Stanley Kubrick’s Unrealized Vision


When Stanley Kubrick died in March 1999 during the post-production of his final film, “Eyes Wide Shut,” he left behind several pet projects he had been working on for decades. These included a science-fiction riff on “Pinocchio” (later finished by Steven Spielberg as “A.I.”), a historical biopic of the life of Napoleon and a Holocaust project with the working title “Aryan Papers.”

The recently released “Stanley Kubrick Archives,” an unwieldy coffee-table tome published by Taschen, sheds new light on the famously secretive director’s failed project. An essay by Jan Harlan, Kubrick’s brother-in-law and producer, details Kubrick’s longtime pursuit of the Holocaust as a subject for a film. Harlan writes of traveling to New York in 1976 to try and interest Isaac Bashevis Singer in contributing an original screenplay. What Kubrick sought from Singer was a “dramatic structure that compressed the complex and vast information into the story of an individual who represented the essence of this manmade hell.”

Singer, who—unlike many of his friends—was not a Holocaust survivor, gratefully declined, saying, “I don’t know the first thing” about the Holocaust.”

Kubrick shelved the project until 1991, when he read Louis Begley’s short novel, “Wartime Lies,” about a Jewish boy and his aunt who survive the war by snaking their way through Poland, pretending to be Catholics. Begley’s autobiographical tale so intrigued Kubrick that he was willing to shoot the project abroad—a dramatic decision for the director, who hadn’t left England for more than three decades. Kubrick got the go-ahead from Warner Bros.—which publicly announced the project as “Aryan Papers” (a reference to the documents required to escape deportation) in 1993—and he got fairly far along in the pre-production, hiring set and costume designers and casting several of the main roles. For the role of the boy’s aunt, Tanya, Kubrick considered Julia Roberts and Uma Thurman. However, preparations ceased when it became known that Spielberg had started working on “Schindler’s List.” Fearing competition, Kubrick shelved the project for a second and final time, and devoted his energies to “Eyes Wide Shut.”

Kubrick’s lifelong fascination with the Holocaust coexisted with extreme doubt as to whether any film could do justice to the subject. In 1980, he told the author Michael Herr that what he wanted most was to make a film about the Holocaust, “but good luck in putting all that into a two-hour movie.” Frederic Raphael, who co-authored the screenplay for “Eyes Wide Shut,” recalls Kubrick questioning whether a film truly can represent the Holocaust in its entirety. After Raphael suggested “Schindler’s List,” Kubrick replied, “Think that’s about the Holocaust? That was about success, wasn’t it? The Holocaust is about 6 million people who get killed. ‘Schindler’s List’ is about 600 who don’t. Anything else?”

The scholar Geoffrey Cocks has written extensively about Kubrick’s fascination with the Nazi era. In numerous essays and a book, “The Wolf at the Door: Stanley Kubrick, History and the Holocaust,” he argues that the Holocaust serves as the “veiled benchmark of evil” in many of Kubrick’s films, specifically “The Shining.” According to Cocks, the failure to bring “Aryan Papers” to fruition had to do with a profound awareness of “the problem of how to do ethical and artistic justice to the depiction of the horror of mass extermination,” a problem that has—in one form or another—plagued all postwar artists. Unlike Harlan, who recalls Kubrick’s great enthusiasm for the project, Cocks quotes Kubrick’s widow, Christiane, as telling him that Kubrick was horribly depressed throughout his work on “Aryan Papers.”

The Holocaust was such a sensitive issue that Kubrick’s reaction took the form of approach and avoidance, Cocks argues. Though Kubrick never confronted the subject head-on—and the scant appearance of Nazis in his films take the form of parody (as in “Dr. Strangelove” and “Lolita”)—Cocks writes that “[a]s a Jew in a gentile world, Kubrick would use his position as an outsider with a deep sensitivity to social injustice to expose the dark underside of society.”

A quote from Kubrick on the connection between rape and Beethoven in “A Clockwork Orange” illustrates Cocks’s assertion: “[It] suggests the failure of culture to have any morally refining effect on society. Hitler loved good music and many top Nazis were cultured and sophisticated men, but it didn’t do them, or anyone else, much good.”

