By Katie Engelhart - Wednesday, May 1, 2013 - 0 Comments
Several European countries–most notably Germany–are welcoming descendants of Third Reich victims
About a year ago, Alex Yale became the citizen “of a country I’ve never been to, where people speak a language that I don’t understand.” To Yale—a 25-year-old management consultant from Connecticut—Austria seemed a faraway land indeed. His Jewish grandparents were born and raised in Vienna, but fled shortly before the Anschluss (Germany’s 1938 annexation of Austria). They eventually made their way to the United States, after stints in Cyprus and what is now Tanzania. Once settled, they tried their best not to look back; their children followed suit.
But Yale is one of a growing number of North American descendants—children and grandchildren of Jewish Holocaust victims—who have recently obtained European citizenship through programs that undo wartime and postwar denaturalizations. Germany receives many of the North American applications (717 in 2012, up from 128 a decade ago), along with its Eastern European neighbours.
By Emma Teitel - Monday, January 28, 2013 at 10:27 AM - 0 Comments
Sunday Times cartoonist Gerald Scarfe, the man who brought you the album art on Pink Floyd’s The Wall, erected another wall this past weekend. The new one looks a lot like the old one, except that it’s built atop dying Palestinians and their blood provides the mortar. Oh, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands in as architect, his caricature complete with oversized ears and (you guessed it) a formidable nose. His horns, they say, are vestigial.
The writing on the wall as inferred by the Anti-Defamation League?
We don’t need no Jewish Nation.
Here’s Michael A. Salberg, the ADL’s International Affairs Director:
“The Sunday Times has clearly lost its moral bearings publishing a cartoon with a blatantly anti-Semitic theme and motif which is a modern day evocation of the ancient ‘blood libel’ charge leveled at Jews.”
I wasn’t aware that the Times had moral bearings, but the ADL isn’t entirely wrong in their “blood libel” charge. Scarfe’s Netanyahu does look a lot like this, and this, and this. There’s also the awkward bit about the cartoon being published on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Even Rupert Murdoch, who owns the newspaper, managed an apology. He called the cartoon grotesque.
But there remains a big gaping hole in this tale of anti-Semitism. For one, Scarfe isn’t an anti-Semite. Yes, to a lot of Jews (myself included) the cartoon appears anti-Semitic, but that has less to do with Scarfe–a man who has depicted several political leaders he abhors, most of them non-Jews, with exaggerated facial features in exaggerated ways—and more to do with context. Tony Blair, for example, (another one of Scarfe’s subjects) doesn’t belong to a religious group with a history of systemic discrimination. Or genocide. Neither does George W. Bush, or Bill Clinton–other leaders the cartoonist has taken aim at over the years. Netanyahu, on the other hand, does. Unlike Bibi, Blair, Bush, and Clinton don’t belong to a minority whose facial features were altered grotesquely throughout propaganda history, not for comic effect, but to instill fear and incite violence.
Scarfe has affirmed that he is not an anti-Semite—that he had no idea Holocaust Remembrance Day would fall on the same day the paper published his Bibi Netanyahu-architect-of-death cartoon. Here he is talking to the press, below:
“The Sunday Times has given me the freedom of speech over the last 46 years to criticize world leaders for what I see as their wrong-doings. This drawing was a criticism of Netanyahu, and not of the Jewish people…I was, however, stupidly completely unaware that it would be printed on Holocaust day, and I apologize for the very unfortunate timing.”
Anti-Zionists and ADL critics will of course say that the date on which the cartoon was published is irrelevant. If Scarfe’s beef is with a government, not a people, what does Holocaust Remembrance Day have to do with anything?
The answer, as he now knows, is everything.
The day has everything to do with the deed because it is, at this point in history, almost impossible to draw a sensational political caricature of a Jewish person without evoking images of Der Sturmer. The history is still too recent, the wounds still fresh.
If Gerald Scarfe is to learn anything from this, let it be that until further notice, like it or not, the only socially acceptable time to draw a Jewish caricature is at a Bar Mitzvah.
