged was a war not only against Jewish men, women, and children, but also against Jewish religion, Jewish culture, Jewish tradition, therefore Jewish memory.” ― Elie Wiesel, “Night”
Like most Jewish children born in the ’50s, the Holocaust was a constant shadow. If the German generation born after World War II suffered from collective guilt, trying to cast off the shame of their parents and grandparents, or convince themselves or the world of the innocence of their parents and grandparents, the generation of Jewish children born of the same time, suffered from collective fear.
I didn’t grow up in a traditional Jewish family (if such a thing exists) by any stretch of the imagination. The first time I entered a synagogue was for a friend’s Bar Mitzvah. But I read voraciously, and from the time I received my ‘adult’ card at the Brooklyn Public Library, I was reading accounts — fiction and nonfiction — of the Holocaust. The non-fairy tales of my youth were “The Diary of Anne Frank,” “Mila 18,” and “Night” (which then morphed to “Jubilee” and “Roots,” as I conflated the horrors of slavery and concentration camps into one mass of fright).
The first trailer is out for Ari Folman’s new film, “The Congress” (see here for background), and though I hate to say it, it’s a little disappointing.
I’ve been looking forward to this movie for ages, mainly because it seems like the perfect creative pairing.
Folman, in his 2008 film “Waltz With Bashir,” used groundbreaking animation techniques to create a movie of impressive psychological depth and intensity.
“The Futurological Congress,” the book by Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem on which “The Congress” is based, is a hallucinatory look at a possible future in which humanity has drugged itself with psychoactive chemicals in order to make an overpopulated, resource-exhausted world bearable to live in.
I was hoping that combining Folman’s animated storytelling technique with Lem’s multi-layered dystopia would produce something like Satoshi Kon’s “Paprika,” another animated exploration of the mind’s slipperiest states.
To the dismay of guardians of Jewish heritage in Poland, a former Krakow beit midrash, or Jewish house of prayer and study, reopened as a disco this past weekend.
It was first reported in Gazeta Wyborcza, a local media outlet, that a new club called Mezcal would be opened in the Kazimierz district in a structure that was once the Chewra Thilim beit midrash. The article named the various DJ’s and bands that would perform, and described the light shows and parties that would take place in the space with valuable frescoes on its walls.
The building, designed by Nachman Kopald, was built at the corner of Meisels and Bozego Ciala streets in 1896. It was utilized as a dance studio after World War II, but was restituted to the Krakow Jewish community in 2001. The building had reportedly been vacant and unmaintained since 2006.
Members of the Managing Jewish Immovable Heritage conference visited the site last month after the president of Beit Krakow, the city’s small reform congregation, informed conference organizers that she had heard that the property would be turned into a restaurant. Her congregation had been hoping to use the space for its own needs.
It’s hard not to notice that many of the prizewinners at the 2013 Tel Aviv International Documentary Film Festival focus on women, be they pole dancers, supermarket cashiers or pioneers in pre-state Israel. Not all of DocAviv’s nods went to films about females, but the trend is hard to ignore.
The Best Israeli Film Award went to “Pole, Dancer and a Movie,” a film by Isri Halpern about Neta Lee Levy, the founder of Israel’s first pole dancing studio. Special Jury Mention went to “Super Women,” a documentary by Yael Kipper and Ronen Zaretsky chronicling the lives of five women who all work the same shift at an Israeli supermarket. Avigail Sperber won the Best Cinematography Award for the film.
“Women/Pioneers,” a film about the young women who came to the Land of Israel to be pioneers and develop a model for “the new woman,” received the Best Research Award. “Handa Handa 4” got a Special Jury Mention for the story it tells about a young couple of Bukharan descent that refuse to follow the conventional marriage traditions of their community.
The Best Editing Award went not to a film about women, but rather to one about children. “Dancing in Jaffa,” a film by Hilla Medalia that premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, follows ballroom dancing expert Pierre Dulaine as he returns to his native Jaffa to implement a social development program with Palestinian and Jewish children similar to the ones he has run in New York and other North American cities.
