Friday, September 23
Snaps for the Skirball’s new exhibition, “Semina,” which features and takes its name from the Beat art and poetry of the underground magazine created by Wallace Berman. Contributors to the publication included William S. Burroughs, Robert Duncan, Allen Ginsberg, John Alton and Charles Brittin. Its content reflected Berman’s varied interests, including visual and literary art, Jewish mysticism, pop culture and current events.
2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.
7 Days in The Arts
Annulla Has Her Say
For a one-person show, what you need foremost is a character. Meet Annulla. A warm, spirited older woman with an energy that belies her years and her difficult past, and the eponym of the Eclectic Company’s new production, written by Emily Mann.
“Annulla: An Autobiography” tells the story of Annulla Allen, a woman born in Lvov, Galicia, who survived the Holocaust by passing as Aryan, and eventually immigrated to London. Mann, who received a Tony nomination for “Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years,” met Allen 30 years ago, while working with her college friend on a project collecting oral histories of Holocaust survivors. She first became interested in the project out of a desire to learn her own maternal grandmother’s tale of survival. But, like many immigrants of her generation, Mann’s grandmother spoke Polish, Yiddish and English, but none of them fluently.
Allen, then, was Mann’s friend’s aunt, and unlike Mann’s grandmother, Allen had a language for telling her story. She’d even written a play herself.
We meet Allen in her London flat, much like Mann did herself. Allen (played by Eileen De Felitta) bustles about, preparing chicken soup for her sister and tea for her guests (us), and generally refuses to sit still. As she flits, she talks to us. We learn of her accomplished family, some of whom survived the Holocaust and others of whom perished. We learn how she survived, how she saved her husband who was sent to Dachau and of her heartache at having to send her son to live with friends in Switzerland until the war was over. We hear her philosophies on why women should rule the world (“If there was a global matriarchy there could be no more evil”) and about how she survived cancer, as well.
The play serves as a survivor’s testimony, but more than that, shows us a whole person and a whole life, something survivors are not always able to convey when telling their own stories. “Annulla” speaks for Mann’s grandmother, and for all those who cannot.
“Annulla” plays Thurs.-Sun., through Feb. 26. $12-$18. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., North Hollywood. (818) 508-3003.
The Once and Future Yiddish Language
Shoah-Era Music ‘Silenced’ No More
The music of a lost generation of Jewish composers will come to life when the Los Angeles Philharmonic presents “Silenced Voices,” a series of concerts, operas and panel discussions, from Oct. 19 to Nov. 9.
While mainly honoring the composers who were persecuted or perished during the Holocaust, the concerts will also feature the works of Felix Mendelssohn and Gustav Mahler, whose “degenerate” music was banned by the Nazis.
For conductor James Conlon, bringing the “beautiful and provocative” music of such composers as Erwin Schulhoff, Viktor Ullmann, Gideon Klein and Bohuslav Martinu to international audiences has been a 10-year crusade.
“These men represented an enormous piece of the music and culture of the 20th century,” Conlon passionately declared in a phone call from Montreal.
“Rediscovering their music is equivalent to a museum which suddenly finds 200 great paintings in its cellar — of course, the museum would exhibit them for the public,” he added.
“Silenced Voices” will open on Tuesday, Oct. 19, with the satirical opera “Der Kaiser von Atlantis” (The Emperor from Atlantis), which Ullmann composed while imprisoned in the Nazis’ “model” camp of Teresienstadt (Terezin).
The protagonist is Emperor Overall, who brings such pain and misery to the world that Death arrives to take him, and everyone else, away. The SS apparently sensed some similarity between “The Emperor” and a contemporary dictator and shut down the work during rehearsals.
An L.A. Phil ensemble and Juilliard School singers will perform the staged production at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, 3663 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles.
On the following Thursday, Oct. 21, a discussion on the concept and context of “Silenced Voices” will be led by Conlon, Rabbis Steven Z. Leder and Gary Greenebaum and Dr. Gary Schiller of the L.A. Museum of the Holocaust. The event will be held on the Irmas campus of Wilshire Boulevard Temple in West Los Angeles.
The two temple evenings are sponsored by the Ziegler Family Trust, with additional support from the Jewish Community Foundation. All subsequent events will be at the downtown Disney Concert Hall.
Conlon and the Philharmonic will perform Ullmann’s Symphony No. 2 and Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 on Oct. 23 and 24.
On Oct. 29, 30 and 31, Conlon will lead the Philharmonic in Schulhoff’s Jazz Suite, Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 2, and Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7.
Dvorak is the only non-Jewish composer represented in the series, but as a composer and Czech nationalist he had a profound effect on such composers as Schulhoff, who was Dvorak’s protégé, Conlon noted.
Pianist Jonathan Biss will be the soloist in the Mendelssohn work.
Concluding the series on Nov. 9 will be a chamber music concert by the Phil’s instrumentalists of works by Schulhoff, Martinu, Ullmann, Klein and Mendelssohn.
Conlon was first drawn to “silenced” composers of the early 20th century by rediscovering the works of Alexander Zemlinsky, a brother-in-law of Arnold Schoenberg, and the conductor recorded most of Zemlinsky’s works in Germany. Conlon’s “discovery” of other names and composers followed.
“I have been a practicing musician for 30 years, and until 10 years ago, I knew hardly anything about these composers from Berlin, Vienna, Prague and Budapest, whose works represented much of the musical ferment of their time,” Conlon said.
Conlon made his New York Philharmonic debut in 1974 and has since spent most of his time in Europe, conducting leading orchestras and serving as principal conductor of the Paris National Opera for the past nine years.
The “Silenced Voices” program are part of his three-year project on “Recovering a Musical Heritage,” although he fears that “I won’t live long enough to integrate the major works of the ‘silenced’ composers into the standard concert repertoire.
“People tend to be afraid when they see the names of unfamiliar composers on a program, but I want to turn that around,” he said.