By Emma Teitel - Friday, November 9, 2012 at 1:48 PM - 0 Comments
The Beth Tzedec Congregation’s 12th Annual Jewish Film Festival in Calgary aired an Israeli documentary yesterday about Holocaust survivors who were branded with number tattoos in the Nazi concentration camps. It’s called Numbered. (trailer below).
Israeli Director Dana Doron, who is also a doctor, (she co-directed Numbered with her friend, a well-known Israeli photojournalist named Uriel Sinai), says she was inspired to make the film while working at a hospital in Northern Israel, when an elderly woman came into the ER one day complaining of chest pains. The chest pains turned out to be a ruse; the woman just wanted someone to talk to–someone to tell her story to. Doron noticed the numbers tattooed onto the woman’s arm. She was a Holocaust survivor.
The filmmakers interviewed about 50 survivors for their documentary about what their numbers mean to them: one man played his in the lottery, others chose to have theirs removed. But it’s the children and grandchildren of some of those survivors who have generated the most publicity for the film, because of their controversial decision to brand themselves with the same numbers gouged into the skin of their parents/grandparents. They’ve done so, they say, in remembrance of the tragedy their family members endured, and they believe that getting the tattoos themselves will in some way, honour that tragedy. And ensure that the next generation of Jews “never forgets.” Imitation, however, isn’t always a form of flattery…
In an interview on CBC’s The Current on Tuesday, Doron said that some of the film’s footage that didn’t make the final cut, captures a group of survivors’ horrified reactions when they see one of the tattoos etched fresh into the skin of a young man. It’s easy to see why they were horrified. The numbers were used to dehumanize the Jewish people, and their return, no matter how well-intentioned–is probably offensive to the majority of Holocaust survivors.
Tattoos are also strictly forbidden in Judaism. From the bible:
“You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks upon you: I am the LORD.”
Baruch S. Davidson, writing for chabad.org, argues that God forbids tattoos for three reasons:
1. It was common for pagan worshippers to tattoo themselves in honour of whatever particular deity they worshipped, and Jews weren’t and aren’t supposed to do anything that pagans do. “On many occasions the Torah forbids practices that emulate pagan customs,” he writes, “considering that following their traditions is the first step towards ascribing to their idolatrous beliefs.”
2. Circumcision is apparently the only body modification a man needs. “The covenant of circumcision is unique in its being a sign in our bodies of our relationship with G‑d,” Davidson writes. (some relationship). “Making other signs in one’s body would weaken and cheapen this special sign.”
3. ”The human body is G‑d’s creation, and it is therefore unbefitting to mutilate G‑d’s handiwork,” he writes. “It is especially unbefitting for members of G‑d’s chosen nation to mutilate their bodies.”
It’s number 3 that solidifies for me, what is so fundamentally weird, and wrong about getting your own Auschwitz ink. God’s “chosen” people (my people too) may have been forbidden to mutilate their bodies, but history shows that the only thing they’ve been chosen for is exactly that: the systematic mutilation of their bodies, at the hands of the Egyptians, the Spanish, the Nazis, etc. Holocaust tattoos are scars of that mutilation, and there’s something bizarre and frankly, disgusting, about reapproprating another person’s scar. Especially when it’s linked to an experience that is–fortunately–worlds away from your own.
Or as Jonathan S. Tobin writes on the subject in Commentary Magazine:
“Drawing a number on your skin may have meaning to individuals (or, as in one case, serve as a reminder to a young man to call his grandfather) but Jewish identity can’t be rooted in a vain attempt to relive a tragic past. Judaism is an affirmation of life not death. Seen in that light, the attempt by some secular Jews to grab onto a symbol of the slaughter as a way to connect with the past seems more like a futile provocation than a method of perpetuating the memory of this great tragedy.”
Tobin is right. It is a provocation. Worse: it’s a talking piece. Imagine the exchange between a survivor’s freshly tattooed grandson and a girl at a party. Girl: “Cool tattoo. What is it?” Guy: “Oh it’s my bubie’s numbers from Auschwitz. I thought it would be a good way to remember what she went through.” Girl: “Cool. Can I touch it?”
