The Austrian Jewish psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl (1905-1997), author of “Man’s Search for Meaning”, an inspiring account of his concentration camp experiences, enlightened many generations of students. None more so than a budding Austrian theologian Eric Gritsch, who in 1950 was mentored by Frankl, as the former described in a 2009 memoir.
Now a distinguished historian of Lutheranism, Gritsch published his latest book in January “Martin Luther’s Anti-Semitism: Against His Better Judgment,” citing Frankl’s humanistic search for life’s meaning in the preface to his study. Gritsch implies that failure to seek meaning can be a sin of omission. He notes that, since 1956, The International Congress for Luther Research has studied every possible topic about the 16th century German monk Martin Luther, who launched the Protestant Reformation, except his rapport with Jews.
“Martin Luther’s Anti-Semitism” cites another historian, Stefan Schreiner, to the effect that Luther knew “practically nothing that was authentic” about Jews. Yet Luther published such violent tracts as 1543’s “The Jews and Their Lies,” calling for anti-Semitic repression and labor camps which to a modern reader seem to prefigure Nazi policies. Luther’s biographer Roland Bainton wrote that “one could wish that Luther had died before” this unfortunate tract was written. Only in 1994 did the Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America explicitly repudiate Luther’s anti-Semitic ravings, and this delay, Gritsch implies, may have been due to embarrassing confusion about how anti-Semitism was an “integral part of [Luther’s] life and work… [but not] in harmony with the core of his theology.”
Jews in the U.K. have been wondering what’s up with Waterstone’s, the country’s largest bookstore chain. While some of the company’s actions have aroused suspicions of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, other Jewish customers are simply questioning Waterstone’s business sense.
In May 2011, Russian billionaire Alexander Mamut acquired Waterstone’s from HMV for £53 million.
Last month, the Jewish community was shocked to see Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” promoted by Waterstone’s as a “perfect” Christmas present. In a statement Waterstone’s Head of Communications Fiona Allen made to The Arty Semite, she admitted that this was a mistake. She emphasized that it was limited to one branch only, that the company had issued an apology, and that “the bookseller [was] given words of advice on his error of judgment.”
A longer version of this post appeared in Yiddish here.
Some weeks ago, on December 12, I was involved in a commemoration at YIVO of the 120th birthday anniversary of the great Yiddish actor and director Solomon (Shloyme) Mikhoels.
I am not sure if Mikhoels is well known among the younger generation in Russia, or anywhere else. Older people, however, specifically in America and Canada, may recall the trip that he and the poet Itsik Fefer took from the Soviet Union to North America in 1943. They came as representatives of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, of which Mikhoels was the chairman. What is often forgotten is that not all Jewish organizations made the two artists welcome.
Daniel Libeskind’s ‘Wheel of Conscience’ in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Courtesy Canadian Jewish Congress.
The ill-fated voyage of the MS St. Louis, the Hamburg-based ocean liner intended to transport 907 mostly German Jewish refugees to Cuba in May 1939, has always played a central role in early Holocaust history, and not only because it unraveled, tragically, like a Hollywood drama. (Indeed, the story was made into a 1976 film called “Voyage of the Damned,” based on a book of the same name.) Rather, the episode exposed a peculiar unwillingness on the part of the United States and Canada to accept Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany, even though Hitler’s anti-Semitism was already well known. Turned away at Havana, the ship unsuccessfully sought safe harbor in Florida and Nova Scotia before returning to Europe. Many of the passengers eventually died in the Holocaust.
In Canada, the story of the country’s anti-Jewish immigration policies has been recorded in the seminal 1983 book “None Is Too Many: Canada and the Jews of Europe, 1933-1948” by Irving Abella and Harold Troper. Yet the public’s awareness of the Holocaust tends not to linger on that aspect of history. On January 20, however, Pier 21, Canada’s Immigration Museum in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in partnership with the Canadian Jewish Congress, will unveil an MS St. Louis monument designed by New York-based architect Daniel Libeskind. Pier 21 was the entry point for over one million European immigrants to Canada, from 1928 to 1971.
If you drown a Jew while trying to baptize him against his will, are you anti-Semitic? That was the discussion brewing in the blogosphere after the penultimate episode of the HBO hit series “Boardwalk Empire” aired on November 28. The show, set in the 1920s in Atlantic City, follows the people who run the city and the Federal Agents trying to enforce Prohibition.
