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April 18, 2014 / 18 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Warsaw Ghetto’

Newly Translated Book On The Warsaw Ghetto

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

Many books have been written about the Warsaw Ghetto in the 66 years since its destruction. There have been reports, memoirs, studies, albums and movies of all kinds that have tried to tell the story of what happened. But to date for the English speaker the story was never complete.

 

We had bits and pieces of the story, we were able to see parts of the ghetto wall that still exist but the exact location of the complete wall always seemed a mystery. We had excerpts of the Ringelblum Archives but what life was like in the ghetto was still difficult to comprehend for the average reader who did not have a complete library at his or her disposal.

 

The Warsaw Ghetto: A Guide to the Perished City, by Barbara Engelking and Jacek Leociak, published by Yale University Press is a monumental work that brings all the material together in one volume. First published in Polish, the book is now available in English.

 

It took years of research in Poland and Israel, in the archives of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, Yad Vashem and Kibbutz Lochamei HaGeta’ot in Israel to painstakingly bring together the full story of the horrific period of the Warsaw Ghetto. Other sources, such as the Polish State Archives and the Warsaw City Archives, were also invaluable in the source material.

 

The authors explore the history of the ghetto’s evolution, the actual daily experience of its thousands of inhabitants from its creation in 1940 to its liquidation following the uprising of 1943. Encyclopedic in scope, the book encompasses a range of topics from food supplies to education, religious activities to the Jundenrat’s administration. Separate chapters deal with the mass deportations to Treblinka and the famous uprising.

 

Even the technical material is brought to life with a number of rarely seen photographs and charts. A series of original maps shows the boundaries of the ghetto with streets shown as they were before the city was nearly destroyed at the end of the war. Present-day streets are superimposed onto the map, and even to one familiar with the area, I was very surprised at the changes shown on the map.

 

We learn the biographies, names of the people, who were activists, archivists, cantors, policemen, actors, musicians, teachers and politicians. These were the heroic residents of the ghetto; people who would not have been remembered in most English language books on the subject.

 

A glossary of terms and concepts is a valuable addition that helps the reader, not only of this volume, but any book on the Holocaust. Terms in Hebrew, Yiddish, Polish and German are included. From Agudah to ZZW (Zydyowski Zwiazek Wojskowy: Jewish Military Union) the words and terminology are covered with a clear explanation, many of which cannot be found in most other glossaries.

 

A bibliography of sources is also included. Some will think that this section is the most valuable of all the indexes. These 40 pages are full of sources that scholars can look for to further their research on particular interests. The index cites not just published works but records found in various archives around the world with exact referencing. The list of published works is almost a complete list of all the material ever published on the Warsaw Ghetto.

 

 

      The Warsaw Ghetto: A Guide to the Perished City, by Barbara Engelking and Jacek Leociak, is an important work that belongs in any library where there is interest in the Holocaust

Po-Lin

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

Title: The Zookeeper’s Wife

By: Diane Ackerman

Publisher: W.W. Norton & Co Inc

ISBN: 9780393061727

Hardcover, Pages: 288

$16.29 – $36.00

 


         Every year there seems to be a new bestseller with a Holocaust theme that reveals a new story of heroism in the most horrible of times. The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman is no exception.

 

         For the past 12 years that I have been writing about the Holocaust and Poland for The Jewish Press, I have read and written about many Holocaust stories, interviewed many survivors and seen for myself evidence of the German atrocities. But only recently did I come across the story told in The Zookeeper’s Wife.

 

         In short the story is about the family of the keepers of the Warsaw Zoo and their efforts to save fellow Poles from the Germans.

 

         Many of the animal cages were empty, and the family used the primitive shelters for Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto and Polish Resistance fighters. Taken from the pages of Antonina Zabiniski’s diary, Ms. Ackerman adds many personal details bringing color and vibrancy to a story that was certainly very miserable.