Kubrick was a master at exploring the darker side of human nature, whether it was sexual obsession (“Lolita”) or the will to power (“2001: A Space Odyssey”) or human cruelty (“A Clockwork Orange”). It’s fascinating and terrifying to imagine what Kubrick’s Holocaust might have looked like.

Reprinted with permission from The Forward.
A.J. Goldmann is a writer living in New York.
 

Priest Makes Deal With Devil in ‘Day’


Volker Schlaandorff, born in Germany in the fateful year 1939, has explored his country’s dark history in such films as “The Tin Drum,” “The Ogre” and “The Legend of Rita.”

Now he returns to the Nazi era in the intense “The Ninth Day,” a film mature enough to view the Shoah from a different perspective and to confront the viewer with complex questions of morality, religion and character.

Based broadly on the wartime diary of a Luxembourg priest, the Rev. Jean Bernard, the films opens in a wintry Dachau, where three special barracks have been set aside for clergymen. The vast majority of the occupants are Catholic, but there also are some Protestant and Greek Orthodox ministers who have refused to toe the Nazi line.

They are treated better than Jewish prisoners, but life is hellish enough for the Luxembourg priest, here called Abbé Henri Kremer. When he is called out of his barrack, Kremer expects torture or hanging, but instead the SS has a deal for him.

He will be given a nine-day leave to return to Luxembourg and meet his sister and brother. His assignment is to turn the resolutely anti-Nazi bishop of the country — to persuade him and his people to join the German “crusade” against godless Bolshevism.

If Kremer succeeds, he will be a free man. If he tries to flee, all his fellow priests in Dachau will be executed.

Arriving home, Kremer meets his handler and interrogator, SS Untersturmfuehrer Gebhardt. It is the tension between the two men that gives the film its spine and complexity.

In looks, the two men could hardly be more different. Gebhardt (August Diehl) is smooth, almost baby-faced, dressed for the occasion in well-cut civilian clothes.

Kremer (Ulrich Matthes) wears frayed clerical garb and his face is unforgettable. Hawk-nosed, his gaunt cheeks stretched like straight planes, and the most arresting features are the burning, haunted eyes of a prophet or madman.

But intellectually, if not morally, the protagonists speak the same language. Gebhardt is a former seminary student, who, a few days before his ordination, decided to exchange the black habit of the priest for the black uniform of the SS.

Gebhardt opens the sparring match by observing that he is fascinated by the persona of Judas, “a revolutionary Jew and the most pious of the disciples.”

Had Judas failed to betray Jesus, there would have been no crucifixion and, therefore, no salvation for mankind. Ergo, the SS officer argues by implication, it is the priest’s duty to betray his own and the bishop’s convictions for the salvation of Christendom and victory over satanic Bolshevism.

“Jesus showed us how to defeat the Jew within us,” Gebhardt proposes at another point, leading to Kremer’s only sinful outburst of anger.

The handler also knows how to play on the priest’s sense of personal guilt for not having shared a few precious drops of water with a feeble fellow inmate — an incident actually taken from Primo Levi’s concentration camp memoirs.

The film touches only tangentially on the Vatican’s role during World War II, but “The Ninth Day” is not “The Deputy,” in which a defiant priest denounces the pope’s passiveness in the face of the extermination of the Jews.

“It was inconceivable at the time that a priest like Kremer would criticize the pope,” Schlondorff said during an interview.

In the few direct references to the Vatican, the standard line is that criticism of the Nazi rule by the pope would only have worsened the lot of the victims.

“The Ninth Day” is a fascinating interplay of character and ideas, for the highest of stakes, but it is no Saturday night date movie.

Kremer, the honorable fanatic, allows himself only two faint smiles during the film’s 90 minutes.

One comes during a brief snowball fight with his sister. The other is the movie’s final shot, when the priest, returning to Dachau, smuggles a salami sausage past the Nazi guards and shares it with fellow prisoners.

And what about the actual history of Luxembourg that is referenced by the movie’s narrative?

Judged by the standard of the time, Luxembourg’s role was not ignoble, according to historical sources and Schlondorff’s own research.

True, the tiny Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, population 468,000, hardly rates any mention in the history of World War II and the Holocaust.