Given Conlon’s preoccupation with Jewish composers, he is often asked, “usually as the first question,” whether he is Jewish himself.
“Actually, I am an Irish-Italian-German Catholic, but growing up in New York, I absorbed and loved everything Jewish,” the conductor said.
“What the Nazis did was a crime not just against the Jews, but against every human being,” he said. “We can never redress the injustice against the Jewish composers, but we can do what meant most to them, and that is to restore and play their music.”
For ticket and other information on all the listed programs, call (323) 850-2000, or visit www.LAPhil.com.
My Seder With Brando
Righteous Anger Fuels ‘Auschwitz’
“Escaping Auschwitz: A Culture of Forgetting” by Ruth Linn (Cornell University Press, $20).
There is a fierce anger at the core of Ruth Linn’s work, the anger of a woman who suddenly and irrefutably discovers that the story she has been told by her Israeli teachers, Israeli society and Israeli culture from childhood onward regarding the Holocaust is but a partial narrative. Her teachers selected materials from the events of Holocaust history to fortify Zionist ideology, to reinforce the importance of Israel and to indoctrinate a new generation. This unraveling of her seemingly naïve trust in her elders revolves around one of the truly important and fascinating events of the Holocaust.
On April 7, 1944, two men, Rudolph Vrba (Walter Rosenberg) and Alfred Wetzler, escaped from Auschwitz and made their way to Slovakia. There, with the help of the Jewish Working Group, they wrote a report, complete with maps, detailing what had occurred at Auschwitz over the past two years and the plans — soon to be realized — for the deportation of Hungarian Jews, who were deported en mass only weeks thereafter. Their report made its way from Slovakia to Hungary, where Hungarian Jewish leaders had a clear idea of what indeed was happening at Auschwitz — mass murder — before the deportations. Those leaders chose not to share this information with ordinary Hungarian Jews who reported for the trains not knowing that “resettlement in the East” was deportation to death factories and who didn’t know what Auschwitz was.
As Elie Wiesel wrote in his memoir “Night”: “Auschwitz, we had never heard the name.”
Many Hungarian Jews, young and old, echo his statement. Vrba’s work has been translated into many languages, but not into Hebrew until 1999. Why? Vrba had not been honored by Israel until he received a doctorate honoris causa from the University of Haifa due to Linn’s initiative. Why?
The story of Vrba is well-known in the West. Claude Lanzmann interviewed him at length in his classic film “Shoah.” I personally published the Vrba-Wetzler Report in my collection of Holocaust documents “Witness to the Holocaust,” and his report formed a centerpiece of “Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp” (Indiana University, 1998), which I co-edited with Israel Gutman, and “Bombing of Auschwitz: Should the Allies Have Attempted It” (St. Martins, 2000), which I co-edited with Michael Neufeld, based on an international conference held at the Air and Space Museum honoring the opening of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1993. Vrba was a featured speaker at a 1994 conference on Hungarian Jewry and his words from the Lanzmann interview are permanently inscribed in the Museum’s exhibition at a pivotal point just when one exits the box car. They are nothing less than poetic.
There was a place called the ramp where trains with Jews were coming in.
They were coming day and night,
Sometimes one per day and sometimes five per day
From all sorts of places in the world.
I worked there from August 18, 1942 to June 7, 1943.
I saw those transports rolling one after another,
And I have seen at least 200 of them in this position.
Constantly, people from the heart of Europe were disappearing,
And they were arriving to the same place,
With the same ignorance of the fate of the previous transport.
I knew that within a couple of hours after they arrived there 90 percent would be gassed.
Linn’s anger, however justified, seems quite innocent and quite naïve. For decades now, a new generation of Israeli historians have challenged the “preferred narrative” — to use the term developed by Edward Linenthal in his masterful work “Preserving History: The Struggle to Create America’s Holocaust Memorial” — developed by earlier historians who sought to present the past in a manner that is conducive to creating a national future. If anything, the historian that Linn criticizes so intensely, Yehuda Bauer (and to a lesser extent Gutman), has been more open and more willing to stray from the Zionist historiography than the generational that preceded him.
The Psalmist proclaimed: “By the Rivers of Babylon we sat and we wept as we remembered Zion.”
The place from which we remember an event shapes the manner in which it is recalled.
For the past two decades, the divergence of national historiography relating to the Holocaust has been the subject of intense historical scrutiny in Germany, Austria, the United States, France, Israel, Sweden and Switzerland. In the 15 years since the demise of communism and the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, the countries of Eastern Europe — Poland and Hungary in particular — have rewritten their history of the Holocaust to better serve a free people and to better comport with the evidence. Even as this review is being written, Romania is going through that agonizing task as an international commission — chaired by Wiesel and featuring the work of Radu Ioanid, a Romanian immigrant to the United States — investigates Romania’s role in killing its Jews.
Anger has its place. Linn shakes up the Israeli status quo. She reminds us — within months of the opening of the new Yad Vashem Museum that will retell the story of the Holocaust to a new generation of Israelis who now are more than a 60 years from the event — that the Israeli perspective, however important, is limited and must be balanced by other presentations of the very same history. Linn points out that the decision not to translate certain books into Hebrew such as Vrba’s memoirs, Hilberg’s masterpiece “The Destruction of the European Jews” (Holmes and Meier, 1985) and Hannah Arendt’s “Eichmann in Jerusalem” (Penguin, 1994) limits what an Israeli public can understand of the Holocaust. Still, to a younger generation of Israelis whose English is fluent — and to Israeli scholars who want to make their reputation by writing in English for the international community — there is a press to present a broader history.