 

         The story goes beyond the zoo as Ackerman takes us into the Warsaw Ghetto and the 1943 Jewish uprising and also describes the Polish revolt against the Nazi occupiers in 1944. She introduces us to such varied figures as Lutz Heck, the duplicitous head of the Berlin Zoo; Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, spiritual head of the ghetto; and the leaders of Zegota, the Polish organization set up to help the Jews.

 

        Ackerman reveals other rescuers, such as Dr. Mada Walter, who helped many Jews escape, giving them lessons on how to appear Aryan and not attract notice.

 

         I have often been asked how I can read another Holocaust memoir. My answer is if I read every story by every survivor I would still be missing six million stories to tell the complete horror of the Holocaust. The Zookeeper’s Wife adds another chapter to the story that cannot be forgotten.

 

         Next week April 30, there will be a reading and book signing with Diane Ackerman at the Kosciuszko Foundation, 15 East 16th Street in N.Y. The event, with the participation of Tovah Feldshuh will be a benefit for the Museum of the History of Polish Jews.

 

         It has just been announced that Rabbi Brian Lurie, a former Jewish Federation CEO was appointed the lead fund-raiser for a Polish Jewish History Museum.

 

         Rabbi Brian Lurie, the former head of the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, was named the chairman of international development for the Museum of the History of Polish Jews slated to open in Warsaw in 2011.

 

         Officials of the museum, which will be located in the former Warsaw Ghetto, hope it will become one of the three most important Jewish memorials in the world, joining the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

 

         Lurie, who currently is the president of the Alfred and Hanna Fromm Fund and co-chairman of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Israeli-Arab issues, founded the San Francisco Contemporary Jewish Museum in 1984. He helped raise nearly $1 billion as the executive vice president of the United Jewish Appeal to move a million Soviet Jews to Israel during Operation Exodus.

Sixty-Five Years Since The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

         In what has been one of the major memorial events in Poland commemorating WWII, Warsaw saw a gathering of world leaders this week at the 65th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

 

         This year’s anniversary, April 19th falls out on Shabbat-Erev Pesach, and in deference to the Jewish victims and surviving community, the government has scheduled to start on the 15th and continue throughout the week. Leading the Israeli delegation is Israel President Shimon Peres, who was born in Poland.

 

 



Remnants of the wall surrounding the Warsaw Ghetto.


 

 

         Polish Minister of State Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka said that Peres was invited to participate in the ceremonies because the Government wants the event “to bring together Jews and Poles.” Peres landed in Poland, where he was born, and will join survivors of the uprising at Warsaw’s Monument to the Heroes of the Ghetto. Three sections of the ghetto wall are still visible, measuring 12 to 20 feet (three to six meters) high.

 

         During his visit in Poland, Peres will address the Polish Parliament, in Hebrew. He also is scheduled to meet with Irena Sendler, a 98-year-old Polish woman who helped save 2,500 Jewish children during the Nazi Occupation, which systematically murdered more than two million Polish Jews.

 

         The uprising in the ghetto began when several hundred young Jews took up arms against the Nazis instead of letting themselves be shipped off to death camps. The Nazis were surprised by the revolt, which lasted for three weeks, before the German Army overcame the Jews and torched the Jewish area.

 

         Also attending the ceremonies will be the mayors of, approximately, 30 European and Israeli cities whose inhabitants have family ties with the victims and survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto,” said Hanna Paluba, an official of the Shalom Foundation, which organizes the annual commemoration.

 

 



Monument over Mila 18, Headquarters of the Warsaw Ghetto Fighters.


 

 

         Leading the U.S. delegation was Homeland Security Secretary, Michael Chertoff, who was among five members named by President Bush. Joining Chertoff are Victor Ashe, the U.S. Ambassador to Poland; Phyllis Heideman, a lawyer and member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Council who is also active in B’nai Brith International and the Republican Jewish Coalition; David Mitzner, a Warsaw-born developer who is a major donor to Holocaust remembrance causes; and Bill Lowenberg, a San Francisco-based Holocaust survivor also active with the RJC and in Holocaust remembrance.