However, the duchy’s people and church overwhelmingly opposed Hitler’s 1942 incorporation of Luxembourg into the Reich and the imposition of the Nuremberg race laws.

Many of the country’s 3,500 Jews fled to unoccupied France, only to be caught later by the Nazis. It is estimated that in all, 1,000-2,000 Luxembourg Jews were murdered.

Before the war, practically all Luxembourgers spoke German, French and a local dialect. So strong is the revulsion against the Nazi regime even now, said Schlondorff, that German is no longer heard.

“The Ninth Day” opens July 8 at Laemmle’s Music Hall in Beverly Hills (www.laemmle.com) and at University Town Center in Irvine.

 

Survivors Sue Claims Commission


Survivors are suing the commission on Nazi-era insurance claims, a commissioner has called for the resignation of its chief and Jewish officials handling the claims acknowledge serious problems.

But they also say there probably isn’t a better way to dole out the claims.

The anger and frustration some lawmakers and survivors feel toward the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims peaked last week when several survivors filed suit, claiming the organization was delaying payments.

California’s insurance commissioner, John Garamendi, a member of the commission, later joined the suit and called for the resignation of the commission’s chairman, former U.S. Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger.

Survivors Jack Brauns, Manny Steinberg and Si Frumkin, all Los Angeles-area residents, charged that the ICHEIC improperly delayed or denied payments totaling more than $1 billion on policies held by the survivors or heirs of those who perished under Nazi rule.

"This is a commission that is supposed to help survivors," said William Shernoff, the plaintiffs’ lawyer. "But from what we see, they are helping the insurance companies more than survivors."

They also are seeking Eagleburger’s resignation, saying his salary — which they estimate at over $300,000 — is paid for by the insurance companies. The plaintiffs believe Eagleburger is working in the insurance companies’ interests.

"This is blood money stolen from survivors," said Frumkin, chair of the Southern California Council for Soviet Jewry.

For his part, Eagleburger says he has no intention of resigning. His aide, Anais Haase, said that time and resources planned for investigating claims would be diverted to defending against the lawsuit if the survivors persist in fighting them.

"We don’t believe we are mistreating survivors or their heirs," Haase said. "We offer the only option available at no cost to survivors and their heirs."

The plaintiffs are asking the ICHEIC to place more pressure on Italian insurance company Assicurazioni Generali to divulge more unpaid life insurance policies. The ICHEIC has published 9,000 names of Generali policyholders, but the claimants suggest the list could exceed 100,000 policies.

Shernoff said Holocaust survivors and their heirs should also maintain the right to use litigation to gain money owed them, rather than working through the ICHEIC.

The suit was filed under California’s Unfair Business Practices statute, but it’s unclear whether the ICHEIC can legally be defined as a business.

A Generali official in New York called the lawsuit baseless and misleading, saying that thousands of claimants "have and will continue to be paid and offered generous amounts through ICHEIC, which is supported by leading Jewish Holocaust restitution organizations and the State of Israel."

Stuart Eizenstat, a special representative for Holocaust issues in the Clinton administration, said the lawsuits could wreck the ICHEIC system if the suit nullifies the agreements the commission has reached with the insurance agencies.

"It continues to cast a cloud of debate over the exercise," he said. "It diverts energy and attention from filling claims."

Eizenstat said he appreciates that the suit is an expression of frustration over the slow process of paying claims. But he and others contend that the insurance companies, not the ICHEIC, have made the process more difficult by withholding names.

Israel Singer, chairman of the World Jewish Congress, agreed.

"There is no bad faith here," he said of the ICHEIC. "There is bad information after 50 years."

Singer acknowledged that the organization has had trouble completing its mission.

"ICHEIC has a mammoth task, and it’s bigger than we ever thought it was going to be," Singer said. "We couldn’t have known it at the time."

He suggested an ombudsman might be able to bridge the gap between the ICHEIC and the Holocaust survivors.

The ICHEIC, founded in 1998 by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, has had some problems in the past two years. Eagleburger threatened to resign last year after difficulty securing cooperation from German insurance companies.

