web analytics
July 1, 2016 / 25 Sivan, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘Soviet Union’

‘I Never Ran So Fast In My Life’: An Interview With Holocaust Survivor and ZOA Official Larry Wenig

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

Sixty-five years ago next month – on August 11, 1945 – Polish-born Holocaust survivor Larry Wenig vowed to utilize all of his talents toward creating a Jewish state in Palestine.

Although he moved to America a year later, Wenig never forgot his vow and later became vice-chairman of the National Executive Committee of the Zionist Organization of America. Presently retired after several decades of practicing law in New York City, Wenig continues to lecture and write op-eds about Israel and the threat of radical Islam.

He has also authored two books: From Nazi Inferno to Soviet Hell and My Life of Turmoil: A Jewish Immigrant’s Story and Warning.

The Jewish Press: What happened on August 11, 1945, that inspired you – a 21-year-old man at the time – to vow to devote your energies toward the creation of a Jewish state?

Wenig: First, I should mention that I was a prisoner in the Soviet Union for five years [during World War II]. We escaped the Soviet Union in June 1945 by bribing the KGB, and we arrived in the Polish city of Krakow. And there, on August 11 – a few weeks after the Holocaust – there was a pogrom against the Jews. I heard the mob yelling that the Jews killed a Christian boy and had used his blood to bake matzos. I never ran so fast in my life.

No one was killed that day, but I said to myself, “If you have pogroms against Jews a few weeks after the Holocaust, then for the Jewish people to survive, the Jews must have their own country.” I took a silent oath that I would devote the rest of my life to that cause.

Some people argue that Poland was not as anti-Semitic as many Jews portray it to be.

Poland was a very vicious anti-Semitic country. When I was in Krakow after the war, I went to the barbershop to get a haircut. There were some Polish people there and I heard them say, “This was a terrible war, it was evil, but we will forever be grateful to Hitler that he got rid of the Jews.”

In the 1930s, the Poles were so anti-Semitic that you could sometimes hear people yelling in the street, “Long live a free Poland without Jews.”

In light of the vow you made after the near-pogrom in Krakow, why did you eventually move to America?  

My stepsister had also taken a similar oath, but when we told our father we planned on going to Palestine, he went down on his knees, crying, “We survived so much. I’ve already lost two sons [killed by the Nazis and KGB]. Please don’t break up the family.” So my stepsister and I had to give in.

When you arrived in America a year later, you were 22 and knew no English. The easy route would have been to start working full-time. And yet, you decided to finish high school and then go to college and law school. Why?

I wanted to become a lawyer because of the justice I saw in the Soviet Union. I saw a trial there of a person who engaged in black-market operations. He had a lawyer, but the lawyer was afraid. He said, “My client is guilty, but since he comes from a proletarian family, instead of 25 years, give him 10 years.” This was justice in the Soviet Union. A lawyer could only defend his client by pleading guilty but asking for a lesser punishment.

In your second book, you write about an interesting encounter you had with President Carter in reference to Communism.

When Carter decided he wanted to run for president, he traveled to the big cities to gauge how people felt about him. A few Jewish organizations in Long Island invited him to a Sunday forum at the Garden Jewish Center in Flushing, Queens. As a Zionist leader, I was also invited and placed on the dais next to Carter.

Naturally [since this was the Cold War era], I started discussing the Soviet Union with him. Carter knew nothing. He didn’t know any of the leaders, he didn’t know the history. We departed very nicely, but as I walked away I said to myself, “This man wants to become the president of the United States?”

Where in the Soviet Union did you live during the Holocaust?

We lived in gulag 1499 on the outskirts of Siberia for 18 months, and then we were settled for three-and-a-half years in the Soviet Muslim republic of Uzbekistan. For two of those years, we lived in a mud room next to a cow. I was sent to a Communist school where they tried indoctrinating me in Communist ideology.

It was a predominantly Muslim school body, and that’s where I learned the hatred that Muslims have for infidels. I remember one of the Russian Christians at the school said, “If these Muslims could, they would slaughter us like sheep.” They didn’t want to look at us. They treated us like garbage.

It’s interesting you say that, because many people believe radical Islam started in the 1990s.

You know when it started? In 636 when Caliph Omar dispatched an army of 25,000 Muslims on a jihad against Christian countries.

What frightens me is the ignorance about Islam – even among members of our government. Until 2004, I was in Washington every June for two days [as a ZOA representative] meeting with officers of the State Department, Defense Department, CIA, and senators and congressmen. They’re smart people, intelligent and educated. But they don’t comprehend fundamentalist Islam.

Even Israeli leaders don’t comprehend it. Muslims will never accept a Jewish state. You cannot have an infidel state in a Muslim region.

Sometimes you hear Jews saying, “We have an agreement with the Arabs.” But any agreement that a Muslim country signs with an infidel country can be broken pursuant to the principle of the Hudaibiya [the name of a 10-year agreement that Muhammad broke after two years].