 

         The foreign dignitaries will be joined by most of the Jewish community in Poland, for whom evidence of the Shoah is ever present in their daily lives, dwelling in a city that had been destroyed by the Germans and which today is filled with monuments.

 

 


Memorial to the heroes and victims of the Warsaw Ghetto.


 

 

         Some of the guests will be visiting the present-day Jewish community to witness the growth and development of what had until recently been thought of as a dead community.

 

         Mr. Peres will also be going to the offices of the Museum Of The History Of Polish Jews, of which he serves as the Chairman of the International Honorary Committee. 

Who Will Write Our History?: Emanuel Ringelblum, The Warsaw Ghetto, And The Oyneg Shabes Archive

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008


         Over the past 12 years that I have been writing this column I discussed the Ringelblum Archives numerous times. The first article was when I saw the archives and the efforts to preserve them. I also wrote about them when a portion went on exhibit in New York, as well as when there was a renewed search for the remaining missing parts on the grounds of the Chinese Embassy in Warsaw.

 

         I have been fascinated by the very idea, contents and testimony to bravery of the archives, and the group that collected the material in the Warsaw Ghetto. However, I have to admit that I know only a small part of the story.  

 

         There are numerous books on the Ringelblum Archives. While they all have sections on Dr. Ringelblum, and the other collectors, most of the work focuses on the collection itself.                 

 

           Last week the Polish Consulate in N.Y. hosted a book signing and lecture for Who Will Write Our History?: Emanuel Ringelblum, the Warsaw Ghetto, and the Oyneg Shabes Archive, authored by Samuel D. Kassow. He is considered the foremost expert on Emanuel Ringelblum and the Oyneg Shabes underground historical group of the Warsaw Ghetto.

 

 



(Seated): Samuel D. Kassow with Mr. Sigmund Rolat, Supporter of many projects promoting the Jewish history of Poland. (Standing): Maxine L. Rockoff of the American Society for Jewish Heritage in Poland.


 

 

         Mr. Kossow’s book is the first to concentrate on the story of how the collectors and collection came about.

 

         While Ringelblum is best known for the archives he was also its innovator and involved in many other projects. There were the schools, the soup kitchens and neighborhood-organizing committees. Oyneg Shabes also sponsored essay writing by students, whose entries made their way into the archive.

 

         During the lecture at the Polish Consulate, which was co-sponsored by the American Society for Jewish Heritage in Poland, Kossow quoted the founder of the Yivo Institute, Shimon Dubnow, who as he was being taken away, cried out, “Schrieb (Write).”

 

         He knew it was important that the world know the truth of what happened to the Jews of Poland. Dr. Ringelblum and his fellow zammlers (collectors) took his plea a step further. Writing the history is not enough if it is not preserved for people to read. Dr. Ringelblum believed that the world must hear the truth from the side of Jews, not only the Germans.

 

         During the Shoah the Jews of Warsaw were forced into silence but as David Graber, one of those whose responsibility was to bury the archive, said, “What we were unable to cry and shriek out to the world, we buried in the ground…. I would love to see the moment in which the great treasure is dug up and screams the truth to the world.”

 

         These words were written as Mr. Garber was preparing to bury the last of the archive, watching the Germans advance, knowing what his ultimate fate would be. That he would not be around to scream the truth to the world. That job he bequeathed to the future generations.

 

         Who Will Write Our History?: Emanuel Ringelblum, the Warsaw Ghetto, and the Oyneg Shabbos Archive, is an important book for all libraries. People of all races and faiths should read this book. The lessons of altruism found within show that good will prevail over evil, and knowledge and memory have to be passed on to the next generation.

 

         Samuel D. Kassow’s book, Who Will Write Our History? has been selected by the Jewish Book Council as runner-up for the 2007 National Jewish Book Award. This award is given to books that enlarge the whole enterprise of Jewish scholarship and contribute to informed living, understanding, and entertainment for the entire English-reading world.

