Irma Schwager, Austrian-Jewish activist in French resistance, dies at 95


Irma Schwager, an Austrian-Jewish refugee who lost most of her family in the Holocaust and worked with the French resistance, has died.

Her death at 95 was announced on Monday by Austria’s Communist Party, for whom she was honorary chairwoman.

During World War II, Schwager, nee Wieselberg, lived in occupied France, where she recruited German soldiers stationed there to work against the Nazis, the French news agency AFP reported. She had fled Austria in 1938, managing to elude the Nazis, although the Gestapo raided her Paris apartment at one point, according to AFP.

After the war, Schwager returned to Austria, where she was active in the Communist Party, championed feminist causes and lobbied for nuclear disarmament.

Schwager remained active until shortly before her death. In January, she delivered a speech in Vienna to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Barghouti calls for Palestinian popular resistance campaign


Jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti called on Palestinians to launch a popular resistance campaign against Israel.

The former Fatah leader, who is serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison for his role in five murders, in a statement called on the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority to stop all coordination with Israel in the economic and security realms and to stop peace negotiations.

Barghouti, considered a potential next president of the Palestinian Authority, issued the statement in advance of Land Day on Friday. Thousands of Arabs in Israel and in neighboring countries are expected to protest along the Jewish state’s borders against Israel’s land policies and in memory of six Israeli Arabs killed in 1976 during a Land Day demonstration.

“It must be understood that there is no partner for peace in Israel when the settlements have doubled,” Barghouti said in the statement. “It is the Palestinian people’s right to oppose the occupation in all means, and the resistance must be focused on the 1967 territories.”

It is the first time that Barghouti, who has been in prison since 2002, has called for a cessation of peace negotiations with Israel. He also called for a boycott of all Israeli products.

Shock claim: Obama encouraged Palestinian ‘resistance’


From WND.com:

The Obama administration has encouraged “resistance” by Palestinians to protest Israel’s presence in eastern Jerusalem, a senior Palestinian Authority official claimed to WND.

The senior PA official, speaking from Ramallah on condition of anonymity, said that in recent meetings with U.S. envoys to the region, the American diplomats supported and encouraged the concept of Palestinian protests to pressure Israel into evacuating eastern sections of Jerusalem.

Read the full article at http://www.wnd.com/index.php?fa=PAGE.view&pageId=134569

‘Defiance’ celebrates Jews’ daring acts of WW II resistance


“Every day of freedom is like an act of faith,” says Tuvia Bielski, one of three brothers who led a partisan group battling Nazi troops in the forests of Belarus.

Tuvia (Daniel Craig), Zus (Liev Schreiber) and Asael (Jamie Bell) are the heroes of “Defiance,” which chronicles not only their daring acts of sabotage, but also how they established behind enemy lines a self-contained community of a thousand Jewish men, women and children.

Unlike Russian, Polish or French resistance groups, the Bielski Otriad (detachment) had to face, in addition to German soldiers and tanks, frequently hostile local populations, anti-Semitism among “allied” Soviet partisans and opposition by Jewish community elders who feared Nazi mass reprisals.

To make matters worse, there were bitter quarrels about strategy and methods between the more militant Zus and the more idealistic Tuvia.

Nechama Tec, whose book is the basis for the film, has described the Bielski Otriad as “the largest armed resistance by Jews during World War II.” As such, the exploits of the three brothers and their followers have given heart and pride to Jews burdened by the common misconception that all European Jews went passively to their doom.

One who gained new self-esteem was Edward Zwick, who, growing up in the Midwest, felt shamed by the supposed meekness of Jews during the Holocaust.

Once he became a well-established television and film director/producer (“The Last Samurai,” “Blood Diamond,”) Zwick spent 12 years trying to bring “Defiance” to the big screen.

The long delay was due partly to the reluctance of Hollywood’s Jewish honchos to tackle the subject, but even more by their reluctance to gamble their money on so complex a story.

