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September 1, 2014 / 6 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Austria’

The Man Who Won’t Let Nazis Die In Peace: An Interview With Efraim Zuroff

Sunday, November 8th, 2009

Nazi hunting. Sounds like a glamorous job, but judging from Operation Last Chance, a new book by Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff, catching Nazis is more grit than glamour.

In the book, published by Palgrave MacMillan, Zuroff recounts his recent painstaking efforts in finding aging Nazis and their collaborators around the world and convincing often reluctant local governments to extradite and prosecute them.

Zuroff, who heads the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Jerusalem office, has been helping catch and punish Nazi war criminals since 1980. Brought up in Brooklyn and a graduate of Yeshiva University, Zuroff later received his doctorate from Hebrew University and today lives in Efrat.

The Jewish Press recently spoke with him.

The Jewish Press: Some of the war criminals the Simon Wiesenthal Center hunts are over 90 years old. Why chase people for crimes committed over 60 years ago?

Zuroff: The passage of time in no way diminishes the guilt of the killers. We don’t think people deserve a medal simply because they reach an old age.

To the best of my knowledge, there isn’t a country in the civilized world (save Sweden) that limits prosecution for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity based on age. The issue is not the person’s age; it’s whether or not he or she is mentally and physically capable of standing trial.

I have a case now in Budapest of someone whose date of birth is 1914, which makes him 95 years old. But he’s in very good health. He lives by himself, takes care of all his needs, he’s busy suing me for libel, running around giving interviews, and fighting against us in every single way possible. There’s no reason to ignore him just because his date of birth is 1914.

If we were to set a limit based on age it would mean that if you were lucky enough and/or rich enough and/or smart enough to elude justice until you reach that age, you’re off the hook. That would obviously be a travesty.

We also feel that the victims of the Shoah deserve that their persecutors be held accountable for their crimes. How would it look if we stopped and then a person asked us, “What about this person who murdered my grandmother during the Shoah?”

You write in the book that some Jewish communities around the world do not appreciate your Nazi-hunting activities. Why?

Some communities [especially in Eastern Europe] feel vulnerable to anti-Semitism and they’re afraid that [cooperating with us] will increase anti-Semitism.

In Eastern Europe anti-Semitism is of the traditional sort. It doesn’t have to do with the Middle East like in Western Europe. It’s the usual things, like “The Jews killed Jesus.” In other words, typical anti-Semitic themes based on economic, religious, nationalistic and ethnic reasons.

Remember, in these countries we’re running after local Nazi war criminals. We’re pressing local governments to put their own people – Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, Ukrainians, and Croatians – on trial in their own countries for collaborating with the Nazis.

Which countries have been the most cooperative in prosecuting Nazis and their collaborators, and which have been the least cooperative?

The country with the best record in the world is undoubtedly the United States. However, it’s easier to win Nazi war crimes cases in the United States because the people are not being prosecuted on criminal charges but rather for immigration and naturalization violations. In the States all you have to prove is that someone lied on his immigration or citizenship application. Many people claimed they were students, farmers, or officials, masking the fact that they had been members of security police units, guards in concentration camps and the like.

Documenting Real Fiction

Tuesday, September 11th, 2007

Primo Levi’s Journey


Directed, written and produced by Davide Ferrario


Narrated by Chris Cooper


Cinema Guild, 92 minutes, unrated.


www.cinemaguild.com/


 


 


         What role can a documentary film assume when facts cannot be agreed upon and truth is spelled with a lower case “t”? Where is the line drawn between documentary, memoir, creative non-fiction and fantasy? Can memories truly be conveyed from witness to audience through language alone?

 

         According to Encyclopedia Britannica, a documentary film, which significantly affected the development of realism in film, “shapes and interprets factual material for purposes of education or entertainment.” In fact, the Encyclopedia explains, the Nazi Government was one of the earliest and greatest proponents of the medium in its propaganda films (though certainly the quality of the films and their messages are widely discounted). But as Tim O’Brien has suggested in his memoir The Things They Carried, the truth is often complicated, and it has been known to differ when considered from alternative perspectives.

 

         Whether historians or laypeople, witnesses shape and create their accounts of events and “own” them. Some intentionally lie, exaggerate and mislead, while others honestly try to ally themselves with the truth but will, nevertheless, inadvertently cloud it.