I understand Israelis need peace. I don’t blame them, but unfortunately they’ll never have it. Never ever.

Elliot Resnick

A Belated Appreciation

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

As the Monitor is only too aware, having received a fair number of admonishing e-mails on the subject, this column has disappointed at least some readers with what one called its “shameful silence” on the subject of William Safire in the weeks since the former New York Times columnist passed away in late September.

Guilty as charged. Frankly, though, at this point there’s not much left to say that is either original or insightful about a man whose career has been so thoroughly assessed by both admirers and detractors.

Safire’s move from the Nixon White House to the op-ed page of the Times, where he perched for better than three decades as its token non-liberal, has been well documented, as has been the initial hostility he faced from his illiberal liberal colleagues at the Times.

His polemical skills were complemented by his grammatical dexterity; indeed, his weekly “On Language” column became a Times fixture, read, respected and happily argued with even by those who could not abide the views he expressed in his Pulitzer-prize winning political column.

His books – collections of his language columns, historical novels, a meditation on the biblical story of Job, and his magnum opus, Safire’s Political Dictionary – were all well received. He was a popular guest on the Sunday morning talk-show circuit.

While dealing with the dilemma of trying to come up with a belated tribute that would not merely repeat what had already been said, the Monitor stumbled upon some of Safire’s columns on the Middle East from the miserable Jimmy Carter years. The prescience of those columns – their surprising timeliness all these years later – stands as a tribute in its own right to the man who wrote them. A few examples will suffice:

In a column dated May 24, 1976 – a year before Israel elected its first Likud prime minister, six years before the first Lebanon war, eleven years before the first intifada – Safire was complaining about “Dovish writers and longtime liberals, including many Jews, who are uncomfortable with positions of strength, and who urge the beleaguered Israelis to adopt appeasement under the labels of ‘accommodation,’ ‘flexibility,’ and ‘risks for peace.’ ”

How things never change.

From the same column, thirty years before anyone would hear of Walt and Mearsheimer: “Hating individual Jews does not make you a bigot. Being anti-Israel does not make you a bigot. But undertaking a crusade to persuade the American people that they are being brainwashed and manipulated by a cabal of Jews who sit astride most of the channels of communication, and thereby encouraging an irrational hatred of Jews – that makes you a bigot.”

In October 1977, after Carter responded to critics of his administration’s decision to convene a U.S.-Soviet conference on the Middle East by claiming he’d accomplished a diplomatic miracle of sorts because the Soviet Union up till then had “never recognized the right of Israel to exist,” Safire, normally a man with little positive to say about the Soviets, took the ignoramus to school:

Not only has the Soviet Union repeatedly recognized the right of Israel to exist, the Soviets were the first to recognize the state of Israel…. Through two breaks in diplomatic relations, the Soviets have continued to recognize Israel as a state, and therefore its “right to exist.”… How, in light of 30 years’ continuous recognition, and with hundreds of Soviet restatements of Israel’s right to exist, could President Carter say “they have never recognized the right of Israel to exist”?Okay. Now the Official Correctors will explain that, um, you see, the president “misspoke.” But he does not misspeak; he misthinks. His foot is not so much in his mouth as in his mind. Mr. Carter really believes he has bargained the Soviets into recognizing Israel’s existence.

Despite his status as the Times’s House Conservative, Safire was politically unpredictable; his positions on social issues were significantly to the left of the Republican base and he supported Bill Clinton in the 1992 presidential election over the Republican incumbent, George Herbert Walker Bush.

Of course, Bush’s coolness toward Israel was a major factor in Safire’s defection. Safire never apologized for his support of Israel. Responding to criticism of his close relationship with former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, Safire once said, “I don’t feel the least bit ashamed or embarrassed about presenting [Sharon’s] views, because they are my views. Actually, mine are a little more hawkish.”

Jason Maoz can be reached at jmaoz@jewishpress.com

Jason Maoz

Yes, I.F. Stone Was A Soviet Spy

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

Back in 1994 the Monitor marked the fifteenth anniversary of the passing of radical journalist I.F. Stone with an unsentimental look at the career of the detestable old commie symp. The column was picked up by FrontPageMag.com and generated comment on several other conservative websites and blogs.

The feedback to the piece was almost all positive, but there was one complaint that animated many readers who contacted the Monitor. What bothered them was that no mention had been made in the column of Stone’s employment by the KGB, allegations of which had been circulating for years after Stone’s death and that seemed to have been confirmed with the opening of KGB files following the demise of the Soviet Union.

As the Monitor saw it, however, the evidence based on those initial KGB reports seemed somewhat circumstantial, and besides, there was more than enough with which to damn Stone based on his own prolific writing.