Her role in understanding the importance of the Vrba report is also limited. She does not seem to know the way in which it changed a June decision of the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem not to press for the bombing of Auschwitz since that would result in the death of innocent Jewish non-combatants incarcerated there. Yet one month later in London, Moshe Shertok (later Sharret) and Chaim Weizmann were pressing for the bombing and secured the support of Winston Churchill who told Anthony Eden “get what you can out of the Air Force and invoke my name if necessary.” She also does not seem to know the role that it played in the U.S. War Refugee Board forwarding a request to bomb Auschwitz to the War Department, which led to the famed — infamous — reply by John J. McCloy in August 1944. The full text of the report was not available in the United States until November.
The work is interesting. Her passion is genuine. Her disappointment is apparent throughout. Righteous anger fuels her work, righteous anger, but still limited learning.
Michael Berenbaum is director of the Sigi Ziering Institute and the co-editor of “The Bombing of Auschwitz: Should the Allies Have Attempted It?”
My Seder With Brando
‘Almost’ a Beginning in Paris
Most boy-meets-girl movies end when the happy pair stands under the chuppah. After all, it’s not terribly dramatic what happens when they pick up the routine of daily married life.
It’s a bit like that with Holocaust films: The protagonists are either killed or liberated, but if they survive, we do not see how they get back to "normalcy" and cope anew with everyday life.
The modest, low-key French import "Almost Peaceful" ("Un Monde Presque Paisible") remedies this omission.
The year is 1946 and the setting is the old Jewish quarter of Paris, where Monsieur Albert and his wife Lea have re-established their pre-war ladies tailor shop.
They employ seven men and women, all scarred in one way or another by the war years and the Holocaust, but almost content with their steady jobs and harmonious workplace.
At first, the talk about customers and problems with the kids is quite normal, laced with a few Yiddish expressions. Only occasionally is there an almost inadvertent allusion to past experiences.
Leon, who is studying to become an actor, remembers that on the day Paris was liberated, he heard among the jubilation a few French patriots yelling, "Kill the Jews."
"The fascists are still here," Leon remarks, and young Joseph, the official shlimazel of the shop, confirms the observation when he goes to the police for a residence permit. He recognizes the inspector, as imperious as ever, as the same man who arrested and deported his parents.
The most deeply wounded worker is Charles (superbly portrayed by veteran actor Dennis Podalydes), who is still hoping for the return of his wife and children from concentration camps.
When a woman declares her love for him, Charles can only say, "Love is dead. It can no longer be spoken or experienced."
Director Michel Deville concludes the film with a picnic for all of Albert’s employees and their spouses and children, complete with sack races, laughter and much feasting.
The scene is as rustic and carefree as a Monet painting, but on the side sits a little boy obsessively playing with a vest pocket watch. Explains a guest, "That’s the watch his father left him when he was deported."
"Almost Peaceful" opens Oct. 1 at Laemmle’s Music Hall in Beverly Hills. For information, call (310) 274-6869.
In Search of Scrolls at Auschwitz
"On that day I told Zelinger to prepare two large cases and to coat them in cement and tar. I ordered him to collect all the Torah scrolls and silver religious objects — with the exception of two scrolls for praying — and bury them in a certain place in the ground." — Eliezer Shenker, "The Book of Oshpitzin" (Auschwitz, in Yiddish)
Shenker didn’t want to bury the Great Synagogue’s religious objects, he writes in his 1977 account of his Polish town before the Holocaust, but what choice did he have? "From that moment, the Jews of the town saw me as head of the community," he writes.
It was 1939, and the Nazis had already began their rampages, cutting off men’s beards and sidelocks, and a town delegation — including the aforementioned Zelinger — promised Shenker their help, so he couldn’t refuse.
What was buried in those two containers? Could it have survived 65 years, the decimation of the town, the deportation of 12,000 Jews , the burning of the dozens of synagogues?
This week, two Israeli men may find out.
On May 31, filmmaker Yahaly Gat will document Yariv Nornberg’s one-month excavation for the buried artifacts at Auschwitz, where Nornberg believes the crates were buried. They both sat with The Journal last month in Tel Aviv, as they made final preparations for the excavation this month.
For Nornberg, an energetic and enthusiastic Swiss-born Israeli, the excavation has been six years in the making, he told The Journal from Tel Aviv a few weeks before he prepared to leave for the dig.
Nornberg was just a 23-year-old IDF officer in 1988 when he hurried into his hometown supermarket to buy an Israeli flag. He was going to Poland on the "March of the Living" with his grandparents and he wanted a symbol of his country. But the elderly shopkeeper, whom Nornberg had known for years, was all out, Nornberg recounts:
The shopkeeper, Yeshayahu Yarod, said, "No, come back a few days later."
Nornberg said he couldn’t. "I’m going to Poland."
Yarod got very emotional and asked if he was going to Auschwitz.
"I was born in Auschwitz," the shopkeeper told the soldier. "I was born in Auschwitz," he kept saying.
Nornberg was very confused, because he’d always assumed the old man was an old-time pioneer, a soldier in all of Israel’s wars; but he realized that the man standing before him must have been born before the war.
"Then [Yarod] told me that in a small town where he lived, on the eve of war, he was the witness to the gabai [services director] burying the Torahs. He went to draw a map."&’9;
The old man — who was about the soldier’s age when he’d witnessed the burial — had kept it a secret throughout the war, when his family was deported, he himself surviving several death camps, and immigration to Israel in 1950. The grocer never told, because he promised the gabai he wouldn’t.
But the secret was too great, and the sight of a soldier in uniform about to go to Auschwitz seemed to trigger the outpouring of the whole tale . The young man made a promise to the elder one that he would try to unearth the artifacts.
"I feel that I have a moral obligation for Mr. Yarod, and a moral obligation for the Jewish heritage," Nornberg told The Journal.
"It’s not just Torah scrolls; for 700 years it was a typical Jewish town in Eastern Europe, and now it’s the place that all the world knows as hell. It’s the synonym of hell," he said.