 

         One of the best thinkers to respond to this sort of interrogation of postmodern history and documentation was the Italian-Jewish writer, Holocaust survivor and chemist, Primo Levi, who famously authored If This Is a Man. Though being a historian of sorts, Levi was skeptical of histories and memoirs. “Human memory is a marvelous but fallacious instrument,” he once wrote. “The memories which lie within us are not carved in stone; not only do they tend to become erased as the years go by, but often they change, or even increase by incorporating extraneous features.”

 

         Perhaps Levi’s belief in malleable memories that evolve in an organic, almost inherent process would have led him to approve of the new film Primo Levi’s Journey, whichcalls itself “a picaresque road trip through history.” The film presents a modern voyage that follows Levi’s own 1945 journey through Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Rumania, Hungary, Slovakia and Austria.

 

         Levi’s 1,000-mile trip to his home in Turin, Italy was made after his liberation from Auschwitz. But the war still underway, and rather than being hailed in the streets with balloons and parades, Levi found himself ignored or further victimized to the extent that he felt he was once again inside the camps.

 

 


A fisherman in Romania as seen in Primo Levi’s Journey. Courtesy of The Cinema Guild.

 

 

         Sixty years later, Davide Ferrario has retraced Levi’s path. However, Ferrario’s journey leads him through democratic rallies and neo-Nazi demonstrations. The film incorporates footage for Ground Zero, and asks what common ground can be found between 9/11, the Berlin Wall and Levi’s Holocaust memories. Ferrario’s narrative freely oscillates between his own footage and historical documentation. Drawings and propaganda films of Ukrainian political figures denouncing foreign music mix with graffiti covered walls in Ukraine, where Yiddish speakers assure Ferrario and his crew that they cannot be Jewish because they do not speak Yiddish.

 

         Many Holocaust documentaries frighten viewers not only with the terrifying face of evil and destruction, but also with the wholly “otherness” of genocide. In black and white, the film conveys to viewers who are not “survivors” that the Holocaust happened in the past, and viewers should not dare project themselves into the picture. Their role instead, is to remember but never – in any way – to try to experience. Experiencing the Holocaust is simply unfathomable, unless you survived it.

 

 



Primo Levi as a young man as seen in Primo Levi’s Journey. Courtesy of The Cinema Guild.


 

 

         Not so Primo Levi’s Journey. This journey is in color, and it shows living people going about their daily lives, from caring for their grazing cows to feeding their children to playing chess. The message it conveys is that viewers can lead themselves through their own journey, through their own thoughts and ideas that can shed light to them on what the experience of the Holocaust did to shape survivors and victims. Even if viewers can never become witnesses of the Holocaust, they can at least become better appreciative of the magnitude of the genocide.

 

         One of Ferrario’s scenes captures bikers on a geese-filled road, while another offers a panoramic view of grazing pastures in Moldova. In a market, one woman tells the crew that they should film the houses without electricity and modern amenities, rather than the bustling marketplace. She tells the director that she has a degree and still works in the marketplace, but when he asks her if she will expound on the difficulties she encounters in an interview, she refuses an interview, because “I’d lose my job tomorrow.”

 

         Most compelling is the footage from Austria, when Ferrario’s crew attends a neo-Nazi meeting. The footage begins with an image of Hitler’s birthplace, and then switches to a meeting led by comrade Ollert, regional secretary of the Party and area director, which was attended by audience members with “Aryan Hope” tattooed in German on their heads.

 

         Ollert is an unimposing man, with a loud voice and “geeky” glasses. Audience members could double as art students seen in most American colleges, and the room fills with smoke that could become a jazz bar if the speaker wielded a trumpet rather than rhetoric about the Motherland. Party members admit that German history cannot be overturned or forgotten, but say unequivocally “the negative image of Germans must be corrected.” Meanwhile, protestors outside the meeting chant, “Nazis go home!”

 

 



Primo Levi as seen in Primo Levi’s Journey. Courtesy of The Cinema Guild.


 

 

         Ferrario masterfully plays quotes from Levi over the footage, in which Levi wished everyone in Austria would interrogate him and learn about Auschwitz, but no one would meet his eyes. When he felt he had the most to tell, no one seemed remotely interested in hearing it.

 

         This, of course, is the problem not only with Levi’s personal journey in 1945, but also in the genre of Holocaust-commemorating art. Most artists who deal in Holocaust documentaries feel that the message is so important, that the method is sure to limit the potency of the experience insofar as it uses art rather than just dry facts and footage.