Danish director Susanne Bier is on a roll. Her 2006 film, “After the Wedding,” was nominated for an Academy Award the next year, and her 2010 movie “In a Better World,” won the best foreign film Oscar and a Golden Globe in 2011.
Her latest film, “Love Is All You Need,” stars Pierce Brosnan as an ex-patriot Brit living in Copenhagen, and Trine Dyrholm as a hairdresser dealing with the ravages of breast cancer and with her husband’s affair with a younger woman. They meet in sunny Sorrento, Italy, where their children are to be married to each other. Despite its dark overtones, the film is full of romance and hope.
“Love Is All You Need” opened in New York and Los Angeles May 3 before spreading across the country. Bier, in the United States to promote the film, spoke to The Arty Semite about the movie, the Oscars and growing up Jewish in Copenhagen. The one thing she didn’t want to talk about is anti-Semitism there today.
Curt Schleier: It is such an unusual story. Where did the idea come from?
Susanne Bier: Both [my writing collaborator Anders Thomas] Jensen and myself have been approached to do something on the topic of cancer.
People asked you to do a cancer movie?
This week Rebecca Miller will be sharing texts that shed light on Jewish life in 18th-century France, the setting of her new novel, “Jacob’s Folly” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Her blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
Gluckel of Hameln was an intrepid businesswoman, a mother of twelve children, a passionate wife, and a memoirist. She died in 1724, at the age of 78. Her memoirs are a rare window into the life of European Jewish women of the period. What struck me most vividly by her account of her days was her ability to bridge a business career (otherwise known as financial survival) and family concerns, living a unified, if exhausting, life.
“My father had me betrothed when I was a girl of barely twelve, and less than two years later I married.” So ends Gluckel’s childhood. As often happened, Gluckel’s marital deal included her being exported to another town. In this case, she was crammed into a peasant cart along with the rest of the wedding party (her mother was much put out, having expected carriages) and bustled off to the “dull and shabby hole” of Hameln, a small village. “There I was, a carefree child whisked in the flush of youth from my parents, friends, and everyone I knew, from a city like Hamburg into a back-country town where lived only two Jews.”
The fractious factions in the Gaza Strip and across the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories have found one voice to unite behind — a 22-year-old youth singing songs about a lost homeland on the Middle East’s version of “American Idol.”
Gaza native Mohammed Assaf has become the first Palestinian to qualify for “Arab Idol,” a TV talent show staged in Beirut, in which singers perform for judges and voting viewers.
He is now one of the last 10 contestants — largely thanks to his potent mix of good looks and emotional lyrics about ancestral Palestinian lands.
“He is the pride of Palestine. He broke the siege with his voice,” said fan Rehaf al-Batniji, referring to Israel’s blockade of Gaza, seized by the Jewish state, along with the West Bank, during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
She stood in front of a large mural of Assaf at a Gaza restaurant, one of hundreds of posters covering buildings and walls usually marked with political slogans.
Assaf’s songs blare out of radios — a counter-balance to their usual broadcasts of bleak economic and political news.
Politicians have raced to endorse him and Palestinian mobile phone company Jawwal has cut the price of text messages to make it easier for supporters to vote.
Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree
By now, I don’t suppose there are many people in the world who would liken the groves of academe to an earthly paradise. Too much has been written of late about tensions between faculty and university administrators, student ennui and diminishing resources, to hold up the academic enterprise as a paragon of civility.
The steady advance of hybrid courses and of MOOCs (massive online open courses) has compounded matters even more. From coast to coast, discussions about their integration into the curriculum have become increasingly heated, throwing just about everyone — their advocates, their detractors and those in the middle — into a tizzy. You need only pick up an issue — any issue — of The Chronicle of Higher Education or, for that matter, The New York Times, to see the extent to which tempers have frayed.
Fear of change and the prospect of an uncertain future fuel much of this. But so, too, does the very nature of academic life where, all too often, petty politics rules the roost and decidedly uncollegial behavior is the coin of the realm.