But as Harvey Klehr, John Earl Haynes and Alexander Vassiliev make clear in their new book Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America (Yale University Press), there can no longer be any doubt about Stone’s ties to Soviet spymasters.

Stone, born Isadore Feinstein, was praised in life and eulogized in death by mainstream journalists for his supposed independence and iconoclasm, and he remains an iconic figure to many in the media.

In 1953, after years of writing for liberal and left-wing publications, he started his own newsletter, I.F. Stone’s Weekly, which by the time Stone closed it down in 1971 enjoyed a circulation pushing 70,000.

By then, of course, the tenor of the times was such that Stone, unemployable in the 1950’s, had became a regular recipient of awards and accolades from his peers. Forgotten or overlooked in the rush to lionize Stone was his history as a shameless apologist for Stalin.

Stone’s insistence on viewing the Soviet Union as worthy of support, even in the face of the Moscow Trials and Stalin’s purges and executions, led his otherwise sympathetic biographer Robert Cottrell to write that “there was something disingenuous in [Stone’s] willingness to suspend judgment or to refuse to criticize still more forcefully the terror that was being played out in Soviet Russia….”

Cottrell described how Stone came to be seen by anti-Communist leftists as “an apologist for the hammer-and-sickle”; how Richard Rovere, a writer during that period for The New Masses, a radical journal, viewed Stone as a Stalinist who played “fast and loose with the facts”; and how James Wechsler, a writer with The Nation and later an editor at the then-liberal New York Post, dismissed Stone as “a fairly regular apologist for the Communists.”

When a group of American writers and academics broke ranks with the pro-Soviet Left in 1939 to form the Committee for Cultural Freedom, Stone and other die-hards signed on to a vociferous public campaign lambasting “the fantastic falsehood that the USSR and the totalitarian states are basically alike” and commending the Soviet Union for “steadily expanding democracy in every sphere.”

Stone would not split with the Soviets until 1956, disillusioned by a visit he made to Moscow in the spring of that year and the Hungarian crisis a few months later. But he never lost his instinctive hostility to free market capitalism, nor was he ever inclined to extend to the United States even the slightest benefit of doubt in any international dispute.

(On Israel, Stone consistently toed the leftist line. Before 1948 he was opposed to the idea of a Jewish state, preferring a binational arrangement for Arabs and Jews, and his attacks on Israel became ever more frequent and shrill after the Six-Day War. By the mid-1970s the viciousness of his diatribes was such that the non-Jewish novelist James Michener termed them “palpably anti-Zionist, probably anti-Israel, and potentially anti-Jewish.”)

Talk of possible KGB ties, which began to circulate in the early 1990’s, was pooh-poohed by Stone’s defenders as nothing more than an attempt to smear the reputation of a fearless speaker of truth to power. And, as the authors of Spies acknowledge, those earlier reports “were suggestive but not conclusive.”

Now, however, the authors present new evidence, based on KGB files, indicating that Stone (codename: Pancake) did indeed have ties to Soviet intelligence.

“The documentary record,” they write, “shows that I.F. Stone consciously cooperated with Soviet intelligence from 1936 through 1938. An effort was made by Soviet intelligence to reestablish that relationship in 1944-45; we do not know whether that effort succeeded.

“To put it plainly, from 1936 to 1939 I.F. Stone was a Soviet spy.”

Jason Maoz

The Enduring Strength of the Jewish Spirit

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

Making aliyah in 2000 afforded our family an opportunity to become part of the continuity of the Jewish people in the Jewish Land. In addition, we have been blessed to live in a community that has both the brightest Jewish minds of our times and some of the most courageous Jews of our generation.

 

Growing up Jewish in America during the 1970s and ’80s meant becoming involved with the movement to free Soviet Jewry. Who could have imagined that thirty years later, we would count among our dearest friends, Ari (nee Leonid) and Mila Volvovsky, heroes of that struggle, which shook the Soviet Empire to its very foundations?  Their story is something out of a Biblical tale, replete with adventure, suspense, tears and laughter. It is a story reminiscent of the history of our people, a people who have been exiled, enslaved, tortured and slaughtered, and yet, a people whose spirit, will, and faith have continued against all the odds.

 

 

 


Ari and Mila Volvovsky during their struggle for freedom

 

Ari and Mila grew up in Soviet Russia and had very little knowledge of the noble and often horrific history of their own people. They knew that they were Jewish, which to them meant their parents expected them to marry Jews. While their Soviet identification cards labeled them as “Jews”, they were not familiar with any part of Jewish history.  All that would change after the 1967 Israeli/Arab War.  When Israel reunited Jerusalem and regained the Old City, pride ignited in the souls of our Jewish brethren.  In many Soviet Jews, it also ignited a desire to reclaim their heritage through learning, becoming religious and applying to leave “Mother” Russia and return to the land of their Fathers, Israel.