Congressional representatives and others also have chastised Eagleburger and the commission for its slow progress, especially considering the dwindling number of Holocaust survivors.

The ICHEIC also has been criticized for spending $56 million in five years, and Eizenstat agreed that the organization cannot be considered a model of efficiency.

But both Eizenstat and Singer defended Eagleburger.

"Larry has earned every nickel and then some," Eizenstat said. "He’s had to undergo hell to bring the parties together."

California Gov. Gray Davis issued a statement Saturday accusing the ICHEIC of "not meeting its mission.

"The system does not work, claims are not being investigated and survivors are not being paid,” Davis said in the statement.

Edwin Black and Tom Tugend contributed to this report from Los Angeles.

Renegade Robbins


Tim Robbins spied "Mephisto," the Nazi-era play based on Klaus Mann’s 1936 novel about an actor who pandered to the Nazis to advance his career, while rifling through a box of books on his way out of an English-language bookstore in Paris last March. The actor-writer-activist, then on location with Jonathan Demme’s film, "The Truth About Charlie," was searching for plays to direct at the Actors’ Gang, the boldly original Los Angeles troupe he’d co-founded with UCLA peers in 1981.

The play, which opens at the Actors’ Gang Oct. 27, had an intriguing backstory. Mann based his protagonist on his ex-brother-in-law, a Communist-turned-fascist, who, oblivious to escalating anti-Semitism, had been named director of Hitler’s Berlin State Theater. An ensuing lawsuit banned the novel in Germany until 1980, when it became a best-seller and the subject of a 1981 Istvan Szabo film, "Mephisto."

The play version was adapted by Ariane Mnouchkine, founder of Paris’ Theater du Soleil, whose highly theatrical style had profoundly influenced the Gang. "So I immediately picked up the book," says Robbins, 43, who quickly realized the morality tale was perfect Gang fare.

His company is known for cutting-edge, socially relevant theater, not unlike the revolutionary troupe depicted in "Mephisto." The fictional company’s work was actually performed in Nazi Germany: "In her adaptation, Mnouchkine utilizes cabaret sketches written by Karl Valentine, a clown and satirist who’d do these very daring pieces that were critical of the Nazis — taking real risks not only with his art, but with his life," Robbins told The Journal. "That kind of vaudeville-style, political cabaret is something the Gang has done well in the past, so it plays very well to our strengths. But ‘Mephisto’ also takes us to where we should be growing, because to successfully perform the piece, we must completely immerse ourselves in the world of the play."

To do so, Robbins and his actors avidly read up on the Third Reich and the 24 martyred artists, all victims of the Nazis, to whom Mnouchkine dedicated her play.

Robbins ("The Player," "The Shawshank Redemption") has renegade theater in his blood. He grew up in a liberal Catholic home in Greenwich Village, where his father, Gil, a folksinger, ran a basement club. By age 12, he was performing with an avant-garde street theater; a decade later, he and the Gang were bringing raw, punk rock aesthetics to Los Angeles.

The troupe provided Robbins with a creative outlet as he began landing TV roles — an endeavor he initially despised, though it enabled him to funnel money back into the Gang.

Since then, his work of choice has often been searing social critique. He is the writer-director of the films "Bob Roberts" (1992), a satire about a seductive right-wing politician; "Dead Man Walking" (1995), an anti-death penalty saga starring his significant other, actress Susan Sarandon; and "Cradle Will Rock" (2000), about a leftist musical defiantly staged during the Depression.

But don’t call Robbins a "political" artist.

"In my mind, ‘political’ means ‘careful’ and ‘calculated,’ so there’s an implied insincerity," says the actor, who was recently reinstated as the Gang’s founding artistic director after members braved a period of artistic differences.

Reflecting on his career, Robbins says he can understand — at least in part — the Faustian struggle of his "Mephisto" protagonist. "Hollywood can be a very seductive and destructive place for an actor," he says. "There are the parties, and being loved because you’re famous. But, Hollywood can also be an incredibly liberating place. [For example], there would be no Actors’ Gang if it wasn’t for the TV money, at the start. And our theater wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for ‘Bull Durham’ and ‘The Shawshank Redemption.’"

