U.S. author Eggers will not accept Gunter Grass prize in person

American author Dave Eggers said he will not travel to Germany to accept a literary prize from the Gunter Grass Foundation.

Eggers said in a statement that the organizers should have postponed the award ceremony following the controversy over Grass’ recently published poem claiming that Israel is endangering world peace by threatening Iran.

“I felt it best if I did not attend in person,” Eggers said in a statement issued by his German publisher. “The issues raised in Grass’s recent poem are not issues I am prepared to speak about, and I would have been expected to comment on them repeatedly.”

Eggers was awarded the Albatross Prize, which includes a cash award worth about $56,000, for his 2009 novel “Zeitoun,” about a Syrian-American man’s experiences after Hurricane Katrina. Israeli author David Grossman is a past recipient of the prize.

Eggers had requested that the prize money be given to German organizations that work on interfaith dialogue, Haaretz reported.

Grass, a Nobel Prize-winning poet, was declared persona non grata and banned from ever entering Israel following the publication of his poem earlier this month in Germany’s Suddeutsche Zeitung newspaper and other international papers.

Hitler and the ‘What If?’ Question

“The World Hitler Never Made,” by Gavriel Rosenfeld (Cambridge University Press, $30).

In 1979, comedian Al Franken wrote a skit for “Saturday Night Live” called “What if: Überman,” featuring Dan Aykroyd as Klaus Kent, a clerk in Hitler’s Ministry of Propaganda. Klaus dashes into phone booths to become Überman, uses his X-ray vision to detect bombs and to reveal Jews by looking through their pants, and ultimately leads his country to victory. The Nazi organ Der Daily Planet reports, “Überman Takes Stalingrad in 5 Minutes: Diverts Volga,” and “Überman Rounds Up Two Million Jews: Total Past 6 Million.”

This is undoubtedly one of the more outrageous examples, but since 1945, more than 100 authors and screenwriters in Europe and America have asked the same “what if” questions: How would the world look if the Nazis had won? If the Holocaust had never happened? The theme has attracted some of the finest minds in Anglo-American letters. Philip Roth’s latest best seller, for example, “The Plot Against America” (Houghton Mifflin, 2004) imagines an alternate past where U.S. President Charles Lindbergh signs neutrality pacts with Germany and Japan in 1940 and forcibly resettles the country’s Jews to the rural Midwest.

These scenarios, known as “allohistory,” or alternate history, are the objects of Gavriel Rosenfeld’s careful study, “The World Hitler Never Made.” The Fairfield College professor has analyzed every artifact of “what if” speculation on the Nazi era he could unearth, from celebrated sci-fi novels such as Philip K. Dick’s “The Man in the High Castle,” to obscure “Twilight Zone” episodes, to fiction that one might describe politely as complete schlock (read: Newt Gingrich’s co-written flop of a novel, “1945,” about a Nazi victory over the Soviet Union; the book was so unsuccessful that most of its unsold copies ended up pulped one year after its publication in 1995).

Rosenfeld admits that the works are of “uneven literary quality” — but that is precisely the point. While most academic studies of literary representations of the Nazi era and the Holocaust focus on “high” art and literature, Rosenfeld’s aims to study the images of Nazism that proliferate in popular culture. Whether they intend to or not, speculations about the “what ifs” of Nazi history offer good evidence of our memory of the actual events.

What he discovers is a not altogether shocking but nonetheless worrisome trend: As the 1930s and ’40s recede further into the past, authors are taking more and more liberties with their portrayals of Nazism — and readers are responding. From the end of the war to the mid-1960s, allohistorical works in the English language depicted the Nazis as uniquely evil and portrayed an imaginary Nazi occupation of England and America as straightforwardly dystopic. Since then, he argues, alternate histories reveal an increasingly “normalized” memory of the Nazi era and even of the Holocaust. That is, recent works are less likely to represent Nazis as purely evil and the Allies as purely valiant.

In the postwar period, the allohistorical imagination conjured up what can only be called absolute nightmares of a Nazi future. In 1947, Noël Coward wrote a play sarcastically titled “Peace in Our Times,” set in Nazi-occupied London from 1940 to 1945. The story’s protagonists wage a noble war of resistance against a brutal Gestapo official, who avers that it is Germany’s “destiny to rule the world,” while Britons who preached appeasement in the 1930s end up collaborating with their persecutors. John Wall’s “The Sound of His Horn” (1952), set in the Nazi calendar year 102 — a century after the “First Fuehrer and Immortal Spirit of Germanism,” Adolf Hitler’s victory over Europe — emphasized the brutality of a would-be Nazi-ruled continent. Science fiction author Cyril Kornbluth published a short story in 1958 titled “Two Dooms,” in which an American nuclear scientist eats hallucinogenic mushrooms that make him imagine a German-occupied America where extermination camps have been set up outside Chicago. In all, Nazis were painted as unparalleled in their wickedness.