 

         Samuel D. Kassow is the Charles Northam Professor of History at Trinity College. He is author of Students, Professors, and the State in Tsarist Russia, 1884-1917 and editor (with Edith W. Clowes) of Between Tsar and People: The Search for a Public Identity in Tsarist Russia. He lives in Hartford, Connecticut.


 


         Who Will Write Our History?: Emanuel Ringelblum, the Warsaw Ghetto, and the Oyneg Shabes Archive


By Samuel D. Kassow


Indiana University Press


ISBN-13: 978-0-253-34908-8


$35.00 

Remembering The Warsaw Ghetto

Wednesday, April 26th, 2006

This week the Jewish world commemorated Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, on the anniversary of the fall of the Warsaw Ghetto. A quick search on the Internet showed nearly 10,000 sites with information on the uprising by Jewish resistance fighters who fought valiantly against the Germans in Warsaw. The websites cover a wide range of material including pictures, maps, diagrams and memoirs. Also hidden among the historically correct sights are pages dedicated to Holocaust denial; they are written by people who beyond all evidentiary proof still say the Holocaust perpetrated by the Germans against the Jews during World War II is a myth.


When studying the events of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising it is always best to go to the original sources. There have been many books and movies produced about the uprising, but although based on facts, stories such as “The Pianist,” the story of a musician who survived the war within the confines of the Ghetto, are brought into question as soon as even one small incident is changed for dramatic reasons.


There is a book that tells the story without any literary license and cannot be in dispute. The Stroop Report, is a facsimile edition and translation of the official German report on the day-to-day battle and destruction of the Ghetto. In the Stroop Report we see the forces used by the Germans, as well as the casualties suffered and those inflicted. It gives a blow-by-blow account of each action.


The report is very precise in its information, listing the number of troops assigned to each operation the dates and even times – hourly reports from the men in the field with time stamps. At the end of the report it lists every German soldier and foreign fighter by name, rank and unit that was killed or wounded in the various actions against the Jews. The reports were sent to the German SS general and general of the police, Friedrich William Krueger.


In the final report of May 23, 1943, Stroop, The German commander of Warsaw, said that “Of the total 56,065 Jews apprehended, about 7,000 were destroyed [murdered] directly in the course of the Grand Operation in the Jewish quarter, 6,929 were destroyed via transport to T II [Treblinka II], making a total of Jews destroyed 13,929. In addition to this figure an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 Jews were destroyed in explosions and fires.


The Germans also destroyed 631 bunkers and listed a variety of captured arms including rifles, grenades, home-made bombs and incendiary devices.The report goes onto say that the bombs and incendiary devices were “immediately put to use against the bandits.”


Listed among the booty was “about nine million zloty large amounts of foreign money including 9,200 gold dollars, and a large amount of Jewely (rings, necklaces, watches etc.)


The last notation of the report states, “There are only eight buildings remaining in the Ghetto area being used for administration purposes, and the destroyed buildings would be a profitable source of brick and crushed rock.


The report shows how thorough the Germans were in the destruction of the Jewish community of Warsaw and in their own words how they hunted down every Jew no matter the age or fighting ability, how they counted every stone from which they could make a profit. These pages written in their own hand are proof against all those who would deny the Holocaust.


Another source of the pure truth is the Ringelblum Archives. These archives are a collection of documents hidden during the battles for the Ghetto. They are comprised of German order posters, death notices, accounts written by the Jewish commanders, and even school report cards. The archives show from the side of the Jews how the German attack was fought off, not only with arms but with life. They include reports of a theater group, musical recitals and civility in the face of inhumanity. Dr. Emanuel Ringleblum, who was in charge of gathering the material, wrote before his death that the purpose of this archive is to “Scream the Truth at the World” and deny the lie that the Holocaust never happened.

Back To The Future

Wednesday, December 21st, 2005

Archeologists in Poland have just discovered an amazing document, uncovered from beneath rubble left over in what was once the Warsaw Ghetto:

A Letter and Call to Sanity for the Warsaw Ghetto zealots, from the Peace Now chapter of Warsaw, April 23, 1943.