"Mephisto" resonated in an even more personal way for the New York-based actor after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. When his assistant called with the news, Robbins, who was then visiting Los Angeles, jumped in a car and drove all the way home to lower Manhattan. Over the next few days, he toted food to the rescue workers and considered canceling "Mephisto" and Chekhov’s "The Seagull," the other play opening the Gang’s 20th anniversary season. But then he reflected that both works were eerily pertinent to current events. "They deal with the artist’s responsibility during a time of national crisis," he says.

"Mephisto," he adds, "talks about the world turned upside down, a complete loss of reason and things spiraling out of control. Since Sept. 11, the actors and I have been feeling these concepts in a much more visceral way."

For tickets, call (323) 465-0566.

Austria Will Pay


When U.S. District Judge Shirley Wohl Kram gave the green light on Wednesday, July 25 for Austria to start paying out $450 million to World War II forced and slave laborers, she had special words of praise for Walter Zifkin.

Zifkin, said the New York judge, had truly served the victims of the Nazi-era crimes and had represented the highest standards of his profession.

The recipient of these compliments is neither a practicing lawyer nor a public official. Zifkin is the CEO of the William Morris talent and literary agency, which represents hundreds of stage and screen celebrities.

Perhaps figuring that a man who has spent decades mediating between stars and producers had the right qualifications for the job, Kram named Zifkin "special master" in the case.

In that assignment, "I tried to resolve differences between the parties," Zifkin told The Journal, among them numerous lawyers, survivor groups and the U.S. Justice Department.

The $450-million fund has been in place for some time. But the Austrian government held up payment until two lawsuits filed by former forced laborers were dismissed, which is exactly what Kram did.

During the hearings, Zifkin made a plea for a speedy resolution of the issue. "The survivors are in need, they are elderly, and they are dying daily," he said. "There is no adequate restitution for the horror that was revealed in these cases. More than 55 years after the end of World War II, it will mean … some measure of compensation and justice can be brought to these individuals."

"Nothing I have ever done compares to the feeling of accomplishment in helping to get payments to these elderly survivors, it is an indescribable emotional experience," Zifkin said in a phone interview.

He added, "being Jewish, I have some special feelings of compassion about the Holocaust, which, I think, would be shared by any human being." Zifkin is active on the boards of Cedar-Sinai Medical Center and Vista del Mar.

The $450 million will go to some 170,000 men and women who were forced to work on Austrian soil during World War II. Most of them are Poles, Czechs and Ukrainians.

Few Jews are included in this category, since most Jewish slave laborers have previously received restitution from Germany, according to Zifkin.

Austrian Consul-General Peter Launsky-Tiefenthal hailed the closing of the case. "Austria recognizes that it contributed to the suffering of many during the Nazi era," he said. "We all agree that it has taken too long to get compensation to the victims, but we are now trying to act in a swift and nonbureaucratic way."

While the case closes one chapter on the lengthy restitution negotiations with Austria, two others stay open and unresolved.

One is a $350-million fund to compensate former Austrian Jews whose businesses were "Aryanized," property confiscated and insurance policies not honored. However, none of this money is being disbursed while lawsuits filed by survivors are pending in the courts.

Linked to the $350-million fund is an additional $112 million, earmarked for social benefits, including health care.

(Three months ago, a separate Austrian parliamentary fund started paying $7,000 to each survivor whose assets were seized when Austria was annexed by Hitler’s Germany in 1938.)

A third aspect, and a particularly complicated one, is the return of art looted from Austrian Jews and now in Austrians museums or in private hands.

While about a thousand works of art have been returned to their original owners, Launsky-Tiefenthal said, one high-profile case remains and is wending through the courts.

The case involves six paintings by Austrian artist Gustav Klimt, including two 1907 portraits of the aristocratic Jewish beauty Adele Bloch-Bauer.

Bloch-Bauer’s niece and sole surviving relative is Maria Altman of Los Angeles, who estimates the value of the six Klimt paintings at $150 million and is suing for their recovery in federal court, according to her attorney, E. Randol Schoenberg.

The Austrian government maintains that Bloch-Bauer willed the paintings to the Austrian Gallery in Vienna, where they now hang.

On another front, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) and Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.) introduced the Holocaust Victims Insurance Relief Act in Congress last week.