“Studio chiefs fear anything that smacks of complexity,” Zwick told an Anti-Defamation League audience at an advance screening.

Paramount finally backed the movie, with Craig, the current James Bond star, in the lead. Zwick commented, “My greatest hope for the film is that another 15-year-old boy in the Midwest will see it and never feel the shame I did.”

Abraham Foxman, national ADL director and himself a child Holocaust survivor, praised “Defiance” as the first American film to tell the truth about the collaboration of many Lithuanians, Poles and Ukrainians in the extermination of their Jewish neighbors.


The trailer

But surprisingly, Foxman was unsure how “Defiance” would be judged by Jewish viewers. “I am not certain whether we are ready to embrace fighting Jews,” he said.

After shooting of the film was completed, a brief media flurry brought some unwelcome publicity.

A Polish government agency, the Institute of National Remembrance, charged that the Bielski detachment might have joined Soviet partisans in an attack on the village of Naliboki, in March 1943, in which 128 civilians were shot.

ALTTEXTThe agency, known by its Polish acronym IPN, deals with “crimes against the Polish nation” and is generally considered right wing. Even in its own brief report, IPN stated that participation of the Bielski partisan in the killing “is merely one of the versions of the investigated case.”

Descendants of the Bielski brothers have categorically denied the charge, as has Mitch Braff, director of the San Francisco-based Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation (www.jewishpartisans.org).

“For one, it’s been clearly established that no Bielski partisans were in the vicinity of Naliboki at the time of the shooting,” Braff said. “Furthermore, it would have been stupid to kill civilians whom the partisans needed for food supplies.”

Based on extensive research and interviews, Braff believes that between 20,000 and 30,000 Jewish partisans, mainly from Russia and Poland, fought the Nazis during the war.

American Jewish University scholar Michael Berenbaum and Braff are collaborating on a teachers’ guide to accompany release of the film and the subsequent DVD.

“Defiance” will open at selected Los Angeles theaters on Dec. 31, before a later national rollout.

Image: Director Edward Zwick, right, with Daniel Craig and Alexa Davalos on the set of “Defiance.” Photo by Karen Ballard/Paramount Vantage

Zwick’s ‘Defiance’ brings heroes of Jewish anti-Nazi resistance to screen


Edward Zwick, director and co-writer of “Defiance,” which dramatizes the World War II partisan resistance led by the three Jewish Bielski brothers, confided to an audience of Anti-Defamation League delegates why he made the film.

“When I was a boy in the Midwest during the early 1950s, we used to play games emulating the heroics of our soldiers during the Second World War,” he began.

But all the time, young Zwick felt a gnawing sense of shame that Europe’s Jews, according to all accounts of the time, had gone to their deaths meekly, without fighting back.

But once he read the amazing story of the Bielski brothers, who not only fought the Nazis, but also struggled with hostile local populations and anti-Semitic Soviet troops, Zwick gradually discovered that there were hundreds of similar reports on Jewish resistance fighters.

“My greatest hope for the film is that another 15-year-old boy in the Midwest will see it and will never feel the shame I did,” Zwick concluded.

After the screening, Zwick, national ADL director Abe Foxman, and the audience engaged in a lively discussion on the film’s impact.

Foxman brought a special perspective to the discussion as a child Holocaust survivor who had actually known two of the Bielski brothers.

For the first time, he said, the film reveals the truth about the collaboration of many Lithuanians, Poles and Ukrainians with the Nazi conquerors, and exposes the pervasive anti-Semitism among Soviet soldiers.

Surprisingly, Foxman was unsure how “Defiance” will be received by Jewish viewers. “I am not certain whether we are ready to embrace fighting Jews,” he declared.

But judging by the audience applause and comments, Foxman’s fears may well be unfounded.

‘A Secret’ lets French director explore his Jewish past


More than 60 years have passed, yet French filmmakers are still wrestling with their country’s less than heroic role under Nazi occupation during World War II.

The latest entry is “A Secret” and it posits that the sins of the fathers are visited upon the sons, not only among the perpetrators and collaborators, but also among the Jewish survivors.