 

         Ferrario takes a great chance in Primo Levi’s Journey in choosing to tell a different story in the hopes of illuminating Primo Levi’s own story. The risk is that viewers will be led astray by non-sequiturs and, indeed, Ferrario’s tale often is unfocused and somewhat chaotic as it leaps about. But the potential rewards inherent in such an endeavor are bringing a new, creative face to not only Holocaust documentaries but to documentaries in general. In no way does Ferrario’s journey approach that of Levi, trudging home for 1,000 miles with only his nightmares to keep him company.

 

         But Ferrario, by creating a new narrative just as Levi did, shares other common ground with the chemist-memoirist. He tells a modern version of Levi’s tale that is sure to appeal to modern audiences that find it easier to connect to color footage of living characters, rather than black and white footage of destruction. There is a place for both forms of narrative, but Ferrario is not commemorating so much as leading his viewers to internalize and personalize.

 

        Menachem Wecker is a painter, writer and editor based in Washington, D.C. He welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com.

Swastikas And Couches

Wednesday, September 27th, 2006


Freud’s World in Photos: A Photographic Celebration of the 150th Anniversary of Sigmund Freud’s Birth

Through October 6, 2006

The Austrian Embassy

3524 International Court, NW Washington, D.C.

202-895-6714


 

 

Edmund Engelman’s photograph, Entrance of Berggasse in Vienna’s 9th District with Number 19 in the Middle, unfolds like a Twilight Zone episode. The cobbled street and storefront signs (in German) seem inviting enough at first, until the viewer sees the dark banner with a swastika hanging over the entrance to building number 19.

 

Building number 19 is of particular interest, as Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) lived there until 1938 when he fled from the Nazis after the Gestapo arrested and interrogated his youngest daughter Anna for five hours. Although this abduction assured Freud that he and his family were in serious danger, it could not have been the first time that Freud planned to emigrate. He might have escaped earlier if not for his age and health (he was diagnosed with cancer of the jaw and palate as early as 1922). Still, it could not have been easy for the renowned psychoanalyst to leave his home of 50 years, where he also held his practice and where his iconic couch sat (see image).

 

Upon his colleague’s, August Aichorn, suggestion, Freud agreed to have the contents of his apartment photographed by an amateur photographer that Aichhorn knew, Edmund Engelman (1907-2000). Freud was an avid collector, with more than 3,000 sculptures in his collection, and in May of 1938, Engelman photographed Freud’s artifacts, just weeks before Freud left Austria on June 4, 1938. Freud died later that year in London, after continuing to battle with cancer. Engelman would emigrate from Austria six months later to France and then New York City.

 

Were it not for Aichhorn’s suggestion and Engelman’s photographs – and the exhibit at the Austrian Embassy in Washington, D.C. – there would be no documentation of Freud’s artifacts and the apartment where he lived and practiced.

 

Freud’s World in Photos – an offshoot of Freud and Vienna, which previously hung at the Leica Gallery in New York City – gathers together 36 photographs by Engelman and two other artists, Ferdinand Schmutzer and Trude Fleischmann. (Fleischmann was Jewish, and she managed, like Freud, to flee Vienna in 1938.) Schmutzer’s and Fleischmann’s images largely provide a historical and sociological backdrop to the Austria where Freud lived, without emphasizing images of Freud and of his house as Engelman does (though two of Schmutzer’s photographs of Freud do hang in the show).

 



Freud’s Couch and Room. Estate of Edmund Engelman, courtesy of Leica Gallery, NYC.


 

 

Jewish responses to Freud have plastered him with a wide spectrum of labels: “prophet genius, self-hating Jew” to “dirty old man”. The creator of psychoanalysis, nevertheless, is without a doubt, one of the most important thinkers of the past century who changed the way people speak about abstract concepts, such as of the mind and human behavior, in a manner that puts him in a league with Karl Marx, Albert Einstein, and Jacques Derrida (who, incidentally, are all Jewish). Now, everyday terms like free association, consciousness, repression, neurosis, instinct, ego, id, unconscious, gratification, Oedipus complex, Freudian slip, Eros, and Thanatos owe their existence to Freud’s writings.

Although he wrote in 1925, “My parents were Jews, and I remained a Jew myself,” Freud was not observant. He famously admitted that he did not know Hebrew, nor was he a Zionist (in the preface to a Hebrew edition of his book, Totem and Taboo). But he opposed baptism, and he was member of the B’nai B’rith lodge in Vienna.