I understand and know the impulse to remember, but I think we can come up with something better–and already have– than the cheap and provocative re-imagining of an atrocity we’ll never understand.
By Hamida Ghafour - Tuesday, October 30, 2012 at 2:29 PM - 0 Comments
Later this year, the country’s Jewish population will hit six million—the same number of Jews killed by Nazi Germany
They look like typical senior citizens at any drop-in centre as they gather around small tables and drink tea, occasionally chuckling at a joke or observation. They are dressed formally, as people of their generation often are, the women in blouses and tasteful makeup and the men in suit jackets.
There is nothing obvious that gives away the fact that they are among the last living witnesses to perhaps the greatest crime in history, the Nazi genocide of European Jews. Survivors such as Freddie Knoller, 91, have dedicated a large part of their lives to testifying against what happened to them during the Holocaust when approximately six million Jews were murdered.
Yet the gas chambers, death camps and mass deportations offered another lesson for Austrian-born Knoller. “What kept me alive was optimism,” he said, sipping a cup of tea in a simply furnished room inside Jewish Care’s Holocaust Survivors Centre in London. “I was an eternal optimist. I knew I would get out.”
Knoller’s parents died in Auschwitz, he survived Nazi-occupied France, and he watched prisoners eat dead bodies to stay alive in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Physical scars also remain. He rolls up his left sleeve to show the faded blue numbers 157103 tattooed on his forearm.
By Michael Petrou - Thursday, May 31, 2012 at 4:27 PM - 0 Comments
Taner Akçam is a Turkish historian and authority on the Armenian genocide. A 2009 raid against the ultranationalist terror organization Ergenekon, whose members were linked to Turkey’s military and security forces, uncovered a list of “Traitors to National Security,” which named Akçam, as well as Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. Dink was murdered in 2007. Akçam’s latest book is The Young Turks’ Crime Against Humanity: The Armenian Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing in the Ottoman Empire.
Q: Almost one third of the 17.5 million inhabitants of Anatolia in 1913 were displaced, expelled, or annihilated over the subsequent six years. What happened?
A: The main reason was the continuous decline of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans wanted to solve this decline, and one of the ways that they thought of was to change the population structure of the entire empire. The major problem for them was the Christian population. After they lost the Balkan War of 1912, they decided to get rid of the Christians. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Tuesday, February 14, 2012 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
Canadians were the driving force behind Poland’s holocaust drama
When the Oscars are handed out on Feb. 26, Canadians will have plenty to root for, with Christopher Plummer favoured to win Best Supporting Actor and Philippe Falardeau’s Monsieur Lazhar vying for Foreign Language Film, not to mention nominations for two animated shorts from the NFB. But another Canadian triumph, the most unlikely of all, has almost been lost in the shuffle. Competing with Monsieur Lazhar for the foreign language award is In Darkness, a Holocaust drama co-produced by Poland, Germany—and Canada. Although it’s directed by Polish veteran Agnieszka Holland, and is Poland’s official Oscar entry, it was created by a Canadian writer and developed by Canadian producers before the Europeans came on board.
The film unearths an astonishing saga. Just when you thought there was no more Holocaust lore left to be mined, In Darkness dramatizes the true story of a group of Jews in Nazi-occupied Lvov who hide in rat-infested sewers for 14 months, protected by a Polish Catholic thief and sewer worker named Leopold Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz). This Schindler of the sewers is a reluctant saint. At first he’s the ultimate slum landlord, agreeing to hide the fugitives from the Nazis for cash. But as the war grinds on, he becomes fiercely protective of the people he calls “my Jews,” risking his life and family to save them. But the film is no fable. Like the exquisite cinematography, which draws light out of the darkness, the moral tone of this claustrophobic thriller is deeply shaded. Intolerance and opportunism infect both sides.