What will they find there this month? When Nornberg made a promise to the survivor, he did not know it would take six years to get the requisite permission, support and funding, some of which came from L.A. commercial producer Rick Fishbein. But along the way he found other witnesses and confirmation to the story, including the "Book of Oshpitzim." He also found survivors of the town, making this more than a story of the buried treasure than the story of the town itself.
That’s what attracted Gat to the project.
"Telling the story is the important thing. Uncovering what happened to this community — we are documenting all the life that has gone by, next to the biggest graveyard of the Jewish people," Gat said.
If they don’t find anything, Gat said, "I think it will be sad for everyone," but "I think for the film it doesn’t matter. Life went on there and still goes on there."
But it’s a different story for Nornberg, who’s had some of his idealism and enthusiasm knocked out of him these last years as he tried to fulfill a promise.
"I would be very disappointed," Nornberg said, shaking his head, not willing to believe that with the old man’s maps, the witnesses, the money and the time he’s put in, his treasure wouldn’t be there.
Nornberg likes to talk about "closing the circle," as in finding resolution, which is why he wanted to go to Auschwitz in 1988, and why he so desperately wants to find the artifcats now.
It’s also why he envisioned the documentary would end with him delivering the buried Torahs to Yarod back in Ramat HaSharon. But the old man who set the story in motion died two months ago.
Nornberg hopes the old man will be there in spirit: "So we can bring it all full circle."
Shoah Book Brings Museum Experience
"A Promise to Remember: The Holocaust in the Words and Voices of Its Survivors," by Michael Berenbaum. (Bulfinch Press. $29.95.)
You don’t find an index or bibliography in a museum. You go there for images, for impressions, to be moved, as well as educated — so, too, with "A Promise to Remember."
Michael Berenbaum, a first-rate scholar and writer, who was founding director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., has produced, in effect, a traveling museum, or in barely more than two score pages, a traveling museum exhibit.
More than a catalogue of a museum exhibition, Berenbaum, now director of the University of Judaism’s Sigi Ziering Institute, presents a total museum experience. Instead of walking down aisles and reading information panels, you hold the artifacts in your hands.
Through words (his own and interviews with a small number of Holocaust survivors), photos (mostly sepia, with some in color), reproduced documents (copies of a wartime rabbi’s sermon from Berlin and a politician’s letter from Bulgaria, etc.) and an accompanying CD (audio to complement the visual), Berenbaum emphasizes, subjectively but accurately, some of the most important elements of the Shoah experience.
These Shoah elements include: the background of the Final Solution, ghetto life, the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, the participants and bystanders, rescue by sympathetic non-Jews and, finally, liberation.
This book is clearly for the novice, for someone uninitiated in the terror that gripped the world in the mid-20th century — for the individual who isn’t likely to enter an actual Holocaust museum. The book is a tactile, sensual experience. Only the sense of smell is missing.
In the introduction, Berenbaum writes, "Nothing this brief could possibly do justice to an event as vast as the Holocaust, which evolved over 12 years and enveloped the entire continent of Europe; which consumed some 6 million dead; and whose implications are seen in headlines and images that have entered the conscious and unconscious of all humanity."
He offers nothing new in these pages, no new facts or novel interpretations, but the totality of the familiar, presented in an unfamiliar way, is striking and unsettling. The product, part coffee table book, part reference guide, is a beautifully designed masterpiece. You read the chapter on "The Decision to Kill the Jews," and you look on the same page into the austere eyes of Richard Heydrich and his fellow henchmen in genocide and you feel a chill.
He offers no footnotes or bibliography — no scholarly sources beyond the identifications that describe the interviewees. They aren’t needed; anyone affected by the book, whose interest is whetted, can contact the institutions cited in the acknowledgments.
The book isn’t meant to be read in one reading. Each chapter, to be absorbed and understood adequately, should be read separately. It will take the careful reader a few hours to go through "A Promise to Remember."
Just the length of time it takes to walk through a museum.
High Court’s New Territory: Nazi Loot
High Court’s New Territory: Nazi Loot
"I feel that I gave my best performance at the right time and in the right place," said a jubilant E. Randol Schoenberg.
Schoenberg’s performance hadn’t won him an Oscar but something else that he believed was infinitely more important — an appearance before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The 37-year-old West Los Angeles attorney, partner in a two-man law firm, was pleading a case he had pursued for nearly six years and against formidable opposition. On the other side was not only a nationally known law firm with 600 lawyers, but also the U.S. Department of Justice, with its huge resources, and the Austrian government.
Schoenberg represented Maria V. Altmann, an 88-year-old Cheviot Hills resident, who is seeking to recover six paintings — now valued at $150 million — by Austrian artist Gustav Klimt, including a portrait of her aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer.
The paintings were confiscated by the Nazis when they took over the Bloch-Bauer mansion in Vienna and the rest of Austria in 1938. They are currently in the hands of the Austrian Gallery, which claims that Bloch-Bauer willed the paintings to the gallery before her death.
Altmann is contesting this claim, but the Supreme Court hearing on Feb. 25, the first art theft case of the Nazi era to reach the highest court, revolved around a more fundamental legal question.
"The basic issue is whether a foreign country can be sued in an American court," said professor Michael Bazyler of the Whittier Law School, whose recent book, "Holocaust Justice," analyzes the Altmann case.
Schoenberg answers yes, and two lower courts agreed with him. But the U.S. government, backing the Austrian claim, fears that if the Supreme Court upholds this position, the United States, in turn, could be sued in foreign courts and this could lead to a flood of World War II property claims.
Scott Cooper of the Proskauer Rose law firm in Century City, representing the Austrian government, did not respond to a request for comment.
The Supreme Court will not rule on the case until the end of June, but if it favors Altmann’s plea, the case will be returned to a Los Angeles Superior Court judge, who will decide to whom the paintings belong.
For Schoenberg, the grandson of two world-famous Viennese composers, Arnold Schoenberg and Eric Zeisl, the David vs. Goliath case goes beyond prestige and money.