But, Rosenfeld notes, in the mid-1960s authors started writing alternate histories of Nazism differently. For example, at the dawn of “a more pessimistic mood within postwar British society,” the genre was used to break down national myths instead of reinforcing them, beginning in 1964 with Giles Cooper’s “The Other Man” and the 1966 film “It Happened Here.” These works, Rosenfeld writes, “blurred the line between the British and the Germans, depicting both as mired in the same immoral world” by focusing on the possibility of British collaboration.

In the United States, disillusion with the Vietnam War inspired revisionist portrayals of America’s war against the Nazis. In 1972, the political scientist Bruce Russett published “No Clear and Present Danger: A Skeptical View of the United States Entry Into World War II,” an analysis of “might-have-beens” in World War II. Claiming that Americans might have been better off had they never entered the war, Russett relativized Nazism’s evils by insisting that “Nazism as an ideology was almost certainly less dangerous to the United States” than communism. He criticized American intervention in Vietnam by contesting the historical necessity of intervention in Europe.

This trend becomes even more pronounced by the beginning of the 1990s, by which time Robert Harris could crack the international best-seller list with his novel “Fatherland” (1992), featuring a humanized and even honorable Nazi as its protagonist. Recent novels about the Holocaust, such as Daniel Quinn’s “After Dachau” (2001) — however noble their intentions — have undermined the Holocaust’s uniqueness by using it to draw attention to other genocides, reflecting what Rosenfeld regrets to call “the erosion of prior moral perspectives” to the Holocaust and the Nazi era in general.

In the end, Rosenfeld has mixed feelings about alternate histories. On one hand, he recognizes their capacity for critique, but he also worries they can distort or divert our attention away from real history. It is clear, however, that Rosenfeld’s book is not so much a contribution to literary criticism — in which it is at times lacking — as much as to a larger debate over the portrayal of Nazism.

“Humanizing Hitler may in fact eliminate him from our nightmares, but it may also diminish his place in popular awareness altogether,” he writes. “Only as long as the dictator continues to haunt us are we likely to continue studying, reflecting upon, and drawing historical lessons from, the Third Reich’s destructive legacy.”

Rosenfeld might be exaggerating the extent to which our culture is “forgetting” the evils of Nazism, but his warning is well taken.

Article courtesy The Forward.

Noah Strote writes on Jewish and European history. He lives in Berkeley.

A Plethora of Pages

Sunday, Nov. 9

Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles: 3 p.m. "On the Road With Lamb Chop Show," with Mallory Lewis. Jewish Community Library, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, call (323) 761-8648

Jewish Federation of San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys: 10 a.m. Breakfast and discussion with law professor Michael Bazyler about his book, "In Holocaust Justice: The Battle for Restitution in America’s Courts." Temple Beth Shalom, 14564 East Hawes Street, Whittier. The event will be repeated on Tuesday, Dec. 2. For more information, call (626) 967-3656.

Monday, Nov. 10

Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles: 7 p.m. Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz will talk about his new book, "Opening the Tanya." B’nai Judea Congregation, 8906 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, call (323) 761-8644.

Wednesday, Nov. 12

Mount Sinai Memorial Parks-Sinai Temple: 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. The first West Coast Jewish Children’s Literature Conference. $55. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information and reservations, call Susan Dubin, (818) 886-6415.

Jewish Federation of San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys: 8 p.m. Donna Rosenthal will discuss her book, "The Israelis: Ordinary People in an Extraordinary Land." $5. Temple Ami Shalom, 3508 E. Temple Way, West Covina. For more information, call (626) 967-3656.

Thursday, Nov. 13

Jewish Federation of San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys: 8 p.m. Rabbi Edward Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino will discuss his book, "Tough Questions Jews Ask: A Young Adult’s Guide to Building a Jewish Life." Temple Beth Israel, 3033 North Towne Ave., Pomona. For more information, call (626) 967-3656.

Sunday, Nov. 16

Mount Sinai Memorial Parks-Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles: 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. The Jewish Children’s Bookfest. The Triangle at Mount Sinai Memorial Park, 6150 Mount Sinai Drive, Simi Valley. For more information, call (866) 266-5731.