“The characters are very nuanced,” says its Toronto screenwriter, David F. Shamoon. “I didn’t want that typical division between good and evil, the good Jews versus the bad Nazis or Poles.” A former advertising man, Shamoon, 64, was born in India and moved to Canada at 23 after living in Iran and the U.S.—his Iraqi parents fled Baghdad to escape anti-Jewish persecution in 1941. In Darkness is his first script to reach the screen and he spent eight years getting it there. He first stumbled across the story in a local newspaper, which led him to Robert Marshall’s 1991 book In the Sewers of Lvov. Shamoon says he turned down an offer from a well-known American director, because “I just did not want the Hollywood treatment, even though I was thinking of having it in the English language.”
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, February 8, 2012 at 5:57 PM - 0 Comments
“While I retracted my comments, the similarities between the two are very clear and you can’t convince me of otherwise. But it’s obvious the media didn’t have much to write about yesterday because that was the hot-button issue. So just in order to take the buzz off and what have you, I partially retracted the statement in the house,” he said …
“While the similarities between the gun registry and what Adolph Hitler did to perpetrate his crimes are very clear and obvious, it was inappropriate for me to point those out in the House of Commons,” he said Wednesday. “And I went on to say that I apologized to anyone who was offended, but the truth is the truth and what he (Hitler) did at the time was his men went around and collected all the guns from the Jews. So I was just pointing out the similarities. That didn’t happen in Canada, but it could have and that’s one of the reasons there’s been such an uproar against the gun registry in this country. So that’s the end of it.”
By Michael Petrou - Thursday, January 19, 2012 at 9:40 AM - 0 Comments
Almost all of Macedonia’s Jews died in the Holocaust. Now a new museum is keeping their memory alive.
The fate of Macedonia’s Jewish community during the Second World War was unique only in the thoroughness of its destruction.
Just after midnight on March 11, 1943, Bulgarian troops occupying the Yugoslav republic surrounded the three cities containing large Jewish populations. “Following what had become the standard system, this operation was carried out at a single stroke with great cruelty,” writes Leni Yahil in her seminal history of the Holocaust. More than 7,000 Jews were rounded up and sent to the Treblinka death camp. Twelve lived.
Of a pre-war population of approximately 8,000, some 300 Macedonian Jews survived the war. Some joined the partisans. Others departed to Albania or were detained in less murderous camps than Treblinka. About 1,000 fled Bulgarian occupation to live with relatives in northern Greece, which until 1943 was occupied by Italians who declined to implement Hitler’s final solution. But this escape was temporary. The Germans took over the occupation when Italy capitulated, and the Macedonian Jews sheltering in northern Greece were sent to Auschwitz.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, May 12, 2011 at 12:05 PM - 0 Comments
John Demjanjuk convicted by Munich court
A 91-year-old retired autoworker was convicted on Thursday of helping the Nazis murder at least 28,000 Jews at the Sobibor death camp during World War II. A Munich court has sentenced John Demjanjuk to five years in prison following 18 months of trial. Demjanjuk is believed to have been a Russian prisoner of war in 1942, who was trained as a guard at a camp in Trawniki. He was transferred to Sobibor in 1943, at which point he became known as one of the so-called ‘Trawniki men’, whose job it was to help systematically kill Jews. “Every Trawniki man knew that he was part of a well and smoothly operating apparatus that had no other goal than systematically murdering Jews,” said Ralph Alt, the presiding judge. “They all knew about the barbaric treatment of Jews. And the accused was part of that extermination machinery.” This ruling may be one of Germany’s last major Holocaust trials, Bloomberg reports.
By Julia Belluz - Thursday, February 10, 2011 at 2:23 PM - 2 Comments
A coalition of rabbis chastises the network for “unacceptable” references to Nazis and the Holocaust
A coalition of 400 U.S. rabbis took out a one-page advertisement in the Rupert Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal to chastise the media mogul for “unacceptable” references to Nazis and the Holocaust made by employees at Murdoch’s other News Corp. outlet, Fox News. “We share a belief that the Holocaust, of course, can and should be discussed appropriately in the media,” read the Jan. 27 open letter. “But that is not what we have seen at Fox News.”