 

An illegal (banned by the Soviets) typed unbound copy of Leon Uris’ Exodus circulated from Jew to Jew in Moscow. Ari and Mila had only one night to read it before they had to pass it on to the next family. Mila recalls how they stayed up the whole night, how they were exhausted the next day at work and yet exhilarated by the novel.  (Later on at Ari’s trial, reading this book was mentioned as one of his crimes against the Soviet State.) This story, Hebrew lessons, Bible and Halacha classes, and meetings with supporters outside of the Soviet Union, all afforded Ari and Mila the opportunity to begin learning about Judaism.  They also provided fodder for the KGB to arrest Ari and send him to a labor camp in Siberia. The Soviet authorities sentenced him to three years in this labor camp; however, due to the Herculean efforts of Mila, the outside world, and a miracle from God, his sentence was commuted to two years.

 

According to Mila it was a difficult but electrifying time for them and their friends. When asked if they were ever afraid, Mila responded that they never lived in fear. They chose, and were chosen, to fight this battle. Ari was arrested on at least three separate occasions and thrown into prison, without a trial, all before his infamous trial after which he was sent to a labor camp. Whenever he was interrogated, and later at his trial, Ari insisted on speaking only Hebrew. He refused to respond in any other language. During the time he was in the labor camp, Mila was followed whenever she left the house, and their phone was bugged. 

 

As soon as Ari and Mila applied to leave the Soviet Union (in 1974) they were fired from their jobs. With no jobs and very little money they lived with their parents. Right before the summer Olympic games (1980), the Soviets decided to “clean-out” Moscow and banish all dissidents. Ari and Mila were told that they could no longer live there. They were sent to Gorky, a “closed” city.  This mean that, unlike in Moscow, very few, if any outsiders could come to visit them. They continued their struggle against the Soviets. They met with others in the forests around Gorky, sang Israeli songs, planned Jewish Cultural Events, and continued to grow in their Jewish knowledge. The Soviets shadowed their every move, listened to their phone conversations, opened their mail, harassed and harangued them at every opportunity; however, Ari, Mila and their friends were relentless. They sat in front of their interrogators denying their guilt and evoking the powers of the free world to put an end to the demagoguery of the Soviet Beast and pry open its jaws to free the citizens who demanded the right to return to their God-given Homeland.

 

 


Mila Volvovsky campaigning for her Ari’s release

 

After Ari was sentenced to three years in the labor camp, he was moved around from prison to prison for two months.  In one place he shared a cell with five other men, real criminals. The lights were on 24/7 and the guards were Soviet women who had a passion for causing pain. He tells a miraculous story of how he made a chanukiah out of stale bread, threads from his prison uniform and oil from the top layer of their morning porridge. He taught his fellow, non-Jewish cellmates, to sing Maoz Tzur after he lit the oil candles, and miraculously the guards were not in the corridors during the same time for each of the eight days of Chanukah.

 

During the winter months in Siberia, the temperatures went below -40 Celsius.  The bathrooms were outside, as well as much of the work prisoners were expected to do.  Three months out of the year the temperatures jumped to +40 Celsius and within the mud the most vile and infectious mosquitoes were bred. At first Ari was sent to saw wood in the freezing cold weather. Next he labored in the quarry cutting stone until he fainted and his fingers developed severe arthritis. He felt like the Hebrew slaves of Egypt making stones for the mighty Pharaoh’s building projects. He was then sent to sew covers for machinery, also physically difficult. There were no fruits and vegetables in Ari’s diet and many prisoners suffered from maladies caused by severe vitamin deficiencies.

 

While Ari was struggling to survive his sentence, Mila was working to make the entire world aware of her husband’s plight. Hundreds of letters, from all over the world, arrived at the camp every week; although, Ari received very few of them, and only those written in Russian had any chance of being delivered. Of course, those were the ones the authorities could read and decide if they would deliver them or not.

 

At one point, the Commandant of the camp called Ari into his office.  He was holding a letter from President Reagan, requesting Ari’s release. The Commandant wanted to know if Ari was related to Reagan! Mila begged, bartered and bribed to get supplies to her husband. The first time she was allowed to visit was after nine months.  Another time she and her daughter, Kira, flew the over 10,000 kilometers to meet their beloved father and husband for one hour.  Mila says that if not for the support of activists around the world, she never could have visited, or bribed the authorities to smuggle things to Ari in the prison camp.

 

 


Ari Volvovsky

 

Ari regales us with the real life adventures of the Soviet Refusniks each time we are at their home.  One commandant told Ari that, if he would ask to be pardoned, he would be released. Ari refused on the grounds that he had done nothing for which he needed to be pardoned!