Randy Susan Meyers’s most recent book, “The Comfort of Lies,” is now available. She is also the author of “The Murderer’s Daughters,” a finalist for the Massachusetts Book Award. Her blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
“Justice is better than chivalry if we cannot have both.” — Alice Stone Blackwell
The Internet is a tricky beast. Sitting alone, cozy in ragged sweatpants, writing while curled on the couch, it’s easy to believe that you’re cloaked in isolation, even as you spill on that most public of forums. Thus, I hesitate before committing words online. After reading a recent well-intentioned post — about an SS officer — a piece written by a friend of a dear friend, an article meant in good will, I wrestled more than usual.
The essay focused on a particular slice of the copious research this first-generation American author did while writing a novel (which I have not read) about Germany before, during, and after WWII, from the point of view of a young German woman who falls in love with a Jewish man.
During her research, the writer (through her family ties in Germany) met with an elderly former SS officer — an officer and doctor — who the writer concludes was stationed on the front lines, not in a camp.
Live in New York long enough, and you become accustomed to seeing our most decorated novelists, journalists, poets and playwrights sit on various stages to discuss their work. Uptown places like 92Y and Symphony Space in Manhattan get the lion’s share, while a smattering of smaller venues like Housing Works in SoHo regularly host bestselling authors.
On May 9 in Brooklyn, inside a small gymnasium called Camp Friendship on 8th Ave. in Park Slope, the “Progressive Jewish Community” Kolot Chayeinu, led by one of the Forward’s most inspiring rabbis, Ellen Lippmann, got in on the action by hosting America’s most decorated living playwright, Tony Kushner.
Billed as an evening of “Art, Politics, and Being a Jew,” Kushner answered questions posed by Lippman that ranged from what his process for writing is (“I hate writing. I try to avoid it as much as possible”), to his work with Steven Spielberg as the screenwriter for “Lincoln.” They also discussed Kushner’s politics, which have caused controversy in the past, most notably when the City University of New York voted to block Kushner from receiving an honorary degree, due to Kushner’s positions on Zionism and Israel (the decision was eventually reversed). But in the middle of Park Slope, Kushner was among friends.
My Dad Is Baryshnikov,” directed by Dmitry Povolotsky, about a klutzy Russian Jewish version of Billy Elliot, is among the latest in a tradition of Russian Jews ardently seeking reflections of their own experience onscreen. This impulse dates back to the earliest years of cinema history, as is explained in the brilliantly researched “Kinojudaica: Representations of Jews in Russian and Soviet Cinema from the 1910s to the 1980s.”
Edited by film historians Valérie Pozner and Natacha Laurent, “Kinojudaica” derives from a 2009 retrospective at the Toulouse Cinémathèque, which later toured to Bologna, Brussels, Lausanne, and Paris. In The Pale of Settlement, the region of Imperial Russia where Jews were granted permanent residency, film provided an early, desperately needed window to the outside world. In 1898, a French silent movie showman responded to public demand by screening a program about the Dreyfus Affair at Zhytomyr, the Ukraine.
Local audiences were so avid for pseudo-documentary visuals about Captain Alfred Dreyfus’s story that, as Pozner notes, footage was included supposedly showing Dreyfus before his arrest, before movies had even been invented. Immediately popular biblical subjects were supplanted in 1911, when the contemporary story “L’Chaim” dazzled moviegoers with the tale of Rukhele, a maiden whose parents make her marry Matteus, the wealthy employer of impoverished Shlomo, her true love. After two years of married tsouris Rukhele runs away to live with Shlomo, who meanwhile has become a drunkard. One local reviewer enthused:
Jonathan Kirsch is book editor of The Jewish Journal. Earlier this week, he wrote about Jewish resistance, restoring Herschel Grynszpan to the pages of history, Herschel Grynszpan’s scandalous theory of defense and Kristallnacht. His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
“I’ve dictated a sharp article against the Jews,” Joseph Goebbels boasted in a journal entry in 1933. “At its mere announcement, the whole mischpoke [sic] broke down.”
The word used by the notorious propaganda chief of the Nazi party is a mangled version of the Yiddish word for “family” (mishpokhe), and it conveys the cruelty and contempt that the Nazis held for the Jewish people. To hear the mamaloshen fall from the lips of a man who seeks to murder every Jewish man, woman, child and baby within his reach carries a special kind of horror.
I quote the journal entry in my new book, “The Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan: A Boy Avenger, a Nazi Diplomat and a Murder in Paris” (Liveright), and I use “mishpokhe” as a kind of leitmotif in the story I tell. At the age of 15, Herschel was sent out of Nazi Germany by his doting mother and father, and the boy was passed along from uncle to uncle until he finally reached Paris, where he was given a place to live by his Uncle Abraham. They were all tragically wrong in assuming that France offered a safe refuge for the Grynszpans, but they acted loyally and courageously in an effort to save the life of the youngest member of the family.
Hundreds of singers from across Europe have convened in Vienna for the first European Jewish Choir Festival.
The festival will culminate on May 12 in a gala concert titled “Shir LaShalom — A Song for Peace” at the Austria Center Vienna, where 400 vocalists from Jewish choirs from 16 European cities will present their repertoires.
The event, is expected to draw some 1,500 spectators over the weekend, is sponsored by the European Jewish Parliament, the Jewish Community of Vienna, the municipality and the Austrian state, among others.
In addition to concerts, the festival’s Jewish and non-Jewish singers are participating in workshops to increase cultural exchange, an element which Roman Grinberg, choirmaster of the Vienna Jewish Choir, described as “extremely important” for organizers.
“The excitement here is enormous, the faces of participants of the initial sessions reminded me of children receiving a new PlayStation,” said Joel Rubinfeld, co-chair of the European Jewish Parliament.
Philadelphia’s classical music-loving community is coming together on May 11 at Centennial Hall in Haverford, Pennsylvania to pay tribute to the achievements of Nelly Berman, a Russian-Jewish immigrant who has touched the lives of hundreds of young music students over the past 30 years.
Jonathan Adler, who has been studying piano at the Nelly Berman School of Music for a decade, describes its formidable director as a drill sergeant and loving grandmother rolled into one. Off to Yale in the fall, where he hopes to continue studying music, Adler told The Arty Semite, “NBS has taught me the importance not only of learning and loving classical music, but of performing the music as well.”
Berman’s daughter, Elena Berman Gantard and others in the school’s community have organized a gala concert, in which 24 pianists will play 24 preludes by Chopin and more than 30 other students will showcase their skills on violin, viola, cello, flute, clarinet, trumpet, voice and chamber music. The elder Berman, 74 and suffering from ill health, is making the trip to Philadelphia from Florida to be at the celebration.
Jonathan Kirsch is book editor of The Jewish Journal. Earlier this week, he wrote about Jewish resistance, restoring Herschel Grynszpan to the pages of history and Herschel Grynszpan’s scandalous theory of defense. His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
Kristallnacht, the first incident of state-sponsored mass violence against the Jews of Nazi Germany, marks a turning point in history. Hitler used the shooting of a minor German diplomat named Ernst vom Rath by a 17-year-old Jewish boy in Paris — the story I tell in my new book, “The Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan: A Boy Avenger, a Nazi Diplomat and a Murder in Paris” (Liveright) — as the pretext for the sudden escalation of his war against the Jews on November 10, 1938. One of the overlooked but highly telling facts about Kristallnacht is that the Nazi regime issued a list of approved phrases to be painted on Jewish storefronts during the “spontaneous” demonstration of righteous German anger. Among the sanctioned graffiti was “Revenge for the murder of vom Rath.”
Here is another reason why history has not been kind to Herschel Grynszpan. When he fired a shot in anger at a Nazi diplomat on that day in 1938, much of the Jewish world was still convinced that passivity and patience offered the only strategy for survival in the face of Nazi anti-Semitism. The shot that Herschel fired in Paris was seen by his fellow Jews as nothing less than a catastrophe. So it was that one Jewish newspaper in Paris was moved to publish an open letter of apology to vom Rath’s mother in which the writer “expressed great sorrow on the death of her son” and implored her that “it was unjust to blame all Jews for her son’s death.”
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