In particular, the offenders worthy of sanctioning were Fox News head Roger Ailes and conservative commentator Glenn Beck, who has compared U.S. Democrats to Nazis, and referred to George Soros as a “Jewish boy helping send the Jews to the death camps” during a series on the liberal billionaire. “It is not appropriate to accuse a 14-year-old Jew hiding with a Christian family in Nazi-occupied Hungary of sending his people to death camps,” the letter stated. “And it is not appropriate to make literally hundreds of on-air references to the Holocaust and Nazis when characterizing people with whom you disagree.” Ad space for the letter was paid for by the Jewish Funds for Justice, a non-profit advocacy group that has previously received money from Soros.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, October 7, 2010 at 4:00 PM - 0 Comments
Plus, a second opinion about prostate cancer, homeless soccer stars, a chilling Holocaust detective story, a new novel from the author of ‘A History of Love,’ and what the Bible says about sex
The Painters Eleven were abstract artists based in Toronto who banded together in 1953 with a goal: to make waves in the tranquil pool of Canadian landscape art. In other words, no more pine trees. The Painters Eleven drafted a statement, of sorts, saying, “there is no jury but time.” The work would speak for itself.
In her new book, Iris Nowell helps the rest of us understand this group of abstract artists who dared to create a footprint unlike the Group of Seven’s. So, who were they? Toronto’s top art teachers, illustrators, commercial artists and art directors. They joined the city’s established art societies, cannily, and tried to bring about change from within. It wasn’t easy, but they revolutionized contemporary art in Toronto and bestowed legitimacy on abstract expressionism after it had gained fame in America and the Automatistes had made inroads in Quebec.
Opening the hefty book, readers are immediately treated to 11 colour reproductions—no titles, no dates, no dimensions, no artist name printed politely at the side. Nowell is saying, “Look at these! The work deserves this lavish treatment.” And she’s right. Nowell has given us a coffee table book with benefits. Examining the members’ artistic development toward abstraction, she peppers the text with chatty anecdotes, biographic details and telling character descriptions. If you thought you’d heard all about artist Tom Hodgson’s carousing in his studio, called the Pit, think again. If abstract art was the group’s unifying force, so was boxing and booze—martinis, to be exact, and Walter Yarwood’s Bloody Murphy. Nowell recounts how socialite Alexandra Luke, one of the two females in the group, had to sell an Emily Carr painting to buy art supplies. Her book is an accessible account that leaves the reader with one burning question: who is the mystery benefactor who partially bankrolled this lush publication?
- JOANNE LATIMER
The humble prostate is man’s great unknown. Buried somewhere in our nether regions, it is a walnut-sized enigma that (I’m told) is crucial to the reproduction of the species and is accessible only via an almost comically uncomfortable process involving a finger, a rubber glove and a hospital gown. But is what usually follows as necessary as the medical establishment claims?
Not entirely, according to authors Ralph Blum and Mark Scholz, who paired up for what might be subtitled Conversations With and About My Cancerous Prostate. Blum has had prostate cancer for 20 years, and he uses his experience as an example of the near-uselessness of biopsies and resulting surgery—one alarming statistic reveals that roughly 80 per cent of prostate surgeries are unnecessary. Prostate cancer is the whale shark of the cancer world: slow-moving and benign. He and co-author Scholz, himself a doctor specializing in prostate cancer, talk about why men almost always opt for surgery: straight-up fear, the insistence of surgery-mad urologists who run “the prostate cancer world,” the human male’s tendency to want to cut the damn thing out and be done with it. Rather than have surgery, Blum embarked on self-treatment and active surveillance—closely monitoring cancer markers and trying a series of often out-there experimental therapies, some more successful than others. (Spirit-channelling shaman? Silver-infused water? Blum tried them all.) His methods are scattershot, and that’s just the point. By staying positive (and keeping an eye on the markers) there are hundreds of possible treatments for this particular cancer. A breezy and effortless writer, Blum writes endearingly about the emasculating travails of at once losing one’s libido and ability to perform, a side effect of testosterone blocking therapy, while Scholz gives a welcome wariness to the practices of much of the medical establishment. A worthy read for anyone about to assume the position.