 

At the Purim seuda this year, someone asked Ari when he had his Brit Milah. Before answering, he first acknowledged that he could completely empathize with Avraham Avinu! To have a brit in the former Soviet Union was forbidden as it was considered a “non-registered” surgery. At the age of 36, Ari decided to perform this difficult mitzvah. Both a non-Jewish and a Jewish surgeon came to Ari’s home. The non-Jew took this very dangerous risk to teach the Jewish doctor how to perform what is a complicated procedure for adult males.  They gave Ari a glass of vodka to drink and a local anesthetic before the procedure was done on the kitchen table and soon Ari joined the halachic ranks of the Jewish people. This Jewish doctor went on to perform hundreds of illegal circumcisions in the Soviet Union until he too, was able to come on aliyah.

 

Ari learned the art of sh’chittah and slaughtered chickens so that he and his fellow Jews could have kosher meat. He taught Hebrew to many Soviet Jews, who later made aliyah.  The father of a Jew Ari met in the labor camp, told Ari he was so happy his son had been sentenced there, because after meeting Ari, he returned to his Judaism and later made aliyah. Even in the most inhospitable of environments Ari, like Avraham Avinu, was bringing people closer to God and Judaism.

 

Today, Ari, a PhD in Cybernetics, teaches at the prestigious Machon Lev. Last year, Mila, their daughter Kira, her husband, their son Shai, (born here in Israel), and their two grandchildren, celebrated Ari’s and Mila’s 20th year of freedom from the Soviet Union’s oppressive regime, and their aliyah to Israel.

 

As we sat at their Purim seuda, Mila pulled out a box, which contained all of the letters Ari had received and written in the Labor Camp. At the airport, when they were leaving Russia, the KGB tried to prevent him from taking them out of the country.  Once again, Ari stood-up to the officials and asked them to show him the law which prevented him from taking personal letters out of the country. They couldn’t.  Now, 20 years later, Mila plucked one letter out of the hundreds.  It was a letter she had written to Ari on Purim, over 20 years ago! In it she expressed the hope that by the following Purim their family would be together in Eretz Yisrael celebrating the joy that this holiday promises.

 

A year after that letter was written Ari was released. A few years later the “mighty” Soviet Union collapsed. Mila’s Purim wish and hope had come true. Ari and Mila had triumphed.

 

            As we watch the news and see how so many new Hamans want to destroy our people, we have hope and faith, like our Soviet Jewish brethren did, not so many years ago, that we, through our own efforts and the kindness of God, will triumph.

Karen Guth

In The Footsteps Of Duranty And Matthews

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

New York Times columnist Roger Cohen wrote a piece earlier this week (“What Iran’s Jews Say,” Feb. 23) that brought to mind the naïve and insidious reporting by such legendary Times dupes as Walter Duranty and Herbert Matthews, whose whitewashing, respectively, of the Soviet Union in the 1920s and ‘30s and Fidel Castro in the 1950s will stand forever as monuments to the argument that the self-described “paper of record” is often anything but.

It also conjured memories of the insufferable Mike Wallace filing reports for “60 Minutes” from Syria and the Soviet Union back in the 1970s and ‘80s designed to confirm the liberal rubes of Cambridge and the Upper West Side in their instinctive belief that real evil in the world was to be found only in the warmongering fantasies of Ronald Reagan. (More about Wallace later.)

To be sure, Cohen peddles his views on the paper’s opinion page, while Duranty and Mathews did their editorializing in the guise of news stories, but Cohen’s style often strays from the conventional thumbsucking “here’s my opinion” format to a more newsy-seeming “these are the facts” approach.

Such was the case with his column on his visit to Iran and the all-around contentedness – and anti-Israel sentiment – he says he found among the Jews with whom he came into contact.

Perhaps, observed The New Republic’s Martin Peretz in an online critique of the article, the happy talk Cohen heard in the Iranian Jewish community “is authentic. Maybe. And maybe not. After all, until the railroad cars rolled living Jews into Sobibor and Maidanek from which they did not emerge, many German Jews (or Germans of Jewish extraction) also gave the Reich the benefit of the doubt. Some gave it even to Hitler himself. Certainly, many Americans and Brits and French did.”

And while he believed Cohen was being truthful when he wrote, “I am a Jew and have seldom been treated with such consistent warmth as in Iran,” Peretz made the point that “There are probably millions of Persians who feel warmly about their Jewish neighbors … and remember their Jewish former neighbors with fondness. Forgive the German analogy again: even under the Nazis there were Germans who bemoaned the loss to Germany of its Jews….”

It would be easier to take Cohen’s reporting from Iran at face value if one weren’t acquainted with his biases and preconceptions, but by writing the following he sort of gave the game away even to readers less familiar with his history of sanctimonious posturing:

One way to look at Iran’s scurrilous anti-Israel tirades is as a provocation to focus people on Israel’s bomb, its 41-year occupation of the West Bank, its Hamas denial, its repetitive use of overwhelming force. Iranian language can be vile, but any Middle East peace – and engagement with Tehran – will have to take account of these points.