KOREH L.A.: 9:30 a.m. Volunteer training. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 761-8153.

Jewish Federation of San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys: 10:15 a.m. Breakfast, discussion and study session with Rabbi Tirzah Firestone, author of "The Receiving: Reclaiming Jewish Women’s Wisdom" and "With Roots in Heaven." $5 breakfast, $15 study session. Temple Amit Shalom, 3508 E. Temple Way, West Covina. For more information, call (626) 967-3656.

Tuesday, Nov. 18

Jewish Federation of San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys: 8 p.m. Former public defender, now stay-at-home mother, Ayelet Waldman will discuss the most recent books in her Mommy Track Mystery Series, "Death Gets a Time-Out" and "Daughter’s Keeper." $5. For location and reservations, call (626) 967-3656.

Wednesday, Nov. 19

Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles: 7 p.m. Robert A. Rosenstone, professor of history at California Institute of Technology, will discuss his first novel, "King of Odessa." Jewish Community Library, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, call (323) 761-8648.

Jewish Federation of San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys: 11:30 a.m. At this special luncheon, cookbook author Marlena Spieler will discuss and conduct demonstrations from her most recent book, "The Jewish Heritage Cookbook." $36. For location and reservations, call (626) 967-3656.

Thursday, Nov. 20

Jewish Federation of San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys: 8 p.m. Gregg Hurwitz will discuss his book, "Kill Clause." Scripps College Campus, Malott Commons, Hampton Room. 345 E. Ninth St., Claremont. For more information, call (626) 967-3656.

Sunday, Nov. 23

Jewish Community Library Los Angeles: 3 p.m. "The Drama of Jewish History" with author Gloria Mikolwitz. Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, call (323) 761-8648.

Jewish Federation of San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys: 10:30 a.m. Family event with Sylvia Rouss, author of the "Sammy Spider" series. Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center, 1434 N. Altadena Drive, Pasadena. For more information, call (626) 967-3656.

Sunday, Nov. 23

Jewish Community Library Los Angeles: 4 p.m. "Lose Yourself" with Jewish rapper Etan G. Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, call (323) 761-8153.

Jewish Federation of San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys: 7 p.m. Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis will discuss his newly reissued book, "In God’s Mirror: Reflections and Essays" at this special event. Congregation Shaarei Torah, 550 S. Second Ave., Arcadia. For more information, call (626) 967-3656.

Tuesday, Dec. 2

Jewish Community Library Los Angeles: 7 p.m. Author Joan Leegant will lecture and have a booksigning of "Hour in Paradise," which was recently chosen for the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers program. For more information, call (323) 761-8648.

Sunday, Dec. 7

Jewish Community Library Los Angeles: 3 p.m. "Exploring Faith and Generosity" with author and Holocaust survivor Sonia Levitin. Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, call (323) 761-8648.

Sunday, Dec. 14

Jewish Community Library Los Angeles: 3 p.m. "The Very Best Chanukah Gift," with children’s author, Joanne Rocklin. Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles For more information, call (323) 761-8648.

Thursday, Dec. 18

Jewish Community Library Los Angeles: 11 a.m-1 p.m. Chanukah at The Grove. For more information, call (323) 761-8648.

Sunday, Dec. 21

Jewish Community Library Los Angeles: 3 p.m. "Kosher Sushi" parent-child workshop with chef Juniper Elkman. Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, call (323) 761-8648. — RB

The Circuit

Gateways’ 50th

“Out of the Darkness…. Into The Light” was the official theme of the evening when the Echo Park-based institution Gateways Hospital & Mental Health Center celebrated its 50th anniversary at the Regent Beverly Wilshire. Since 1953, Gateways has helped thousands of people shed the darkness of depression and restart their lives as productive citizens.

Gateways chose to celebrate the occasion by honoring two of this city’s most productive citizens — Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy “Lee” Baca, and his wife, Carol Chiang Baca.

“Life is fragile,” Sheriff Baca said. “None of us here can make it here without each other.”

Like City of Hope and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Gateways sprang out of Los Angeles’ Jewish community. The independent, nonsectarian organization’s mission has been to provide facilities, programs and treatment for the mentally ill, emotionally disturbed and otherwise maladjusted individuals of all ages. In addition to pioneering new methods of treatment, the center has united on educational programs with law enforcement and the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health.

Gateways’ CEO Mara Pelsman told The Circuit about the organization’s current endeavor to add 30 beds to its facility and a 12-bed emergency shelter for the homeless.