- MARTIN PATRIQUIN
The singer-songwriter from the beloved (and now defunct) Canadian band the Rheostatics is known for writing about games that are played in unlikely places—baseball in Italy, hockey in Hong Kong. Dave Bidini’s latest quirky sport story is a mix of familiar and foreign, as he follows the Canadian homeless soccer team to Melbourne, Australia, for the 2008 Homeless World Cup Tournament.
Bidini does a fine job portraying the Canadian team: Krystal, an 18-year-old black woman who never fit in with her adopted family; Billy, the Greek, who played soccer professionally and then ran his family’s business until becoming hooked on narcotics; sane, sober Jerry, whose multiple failed business ventures left him destitute. Bidini affectionately recounts some of their signature plays on the pitch (street soccer, a four-on-four game with two seven-minute halves, is played on a smaller field to accommodate players’ fitness and health levels)—like the way Jerry would hold the ball underfoot like a man resting his foot on a curbside. And their awkward social forays. Billy suggested that the team adopt “Souvlaki” as its anthem.
“That’s a song?” asked the coach. “A song, a food. Whatever,” was Billy’s reply.
Bidini also aptly covers the range of homeless experiences represented by the 54 nations who competed at Melbourne, including the all-female Cameroon team who left their street babies back home. Bidini holds a “long-standing belief in the redemptive properties of sport,” and to some extent, his book reflects this ideal. After returning to Canada, Billy reconciled with his parents and Krystal started playing soccer semi-professionally. But Bidini also hints at the fact that homelessness is too complex a problem to be solved by a soccer ball. He mentions players getting high before games and going AWOL for days at a time. He asked a young, strung-out Australian woman what the tournament meant to her. “I don’t get very mushy about things,” she replied. “That’s my life, you know, and that’s how I f–ked it up.”
- DAFNA IZENBERG
In early 2006, just months after hurricane Katrina, Skip Henderson was prowling the melancholy streets of New Orleans when he came upon a junkie selling storm-ravaged items. Among them was a small lamp.
Henderson’s collector’s eye recognized the metal frame as a central European, mid-20th-century work. But the shade . . . What is this made of? he asked. “The skin of Jews.” Henderson had no reason to believe it, but sent the shade to a journalist friend, Jacobson, who passed it along to a genetic lab. The verdict arrived 118 years to the day after Hitler’s birth: human origin.
With that, Jacobson’s utterly engrossing and profoundly disquieting search for answers is off and running. He re-examines the postwar stories that the Nazis didn’t just murder Jews by the millions but rendered their body fat into soap and their skin into leather. Ilse Koch, the so-called Bitch of Buchenwald—immortalized in the B movie Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS—reportedly ordered such lampshades made, once as a birthday present for her husband, the camp commander. Buchenwald’s American liberators displayed a table of horrors that included a purportedly human-skin lampshade. But that lampshade disappeared, no others surfaced and no charges were ever entered in war-crimes trials. Most scholars long ago dismissed the beliefs as myths that captured the essence of a genocide both diabolical and prosaically industrial.
Even the shade’s drug addict seller, who had stolen it from an abandoned home, had no real reason to think it was a Holocaust artifact. He was just one of the many people Jacobson encounters—all of them of an age to remember the old stories—who somehow instinctively recognize the shade for what it is. In the end, its stubbornly murky origins matter less to Jacobson than a single question: what on Earth should he do with it? No Holocaust museum would accept it, leaving Jacobson, as he leaves the reader, with a hard choice: bury the shade—and all hope of further discovery—or keep both in the land of the living.
- BRIAN BETHUNE
As she did in The History of Love, the American writer weaves seemingly disparate stories around a singular object—this time, a massive desk—and only at the novel’s conclusion do all the interconnections become clear. There’s a solitary novelist in New York who borrowed the desk from a passionate young poet, subsequently tortured and killed in Pinochet’s Chile. In Israel, a widower struggles to make sense of his antagonism toward his adult son. In London, a waifish pair of siblings rattle around an antique-filled house while their father combs the Earth to find the furniture the Nazis stole from his parents before killing them. Nearby, a professor of literature stumbles across a secret that his wife, a supremely self-contained woman now suffering from dementia, has kept all her life.