Dear Deluded Brethren,

A few days ago some zealots from certain messianic settler organizations operating in Warsaw launched a series of acts of unprovoked violence against the legitimate German peace partners directing peace-seeking activities here in Warsaw. A number of German soldiers and officers have been viciously murdered, while others have been maimed and injured by these thoughtless religious fundamentalists.

Comrades, we must emphasize that these violent hoodlums are deluded and are making things much worse for everyone else here in the Warsaw Ghetto. You have to understand that there are no military solutions to the problems of deportations of Jews in Warsaw by the Germans. Our problems can only be resolved through negotiations.

We lovers of peace insist that, in spite of the claims of these messianic terrorists provoking the Germans, there IS a partner for negotiations among the Germans, and we Warsaw Jews DO have a moral responsibility to conduct good faith negotiations with the legitimate representatives of the German people.

In addition, violent attacks by irresponsible Jewish settlers in the ghetto against Germans will only provoke a cycle of violence. There can be no winners in that.

Don’t these people conducting the hooligan violence understand that, if they attack the Nazi troops and refuse to conduct negotiations with the agents sent to us by the Third Reich, Hitler will lose control of his forces and then some really violent anti-Semite could take over?

Besides, Hitler is really trying his best to rein in the more violent of his stormtroopers; he simply cannot be everywhere at once. And besides, the Red Army and the Eastern front have him so preoccupied that he cannot act more effectively against the renegade SS terrorists mistreating Jews.

In addition, the Germans do have some legitimacy to their negotiating position. After all, Jews in Poland have been illegally occupying numerous Polish territories that really belong to Aryans! The Jews have established themselves in numerous Polish settlements where they just do not belong and their presence there has antagonized some of the local oppressed people.

Horrendous inequality has been created by Jewish racism, since the Jews in Poland are better educated than the Gentiles here and Jews in Warsaw earned more than non-Jews before the war. This manifestation of anti-Gentilism must be redressed. We need some affirmative action to help the Polish non-Jews advance in society.

Moreover, some Polish civilians apparently were victims of Jewish pickpockets in Warsaw before the war. We Jews certainly need to pay compensation for those inexcusable provocations.

Clearly the solution is two ghettos for two peoples. The Warsaw ghetto needs to be shared. The Jews in one half must agree to be deported peacefully from that half to other destinations, so that the Germans and the Poles can have equal rights in the New Middle Europe. The Polish right of return to the ghetto needs to be addressed. The entire tragedy that we have experienced stems from the selfish inability of so many Jews to share their property and land.

We repeat, violence has never solved anything. Violence only foments more violence. The violent Warsaw settlers attacking the innocent Germans are bigots and racists. They have wounded innocent bystanders in their firefights. Not only that, but the ghetto zealots attacking Germans have demonstrated insufficient sensitivity to the needs of non-traditional families and gay couples. They have been insensitive to the impact of their behavior upon the environment and the threat of global warming.

We need to speak out in defense of the human rights of Germans and Poles in the vicinity of the ghetto. We must denounce the racist Zionist hooligans and messianic zealots attacking those victims. Jewish terrorism against Germans must be stopped. The entire crisis could be resolved if we Jews would only recognize the legitimate rights to self-determination of the Germans, especially the ones in Danzig.

We must begin negotiations at once. Those claiming that there is no peace partner on the German side are deluded and they are the real obstacle to peace. We simply have to give Hitler a chance. He just wants a homeland for his own people and his fair share of our territory! In addition, we should stop giving encouragement to that neoconservative warmonger Winston Churchill. Doesn’t he realize that his plan to occupy other peoples cannot work?

Let’s take a lesson from our rich and wonderful heritage. The Bible itself calls upon us to pursue peace.

Stop the shooting. Start the talking. Now!

Signed, Peace Now, Warsaw Chapter

Steven Plaut is a professor at Haifa University. His book “The Scout” is available at Amazon.com. He can be contacted at steven_plaut@yahoo.com.