Gateways Chair Myles Weiss stressed how important it is for the hospital to continue its outreach to the emotionally troubled.

“If we can help them before they get into that position, it will help law enforcement and taxpayers at large,” Weiss said.

Louis Ziskind, founder of Gateways Hospital with his late wife, Dr. Esther Somerfield, and brother, Eugene Ziskind, said that he “didn’t have two nickels to rub together” when he started Gateways while head of psychology at USC Medical School. Ziskind credited the late Rabbi Edgar Magnin, influential spiritual leader of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, for helping to attract support from the community to establish Gateways’ original 437 N. Hoover facility when Ziskind was servicing incarcerated Jewish prisoners with pyschiatric treatment.

“I can’t think of a nicer thing than to come back 50 years later,” said Ziskind, 95, accompanied by his son Gregg Ziskind. “It’s fulfilled a life dream for me.”

Also feted at the event with a Lifetime Achievement Award was 93-year-old Pauline Ledeen, founding director of the Jewish Committee for Personal Service, a Gateways’ program that provides counseling and spiritual succor for the incarcerated.

Special guests included Ford Roosevelt, grandson of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt, who dedicated Gateways’ primary facility in 1961.

Young Judaea Mission

Ten students from the Los Angeles and Orange County area left for Israel at the end of August, courtesy of Hadassah Southern California’s Young Judaea. They will spend 10 months living, studying and working in Israel while earning college credits, as part of Young Judaea’s Year Course program. This year’s Young Judaea Year Course is the largest to date for Hadassah International, with 240 participants coming to Israel from the United States and Great Britain.

For more information about Year Course call (310) 709-8015 or visit on the web at www.yearcourse.org.

Reflections on a Big Screen

The Jewish Home for the Aging (JHA) and its fundraising arm, The Guardians, both staged high-profile events.

JHA supporters returned to the Ballroom at Hollywood and Highland for its annual Reflections gala, this year honoring Paul Goldenberg; Lisa and Ernest Auerbach; and Lenore and Fred Kayne and Suzanne and Ric Kayne were on hand to honor their father, Jerry Kayne and his late wife, Ida, who provided the inspiration for the Ida Kayne Transitional Care Unit.

Comedienne Rita Rudner had audience members rolling with laughter and women at the gala high-fiving over her observations on the differences between men and women in relationships. She also joked about growing up in “the typical middle-class Jewish home — we were rich,” and kidded that her family was so hoity-toity that “we used to read the Torah in French.”

It was so apropos that Goldenberg’s face was televised on giant screens inside the Ballroom. Goldenberg, the self-proclaimed King of Big Screen TV’s (“I am the King!”), stepped down from his throne to knight last year’s Reflections honoree Monty Hall as the “King of Hearts” for personally inspiring Goldenberg to give to JHA and start him on his road to tzedakah. Goldenberg — who with Richard and Daphna Ziman partnered on a JHA building, and whose 96-year-old cousin, Izzy, lives on the Reseda JHA campus — also “thanked God for my parents. They were the best parents anybody could ever have. The most loving parents anybody could ever have.”

“We are proud that they are following in our path,” Ernest Auerbach said of his children. He also sized up the common trait among all the honorees: “We all seem to come from the same background of hard work.”

Attendees at the packed Ballroom included major JHA supporter Joyce Eisenberg Keefer, City Councilman Dennis Zine and Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo.

The Guardians, meanwhile, met the evening before at the Beverly Hills home of the Zimans, who opened up their garden to a fundraising party topped off by a performance from Al Jarreau, who began his set with an Elton John song and topped it off with his own composition, the theme from “Moonlighting.” Guests included Karl and DeeDee Sussman.

2003: A Literary Odyssey

Concurrent with The Guardians’ Beverly Hills fundraiser was a reception kicking off the Literary Odyssey Dinners in neighboring Bel Air at the home of Dody Booth. Actor Kirk Douglas, author Michael Crichton, screenwriter Larry Gelbart and “Everybody Loves Raymond” star Doris Roberts are among the guests of this year’s dinners, which will raise money for the Los Angeles Public Library. Spotted at this affair: Annette Kaufman, chief librarian Susan Kent, Jim Svejda of KUSC and Los Angeles Craft and Folk Art Museum Executive Director Peter Tokofsky.

The Library Literary Odyssey Dinners will take place on Nov. 3, 2003, with all proceeds benefiting reading programs for children and teens at the Los Angeles Public Library’s Central Library and its 67 branches.

For reservations to the dinners, please contact Jackie Frame at (323) 466-8977.