Each story takes the form of a confession, and each is, in itself, deeply compelling, both because the characters’ voices are so distinct and because their situations are so richly imagined. Here’s the New York novelist explaining a lover’s reasons for dumping her: “The gist was that he had a secret self, a cowardly, despicable self he could never show me, and that he needed to go away like a sick animal until he could improve this self and bring it up to a standard he judged deserving of company.” And here’s the widower, berating his son for renting a BMW: “You’re such a big shot that you can’t accept a Hyundai like everyone else? You have to specially pay extra for a car made by the sons of Nazis?”
As in her previous two novels, there’s a lot about the writing life—many of the characters are writers, or would like to be—but Krauss no longer seems to be angling for an A from the postmodern tricksters who have influenced her style. Here, narrative is the point. She doesn’t quite tie everything together convincingly in Great House, but the characters feel so real, and the sense of loss they share is so powerfully distilled, it’s easy to forgive minor construction flaws.
- KATE FILLION
A serious scholar (editor of the New Oxford Annotated Bible) with a sense of humour, Harvard lecturer Coogan has long been bemused by the way all sides in various debates, from abortion to same-sex marriage, reference the Bible without knowing much about what it really says. The language of sex and of beauty is culturally specific, he points out, and while the male speaker in the Song of Songs clearly means high praise for his lover when he compares her hair to “a flock of goats streaming down from Mount Gilead,” a modern beau would be ill-advised to say as much to his beloved. Likewise, sexual euphemisms, which range from the familiar carnal overtones of “knowing” to the less often recognized use of “feet” for genitalia: the Israelite heroine Jael was able to drive a tent peg into an enemy commander’s skull because “between her feet he knelt down, there he fell, wasted” (Judges 5:27).
The meat of the book, though, lies in Coogan’s discussion of what Scripture says about current hot-button issues. Almost all sexual transgressions involving women, from adultery to incest and rape, are treated as property crimes, because they usurp another male’s rights to a woman or diminish her financial value. Abortion is not mentioned, and the few references to fetuses are not clear about their status as human persons.
As for homosexuality, the last of the New Testament’s three condemnations (Romans 1:26-27) speaks of homoerotic relations as divinely imposed, a concept, Coogan notes, “not very far from the modern view that sexual orientation is innate,” not chosen. The Old Testament’s two explicit references are found with other instances of Israelite rejection of what scholars call “category confusion”: crossbreeding animals, planting different crops in the same field, wearing clothing woven from different kinds of yarn. Needless to say, these are prohibitions long ignored. And just as we no longer scan the Bible for agricultural advice, Coogan concludes, we ought to be at least as wary about its social policy prescriptions.
- BRIAN BETHUNE
By Jane Switzer - Thursday, August 12, 2010 at 1:20 PM - 0 Comments
Breaking through: Hackers posted neo-Nazi slogans on the Buchenwald camp’s website
On July 28, hackers attacked the Buchenwald concentration camp foundation and memorial website, and replaced it with neo-Nazi slogans and symbols. One English slogan read “Brown is beautiful,” referring to the colour of the shirts worn by Adolf Hitler’s SA storm troopers. The hackers also erased a list of Holocaust victims’ names from the website and replaced them with links to Holocaust denial websites. The website for another camp was also erased.
The Buchenwald foundation’s mandate is to preserve the camp in commemoration of the victims and promote knowledge through Holocaust research (an estimated 56,000 people were killed by the Nazis at Buchenwald). Police launched an investigation into the hacking, and both websites were restored the next day. The incident came just days after former Nazi death camp guard Samuel Kunz, 88, was charged with aiding in the murders of 430,000 Jews at Belzec during the Second World War. Kunz was indicted for crimes committed between January 1942 and July 1943, including shooting 10 people himself.