"Having grown up in an Austrian Jewish exile family, which had close friendship ties with the Altmann family in Vienna, the case has deep emotional and personal meaning for me," he said.
Two days before the Supreme Court hearing in Washington, another case rooted in the Holocaust era and also centering on federal vs. state jurisdiction unfolded in a Los Angeles court. It pitted survivors Manny Steinberg of West Hills and Dr. Jack Brauns of Covina, both in their late 70s, against the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims (ICHEIC) and its chairman, former U.S. Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger.
Steinberg, Brauns and their attorney, William Shernoff, had earlier filed suit in a California court, charging ICHEIC with unfair business practices. They accused the commission of being in league with Assicurazioni Generali of Italy, one of Europe’s largest insurance companies, to stonewall, deny or lower 60-year-old, justified insurance policy claims.
The commission countered by filing a motion for dismissal of the case but lost when U.S. District Judge Ronald S. W. Lew denied the motion and ordered the case returned to a California Superior court. Underlying the legal wrangling of which court should try the case was an important fact of litigation, Shernoff said.
"We have found that the judiciary in state courts, particularly in California, are sympathetic to survivors, while federal courts are more disposed toward the insurance companies," he said.
Law professor Bazyler observed that the "threshold question" of which court has jurisdiction in a given case may determine 90 percent of the outcome.
"Once the jurisdiction is decided, the parties usually settle," he said.
Attorney Constantinos Panagopoulos of New York, defending ICHEIC, said in a phone interview that his client had been "diligent" in processing survivor claims and that he would vigorously contest the survivors’ charges in California courts.
On the same day that it heard arguments on the Altmann art theft case, the U.S. Supreme Court also ruled that states were within their rights to deny scholarships to students studying to be priests, ministers or rabbis. The decision revived some of the contentious issues of church-state separation and also divided national Jewish organizations, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported.
The ruling was hailed by the American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress and the Anti-Defamation League but denounced by the Orthodox Union and Agudath Israel of America.
Hague Protest Mideast Conflict
Painting Through the Pain
When the Nazis forced artist Friedl Dicker-Brandeis into
Terezin, she smuggled in art supplies and taught the concentration camp’s
children to express themselves through art.
“Everyone put us in boxes — the Nazis — and she took us out
of them,” her student, Edna Amit, later said of Dicker-Brandeis, who died in
Auschwitz at age 47.
The Museum of Tolerance is remembering Dicker-Brandies, one
of the founders of art therapy, with a display of her art and that of her
students, as well as a modern-day art therapy project inspired by her
A downstairs gallery displays art by children of Terezin,
which depict harsh camp conditions and life before the war.
Upstairs, 10 life-size puppets — each created by one of 10
students from inner-city Orville Wright Middle School — sit at a mosaiced
table, with decorated cigar boxes archiving the lives of each child. The
school’s 13- to 15-year-olds face modern-day challenges such as pressure to use
drugs and join gangs.
This is the first time that Virginia Marroquin, a
13-year-old Latina, learned about the Holocaust, and it made her see her own
challenging life in a different way: “[The Holocaust] opened my eyes a lot … it
helped me look at life in a better way. It made me realize how much I have,”
she told The Journal.
Art therapist Dr. Debra Linesch created the project with
Regina Miller, the museum’s project director. This past summer they led a
five-day workshop, using Dicker-Brandeis to inspire the inner-city children.
“No matter how bad things are, give voice to it and you are
re-humanizing a dehumanizing experience,” said Linesch, director of the
graduate department of marital and family therapy at Loyola Marymount
University. “That’s what I learned from Friedl.”
The dual exhibit runs through Jan. 15, at the Museum
of Tolerance, Simon Wiesenthal Plaza, 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. For
information, call (310) 553-8403 or visit
Authors Divided Over Identity, Issues
Shoah’s Belorussian Cowboys
The Bielski Brothers: The True Story of Three Men Who Defied the Nazis, Saved 1,200 Jews and Built a Village in the Forest," by Peter Duffy. (Harper Collins, $25.95).
"Defiance: The Bielski Partisans. The Story of the Largest Armed Rescue of Jews by Jews During World War II," by Nechama Tec. (Oxford University Press, 1993).
For years, the mythology of Zionism led us to believe that the establishment of the State of Israel represented a bold alternative to the passive victimization of the European Jewish community. Whereas European Jews had "submitted" to their treatment, with fatal consequences, Israeli Jews would never let anyone destroy their homes, culture and lives. That was the line, anyway. The truth, as is so often the case, was more complicated, and no one should know that better than we Americans.
America’s sense of self-definition has been on display more blatantly than ever, it seems. Led by our administration, we have embraced the "cowboy" ethic: seemingly down-home while at the same time unilaterally aggressive. Simultaneously, we’ve had to face how that character is interpreted by others. The Wild West is also a myth, of course, one that captures the ideals of America much more than its infinitely varied reality.
I was reminded of these paradigms while reading Peter Duffy’s new book, "The Bielski Brothers," which chronicles a truly amazing group of Jews who survived the Holocaust in Belorussia by forming a partisan brigade that fought the Nazis and saved as many Jewish lives as possible.
Led by the charismatic Tuvia Bielski and two of his brothers, this partisan unit all but explodes the idea of the passive European Jew. In the end, they saved 1,200 Jews from extinction. Their story is one of heroic bravery: ghetto breaks, disruption of German rail service, even the establishment of a working shtetl deep within the forest. Add to this the inherent danger of being a Jew on the run during World War II, and the narrative can’t help but be thrilling.
Duffy is right to find an extraordinary story in the details of the Bielski partisan unit. He is not, however, the first to do so. Nechama Tec’s study, "Defiance: The Bielski Partisans," was published in 1993, and provides an interesting contrast to Duffy’s account.