So there you have it. Whether or not those Jews Cohen spoke with are truly representative of Iranian Jewry is a matter open to debate. But Cohen’s attempt to rationalize Iran’s genocidal threats against Israel by putting the onus on Israeli actions and policies (leave it to a liberal to blame the victim) calls into question both his motives and his judgment.

In a February 1991 article in Commentary, the late Jerusalem Post editorial page editor David Bar Illan wrote that when the aforementioned Mike Wallace traveled to Syria in 1975, he “gave a clean bill of health to [Syrian dictator Hafez] Assad’s treatment” of the Syrian Jewish community. “He was particularly delighted to show that the Jews of Syria – though suffering from some travel restrictions – were quick to declare on camera that if they could only join the Syrian army they would be eager to fight against Israel.”

Bar-Illan also recalled Wallace’s contribution to Americans’ understanding of the plight of Soviet Jewry: “From 1980 on,” he wrote, “Leonid Brezhnev claimed that no Jews wanted to leave the Soviet Union. But pesky Jewish organizations in New York and that intolerably intransigent government in Israel kept insisting that 400,000 of them, risking jobs, jail and family safety, had applied for visas to Israel.

“Again Wallace knew whom to believe: standing in front of the Kremlin, he announced, with an arrogance only celebrated TV know-nothings can muster, that all the Jews who wanted to leave the Soviet Union had done so and the rest were getting along just fine.”

Bar-Illan would have loved Roger Cohen.

Jason Maoz can be contacted at jmaoz@jewishpress.com

Jason Maoz

Madoff Scheme Delivers Major Blow To FSU Jews

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

MOSCOW – The Ponzi scheme perpetrated by Bernard Madoff is the latest in a string of financial blows to Jewish aid programs in the former Soviet Union, wiping out a major foundation that was the primary funder of Jewish higher education in Russia.

  The Chais Family Foundation, a $178 million philanthropy forced to close after investing all its money in Madoff’s fraudulent fund, gave away more than $12 million per year to Jewish causes. About $2.5 million of that focused on the former Soviet Union, where the foundation funded at least 12 cultural and educational programs.

  Even before the foundation’s collapse, several organizations had announced in recent months that they would be reducing support for programming in the region, fueling doubt and fear among Russian Jewish communal leaders.

  “Many of my colleagues and others think that 2009 could be the hardest year for the Jewish community of the former Soviet Union,” Mikhail Chlenov, the general secretary of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, who also sits on the board of a program that was funded by Chais, told JTA. “Education is the first sphere of work that is already suffering, but social welfare programs could be next.”

  Re-creating a Jewish community in the former Soviet Union following the collapse of communism has been an intense project undertaken by the broader Jewish community, drawing hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years from the Jewish Agency, Chabad and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

  The Chais Foundation’s annual $2.5 million contribution was the driving force behind creating a sustainable and self-sufficient piece of infrastructure in the region – a higher education system equipped to train Jewish professionals and teachers.

  Chais funded the Center for Biblical and Jewish Studies in St. Petersburg, the Jewish studies department at Moscow State University and the Chais Center for Jewish Studies in Russia, which it founded. The Chais Center brings professors from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem to the region to create accredited programs. Hundreds of Jewish professionals have been trained through the center.

  In addition, the foundation was a major funder of the Open University of Israel, which transmits online curricula to the former Soviet Union. Those programs are now in danger.  Arkady Kovelman, the head of the Jewish studies program at Moscow State, said his program could definitely expect to lose some opportunities for grant money.

  The Moscow program relies on academics from the Chais Center at Hebrew University who conduct courses in Hebrew and Russian. Kovelman says it is too early to tell if the program will continue or what the loss of Chais money will do to his program.

  “I am hoping that it will not have an immediate impact,” Kovelman said. “They are telling us that everything is more or less OK.”

  Even if programs in Russia weather the loss of Chais, the foundation’s closing is only the latest in a half-year of calamity for programs in the region pinched by the downturn in the global economy.

  The Heftziba system – a network of 41 state-sponsored schools that offer Jewish curricula, which is administered by the Jewish Agency – is in peril. The system, set up by Russian municipalities in conjunction with the Israeli Ministry of Education, has seen its finances gutted by $40.5 million in cuts to the Jewish Agency’s overall budget.

  The agency, which pays to have some 11,000 students bused to the schools, is reducing its funding for the system from $12.7 million in 2008 to just over $5 million for 2009, with the hope that local philanthropists will help pick up the slack.

  Alan Hoffmann, the director of the Jewish Agency’s education department, estimates that the Heftziba budget now has a $5 million hole. “It could really be a mortal blow” to the school system, he said Sunday.

  The Jewish Agency already had been forced to adjust after Russian-Israeli philanthropist Arcadi Gaydamak pledged $50 million in 2006 to help establish programming in the former Soviet Union, but then froze the gift after giving only $10 million.