The bill would require all European insurance companies operating in the United States to disclose the names of Holocaust-era life insurance policies.

Although a special international commission was named in 1998 to expedite the processing of such claims, some 84 percent of the claim applications filed remain unresolved,

"The process is skewed against survivors," said Waxman. "It is outrageous that the [insurance] companies can exploit the [international commission’s] rules to avoid their responsibility."

Agreement Reached for Slave Laborers


Jews who worked as slave laborers during the Nazi era are one step closer to receiving some measure of compensation for their ordeal.

After months of torturous negotiations, an agreement has been reached to establish a $5.2 billion fund for these victims of the Holocaust, according to several lawyers and Jewish officials involved in the talks.

The money will come from Germany, a group of German companies, and U.S. companies whose German subsidiaries used slave labor during the war, said Gideon Taylor, executive vice president of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which was among the groups negotiating on behalf of the laborers.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is slated to be in Berlin on Friday for the announcement of the agreement.

An issue still to be decided — which may prove as contentious as the negotiations themselves — is the process of distributing the funds to survivors.

The allocation “is still being discussed,” Taylor said.

The German offer would affect some 250,000 concentration camp survivors — 135,000 of them Jewish — who were enslaved by German companies during the war.

It would also compensate between 475,000 and 1.2 million non-Jewish forced laborers from Central and Eastern Europe who were deported and sent to work in Germany.

Payments would also go to other victims who never received reparations.

In addition to the $5.2 billion, claims against German insurers being handled by the International Commission on Holocaust Era Claims also are expected to be included in the fund, though this part of the agreement remained unclear.

The commission, which is headed by former U.S. Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, was scheduled to meet Wednesday in London.

“We hope that this will be a much delayed measure of justice for Holocaust survivors,” Taylor said.

Deputy Treasury Secretary Stuart Eizenstat, who is representing the United States in the negotiations, declined Tuesday to give any details about the agreement before making a formal announcement Friday, according to his office.

The agreement came after months of difficult negotiations.

During the past several days, there was a flurry of activity. On Monday, lawyers for survivors reduced their demand to $5.7 billion. Earlier in the talks, the lawyers had demanded $28 billion. Germany and the group of German companies recently offered $4.2 billion to create the fund.

With the latest — and much reduced — demand from the victims’ representatives, the German side increased its offer and a compromise was achieved.

Michael Witti, an attorney for survivors based in Munich, said Tuesday that even with an agreement, there would be “no feeling of victory on the side of the victims.”

“You can never repay people for what they suffered,” he said.

A similar sentiment was expressed by survivor Hans Frankenthal, 73, who for 22 months during the war worked as a slave laborer at an armaments factory in the Mauthausen concentration camp and at I.G. Farben’s chemical factory near Auschwitz.

An agreement would mean a “guarantee that there would be no more suits,” said Frankenthal. “But you can’t take away” the history of the war.

Frankenthal, who recently published his memoirs, never received any compensation for his years of slave labor.

So far, 17 German firms have signed on to the industry initiative, and about 60 are considering doing so, according to industry spokesman Wolfgang Gibowski.

Among the U.S. firms with German subsidiaries that employed slave labor, a spokesman for Opel AG, the German branch of General Motors, said on Monday that Opel would join the industry fund.

Though the amount of the contribution has not been decided, “we are confessing our responsibility,” Opel spokesman Bruno Seifert said on Monday.

A Ford spokesman told reporters Monday that the company is one of some 200 companies with German operations that are considering taking part in the industry fund.

Publicity over the slave labor issue has achieved mixed results in Germany.

On one hand, a recent opinion poll suggested that the wrangling over money had caused latent German anti-Semitism to resurface.

On the other hand, some Germans have reacted with disgust to the news that many existing German companies whose predecessors used slave laborers are not joining the compensation fund.

A German newspaper this week published a letter from one reader, who hoped that “many, many people will boycott the products” of those German firms unwilling to participate in the fund.

“I for one don’t need any Bahlsen cookies or AGFA film or WFM tableware, nor Miele washing machines.”

JTA correspondent Toby Axelrod in Berlin contributed to this report.