The books cover primarily the same material, with the same basic goal. Duffy’s is by far the better read, despite his penchant for one-line cliffhangers and the liberal use of exclamation points. His book is organized by chronology, giving the story a natural arc and momentum. Indeed, Duffy has written a fast-paced, exciting book.
The same cannot be said of Tec — a survivor herself — whose writing is more academic, less showy. I suspect, however, that Tec’s is the more thorough of the two, not least because she actually interviewed Tuvia Bielski two weeks before his death.
The fact that the books relay slightly different accounts of events is understandable. Memory, after all, is mutable, and different people will remember events differently. No, the distinction between these tellings lies in how much humanity each author is willing to accord its story’s heroes.
Both writers support Tuvia Bielski, even when his decisions seem questionable. This is understandable, since it was he who had the vision and strength of character to hold together a fractious group of fighters and civilians during that most harrowing of times. He was also human, although Duffy hardly conveys that. His Tuvia Bielski is the John Wayne of the forest, tall, gallant and noble. Indeed, some survivors talk of Bielski in terms that approximate images of heroism gleaned from the movies. Tec, however, does not shy away from his flaws, and so finds the human even inside the leader.
Extraordinary times call for extraordinary responses, and Tuvia Bielski and his brothers, children of a poor mill owner, rose to the challenge. But even during the Nazi years, people are people, as Tec shows. Just because he saved Jews does not mean that Tuvia was a saint. He was tall, and he rode a white horse, but he brought his weaknesses — drinking, womanizing — into the forest with him. Similarly, the partisan unit was driven as much by petty politics as by the more dangerous incidences of treachery that both Duffy and Tec discuss. Favoritism, greed, jealousy: all these were as important in the organizational life of the brigade as the wide-scale anti-Semitism around it.
Overall, non-fighters are given short-shrift in Duffy’s book. Women, for example, had an especially hard time. Deemed unfit for fighting and surveillance, excluded from decision-making and the industries that were eventually established, women were in more danger of rape and murder by both Nazis and partisans and so often entered into "marriages" with fighters in order to ensure their own safety. But Duffy, who is more interested in a story of strength and moral certainty, devotes one sentence to the very different experiences of men and women.
In short, Duffy’s is an extremely American book: it streamlines the story — removes characters, nuance and even episodes in the name of a more exciting tale. It feeds the need for simple heroics that Americans crave, especially during our own uncertain times. Tec’s is knottier and not as well-organized, but, in the end, more truthful for letting all her figures remain human even during a time of brutal, dehumanizing terror.
A Persian Artist’s Crowning Moment
Staging a Body of Work
What’s a nice Jewish feminist performance artist to do when she’s heavily covered in tattoos? She creates a solo piece, “Jewess Tattoess,” exploring the conflict between her heritage and her body.
In her multimedia show, Marisa Carnesky examines the Jewish tattoo taboo by fusing elements of Yiddish melodrama, Victorian sideshows and Grand Guignol theater. She becomes the night demon Lilith, a possessed preteen and the Whore of Babylon, who in the piece is indisposed and on vacation.
“She’s sick and tired of women’s sexuality being demonized in traditional cultures, so she’s off sunbathing with her friends, Salome and the Queen of Sheba,” the sunny Carnesky, 32, said from her London home.
The character allows her to comment on “the clash between religions like Judaism and the choices we make as modern, feminist women.”
Carnesky noticed the conflict as a girl while sitting in the “ladies’ gallery” of her modern Orthodox synagogue: “It was hot and uncomfortable, and all about the hats and the outfits, and you couldn’t really see what the men were doing,” said the artist, whose pieces include “Carnesky’s Ghost Train.”
By age 15, she’d abandoned her Habonim youth-group friends for “arty-punky” circles at her multicultural public school. While she dyed her hair purple to immerse herself in the horror-rock Gothic scene, she refused to wear the de rigeur crucifix, favoring instead a Star of David.
“I wanted to be a Jewish Goth,” she said.
Jewish concerns were also on her mind when she was 19, as she began acquiring body art based on photographs of Victorian tattooed ladies.
“I was obsessed by Holocaust imagery of bodies piled up, their humanity taken away,” she said. “My macabre thought was that if that ever happened to me, they wouldn’t be able to steal my personality because my body is so tattooed.”
Carnesky was prompted to turn such issues into “Jewess Tattoess” around 1999: “I had met a number of Jews in the theater and felt I had a lot in common with them,” she said. She studied Jewish folk tales, books on the Torah prohibition against tattooing and photographs of shtetls and showgirls; one picture depicted Jewish silent actress Theda Bara covered in jewelry as the biblical temptress Salome.
“The very sexual, decorated woman is reviled in most cultures, and I was looking for characters that societies have created to guide people away from them,” she said.
“Jewess Tattoess” has guided Carnesky back to Judaism by introducing her to alternative subcultures such as Heeb magazine.
So what’s next for this Jewish performance artist?
“Maybe a Star of David tattoo,” she said.
The show runs Oct. 1 and Oct. 3-5 as part of UCLA Live’ssecond annual International Theatre Festival; www.uclalive.org or (310) 825-2101.
A Child’s Murder, a Mother’s Strength
Rabbis, Scholars OK CBS ‘Hitler’ Pic
There were nights, CBS Television president and CEO Leslie Moonves remembered, “when I lay in bed looking up at the ceiling and asking myself, ‘Is this the right thing to do? Will it open old wounds? Are we creating more anti-Semitism?'”
Moonves had good cause for sleepless introspection. Since announcing last July that CBS would air a prime-time four-hour miniseries on the early life of Adolf Hitler, media critics and Jewish spokesmen have had a field day.
They feared that the early Hitler would be “humanized” into a sympathetic figure as an abused child and misunderstood artist or as a German Rocky who overcame tremendous odds, and even that the film might trigger pogrom-like outbursts. Moonves, much of whose grandparents’ family in Poland perished in the Holocaust, even took flak from his own relatives.