Agent Van Alden, played by Michael Shannon, grew increasingly fanatical as the episodes aired — he flagellates himself and talks to his wife about signs from God. His assistant, Agent Sebso (Erik Weiner), is Jewish — he understands the Yiddish spoken by Simon, a suspect in a bootleg robbery, when Van Alden revives him with cocaine in the third episode. Sebso is also, as Van Alden suspects, working for the other side. But it was in the eleventh episode, “Paris Green” (written by playwright/screenwriter Howard Korder), that Van Alden’s true crazy emerged, as he submerged Sebso in front of an African-American congregation.
At the “Boardwalk Empire” panel at the New York Times Arts and Lesiure Weekend on January 9 I asked showrunner Terence Winter if Van Alden was intended to be anti-Semitic.
With stadium seating and the scent of fresh popcorn in the air, the November 21 screening of “A Jewish Girl in Shanghai” could have taken place in any shopping mall cinema in the world. But there was nothing ordinary about the film itself, which is China’s first homegrown Jewish movie, and an animated one at that.
“Other Jewish film festivals are avoiding this like the plague,” said Howard Elias, the founder of the Hong Kong Jewish Film Festival, which screened the movie as part of its 11th edition. “I’m showing it for the novelty. It’s not anti-Semitic — in fact, it’s pro-Semitic, in its own perverse way.”
Directed by Wang Genfa and Zhang Zhenhui, and based on a graphic novel by Wu Lin, “A Jewish Girl in Shanghai” is set during World War II. It tells the story of two children, Rena and Mishailli, who flee Europe after their father goes missing and their mother is abducted by Nazis. They find their way to Shanghai, which at the time was one of the few places in the world that would accept Jewish refugees, despite being occupied by the Nazi-allied Japanese.
“Weimar Cinema, 1919–1933: Daydreams and Nightmares,” running at MoMA until March 7, 2011, is billed as the largest-ever retrospective of German cinema from between the Wars to be shown in the United States. The era’s defining cinematic style, expressionism, is well-represented in dozens of offerings, giving a healthy dose of the atmospheric, disturbing and downright spooky in classics like “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” “M,” “Nosferatu,” “Vampyr” and “Waxworks.”
But alongside these seminal works, the 75-film retrospective — created with assistance from the F.W. Murnau Foundation in Wiesbaden and the German Kinematek in Berlin — also highlights lesser-known and in some cases downright impossible-to-find fare, such as the surviving early comedies to which Billy Wilder lent his talents as screenwriter (see the 1930 ménage à trois musical “A Blonde’s Dream”).
On December 13, the museum will screen the impossible-to-find silent version of “Fräulein Else,” adapted from the revolutionary novella by Arthur Schnizler and directed by Paul Czinner. Schnitzler’s slim volume, written in a breathless interior monologue, tells of a young woman who consents to appear naked before the benefactor who is willing to save her father from financial ruin.
On Monday, Avi Steinberg wrote about Kafka in Tel Aviv. His first book, “Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian,” was just released. His blog posts are being featured this week 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 certainly has been a monumental few weeks in the history of humiliation. With the help of Wikileaks, we’re learning so many new things about our friends and neighbors. Who knew CNN’s Anderson Cooper dyed his hair white? Actually, to be honest, I had suspicions. All the signs were there. But still, there’s something startling about hearing him admit, and so bluntly, that he also uses a mirror to practice that signature move of his, the purposeful sidelong squint — and all of this preening just so he can look more like “serious newsman.” Anderson, you’re boyishly handsome. Just own it, babe.
But I don’t judge. I’ve got my own Wikileak grief. I present the following Wikileaked document, which involves, well, me. It catches me saying some things that I’m frankly not too proud of. Since it’s going to be circulating out there anyway, especially among Hasidic bloggers, I figure you might as well hear it from me first. It’s a memo from me to my book’s publicist. Oy, so embarrassing. Here it goes…
When Israeli filmmaker Erez Laufer set off for Mumbai in November of 2008, he had a comparatively simple plan: make a documentary about his father’s return to his childhood home in India, where his family found refuge after escaping from Nazi-occupied Poland.
Their flight, the basis for “Rafting to Bombay,” was a remarkable story of illegal border crossings, sailing on goatskin rafts, and finding not only shelter but also comfort and success in India.