The complex movie, in which the past, shot in color, is more vivid that the black-and-white present, follows the fate of a French Jewish family in the pre-war 1930s, the German occupation and the decades after liberation.

As told through the eyes of Francois, successively a 7-year old boy, a teenager and a middle-aged man, the narrative introduces his father, Maxime (Algerian Jewish pop idol Patrick Bruel); glamorous mother, Tania (Cecile de France); and their extended Jewish family.

Francois is a solitary, introspective child, exposed to the barely concealed contempt of his muscular, bodybuilding father, who fantasizes the company of an older brother, more assertive and athletic than himself.

Then, when Francois is 15, a relative reveals the dark family secret of the film’s title. How, shortly before the war, Maxime married his first wife, Hannah, and on his wedding day fell in love with the beautiful blonde Tania, a guest at the nuptials.

How Maxime and Hannah had a sturdy son, Simon, how Maxime fled to unoccupied Vichy France, to be followed by Hannah, Simon, and two other relatives, with forged “Aryan” papers.

At the border, French police inspected the papers, alert to arrest any Jews and turn them over to the Germans. At that point, a jealous and despondent Hannah made the fateful decision that would alter the family history forever.

Amid the constantly shifting scenes of past and present, there are moments of ordinary bourgeois family life, alternating with Jewish humiliation and fear under the occupation. Some Jews wear the yellow Star of David, others take it off and work on the other side.

“A Secret,” which has been a considerable box-office success in France, despite harsh criticism by some leading newspapers, owes its creation to two French Jews whose own stories reflect much of the film’s plotline.

One is Philippe Grimbert, a psychoanalyst, who wrote “Un Secret” as a semi-autobiographical novel, which, to his surprise, became a best seller in Europe.

The other is Claude Miller, a veteran director, who worked for 10 years with the iconic Francois Truffaut.

Miller was born in 1942 in the French countryside, where his family was in hiding, and remembered a bookish, solitary childhood, much like that of Francois in the movie.

Grimbert, who has a small role in the movie, and Miller both recall muscular fathers who resented their own Jewishness, with Miller’s father telling him after the war to “just forget being Jewish.”

This experience is reflected in the film, when Maxime insists that young Francois be baptized.

“A Secret” marks the first time that Miller, who is not a favorite of French critics, has dealt on film with his own Jewish background.

However, other French directors have frequently shaken their countrymen’s self-imposed forgetfulness about their forefathers’ role in World War II and the myth that all were heroic resistance fighters.

Some of these films have become classics, starting in 1955 with “Night and Fog” by Alain Resnais, a documentary on concentration camps, followed in 1969 by Marcel Ophuls’ “The Sorrow and the Pity,” which explored the motivations of both resistors and collaborators.

In 1974, Louis Malle’s “Lacombe, Lucien” drew a portrait of a young French collaborator, and in 1987 his “Au Revoir les Enfants” recalled the roundup of Jewish children hidden in a Catholic boarding school.

The story is not yet finished, as witnessed by the remarkable success of “Suite Francaise,” a newly discovered novel about Parisians fleeing the Nazi conquest, by Irene Nemirovsky, who perished in Auschwitz.

“A Secret” opens Sept. 12 at Laemmle’s Royal Theatre in West Los Angeles, and on Sept. 19 at Playhouse 7 in Pasadena and Town Center 5 in Encino.


The trailer — French with English subtitles

Newsroom Rebellion Silences Gossip About Mayor’s Family


 

An extraordinary minirebellion erupted in two Los Angeles newsrooms recently. At the Valley’s Daily News and the L.A. Weekly, reporters refused to pursue a story that senior editors at both papers very much wanted.

Insubordination is potential grounds for dismissal, so this refusal required chutzpah. But it’s not obvious that the editors were wrong and the intrepid reporters right.