Divine Silence

Wednesday, May 11th, 2005

The problem with G-d is His holiness. After thousands of years of countless trials and many too many unmentionable “sufferings of love” (Berachos 5a) the Jewish people continue to love Him even as many flee His embrace. From the Binding of Isaac to the martyrdom of Rabbi Akiva and the last Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto, G-d’s seeming distance, his hester pannim, confounds the masses and sorely tests the pious. When He is the most distant, and therefore the most Holy, the slaughter of innocent Jews that ensues becomes tragically a chilul Hashem, defaming His holy Name.

“Yossel Rakover Speaks to G-d” by Zvi Kolitz and “Death Triumphant” a painting by Felix Nussbaum both struggle with this most perplexing issue of the Jewish people. The first, a short story purporting to be a last testament of the son of a Ger Hasid fighting in the Warsaw Ghetto, refuses to relinquish belief in God. His experiences as a hunted Jew, a survivor from a German air assault that killed his wife, infant child and two children to the terrible depravations of the ghetto that claimed his last three children has left him spiritually exhausted, proclaiming that; “Life is a tragedy, death a savior; man a calamity, the beast an ideal; day a horror, night – a relief.” As a man of faith, the cruelty he has suffered has turned all certainties upside down. He lashes out at the world that seems determined to annihilate him.

Yossel’s accusations encompass Western civilization, bitterly observing that Hitler is “a typical child of modern man. Humanity as a whole has spawned him and reared him, and he is the frankest expression of its innermost, most deeply buried wishes.”

At 43, he humbly states that he “served G-d enthusiastically” only asking to worship Him, “bikhol livovekho, bikhol nafshekho ubikhol miodekho.” After all his deprivations and sufferings his belief has remained unshaken even though his relationship with G-d is deeply compromised. He feels that G-d “owes me something, owes me much.” Claiming that to cite our sins as a reason for this suffering, “G-d is maligned when we malign ourselves.” After all, we are His people and when G-d’s people suffer, G-d’s Name is besmirched.

In his last moments Yossel reflects upon the nature of vengeance, both human and Divine, the very nature of being a Jew and finally the excruciating nature of chosen-ness. He is the last fighter alive in one room in one house in Warsaw in 1943. His desperation elicits a proud affirmation; “I believe in Israel’s G-d even if He has done everything to stop me from believing in Him,” adding that “I bow my head before His greatness, but will not kiss the rod with which He strikes me.” The courageous determination to demand to know when “Youagain [will] revealYour countenance” is unequaled in Holocaust literature.

Mark Altman’s English and Yiddish production of Yossel Rakover Speaks to G-d (staged reading at the Diaspora Drama Group) on June 7th will explore exactly these excruciating themes. The poignant voice of Yossel will ring out that evening, a seminal testimony and clarion call from the grave of 65 years ago. Except for the fact that Yossel is a fictional character created by Zvi Kolitz. This character, invented by Mr. Kolitz for a Yiddish newspaper in Argentina in 1946, took on a life of its own. The story was subsequently published in English and Hebrew without any attribution to Mr. Kolitz and became known as an anonymous testimony from the ashes of the Warsaw Ghetto. Fiction had taken on a life as its own, as Emmanuel Levinas commented; “a text both beautiful and true, as only fiction can be.”

Felix Nussbaum traveled a remarkably similar path to a distinctly different conclusion. Nussbaum was born in 1904 in the German town of Osnabruck. He was characterized from an early age as a depressive personality and pursuing his artistic studies his early work was occasionally characterized by a haunting presence of impending death. The Nazi ascent to power spelled the end of Felix’s aspirations to German artistic achievement. His work from this decade vacillates between a kind of primitive and acerbic social commentary and a more than competent 1930′s realism. His increasing use of symbolism reflected the devastating advance of fascist control across Europe even as he attempted to escape its jaws by emigrating to Switzerland and finally Belgium in 1937. More and more Nussbaum utilized masks and self-portraits to reflect and deflect the impending doom.