 

At age 83 (the year he died), Freud wrote Der Mann Moses und die Monotheistische Religion (Moses and Monotheism), where he argued that Moses had been an Egyptian (so far so good), and that he had taught an Egyptian version of monotheism to the Jews. But, Freud’s decidedly un-biblical account then has the Children of Israel rebel against Moses and assassinate him – an act so awful that it caused Jews to subconsciously feel guilty, even centuries thereafter. Although this theory of Freud’s offers a mythological explanation for Jewish guilt, it is understandable that it was widely unpopular at the time, to say the least – both in Jewish and non-Jewish circles.

 

However, even those who oppose some of Freud’s methods must accept him as a Jewish thinker of mammoth significance. Freud was born in Priber (Freiberg in German), Moravia, in the eastern part of the Czech Republic. Freud studied in Vienna and enrolled in university to study medicine. There he escaped the anti-Semitism on campus by working in Ernst Brucke’s physiology lab. Freud also befriended fellow Austrian, Jewish physician, Joseph Breuer and in 1895, the two published their collaborative work on hysteria, Studien ueber Hysterie (Studies in Hysteria).

 



Freud’s Couch (close-up).Estate of Edmund Engelman, courtesy of Leica Gallery, NYC.


 

Freud was so widely known that he must have been difficult to photograph in any meaningful way that would probe beneath the surface. Engelman’s photographs capture Freud with somewhat of a human touch. Surrounded by his sculptures on his desk (as in Portrait of Sigmund Freud at desk with antiquities), Freud looks particularly cerebral – like a chess master manipulating his chess pieces. In many of his pictures, Engelman frames his images through doorways, so that the viewer is very aware of interior and exterior space – a technique reminiscent of the famous painter Vermeer. Engelman captures a somewhat contemplative Freud in Portrait of Sigmund Freud, wearing a vest, photographed in a three-quarter view, looking off to his right.

 

But it is Ferdinand Schmutzer who captures the most interesting images of Freud. Schmutzer’s pigment print on Hahnemuehle Fine Art Photo Rag (stamped with the Austrian National Library seal), Sigmund Freud (1926), portrays the iconic Freud without his glasses, holding a cigar while facing the viewer. Freud looks closed off, perhaps bothered by something. This photograph reminds one of some of the works of the Jewish photographer, Richard Avedon (1923-2004), who photographed a sad, scared-looking Marilyn Monroe, where many of his colleagues only caught the glamorous actress in highly-posed circumstances.

 

The real star of the show, though, is Schmutzer’s Sigmund Freud with pocket watch on vest (1926). In this photograph, Freud’s thick eyebrows seem weighed down (he wears no eyeglasses), and he appears momentarily caught by surprise to be photographed. With his lips pursed, Freud might even be displeased. Schmutzer’s camera sheds light upon Freud the man, and ironically seems to turn a critical psychological eye on the founder of psychoanalysis.

 

On a purely historical level, the fact that the embassy of Austria has hung pictures that deeply analyze Freud as a man and a thinker, without shying away from his Jewishness, is to be commended. That the embassy has unabashedly shown an image with a swastika hanging over Freud’s apartment is remarkable. But far beyond the history, the photographs by the three artists in Freud’s World in Photos capture real people in unposed contexts. This is one of the greatest challenges of photography, and one of the most rewarding things photography can hope for – capturing the posed and the artificial in a manner that looks so unposed that it appears natural.

 

 

Menachem Wecker is a painter and assistant editor of B’nai B’rith Magazine in Washington, D.C. He welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com.

 

I graciously acknowledge the articles about Freud in Encyclopedia Britannica Online www.britannica.com and in Encyclopedia Judaica. I used both encyclopedias for much of the background information for this review.

Advocate For The Jews Of Post-War Europe

Wednesday, August 16th, 2006

      Editor’s Note: We are pleased to publish the following guest editorial by the noted attorney Nathan Lewin on the 11th yahrzeit of his father, Dr. Isaac Lewin, zt”l. Dr. Lewin provided much of the intellectual heft to hatzalah efforts during World War II and thereafter as well as to the reconstruction of Jewish life both in Europe and the United States. An accomplished historian and Torah scholar, his countless articles and historical works provided an important framework for much of the rebuilding of the shattered Jewish nation.