The tip/rumor/innuendo in question involves personal information, as yet unconfirmed and unpublished, about a member of Mayor James Hahn’s family. Faced with resistance from reporters, management at the Daily News has since dropped the subject. The L.A. Weekly’s editor, apparently, still wants the story. Editors at the Los Angeles Times, for its part, elected to let the matter lie; no reporters’ rebellion was required.

In this column, I, too, will not disclose personal information about the Hahn family. But that doesn’t necessarily argue for my virtue. My wife, for one, objected to this article in any form. Alluding to personal, private information — gossip if you will — is no better than blurting it out, she insists, because it keeps the matter alive and dangling. Her views line up compatibly with the Torah, the Talmud and the writings of latter-day rabbis. All of these texts warn about lashon hara (gossip), carefully making distinctions between types of gossip, but generally condemning them all.

My wife adds that it’s elitist and condescending to obliquely reference something that journalists and politicos are whispering about, when I have no intention of actually informing the reader.

Her last point is awfully close to why Ron Kaye, managing editor of the Daily News, wanted his reporters to chase this lead.

“What’s so taboo about it?” Kaye said in an interview. “What makes us privileged and the public not? I don’t really understand why — other than it’s elitism and it goes to the timid culture of Los Angeles.”

This personal information, if published, would be captivating enough to get attention, but it pertains to nothing illegal, immoral or unethical. So is it automatically off limits?

Not in Kaye’s view: “If you’re going to step on the stage, you risk being totally exposed or revealed. I think the public should know fully the story of who Hahn is. And what his life is like and what happened to it. I think we have a right to know. Why do we talk about the personal lives of presidential candidates? It’s not because it’s the most important thing. We’re interested, and it becomes a form of symbolic language. When you step into the role of mayor in the media and glamour capital, you become part of the conversation.”

If Los Angeles worked like New York City, competitive pressures already would have flushed out any gossip involving the mayor. The tabloids might begin it, but the august New York Times would invariably respond with the “responsible” version. When it comes to celebrities, say Kobe Bryant or Michael Jackson, people are so conditioned to invasiveness that the publishing of revelations is hardly questioned. But why is it in Los Angeles that the personal life of actor Robert Blake looms more newsworthy than the mayor’s? Is it a reflection of Los Angeles’ civic culture that the mayor barely seems to qualify as a public figure?

In a Los Angeles Times guest column, blogger Mickey Kaus defended the fun of gossip, but also asserted that tattling on public officials would make more people pay attention to — and care about — what actually happens in official Los Angeles.

Kaye sees a connection between the handling of this story and the local media’s frequent unwillingness to pursue other, weightier grist.

“I’ve worked in journalism in this town for 25 years,” he said, “and the No. 1 issue has always been motivating staff to go full-bore, with the understanding that everything done by government is my public right to know. We need to confront public agencies and tell them that they have no right to any secret. It’s not as bad as 25 years ago, but it’s still bad.”

It’s a stretch to equate details about a politician’s personal life with the push for open, accountable government. But there are exceptions. In the early 1960s, no one reported on the philandering of President John F. Kennedy, as per the customs of the day. Yet, historians have since learned that one Kennedy mistress had connections to the mob, which could have — and may have — compromised JFK as president. Nor did anyone look into Kennedy’s serious health problems, which contrasted sharply with a projected youthful vigor so quintessential to his image.

If newshounds had bothered to examine Kennedy’s private life, they would indeed have found something newsworthy.

These conundrums plunge inevitably into situational ethics. It probably was nobody’s business that Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) paid for his wife’s abortion — except perhaps until he equated abortion with murder on the floor of Congress. Nor did the long-ago affair of Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) seem worth exposing years later — until perhaps the moment Hyde thundered that President Bill Clinton deserved to be impeached for lying about an affair.

When it comes to Hahn’s family life, the case for disclosure rests on shakier ethical footing, especially when looking through the prism of Judaism. Rabbi Joseph Telushkin dealt with such topics in his writings, and I do his work injustice to reference it so briefly and incompletely. But his citations include Leviticus, which prohibits being a “talebearer.” This stricture applies even to telling truthful tales. The Talmud goes so far as to warn against speaking well of a friend, “for although you will start with good traits, the discussion might turn to his bad traits.”