Nussbaum, along with his wife Felka Platek, were exiles, refugees from their native land and, more importantly, refugees from the sanity of their past. His art became the art of the refugee; haunted, despairing and wrenching. In 1940 he was arrested and interred at the camp of Saint-Cyprien for four months as a German national. During a selection between Aryan Germans and Jews, he escaped and fled through France to his wife in Brussels, Belgium. The camp, its inmates and horrors, became an unavoidable subject for Nussbaum.

Aside from depicting the all too familiar deprivations of internment camps, Nussbaum did a remarkable painting of Camp Synagogue in 1941. It is a deeply brooding meditation on the repercussions of Jewish faith by an artist whose closeness to Judaism seemed to be mainly enforced by the racism of Nazi rulers. Five men, all clad in talisim, trudge towards a tin roofed building under a dark and foreboding sky. One man is isolated even from his fellow Jews, hunched in solitary devotion, perhaps the symbol of the artist himself.

As a stateless person and a Jew, his status in Belgium deteriorated in 1942, a rope hanging appearing as a symbol of approaching doom at the hands of the occupying Gestapo. In 1942 Nussbaum is given refuge by a Belgian sculptor until he flees underground. Finally in 1943 he and his wife go into hiding. The Organ Grinder (1943) begins the paintings in which the figure of Death has assumed prominence. The Damned, painted in January 1944, depicts a hodgepodge of hidden Jews, now terribly exposed for deportation in the claustrophobic streets of their country of refuge. It has become increasingly obvious that there will be no escape.

His last painting dated Tuesday, April 18, 1944, Death Triumphant, is extensively prepared for with numerous sketches of various skeletal figures, each beautifully draped, playing or holding musical instruments. These drawings are arguably some of the most moving and devastating images of futility ever produced. The dead mock the living with mankind’s pathetic culture, music played with no one left to listen. The quest for life is snuffed out in the whirlwind of anti-Semitic hate.

Felix Nussbaum confronted G-d’s terrible hidden-ness just as Yossel did. Felix could not find a faith to express in his vision, only Death triumphs over all culture, all hope, all life. And yet Yossel knows Felix well. Addressing G-d, Yossel pleads “Do not put the rope under too much strain, because, G-d forbid, it might snap. The test to which You have put us is so severe, so unbearably severe, that You should – You must – forgive those of Your people who, in their misery and rage, have turned away from You.”

The problem with G-d is that in His awesome holiness He has given us a terrible choice. Do we act rationally and turn our backs on Him when He seems to abandon us? Or must we scream through the howling abyss and insist on His answer even as the silence engulfs us?

* * *

Zvi Kolitz, author of Yossel Rakover Speaks to G-d, passed away September 29, 2002 after an illustrious career as a film producer (Hill 24 Doesn’t Answer, 1954, Israeli film) and theatrical producer (Rolf Hochhuth’s ground breaking play, The Deputy, 1963) in addition to works of fiction and philosophy and 32 years as a columnist for the Algemeiner Journal. Felix Nussbaum was murdered with his wife in Auschwitz in August, 1944.

Yosl Rakover Talks to G-d by Zvi Kolitz, Vintage, 2000 (with commentaries by Paul Badde, Leon Wieseltier and Emmanuel Levinas).

Yosl Rakover Talks to G-d; A Reading produced by Mark Altman, Tuesday June 7, 2005.

The Diaspora Drama Group at Common Basis Theater; 750 Eighth Avenue (46th Street); 212 868 4444; www.diasporadrama.org; English version directed and performed by Tony Award Winner Vivian Matalon; Yiddish version with David Mandelbaum directed by Amy Coleman.

Felix Nussbaum: Art Defamed, Art in Exile, Art in Resistance: A Biography edited by Karl Georg Kaster, Rasch Verlag, Bramsche, 1994.

Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Please feel free to contact him with comments at www.richardmcbee.com.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/divine-silence/2005/05/11/

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