  The two other Jewish-run school networks in the region – the secular ORT system and the Orthodox Shma Yisrael – have suffered from cutbacks undertaken by the Jewish Agency. Shma Yisrael has lost $200,000 in funding and the ORT schools are struggling through a budget cut of $1.2 million in recent months, according to ORT officials, JTA reported in November.

  In the past three months, the largest Jewish educational network in the region, Chabad’s Or Avner system, has been forced to make significant cutbacks as its main benefactor, Lev Leviev, withdrew a substantial portion of his funding in the face of the financial crisis.

  On top of these cuts, the Joint Distribution Committee, which provides social services to the frail and elderly in the region, is cutting its $100 million-plus 2009 budget in the region by about $5 million.

  “You put those factors together in one six-month period from June 2008 until January of 2009 and you have some serious dynamite there for some institutions,” Hoffmann said.  “I think it is a serious body blow to Jewish life in the FSU.” The survival of Jewish programming, he said, “will depend on how quickly the world economy improves and the philanthropy world improves.”

  U.S. Jewish leaders and Israeli officials have long hoped that the creation of new Jewish wealth in the region would lead ultimately to the formation of a home-grown Jewish philanthropy class that one day could pick up the mantle. But that had been slow in coming, even before the financial crisis and the drop in the price of oil wiped out huge swaths of Jewish wealth in the region.

  For a system still largely dependant on outside money, the disappearance of Chais could really hurt.

  Outside of higher education, the foundation funneled tens of millions of dollars into several programs aimed at promoting Jewish identity among youth.

  Hillel in the former Soviet Union relied on the Chais Foundation for 23 percent of its budget and the ripples of the Madoff scheme have forced its operations “to the edge,” said Hillel FSU director Osik Akselrud.

  The Sefer Center, an umbrella group that holds conferences and brings together students in Jewish studies from across the region, had relied on the Chais Foundation for 50 percent of its budget, said its director, Victoria Mochalova. She also learned in a terse message last week that her organization would need to look elsewhere for support.

  In the face of the bad news, Mochalova predicted that the older generation of Jewish community activists in the former Soviet Union who had built the network from scratch would find a way to get through a decrease in funding.

  “We never had a great situation and we have learned how to live in a hard situation,” she said. “For the young it is a big blow to take.”                     

(JTA)

Grant Slater

World War II Art And Propaganda

Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

The Library of Congress World War II Companion


Edited by David M. Kennedy


Simon & Schuster, 2007, $45,


http://www.simonsays.com/  



 

 

         One of the greatest insights Jacques Derrida laid out in his conceptualization of Deconstruction was that a thing can coexist with its opposite, and in fact, neither can be properly understood without the other. To understand darkness, we must have a notion of light and vice-versa, so that the two become co-dependent rather than mutually exclusive. Thus, part of understanding good art is comparing and contrasting it with its evil twin, propaganda.

 

         If art involves creating and arranging visual forms in a way that is pleasant, true and beautiful, propaganda manipulates visual information to deceive viewers with a charged political agenda. Successful art often inspires viewers to incorporate its vision into their lives; propaganda insists that viewers adapt their beliefs and ideology to fit the misleading narrative, though Derrida would caution that art often exhibits propaganda-like properties, while propaganda often employs artistic elements.

 

         This column often explores Holocaust art, whether created by survivors, victims or people who found artistic inspiration in the Holocaust despite less direct experience of the events. Indeed, the Holocaust was not simply a Jewish tragedy – the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum estimates the Germans killed at least 1.9 million non-Jewish Polish civilians during World War II – and as such, many non-Jewish artists turned to the Holocaust for subject matter.

 

         This column has often alluded to Hitler’s denouncement of degenerate art (“entartete Kunst”) and conflation of Jewish art with the degenerate. It is vital to keep this aesthetic-political backdrop in mind when considering Holocaust art. This  is why the new “World War II Companion” from the Library of Congress, edited and introduced by David Kennedy, is such an important book. The companion devotes the entire chapter 10 (pages 783-843) to “The Media War,” with subsections on “propaganda and censorship organizations and agendas,” “censorship issues,” “black propaganda,” “propaganda techniques,” “the media,” “propaganda, truth, and influence” and “principal sources and further reading.”

 

        

 


From the catalog for “Exhibition of Degenerate Art” in 1937, arranged by Reich Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda Joseph Goebbels.

 

 

        According to the section on art, the authors argue that each of the governments involved in the war “viewed art as it did other media – as a potential tool to reinforce nationalism, shape national culture, and imbue the citizen with certain values.” Germany, Japan and the Soviet Union sought to control artists more than Britain and the United States did, yet “Italy organized its artists and allowed experimentation.”