So well-behaved rabbis would keep their mouths shut — and forbid their children from majoring in journalism. But what about us scribes? I lean toward a difficult middle path, splitting the baby if you will, though unlike King Solomon, I’d be prepared to follow through.

That is, when it comes to a public official, it usually makes sense to investigate gossip or rumor. The Los Angeles Times called it right by probing the sexual-harassment rumors surrounding then-candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger. If you don’t investigate, you never know when there’s something that you should know — something that you ought to report. Critics lashed the Times for landing its Schwarzenegger stories closely in advance of the recall election. But the alternative of not publishing news of credible, multiple sexual-harassment allegations would have been irresponsible.

If newsmongers did choose to invest scarce resources in pursuit of the Hahn-related tidbit, and then confirmed the scuttlebutt, it would be contrary to their temperament to stay silent. Yet, in rare cases, when journalists check out rumors, they should be prepared to take their findings and shove them under the mattress. I say rare, because false rumors themselves can be newsworthy and fair game — and they can be dealt with sensitively, even if it undermines titillation.

Maybe the Los Angeles Times checked out the Hahn thing and let it go. Maybe it didn’t bother to check at all — which would be less defensible. Assistant City Editor John Hoeffel said he couldn’t share information about what stories his paper is or isn’t pursuing. He added: “In deciding whether to write a story about the mayor or the mayor’s family, we would weigh whether it affected his job as a public official. It would depend on whether the gossip is just colorful details about the mayor or a private matter. If we felt something was information that was important for the public to know about, we would write it.”

Editors at the L.A. Weekly did not reply to a request for an interview.

There’s another section of the Leviticus sanction against gossip. It states, “Neither shall thou stand idly by the blood of thy neighbor.” Jewish Week editor Gary Rosenblatt, in his column, has taken this admonition to mean that ethical journalism, which keeps its civic mission front and center, might pass the rabbis’ scrutiny after all.

Kaye of the Daily News said he could’ve found some reporter ambitious enough to do the deed. But he relied on the discretion of the veteran journalists he trusted most, such as Beth Barrett and Rick Orlov.

“If my best reporters, whom I respect deeply, won’t do it, it’s probably the wrong thing to do,” he said. “Nothing ever moved in the story. It didn’t become a public event. Nobody else touched the story and made you have to respond. It was an extremely close call. And I don’t know that, collectively, we as journalists did the right thing.”

 

Israel Worried About U.S. Iraq Withdrawl


As Shiite and Sunni resistance to the American presence in Iraq intensifies, Israel’s defense establishment is worried that a U.S. withdrawal under fire could have devastating consequences for the battles against weapons of mass destruction and global terrorism.

And Israel could be one of the big losers: Israeli officials believe a loss of American deterrence would encourage Iran to continue its nuclear weapons program, and its support for terrorism could lead to a hardening of Syrian and Palestinian attitudes against accommodation with Israel and could spark more Palestinian and other terrorism directed against Israeli targets.

Without American deterrence and a pro-Western Iraq, the officials say, Israel might have to rethink its attitude on key issues like the concessions it can afford to make to the Palestinians, its readiness for a land war on its eastern front and the size of its defense budget.

But there is an opposing, minority view in Israeli academic and intelligence circles: The quicker the Americans leave, this view holds, the quicker the Iraqis will have to get their act together. And once they do, they will not necessarily pose a threat to Israel or the West.

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz summoned a meeting in early April of Israeli intelligence services and other branches to discuss the implications for Israel of the unrest in Iraq. Some of the analyses were bleak.

When the United States launched a war on Saddam Hussein’s regime in March 2003, Israeli military planners hoped for several significant gains.