By Brian D. Johnson - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 at 11:20 AM - 4 Comments
The author of ‘The Reader’ discusses a theme that’s dominated his life: guilt about the past
Like most lawyer-authors, Bernhard Schlink, a prominent German jurist, began his writing career with what he knew: crime fiction. Not run-of-the-mill mysteries, mind you. His featured Gerhard Selb, a convinced Nazi prosecutor turned guilt-ridden, seventysomething private eye. And the pun in his protagonist’s name—selb means “self” in English—didn’t refer to Schlink himself, but the entire German nation. Then, in 1995, Schlink broke from type with The Reader, a literary novel that drew both acclaim and scathing criticism, for the same reason—his portrayal of a concentration camp guard with a human face—as well as an Oscar-winning film version in 2008. Now 65, and retired from the law, Schlink is still working through the themes that have dominated his working life—guilt, memory, reconciliation, the burden on succeeding generations—most recently in a series of lectures given at Oxford, now published in Guilt About the Past.
For Germans of his age, children of the wartime generation, writes Schlink, who was born July 6, 1944, two weeks before Claus von Stauffenberg narrowly missed killing Hitler with a suitcase bomb, the past has always been alive. Sixties rebellion was as rife in West Germany as elsewhere, but reaction to the Third Reich was at the heart of that generation’s rebellion against its parents. As more facts emerged about the war, young people confronted their parents, even those not personally guilty—like Schlink’s own father, removed by the Nazis from his post as a theology professor. Why didn’t you do something? was as potent a question about the war years as, What did you do?
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 2:20 PM - 83 Comments
Using, oddly enough, the same term he employed to question Michael Ignatieff’s decision to wish Brian Mulroney a happy birthday, the Prime Minister explains why no Canadian officials will be in the room when the Iranian president addresses the UN General Assembly.
“It is important that countries that have a moral compass stand up and make their views known. And our absence there will speak volumes about how Canada feels about the declarations of President Ahmadinejad,” Mr. Harper said…
“President Ahmadinejad has said things particularly about the state of Israel, the Jewish people and the Holocaust that are absolutely repugnant. It is unfitting that somebody like that would be giving those kinds of remarks before the United Nations General Assembly,” the Prime Minister said.
“Canada does not want to be equivocal at all in terms of our view on that. We find it disgraceful, unacceptable and we’re going to be absolutely clear on that.”
If, then, Britain and the United States, for instance, fail to walk out this afternoon, do their leaders lack a moral compass? Are they giving Mr. Ahmadinejad legitimacy?
There is, as well, the argument that the Iranian president’s remarks about the Holocaust are an elaborate dodge.
By Michael Petrou - Monday, May 25, 2009 at 3:31 PM - 6 Comments
Spiegel’s detailed and, to my mind, well crafted article about the role non-Germans played in the Holocaust is upsetting people in Poland and drawing heated response across Europe and around the world.
By Kate Lunau - Thursday, May 14, 2009 at 8:40 AM - 0 Comments
Poland hopes to shock criminals straight with visits to Auschwitz
Every year, thousands of people visit the Auschwitz concentration camp site in Poland to tour the grounds and pay their respects to the dead. This year, an unusual group will visit: Polish convicts, who will be attending a course on the history of Auschwitz and crimes committed there, museum officials confirmed to the Daily Telegraph. The program, which one prison official called “shock therapy,” is intended to teach criminals about the dangers of violence and oppression as part of their rehabilitation—yet, according to a Canadian expert, such programs rarely, if ever, work.
Irvin Waller is a professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa, and co-director of its Institute for the Prevention of Crime. The U.S., he notes, has tried similar tactics to deter at-risk youth from crime; one program, dubbed “Scared Straight,” saw young offenders taken to maximum security prisons, where inmates would relay the horrors of life in jail. In randomized controlled trials, Waller says, “these programs show no impact.” What does reduce recidivism “are programs that actually tackle the risk factors leading people to crime,” he says: education and mentorship programs, for example.