Now, with “Hitler: The Rise of Evil” broadcasting Sunday, May 18 and Tuesday, May 20 at 9 p.m. during the ratings sweeps period, the CBS chief is breathing easier.
After previewing tapes of the film, a half-dozen Holocaust scholars and prominent rabbis have generally given it thumbs up, with most appraisals ranging from the positive to the enthusiastic.
Some of the turnaround can be credited to an entirely new script and complete revision of the original project, starting with the metamorphosis of the title from (a “misspoken”) “Young Hitler” to “Hitler: The Early Years,” “Hitler,” “Hitler: The Origin of Evil” and finally to the present title.
The earlier critical volleys and advice from Jewish leaders consulted by the producers apparently gave a substantial push to the fundamental revisions.
In its final form, the film briefly touches on young Hitler’s brutal and domineering father, his troubled adolescence, his rootless existence in Vienna as a failed artist and his enthusiastic soldiering in World War I.
But the bulk of the film deals with Hitler’s career from a Munich beerhall orator in 1920, through his political machinations within the Nazi party and against the Weimar Republic, ending in 1934 with the consolidation of all state power in his own hands.
In stark statistics and pictures, an epilogue summarizes the utter devastation wrought by the Führer on Europe and the Jewish people.
“I think any fears in the Jewish community that the film would glorify Hitler have been allayed,” said noted Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum. “It successfully narrates Hitler’s rise to power and shows clearly how those who tried to manipulate him were instead manipulated by him.
“Historians may have some trouble with interpretation, as they always do, and with some composite figures, but, in general, the film deals well with a part of Hitler’s life that people need to know,” said Berenbaum, director of the Sigi Ziering Institute for the Study of Ethics and the Holocaust at the University of Judaism.
Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, warmly applauded the film.
“It delivers a very powerful message, especially to young people, how many times Hitler could have been stopped in the early years, how potent evil is and how fragile democracy is,” he said.
A similar theme was emphasized by Rabbi Harvey Fields of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, who counts the Moonves family among his congregants. Fields, who had voiced strong objections to the initial script, noted that the final film “raises significant lessons for us today about the dangers to democracy of political and religious fanaticism, from whatever source.”
Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, praised the film and acknowledged that his earlier fears about the project had been unjustified. However, he would have liked to have seen the presence of a more substantial Jewish character and strongly urged a sequel which would take the Hitler story to its end in 1945.
“There are now youngsters who know nothing about World War II and the Holocaust, who didn’t see ‘Schindler’s List,’ and who need to know,” Hier said.
Rabbi and author Joseph Telushkin, an early adviser on the project, described the film as “very powerful, which gives dimension to Hitler but does not soften him. In no way does it downplay the depth of his anti-Semitism.”
All of the cited experts gave much of the credit for the effectiveness of the film to Scottish actor Robert Carlyle, whose portrayal of Hitler, Foxman said, is “frighteningly brilliant.”
One dissenting view came from philosophy professor John K. Roth, director of the newly formed Center for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights at Claremont McKenna College. While acknowledging the complexity of the subject and the overall usefulness of the film, Roth felt that Hitler, perhaps to avoid any sympathy for him, came across as “too histrionic and crazed, and insufficiently nuanced and ambiguous.”
The danger in such a portrayal is that “it plays into the stereotype of Hitler as a crazy man and that viewers will say ‘I now understand who he was.’ It might be better to live with some ambiguity and to admit that we don’t really understand Hitler.”
Elie Wiesel, who has long been disenchanted with “dramatic” interpretations of the Holocaust and the Hitler era, had a lengthy critical exchange with Moonves. Wiesel viewed the tape quite recently but could not be reached for his evaluation.
Two aspects of Hitler that the film does not explain, and which, indeed, may be beyond explanation, are his charisma and almost hypnotic effect on his followers, especially women, and what triggered his murderous hatred of Jews.
On the first point, Berenbaum cites an exemplar, if not an understanding, of Hitler’s magnetism, by quoting from the autobiography of Albert Speer, an urbane and sophisticated architect and later Hitler’s armaments minister.
Out of curiosity, Speer went to hear Hitler speak in 1930 and, on the way, saw some posters of the Führer, which Speer viewed as Chaplinesque caricatures.
But, Speer wrote, “Three hours later [after hearing Hitler speak] I left the beer garden a changed person. I saw the same posters … but I looked at them with different eyes. A blown-up picture of Adolf Hitler in a martial pose, which I had regarded with a touch of amusement on the way in, had suddenly lost all its ridiculousness.”
The roots and launching point of Hitler’s virulent anti-Semitism continue to baffle the experts. Theories abound — a brighter Jewish classmate in school, a Jewish doctor who performed a mastectomy on Hitler’s beloved mother, the poisonous anti-Semitism of Vienna, or simply the oratorical success of his anti-Jewish tirades — but a definitive answer may never be found.
Almost as interesting as the miniseries itself is the exemplar of “Hitler: The Rise of Evil” on the vagaries of filmmaking, especially when the subject retains its hold on the sensitivities and unhealed wounds of millions.
The project was first presented to Moonves about 18 months ago by Peter Sussman, CEO of the Toronto-based Alliance Atlantis Entertainment Group.
“The Nazi era and the Holocaust have generally been dramatized from the perspective of the victim,” Sussman said. “We thought it would be interesting to approach that evil and horror in another way.”
Moonves greenlighted the project, with CBS putting up around 60 percent of the $20 million plus price tag. “In remembering the Holocaust, as we always must, I thought it important to find out what steps led up to the making of this monster [Hitler]. Not to pay any attention to that would be like sticking our head in the sand,” Moonves said.
The first script, by G. Ross Parker, was, by now-general agreement, pretty much a bust.
“It was a really simplistic treatment,” Fields said, “with different kinds of psychological interpretations and with little feel for the context and climate of the time.”