 

         Perhaps the most gripping image collected within the Library of Congress’ book is a page from the catalog for the “Exhibition of Degenerate Art,” which was “curated” by Joseph Goebbels in 1937. The first sentence on the top of the page (see image one) reads, “Even this was once taken seriously and highly paid,” and the works below are by Johannes Molzahn (1892-1965), Jean Metzinger (1883-1956) and Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948), all German, and none of them Jewish. As was the case with non-Jewish artists like Swiss painter Paul Klee (1879-1940) and German painter Max Ernst (1891-1976), the Nazis often accused painters they hated of being Jews, even when they had no connection whatsoever to the Jewish community.

 

 


Joseph Goebbels at a Berlin book burning on May 10, 1933. According to the authors, “Germany is perhaps less known for books it produced during World War II than the books it burned.”

 

 

         The Japanese government followed the Nazis’ lead in denouncing the avant-garde. In 1938, Japanese Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe began to monitor artists affiliated with the surrealist movement, whom he conflated with the communist movement. A few years later, the official Government Information Bureau policed artists and their work as it did all other media. In Germany, cartoonist Hans Schweitzer, a Goebbels appointee, became the Reich Plenipotentiary for Artistic Formulation. In this capacity, Schweitzer closed the modern wing of the Berlin National Gallery and removed another 16,000 modern works from other museums and galleries.

 

         The journal Die Kunst im Dritten Reich (Art in the Third Reich), edited by Alfred Rosenberg, published only state-supported, National Socialist valued, art criticism. And not surprisingly, the House of German Art, opened in 1937 with Hitler’s mandate to “confirm the sound instinct of the people,” failed to attract nearly the attention and visitors who flocked to the “Exhibition of Degenerate Art.” That exhibit, according to Hitler, displayed “artistic lunacy” and “pollution,” and showed how modern art was “the monstrous offspring of insanity, impudence, ineptitude and sheer degeneracy” in the words of Head of the Reich Chamber of Visual Arts Adolf Ziegler.

 

         Unlike his counterparts in Germany and Japan, Benito Mussolini, prime minister of Italy, did not crack down on artists even as the rest of his political movements became increasingly fascist. At an opening of an exhibit of seven 21st century painters in 1923, Mussolini said, “I declare that it is far from my idea to encourage anything like an art of the State … Art belongs to the domain of the individual. The State has only one duty: not to undermine art, to provide humane conditions for artists, and to encourage them from the artistic and national point of view.”

 

 


From a September 1943 issue of Time magazine. This is the first photograph of dead American soldiers published in an American publication. The image depicts soldiers ambushed by the Japanese at Buna Beach.

 

 

         Readers of this column will remember from the Oct. 24 column, “Forward-Looking Photographs” that Mussolini chased Forverts employee Elias Grossman out of Italy after his etching of the prime minister appeared in the New York Herald Tribune with the caption, “What Price Mussolini?” Threatening an artist’s life is of course hardly the same thing as providing “humane conditions for artists,” and indeed in 1938, the Italian government did ban the creations of Jewish artists from exhibition and began to support only artists whose works celebrated Mussolini and Italy.

 

         Britain and the United States did not censor artists to nearly the extent that the axis countries did, but the allied countries did support propaganda that uplifted the allied forces both physically and morally. Sir Kenneth Clark, director of the National Gallery in London, convinced the Ministry of Information to create the War Artists Advisory Committee. In the Soviet Union, which combined distaste for modern art and for the traditional culture of the czars, idealized the Soviet people and its place within the war. Posters declared “Stalin is Leading Us to Victory,” “The Motherland Calls!” and “Death to the Fascist Reptile!”

 

 


“The New Order,” by Saul Steinberg. 1942. Figures include Hitler, Mussolini, Hirohito and Henri Petain of Vichy France.

 

 

         Norman Rockwell is the best known of the American artists who drew in support of the allied forces, primarily his works “OURS … to fight for” and “Four Freedoms.” John Steuart Curry helped sell war bonds with his paintings, “Our Good Earth” and “The Farm is a Battlefield.” Rockwell’s works were used by the Office of War Information, and shortly after the Peal Harbor attack, the U.S. War Department formed the Art Advisory Committee, chaired by artist George Biddle, and several art organizations founded Artists for Victory.

 

         When compared side by side, it is clear that the axis countries singled out artists in their restrictions upon freedom of expression and free speech far more than the allied countries did. This most likely indicates that the axis leaders feared the power of images to thwart their fascist programs. But even as they allowed for a more or less free marketplace of images, the allied countries still turned to artists to create propaganda to enlist support of the war. Images, insofar as they interact with our right brain rather than our left brain, have that power of speaking directly to our emotions by circumventing our logical faculties. And however useful the images of World War II were, they seem directly linked to the widespread suspicion of images, particularly war images, that many people feel today as the boundary between journalism and propaganda becomes more blurry.

 

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

Menachem Wecker

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/world-war-ii-art-and-propaganda/2007/11/21/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: