The Arty Semite

POEM: 'Looking Out'

By Seymour Maine


Comics, Motherhood — and Charlie Hebdo

By Michael Kaminer

Miss Lasko-Gross’s shrewd, poignant “Henni” (Z2 Comics) arrives at a charged moment for cartoons and religion. In the graphic novel — a marked departure from Lasko-Gross’ acclaimed autobiographical comics “Escape from ‘Special’” and “A Mess of Everything” — the female lead abandons her village in a quest for knowledge. The blind followers, cynical leaders, and “disruptors” she meets along the way enact a sly parable for the chains of religious absolutism — and the book sounds a call to reject mindless submission to dogma of any kind.

Lasko-Gross’s painterly style and unflinching eye make “Henni” as hard-hitting as it is heartrending. And like all of her work, it avoids easy answers to complex questions. The artist spoke to the Forward from her home and studio on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Full Disclosure: Lasko-Gross is one of the artists in “Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women,” the traveling exhibition which I curated, and the Forward sponsored.

Michael Kaminer: Resistance to religion is at the center of “Henni”; has the Charlie Hebdo attack galvanized your feelings around the message and the medium?

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10 Unforgettable Pictures From the Lodz Ghetto

By Michael Kaminer

Henrik Ross’s camera helped him survive the Holocaust. As an “official” photographer of the Lodz ghetto, he took photos for Jewish identification cards, and documented scenes the Nazis would use to promote the ghetto’s efficiency and industry.

Ross’ camera also helped memory survive. Surreptitiously, he photographed scenes that reflected grueling daily life and wrenching moments of horror in the ghetto.

The images themselves almost didn’t make it. Ross buried them when the ghetto was liquidated in 1944; when he returned a few months later, only half of his 6,000 negatives had endured. More than 200 of those images went on display last month at the Art Gallery of Ontario, where “Memory Unearthed: The Lodz Ghetto Photographs of Henryk Ross” will run through June 14.

“The piles of clothes and corpses had become iconic images to portray the murder of the Jews,” said Maia Sutnik, the AGO’s curator of photography and organizer of the exhibition. “But these images of life in the ghetto, the day-to-day horror of what it was like to survive, are very important. They shed new light on the tragedy of six million Jews.”

Sutnik has also edited a companion book to the show, published by Yale University Press, which features photos, documents, and other archival material from the AGO’s permanent collection. The museum acquired Ross’s negatives in 2007.

In her cluttered office at the museum, Sutnik shared her thoughts with the Forward on some of the exhibition’s most powerful images:

1. Bridge crossing “Aryan” street

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Why Britain Needs a New Holocaust Memorial

By Liam Hoare

Britain needs a new Holocaust memorial. This is the principal conclusion of Prime Minister David Cameron’s Holocaust Commission. Publishing its findings on International Holocaust Memorial Day, it concluded that a new monument would “serve as the focal point of national commemoration of the Holocaust” and “make a bold statement about the importance Britain places on preserving the memory of the Holocaust.” It should be “co-located with a world-class Learning Centre,” one that would become a hub for Holocaust education nationally.

In London, there are already two Holocaust memorials. The first was opened in Hyde Park in 1983, and consists of two large boulders lying in a gravel bed, inscribed, “For these I weep. Streams of tears flow from my eyes because of the destruction of my people.” It is so discreet and non-descript that few know of its existence — I did not know of it until I read the Holocaust Commission report. The other, located at Liverpool Street Station, relates to the Kindertransport and was unveiled in 2006.

The Holocaust Commission concluded that neither of these are satisfactory. The Hyde Park memorial in particular was deemed uninformative, unrepresentative and isolated. A new memorial should be “striking” and “prominent,” as well as respectful, interactive, and educational. It should also encompass the Holocaust in full, noting the essential Jewish centrality of the catastrophe while not forgetting the suffering of other minorities under the Nazi regime.

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'Censored Voices' of '67 War Speak Out at Sundance

By Anthony Weiss

Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

(JTA) – In the wake of Israel’s seemingly miraculous triumph in the Six-Day War in 1967, the country’s victorious soldiers were lionized as heroes.

But in private, even just one week after the conflict, many of them didn’t feel that way. One describes feeling sick to his stomach in battle and collapsing into a trench.

“I wanted to be left alone,” he says. “I didn’t think of the war.”

Another talks about watching an old Arab man evacuated from his house.

“I had an abysmal feeling that I was evil,” the soldier says.

The voices come from tapes made just weeks after the war’s conclusion and now presented, some of them for the first time, in the powerful new documentary “Censored Voices,” which premiered Jan. 24 at the Sundance Film Festival here.

Piece by piece and story by story, they tear apart the heroic narrative of Israel’s great victory in favor of something far messier, more chaotic and more human.

The tapes were made by fellow kibbutzniks Avraham Shapira and the novelist Amos Oz, who were driven by a sense that amid the triumphalism, more ambivalent emotions were not being expressed.

“It was a sadness that could only be felt in the kibbutz because we were living so close to each other,” Shapira recalls in the film.

Traveling from kibbutz to kibbutz with a borrowed reel-to-reel tape recorder, Shapira and Oz convinced fellow veterans to open up about their feelings, their memories and their misgivings from the war. But when they moved to publish what they had gathered, the Israeli government censored 70 percent of the material. Shapira published the remaining 30 percent in his book “The Seventh Day: Soldiers’ Talk about the Six-Day War.”

Now, thanks to the efforts of director Mor Loushy, who convinced Shapira to give her access to the tapes, all of the soldiers’ stories can be heard. Films in Israel can be subject to censorship, but according to producer Hilla Medalia, “We were able to release the film as we wanted it.”

The voices from the tapes are combined to great effect with archival footage, photographs, contemporary news accounts and film of the now-aged veterans to tell the story of the war and its aftermath.

What emerges is a vivid portrait of the war as it was lived by those who fought in it. In the tradition of soldier’s-eye narratives like “A Farewell to Arms” and “The Red Badge of Courage,” the movie allows the soldiers to depict themselves as confused, selfishly afraid, often stupefied by the sight of death and dying, and morally troubled when they encounter the enemy as fellow humans.

There is little doubt that prior to the war, the soldiers saw the build-up of hostile Arab forces on their borders as an existential threat.

“There was a feeling it would be a Holocaust,” one says.

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In New HBO Special, Mel Brooks Is in Fine Form

By Curt Schleier

“Good evening ladies and Jews.”

That, Mel Brooks explains, is the way he used to start his shtick in the Catskills resorts where he honed his craft. It’s also how he begins his outstanding January 31 HBO stand up (and given his 86 years, partly sit-down) special, “Mel Brooks: Live at the Geffen.”

Brooks offers humorous patter about his amazing life and sings some of the songs he wrote for films and other projects.

This is not the first time Brooks has shared biographical details. He was already a semi-regular on HBO, with revealing and witty conversations in 2011 (with Dick Cavett) and 2012 (with Alan Yentob), the latter at this same Geffen theater. He was also the subject of an extraordinary American Masters documentary in 2013. Therefore and not surprisingly, some of his material will prove familiar to Brooksophiles.

But it is a tribute to the comedian’s genius and his lengthy list of accomplishments that he still has baskets-full of farm-fresh anecdotes to offer.

Brooks talks about his early military career, when he was assigned to Ft. Sill’s Field Artillery Replacement Training (or FART) Center.

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POEM: 'Hide and Seek'

By Seymour Maine


Sarah Silverman Shows Her Dark Side

By Anthony Weiss

(JTA) — The Sarah Silverman that the world knows and loves is a loudmouthed, foulmouthed, ribald comedian who tramples on the boundaries of social decency with sharp purpose and uproarious glee.

The Sarah Silverman who stars in the domestic drama “I Smile Back,” which premiered at Sundance, is stripped of both bravado and joy. In the movie, which marks Silverman’s first starring dramatic role, she plays Laney, a deeply depressed housewife who veers into self-destructive behavior. She snorts coke in the bathroom, cheats with a friend’s husband while the kids are at school, sneaks vodka on the sly and even masturbates with a teddy bear on the floor next to her sleeping daughter. The portrait of Laney that emerges is intense, raw and disturbing. It is also unmistakably, recognizably Silverman.

At least partial credit for that insight goes to Amy Koppelman, who adapted the screenplay from her own novel of the same name, along with co-screenwriter Paige Dylan. Koppelman didn’t know much of Silverman’s comedy when she heard Silverman on Howard Stern’s radio show talking about childhood depression. Instinctually, Koppelman felt that Silverman would be a perfect match for the novel.

“I felt she would understand what I was trying to say in the book,” said Koppelman at a post-screening Q&A.

Sure enough, Silverman met with Koppelman and agreed to sign up for the movie.

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12 Sibling Teams That Changed Hollywood

By Curt Schleier

Getty Images

Nancy, Anne and — who was that other one? — oh yes, Steven Spielberg aren’t the only siblings in film. In fact, the list is longer than you might imagine.

1. Joel and Ethan Coen

If there’s one constant in the Coens’ collaboration, it’s the consistent high quality of their work: “Barton Fink,” “Fargo,” “O Brother, Where Art Thou,” “The Big Lebowski,” and, of course, their truly Jewish film, “A serious Man.” Another factor sets them apart: their work ethic. Since 1984’s “Blood Simple,” they’ve made over 20 films, in almost all cases, writing, editing, producing and directing themselves.

2. Auguste and Louis Lumière:

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Why Nancy Spielberg Made a Movie About the Israeli Air Force

By Curt Schleier

“Above and Beyond,” the documentary about the birth of the Israeli Air Force, started with an obituary. This according to the film’s executive producer, Nancy Spielberg.

Yes, for the record, she is one of those Spielbergs. Yet, despite her impressive credentials — she served as a consultant on the Oscar-winning documentary, “Chernobyl Heart,” and executive produced “Elusive Justice: The Search for Nazi War Criminals” — she is probably not even the second or third most famous member of the clan.

There is, of course, older brother Steven. Sister Anne was nominated for an Academy Award for co-writing the screenplay of “Big.” And then there is Nancy’s daughter, Jessica Katz, a contestant on the Israeli version of “The Voice.”

“Above and Beyond” is about a small group of mostly American, mostly secular Jews who risked everything to sneak aircraft around worldwide embargoes into the newly founded State of Israel — and then fly those planes on missions against the massed armies of five Arab nations.

Czechoslovakia, in desperate need of U.S. dollars, sold Israel Messerschmitts from a German-built factory there — as well as German parachutes and uniforms. Other aircraft and parts were smuggled out of the U.S. and other countries.

Interestingly, one of the pilots was Milton Rubenfeld, the father of entertainer Paul Reubens, better known as Pee Wee Herman, who talks about his dad in the film.

Spielberg spoke to the Forward about being from a “heymish” family, why the director she hired refused her calls, and what it was like growing up as a prop person for her older brother.

Curt Schleier: How did the film come about?

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Lost Violin of Auschwitz Plays Again

By Alexandra Hudson

Amnon Weinstein has devoted his life to researching and collecting Holocaust-era violins.

(Reuters) — A violin thrown some seventy years ago from a train transporting French Jews to the Nazi Auschwitz death camp will sound in the concert hall of the Berlin Philharmonic on Tuesday night, along with other instruments once played by victims of the Holocaust.

A French railwayman caught that unknown passenger’s violin and gave it to his daughter to play.

Years later it found its way into the hands of Israeli violin-maker and restorer Amnon Weinstein, whose extraordinary collection comprises violins embodying their former owners’ tragic histories and stories of survival.

Tuesday marks 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops. Around 1.5 million people, mainly European Jews, were gassed, shot, hanged and burned at the camp in southern Poland during World War Two.

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A Jewish David Foster Wallace? Welcome to Sundance

By Gabe Friedman

Getty Images

(JTA) – No, the late great writer David Foster Wallace was not Jewish – but the first actor to portray him onscreen is.

Jason Segel, the Jewish actor known for his roles in films such as “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “The Five-Year Engagement” as well as the popular TV show “How I Met Your Mother,” plays Wallace alongside fellow Jewish thespian Jesse Eisenberg in “The End of the Tour,” which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival this weekend.

“The End of the Tour” is an adaptation of the book “Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself,” author David Lipsky’s account of a five-day road trip he took with Wallace on a book tour in 1996, just as the publication of “Infinite Jest” was turning Wallace into a literary rock star.

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An Outsider Among Montreal's Hasidim

By Michael Kaminer

In Quebec, the term “two solitudes” once described icy/cozy relations between the English and French. But in Maxime Giroux’s sublime “Felix and Meira,” which closes out this year’s New York Jewish Film Festival, the phrase seems apt for the Hasidim and hipsters of Montreal’s happening Mile End neighborhood, coexisting without actually engaging.

The film’s title characters cross those lines — and many more — in Giroux’s wintry film, whose acute sense of place registers as strongly as his finely drawn characters. Sharp-eyed viewers will recognize Hadas Yaron, who plays the rebellious Orthodox wife Meira; in Rama Burshtein’s “Fill the Void,” another frum drama, she played another Orthodox woman facing difficult choices.

“Felix and Meira” won Best Canadian Feature honors at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival; it opens wide in May. The Forward caught up with director Giroux as he shuttled between meetings in Old Montreal.

Michael Kaminer: What kind of research did you do in Montreal’s Orthodox community, which seems highly insular?

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10 Movies for International Holocaust Remembrance Day

By Curt Schleier

It seems more than a little disturbing to talk about the Holocaust and good movies in one sentence, but the former has certainly inspired many of the latter. In fact, there is an embarrassment of riches. This is a good thing, because any effort to educate the world about the horrors of genocide is important.

There are so many choices that any list of Holocaust-related films will be incomplete. To leave some room for less-known movies, some obvious choices have purposely been left out. Among them, “The Diary of Anne Frank” (there are so many productions of the movie and play to name it here seems redundant) and “Life is Beautiful” (a little too light in its approach for my taste).

Here are those who made the list, starting with:

1. Schindler’s List (1993, Steven Spielberg)

This is not only the best Holocaust film, but among the best movies I’ve ever seen. Images of the little girl in the red coat still haunt me. Nowhere have I seen the precarious nature of life better portrayed than in the scene where camp commander Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes) randomly uses prisoners for target practice. John Williams’ score, played by Itzhak Perlman, is appropriately affective. Simply put: there is not a comma out of place anywhere.

I spoke to Spielberg at the time of the film’s release. He told me the rights to the book it was based on, Thomas Keneally’s “Schindler’s Ark,” had been purchased for him years earlier, but he did not feel he was mature enough to handle its emotional intensity. When he decided to make the film, he refused his normal fee. He said it would be “blood money.” All his earnings were used to fund the Spielberg Foundation, now the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education.

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‘The Return’ Takes New Look at Polish Revival

By Tom Tugend

(JTA) — On the crumbling wall of a former Polish synagogue, adjacent to a one-time Jewish ritual bath converted into a car wash, a graffiti artist has painted “Jews, We Miss You” in Polish and German.

The message, scrawled on the wall in the Polish town of Dabrowno, is an apt message in contemporary Poland, which has seen a surprising revival of Jewish life in a land that nearly saw its Jewish community eradicated, first by the Holocaust and then under decades of communist rule.

The story of that revival is the subject of the new documentary “The Return.” Adam Zucker, a 57-year-old New Yorker, does triple duty as the film’s director, producer and writer. He tells his tale through the eyes of four women.

Zucker estimates that there are now 20,000 people in Poland who formally identify as members of the Jewish community — a number that doesn’t include those who have some Jewish ancestry, often recently discovered, or the legions of non-Jews who have become enamored of Jewish culture.

“Poland was the cradle of Ashkenazi Jewry, where Hasidism started and Yiddish developed,” writer Konstanty Gebert declares in the film, adding defiantly, “And this is where it did not end.”

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POEM: '10/20/07'

By Hank Lazer

it sounds like a kind of whispering
intercessor said in a hush said
behind your back like ruach a breath
making room within you though the eyes
look outward & so a jewish poetics
is to think about a jewish poetics i am
a what & so in all of this
there is a hidden mathematics

Pete Sokolow Is the 'Youngest Old Guy' of Klezmer

By Jon Kalish

Photo: Michael Macioce

The Arty Semite wishes Brooklyn musician Pete Sokolow a speedy recovery. Sokolow suffered a stroke last month and ended up missing the last KlezKamp. The man who came to be known in the klezmer revival as “the youngest old guy” is a little weak on his right side but many are hoping that after some physical therapy, the 74-year-old teacher and bandleader will be back in form. In addition to being a consummate klezmer musician, Sokolow is a monster stride piano player.

Sokolow started playing klezmer in the Catskills in 1958 as a college student. It was there that he met the great klezmer clarinetist Dave Tarras. More than 50 years later, he is one of the last living links to Tarras, one of the Jewish immigrants who brought klezmer to America. Look for a new CD this spring from Tarras Band, the ensemble led by Ben Holmes and Michael Winograd, who studied with Sokolow at KlezKamp.

Winograd is just one of the klezmorim who does a spot-on impersonation of Sokolow, who has been described as a man who talks like W.C. Fields with a Yiddish worldview. When I interviewed Henry Sapoznik, a key player in the klezmer revival, for an NPR profile of Sokolow, I asked him if he agreed that Sokolow could be irascible at times. Sapoznik replied: “Pete Sokolow, irascible? If you open up the Webster’s dictionary and you look up ‘irascible,’ there’s his picture.”

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Hitchcock Holocaust Doc To Air on International Remembrance Day

By Curt Schleier

“Night Will Fall” is not just another film documenting Nazi atrocities. It is also an anger-inducing reminder of how little the Allies did after the war to help the victims.

The film debuts January 26 on HBO, and will be rebroadcast January 27 on networks around the world to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

At its heart, “Night Will Fall” is a “making of” documentary, but it is about the making of a film that wasn’t completed until almost two decades after it was shot. In April 1945, combat cameramen were assigned to accompany British troops about to enter the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp.

Sidney Bernstein, a film producer and founder of both the Granada Group and Granada Television, was head of England’s Film Psychological Warfare unit and wanted to document the atrocities. He said he wanted to “film everything, which would prove one day that this actually happened… because I guessed right. People would deny this ever happened.”

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Was Eichmann Trial 'Most Important TV Event'?

By Liam Hoare

More than almost any other event, it was the trial of Adolf Eichmann that, in 1961, brought the Holocaust into the public consciousness of the world. In both Europe and Israel, the trial marked the beginning of the end of a period, immediately after the Second World War, when the Holocaust was deliberately ignored and forgotten. The cause of the change: the medium of television.

A new 90-minute BBC drama, “The Eichmann Show” — which aired in the United Kingdom January 20 as part of a season of programming to mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz — captures the making of the Eichmann Trial as a television spectacle. It was an American producer, Milton Fruchtman (played by Martin Freeman), who persuaded David Ben-Gurion that “only television can show the world what Eichmann did,” and that the trial of Eichmann would be “the most important television event in history.”

Fruchtman hired Leo Hurwitz (Anthony LaPaglia), who was blacklisted in the United States during the McCarthy period, to direct his show. “The Eichmann Show” homes in on Hurwitz’s singular obsession with Eichmann, what the camera could do to inspect him, and his failure to get the much-desired close-up of him showing even a scintilla of regret. “Come on, do something!” Hurwitz bellows, as Eichmann watches stony-faced images of trucks plowing piles of skeletal corpses into mass graves. His face barely even twitches.

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The Summer Polish Jews Were Hunted

By Donald Snyder

Getty Images

In the cities, hamlets, and pine-covered forests of Poland, a murderous hunt took place in the summer of 1942. The Germans called it the Judenjagd, the hunt for the Jews.

Historian Jan Grabowski documents the deadly dragnet in his book “Hunt for the Jews: Betrayal and Murder in German-Occupied Poland.” Originally published in Polish in 2011, the book prompted vigorous debate. Some critics claimed it tarnished Poland’s image.

The subsequent English version, which contains new evidence, was awarded the 2014 Yad Vashem International Book Prize for Holocaust Research in December 2014.

The book is the story of the hunt for Jews in Dabrowska Tarnowska, a rural county in southeastern Poland 50 miles east of Krakow. It describes the search for Jews who escaped from death camp transports and sought refuge among non-Jews in the Polish countryside, and gives a candid picture of terrible instances of Polish complicity in the detection and murder of Jews in hiding.

At the same time, Grabowski makes it clear that there was no Polish involvement in more than 90% of the Holocaust murder perpetrated by the Germans.

Grabowski, 52, is a professor of history at the University of Ottawa in Canada. He is also a founding member of the Polish Center for Holocaust Research in Warsaw, Poland. Born in Warsaw to a Christian mother and Jewish father, Grabowski immigrated to Canada in 1988.

According to the Book Prize Committee, Grabowski’s study is “exemplary and shows that a careful reading of archival material allows for the detailed reconstruction of personal life (and death) stories of Jews in hiding.”

The Forward’s Donald Snyder spoke with Grabowski about his book by phone.

Donald Snyder: How effective was the German hunt for the Jews?

Jan Grabowski: It was very effective. Two hundred and fifty thousand Jews fled to villages and the forests of eastern Poland to seek refuge, and 35,000 survived the Holocaust. That’s roughly 14%.

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