 

      In the summer of 1946 we were living in a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan. I was ten years old and I slept on a convertible sofa in our living room. My childhood memories of the war years were of routinely falling asleep to the clickety-clack of the Hebrew typewriter that my father banged at with two index fingers at our dining table, churning out the Yiddish articles that he wrote for the Morgen Journal, the daily newspaper read by Orthodox Jews in New York, and for the weekly Amerikaner.

 

      The war had ended the previous year, and it was only then that my father learned of the gruesome murder in Lemberg of his father, the great Reisher Rav, Rabbi Aharon Lewin, zt”l, by Ukrainian thugs in the summer of 1941. The hope that his father was still alive somewhere in Europe stayed with us through the war. During the war, my father spent day and night working on hatzala efforts and trying to waken Jews in the United States to the terrible destruction that was being perpetrated in Europe. His articles in the Morgen Journal and in other Yiddish newspapers (some of which he collected in a volume titled Churban Eiropa) were the first to publicize the reports coming from Europe describing mass murders of Polish Jews and to call on the American Jewish community to rise in protest.

 

      Calls would come into the house at all hours from rabbis and other Orthodox leaders who were engaged in the United States and abroad in rescue efforts. Although my parents were living off the meager salary he drew for his Yiddish articles and for teaching some courses in Jewish history at Yeshiva University (which, in those days, was frequently unable to meet its payroll), my father spared no time or effort when his help was requested for volunteer activity on behalf of the kahal.

 

      And suddenly, in the summer of 1946, when the academic year had its vacation, he was asked to go off to Europe for three months to help in the rehabilitation of the Shearit Ha-Pleta – the survivors of what was not yet called the Shoah. I remember how handsome my mother thought he looked in the military-like uniform of the UNRRA – the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration – under whose auspices he and Cincinnati’s Rabbi Eliezer Silver, zt”l, traveled through European areas under Western control including Austria, Germany, and Czechoslovakia to meet with and assist the organizations that were working to rehabilitate the Jewish survivors.

 

      We missed him, but were proud to get accounts of his accomplishments during that trip. He joined with Rabbi Silver in high-level meetings that restored Jewish religious observances, such as the practice of shechitah, in post-war Europe, and he reported in his Yiddish articles on Rabbi Silver’s inspirational addresses to gatherings of survivors and to European political leaders.

 

      The articles he sent back for publication during his trip and those he wrote after his return told of continued suffering, neglect, and outright persecution of the Jews. (Many of the articles were collected in a volume titled Nochen Churban.) While the civilized world was exulting over its military victory over Hitler and Japan, little attention was being paid to the Jewish survivors of history’s most terrible campaign of organized genocide.

 

      An article my father wrote in Prague on July 30, 1946, that appeared in the Morgen Journal of August 9, reported on two weeks in Austria and Czechoslovakia, when he witnessed thousands of Jews streaming across the borders from Poland, as if fleeing with all their belongings in small pekalech. The scene reminded him of September 1939, when Jews were escaping from Poland without knowing where they were headed.

 

      In an article he published after his return he wrote that the few months he had spent in Europe “were the most difficult in his life.” (This coming from an important public figure in Poland who had been uprooted by the Nazi invasion, who had smuggled across the border into Lithuania, who had endured two weeks’ travel on the trans-Siberian railroad to get to Vladivostok, and who then had to travel to Japan before finding refuge in the United States.)

 

      It became clear to him, he said, that even after the end of the war, the remnants of European Jewry were in danger of further destruction. In a meeting with American General Mark Clark in Vienna, he told the general that, for these survivors, the war had not ended, and the general agreed. And my father added: “Everyone who rides the trains in Austria, for example, and sees engines with Jews in freight-cars being transported to Germany, everyone who sees their condition when they arrive in Vienna, Linz, Salzburg, or Munich, and everyone who visits the refugee camps in which they must live is alarmed and must ask himself: What in the world is going on? Is the war truly over?”

 

      He concluded this article with the statement that “it is now my duty to alert the Jewish world to the condition of the Jews in Austria. It is an obligation that we have to the Jews who are there and to ourselves.”

 

      Not long thereafter, my father began his many years of illustrious volunteer activity as the representative of the Agudas Israel World Organization at the United Nations. His first addresses to agencies of the UN dealt with the situation of Jewish refugees and with the obligation of the world to return Jewish orphans to Jewish homes.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/advocate-for-the-jews-of-post-war-europe/2006/08/16/

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