Saddam’s defeat and the destruction of the Iraqi war machine would remove the threat of hundreds of Iraqi and Syrian tanks rumbling across the desert to threaten Israel’s eastern border, officials believed. They also hoped for a domino effect that would lead Syria and the Palestinians to seek accommodation with Israel, countries like Iran and Libya to rethink their nuclear weapons programs and terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad to exercise restraint.

In the first year after the war, some of that seemed to be happening. Now some Israeli intelligence analysts fear a reversal of these processes, with all the attendant dangers for Israel.

In the meeting with Mofaz, there was a general consensus that if American deterrence in the region is weakened, Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad all will be encouraged to mount or incite even more terrorism against Israel.

Some officers expressed fear of possible Iranian intervention in southern Iraq on the side of the Shiites, if the situation degenerates into war between the Sunni and Shiite populations after a hasty American withdrawal. That could lead to a radical Shiite regime in Iraq, similar to the one in Iran.

If such a radical Iraq were to emerge, some officers suggested, Israel might have to reconsider the huge cuts in the size of its tank forces that it planned after the destruction of Saddam’s army last year. That could impact the key defense budget, which was slashed last year and again this year as part of a general government austerity program.

A loss of American prestige in the region, some officials said, also could impact countries with pro-American regimes like Egypt and Jordan, and might mean that American guarantees to Israel in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would carry less weight.

In general, American attempts to stabilize the Middle East would suffer a huge setback, with potentially harsh consequences for Israel and the West. The two main goals of the U.S.-led war — curbing the proliferation of nuclear weapons in rogue countries such as Iran and striking a blow against global terrorists such as Al Qaeda — could be reversed.

In an interview with the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, Mofaz echoed these concerns, saying, "America’s success in Iraq is essential for world peace. If the Americans manage to stabilize the situation in Iraq — and we in Israel believe they will — that will have a positive impact on the Middle East as a whole, on the world oil market and on the prestige of the international community."

But, he cautioned, "if the Americans are forced to withdraw in the wake of terrorist pressure, a new and dangerous model of Arab regime will be created. The axis of evil will lift its head, and it could threaten world peace."

Some Middle East experts in Israeli academia and the military take a more sanguine view, however. They argue that if the Americans withdraw soon after the handover of power to the Iraqi Provisional Council, scheduled for June 30, Iraq’s Sunnis and Shiites would reach a modus vivendi on shared rule to keep the country from plunging into chaos.

They ask: Would a new Iraqi regime — even if radical Shiites are a dominant part of it — adopt a provocative, anti-Western stance after what happened to Saddam? If they did, who would rearm them? And without sizable quantities of sophisticated weaponry, how could they threaten Israel or the Western world?

Surely, these experts reason, any new Iraqi regime would prefer to tap America’s willingness to reconstruct Iraq and allow oil revenues to create a basis for new prosperity. They argue that an orderly American withdrawal, announced well in advance, would do more for American prestige in the area than an ill-fated attempt to crush the dissident Iraqi militias.

But this is a minority view in Israel, and similar predictions of rational Arab moderation — such as the thinking that led to the creation of the Palestinian Authority — have proven wrong in the past. Most members of the government, the defense establishment and the intelligence community believe America should maintain its military presence in Iraq in an effort to create a Western-leaning regime there and through it, a new and more stable Middle East.

When President Bush says, "America will stay the course," they take heart.

Artist Evokes Jewish Strength — Overtly


Five years ago, veteran comic book artist Joe Kubert visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. He expected to be moved, but since he and his parents had escaped from Poland before the Nazi genocide began, he assumed his emotional reaction would be relatively contained. Then, he saw something that struck him profoundly: "Yzeran," the name of the shtetl where he had been born, etched on a wall filled with names of towns that had been completely obliterated in World War II.