A new writer, John Pielmeier, was brought in and shooting started in early January in Prague.
Then in early April, with the film almost completed, a mini-disaster struck.
In an interview, co-executive producer Ed Gernon, a key player, pointing to the timeliness of the film, seemed to draw an analogy between the Germans’ fear and acquiescence that led to Hitler’s dictatorship with similar emotions among the American people in the run-up to the war in Iraq.
The interview was published at the height of the war and denounced, among others, by the New York Post, which claimed that Gernon had equated President Bush with Hitler.
Alliance Atlantis and CBS called Gernon’s remarks “insensitive and outright wrong” and fired him instantly. Sussman declined to discuss the incident.
During the broadcast of the film, there will be a number of public service announcements on tolerance, with guidance from the Anti- Defamation League, and CBS said it will make donations to one or more Holocaust education funds. Moonves stated that solicitation of advertisers was proceeding normally. A comprehensive study guide for high school teachers and students has been developed as a companion piece to the film.
Plans also call for the film to be sold across the world, “certainly in Europe and Israel,” Sussman said, and will be available in video and DVD format.
As for all the preceding controversy, Moonves remains unfazed.
“All of that should help the ratings,” he said hopefully. “I think the public will be curious.”
For more information, visit www.cbs.com/specials/rise_of_evil .
BJE Selects ‘Leaf’ for Reading Initiative
‘Dance’s’ Conflict Is Center Stage
In Mirra Bank’s unflinching documentary, “The Last Dance,” legendary children’s author Maurice Sendak passionately describes the Holocaust piece he hopes to create with members of the acrobatically virtuostic Pilobolus Dance Company. He envisions a train station, a menacing figure and refugees. He imagines a double bill with the children’s opera, “Brundibar,” once performed at Terezin. “It’s [my] loyalty to all the dead,” said the 75-year-old author (“Where the Wild Things Are”), who lost numerous relatives in the Holocaust.
During such conversations, Pilobolus’ three artistic directors squirm uncomfortably. “I just don’t find waiting around at the train station … very interesting,” the troupe’s Jonathan Wolken said. The directors suggest the story shouldn’t be concrete but should evolve through improvisation.
“But I’m the storyteller,” Sendak retorts at one point.
The tense moment is one of many Bank captured after Pilobolus members invited Sendak and his partner, writer-director Arthur Yorinks, to become their first outside collaborators in 1998.
Speaking by telephone from his Connecticut home, the author and set designer told The Journal he agreed, in part, because he loves collaborating with dancers and Pilobolus’ work isn’t unlike his own. “Their playful, almost shameful use of the body reminds me of babies and children,” he said.
But as the partnership got underway, Bank captured the stormy, often hilarious clash of egos, as well as the vibrant creative process. In the film, the collaborators argue about the piece’s title, whether it should specifically reference the Holocaust or involve nudity. “Those who went to the ovens were stripped naked,” Sendak said of the nudity.
“It’s a kind of stupid striptease,” Wolken said.
The edgy, cinema verite style film joins a budding subgenre of movies, including Matthew David’s 1998 documentary, “Dancemaker,” that explore the sometimes prickly choreographic process.
Looking back on the Pilobolus partnership — captured by Bank’s handheld digital camera — Sendak said he was “baffled by their tenacity, and I’m sure they’d say the same of me.
“It was unpleasant,” he said of the tension. “I don’t like getting angry or in an emotional condition, because the Holocaust subject was emotional enough.”
Wolken, who also lost family in the camps, sees things differently. “Flying sparks can vulcanize a project,” he told The Journal. “And Maurice loves a good argument. It energizes him. If he doesn’t have one, he manufactures it.”
“The Last Dance” began when Bank, an acclaimed PBS filmmaker whose work often involves Jewish themes, attended a Pilobolus performance in summer 1998. “I asked [artistic director] Michael Tracy what the company was doing next, and he said it would be a dark, Eastern European, possibly Holocaust-driven Grimm’s fairy tale with Maurice Sendak,” she recalled. “I said, ‘My God, that sounds like a film.'”
Over the next eight months, Bank videotaped 125 hours of the collaboration, which sometimes seemed destined for failure. After one particularly turbulent session, Sendak dejectedly told Bank he felt “bumped off the rails.” At 11 p.m. that night, he called her and threatened to quit.
“I think Maurice thought he could control the process more than he did,” Bank said. Of why Wolken became his primary antagonist, she said, “within Pilobolus, his role is often that of provocateur.”
The filmmaker found the discord “gut wrenching. I felt deeply connected to everyone involved,” she said. “I also had a great deal personally invested in the project, and there were a number of times I thought it might fall apart.”
Instead, the tense partnership eventually yielded a powerful dance piece, “A Selection,” which received rave reviews in New York in 1999.
Bank’s documentary also received rave reviews, not just from the critics but from the protagonists involved. “However, I cringed the first two or three times I saw it,” Sendak said. “I didn’t like to see myself carrying on like that. I became the big … noisy Jew and Jonathan became the uptight, ‘No, I don’t want to go there,’ Jew.”
Wolken, for his part, called “The Last Dance” “a great film. But it presents just a narrow slice of what went on. In a good movie, you have to have conflict, and Mirra searched for it. As a good filmmaker, she at times manufactured it.”
Both Sendak and Wolken told The Journal they are old friends, which isn’t depicted in the movie. They said they’d collaborate again in an instant. But Bank isn’t so sure. “Everyone was proud of the dance piece they created, but they also may never work again,” she said. “Which is why I called the film, ‘The Last Dance.'”
The film opens April 24 at the American Cinemateque in Los Angeles, coinciding with Pilobolus’ performance of different works at the Ahmanson May 2 and 4. Bank and Pilobolus members will appear for a discussion after the “Last Dance” screening at noon on May 3. For information, call (323) 461-2020. n
From Blaxploitation to ‘Booth’