But shortly after Erez arrived in Mumbai with his parents and sister, Pakistani terrorists began shooting up the city, attacking a local Chabad and killing, among many others, a rabbi and his wife, parents of a two-year-old boy.
That changed everything. What would have been a heart-warming, nostalgia-filled movie became a reminder of how precarious life can be, especially for Jews.
“For me, this was not about a film. This was about our using our gifts as cantors to create dialogue,” said Cantor Nathan Lam of “100 Voices: A Journey Home,” which will be shown in a one-night event in over 75 theaters nationwide on November 11. The feature-length documentary chronicles the journey in June 2009 of 75 members of the Cantors Assembly and 25 congregational singers to Poland, the birthplace of cantorial music.
Jews lived in Poland for over 1000 years, and over that time Jewish and Polish cultures were intertwined. The cantors decided to return to the land from which their music first sprouted, not only to discover their own roots and witness the places where their family trees were brutally cut off during the Holocaust, but also to reach out to the Polish people by replanting seeds of Jewish culture with the hope that they might grow reconciliation and renewed relationships.
Crossposted from Haaretz
Eleven sculptures classified as “degenerate art” by Hitler’s Nazis more than 70 years ago went on display at Berlin’s New Museum yesterday after being unearthed at a building site in the city center. Among the surprise finds, which date from the early 20th century, are bronzes by Otto Baum, Marg Moll, Edwin Scharff, Gustav Heinrich Wolff, Naum Slutzky and Karl Knappe; remnants of ceramics by Otto Freundlich and Emy Roeder; and three unidentified sculptures.
They are just some of the 15,000 works the Nazis confiscated from museums and private collections because they were considered “degenerate” — a term Hitler’s regime used to classify most modern art. Some of this art was sold abroad, but much of it was destroyed. Two of the works discovered — Marg Moll’s sculpture entitled “Female Dancer” and Otto Freundlich’s terra-cotta “Head” were featured in the 1941 Nazi propaganda film “Venus on Trial,” in which they served as an example of the kind of “degenerate art” Jewish art dealers sold.
Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree
Right on the heels of last week’s post about the relationship of Jews and capitalism comes this cold dose of historical reality: Henry Ford’s claim that the Jews controlled the Federal Reserve Board.
I had known, of course, that the automobile tycoon was no friend of the Jews, but I was unaware that his antipathy ran so deep. But now, thanks to the research of my student Jonathan Robinson, a GW political science major with a keen eye for historical detail, I’m all the wiser.
Over the course of the early 1920s, Ford had spilled a lot of ink railing against the Jews for their embrace of modernity. From his perspective, they had polluted the morals of the nation’s young by introducing them to the movies and to jazz.
He was a proud Russian, a renegade Orthodox Jew, an ardent advocate of Jewish autonomy, and the man who pioneered the field of Jewish historiography at the turn of the 20th century. Yet Simon Dubnow continues to inspire Jewish scholarship today, as evidenced by a day-long conference at the YIVO institute for Jewish Research on October 24, marking the 150th anniversary of Dubnow’s birth.
Scholars at the conference presented talks on the many facets of this legendary and complex thinker, examining Dubnow’s scholarship on Hasidism, his reaction to Russian anti-Semitism, his attitude towards the Haskalah movement, and his relationship with YIVO.
For Dubnow, who had broken with the “Old Judaism” of his youth by the time he had reached bar mitzvah age, traditional Judaism never entirely lost its appeal. Instead of utterly abandoning the religious observance he had been raised with, he sought an “integration of the soul” as professor Robert Seltzer put it, which would amalgamate the “Old Judaism” with secular, European and especially Russian thinking to create a “New Judaism.”
For 70 years, fans of Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator,” now widely available on DVD, have marveled at the prescience of the comedian’s anti-Nazi satire. Filmed before America actually entered World War II, when some Hollywood movie moguls still soft-pedaled critiques of Hitler, “The Great Dictator” continues to fascinate today.
Recently published by Les éditions Capricci in Nantes, France, “Why Hairdressers? Timely Notes about ‘The Great Dictator,’” by film critic Jean Narboni, makes some new and cogent observations about Chaplin’s film. Narboni, a veteran journalist for the Cahiers du cinéma, compares the nonsense German-like doublespeak used by Chaplin as the dictator Hynkel (see video below) with the Nazi’s “constant corruption of the German language” as noted by the philologist Victor Klemperer.