This one word began a creative odyssey that found its completion this month, with the publication of "Yossel — April 19, 1943," Kubert’s graphic novel about Jewish resistance during the Holocaust — artistic, as well as physical — with the date in the subtitle referring to the start of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

While many will likely draw parallels to Art Speigelman’s 1992 Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel, "Maus," "Yossel" actually mines what is nearly a century-old tradition. Will Eisner, who is popularly credited with the creation of the modern graphic novel, addressed the effects of the Holocaust on an immigrant Bronx family in his comic strip, "The Spirit," which was serialized in newspapers in the 1940s and 1950s; the villains in Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s "Superman" have been viewed as stand-ins for Nazis; and the Escapist, a character in Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning "The Adventures of Kavalier & Klay," is a superhero dedicated to fighting Nazism. But whereas each of these mainstream superheroes carried a subtle message of Jewish strength in the face of oppression, Kubert chose to make this not just a theme but the very substance of his story.

"I feel that if I had lived under the circumstances of the Holocaust, I would have used any scrap of paper I could get my hands on to draw what I would have experienced," said the 77-year-old Kubert, who at age 11 started working in the comics industry as an inker and eventually moved on to edit and draw DC Comics heroes Tarzan, the Flash and Batman.

Indeed, everything about the book’s protagonist is synonymous with the writer — including his name, Yossel, a Yiddishized version of Joe. "Yossel" is a first-person account of the radicalization of a previously ordinary Jewish teenager, the same boy that Kubert believes he would have become had he stayed in Poland. Early in the story, readers are presented with Yossel as a child in Yzeran, the same village where Kubert was born two months before his parents immigrated to the United States in 1926. The drama begins shortly after his family is forced into the Warsaw Ghetto. At first, Yossel’s resistance is artistic, as he sets out to sketch his grim surroundings. But when his parents and sister are sent to Auschwitz, his resistance becomes physical, as he and fellow members of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising reclaim one last shred of humanity by fighting back against their oppressors, despite the revolt’s inherent futility.

The seeds of Yossel’s personal rebellion are first planted when Nazi soldiers stationed in the Warsaw Ghetto take notice of his drawings and mistake his loving depictions of muscled superheroes for sketches of Reich leaders. From then on, Yossel is asked to draw for his captors’ amusement, thrown a few extra scraps of food and subsequently spared the fate of his parents and sister — deportation to Auschwitz — because of his art. Orphaned and hopeless, he is soon infected by the revolutionary spirit of the now-famous resistance movement in Warsaw.

For his research, Kubert scoured dozens of books about the uprising, though he never actually visited the city. He recalled that during his research he was struck by images of Jews being pulled out of cellar windows and Nazis pulling the last remaining Jews out of the ghetto — images that are clearly recreated in the book.

"I wanted readers to feel as if they were actually there, watching the events unfold," Kubert said of his drawing style.

Unlike "Maus" — which, like most graphic novels, was drawn in ink with story boxes fit into uniform squares — Kubert’s images blend into one another. His trademark pencil drawings give the pages a raw, impressionistic style. Kubert also selected a heavy gray stock for the book’s pages, because he wanted the paper to feel like something someone could have used at that time, under those circumstances.

Kubert also had a large role in the design of the book’s cover, the image of an outstretched arm, sleeve rolled up to reveal tattooed numbers reaching out against a striped background.

"The cover drawing to me is indicative of the entire Holocaust," he said. "This graphic vision just hits me. There is something about the scrawny arm that says to me more about what happened during the Holocaust than a drawing of a gas chamber."

Despite his skill as a draftsman, Kubert said that he finds text more evocative than drawings.

"I don’t think anything is more powerful than the written word," he said. "However, graphic novels are what I do best. If I were to keep a diary, I would do it in sketch form."

Evil


My great-uncle, Jacques Graubart, came to town last weekend. Jacques, a fit and vigorous 79, has always been the superhero against whom I’ve measured my life. Jacques entered the Resistance when he was 19 and rowed hundreds of Jews to safety from occupied France into Switzerland. He was caught frequently by the French and escaped every time but the last time. Incarcerated by the Nazis in a series of concentration camps, Jacques survived a death march of prisoners that began with 1,400 and ended with himself and only three others alive.

He emerged from Buchenwald undaunted and became one of the world’s leading diamond dealers. Deeply involved in Israeli politics, his closest friends include prime ministers and ambassadors, journalists and best-selling authors. After quadruple bypass surgery, he still skis faster than teenagers. He is the real James Bond.

Jacques and my 4-month-old daughter, Chynna Bracha, met and hit it off. Chynna is purity, trust and a blissful unawareness. The world Jacques knew in the camps is one of horror and depravity. One day, Chynna may develop the need to understand evil. For now, though, the silent merging of the two worlds — the horrors Jacques knew and Chynna’s innocence — was almost vertiginous for me. They met instead on the common ground of love.

That weekend, Jacques perused two family photograph albums from the 1930s that my grandmother had spirited out of Europe on her own Holocaust odyssey. Jacques identified dozens of relatives and friends in the photos, almost all of whom were killed by the Nazis. To our surprise, one of the photos turned out to be the group picture from my grandparents’ wedding.

Seated in front of the wedding couple are their parents, my great-grandparents, whom the Nazis would kill seven years later. In fact, the Nazis would kill everyone in the photo except my grandparents and Jacques, the young boy standing at the extreme right. Unaware of the fate that would befall them, they looked like the cast of a Broadway play destined to close out of town.

Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote in “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” that evil exists because there are places in the universe that God hasn’t fully completed. These untamed pockets of chaos and disorder rain down harm on the innocent. But this explanation implies that God is less than all-powerful, and there is something deeply unsatisfying about that. Either God is everything or God is nothing. I can’t imagine that a divinely inspired universe could spin along for millions of years with so great a design flaw.

Of course not everyone believes in the existence of God. The great scientist, Richard Feynman, was a skeptic; he wrote that Earth seemed like an unlikely setting for the fight between good and evil. With all due respect, I disagree. I think Earth is an outstanding backdrop for that never-ending conflict.

The rabbis of the Talmud had a lot to say about evil. They posed the unanswerable question tzaddik v’ra lo, Talmudic shorthand for “How can evil befall the righteous?” They offered at least three responses: First, that sufferers would find bliss in an undefinable afterlife. Second, that in times of universal moral imperfection, good and evil fall randomly in the world; not because God isn’t in charge, but because we’re collectively too sinful to merit individual judgment. And third, Jews often receive joint reward or punishment because we are so tightly bound to one another.

Yet all these answers — Kushner’s, Feynman’s, the Talmud’s — are ultimately unsatisfying, because evil has to come from somewhere. It has to have an author, and so far, that author remains silent.

I brought the wedding picture to a photo refinisher who turned out to be a Holocaust survivor himself. He was a small boy in Belarus when the Nazis invaded his town and killed all the Jews — two-and-a-half hours after his family had escapec on foot, tipped off by a gentile neighbor. How appropriate — and yet how bizarre — that this man would be enlarging that wedding photo.

The enlargement will hang on the wall of our home, and one day Chynna Bracha will be old enough to ask me the story of her forebears in that photo, posing with hope and joy at the prospects for this new Jewish couple. I’d rather she asked me about the birds and the bees. I don’t know how to explain evil to a child, my child. I don’t even know how to explain it to myself.

PBS Pope Profile


There is a haunting image in the early part of the PBS “Frontline” documentary on Pope John Paul II. As the Warsaw ghetto goes up in flames, just outside the wall and within sight and sound of the remaining Jewish resistance fighters, a carousel goes round and round, full of carefree, frolicking, young Poles.

It was in the Poland of that era that Karol Wojtyla, the future pope, grew up and inevitably absorbed the pervasive anti-Semitism of the Catholic church. But he also played soccer with Jewish friends who later would perish in the Holocaust.

The evolution of the pope’s relationship to the Jewish people is traced in the second segment — of seven — in the television biography of “John Paul II: The Millennial Pope.”

The 2 1/2-hour program will air Tuesday, Sept. 28, at 9 p.m. on KCET and other PBS stations.