By Emma Teitel - Friday, November 9, 2012 - 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 Brian Bethune - Friday, September 21, 2012 at 11:13 AM - 0 Comments
During the Second World War, in a POW camp north of London, a conversation between two German prisoners was secretly recorded. One soldier was telling another about his more pleasant memories of the U.S.S.R. “It’s beautiful country [around there]. Everywhere we saw women doing compulsory labour service. They were employed on road making; extraordinarily lovely girls. We simply pulled them into the armoured car, raped them and threw them out again. Did they curse!”
The transcript of that conversation, which startles more by its casualness than by revealing anything new about the nature of war, is only a tiny fraction of the material German historian Sönke Neitzel stumbled upon in British and American archives after 2001. He eventually found, and analyzed with social psychologist Harald Welzer, 150,000 pages of covertly recorded conversations between German soldiers, sailors and airmen. The Allies had done the bugging in hopes of gaining military intelligence. Nothing much ever came of that, but the transcripts are now historical gold: an uncensored picture of how ordinary German soldiers thought, acted and justified themselves to their comrades. The records destroy the postwar German myth of the “clean” Wehrmacht, innocent (on the whole) of the crimes of the brutal SS.
The men talk about their wives and about rape, brothels and STDs, about the enemy and their own leaders, about combat and atrocities. They had little to say about Nazi obsessions, and while they thought some of their duties—such as murdering the Reich’s enemies en masse—were nasty jobs, they didn’t shirk them either. A pilot talked of how he hadn’t liked bombing Polish villages at first but soon thought, “Hell, orders are orders, and by the fourth day I was enjoying it. It became our before-breakfast amusement.” All he regretted was killing horses: “I’ll be sorry for them to the last day.” The authors’ conclusion after years immersed in material that both fascinated and appalled them? Socializing men to extreme violence isn’t difficult; when the highest command is dedicated to genocide, it’s dead easy.
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 Brian D. Johnson - Wednesday, February 8, 2012 at 3:48 PM - 0 Comments
I knew there was a reason Berlin Film Festival should not be missed. Apparently the hot ticket at the Berlinale is not Angelina Jolie’s Bosnia drama, The Land of Blood and Honey, or Werner Herzog’s Death Row documentary, Into the Abyss. It’s a B-movie called Iron Sky about a Nazi colony on the dark side of the moon that, after 70 years of regrouping, is staging a full-scale invasion of Earth.
The 7.5 million euro Finn-German-Australian co-production has been sold to 30 countries and is set to open in April. As the film’s PR folk deliver this breathless news, almost more hilarious than the movie’s premise is the earnest tone of the filmmakers in boasting about their kampf, er, struggle to get the damn thing made, as if it were some kind of populist triumph:
“It was extremely difficult to make a movie like this. Honestly, it’s amazing we ever finished the film,” says Timo Vuorensola, the director of Iron Sky. “The many hardships and all the trouble we went through to make an indie product like this was staggering, but we pulled it through.” Says producer Tero Kaukomaa: “The concept of Iron Sky is strong. . . We really believe it can compete against the big Hollywood blockbusters ten times our budget. We aim to give these giants a good run for their money, and show what power a community like ours really wields. We are encouraging our fans to grab the trailer and spread it through the Internet like it was the end of the world.” [italics mine]
So here’s your chance to contribute, and make the Iron Sky Nazi invasion go viral:
By Brian D. Johnson - Wednesday, May 18, 2011 at 11:19 AM - 8 Comments
Lars Von Trier sure knows how to generate publicity. At this morning’s press conference for his competition entry, Melancholia, he did his best to downplay the merits of the film, saying, “Maybe it’s crap. Of course, I hope not. But there is quite a big possibility that this is really not worth seeing.” He went on to joke about how his next project would be an epic hardcore porn movie with Melancholia stars Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg, who flanked him at the press conference and acted amused. After 20 minutes of this, I bolted to catch a repeat screening of Aki Kaurismaki’s Le Havre. I figured that Von Trier was pretty much done. But by the time I got out of Le Havre (which is a gem), there was outrage about Von Trier all over the Internet. However, it was not about anything he’d said when I was there. He had embarked on an incendiary tangent near the end of the press conference. He talked about discovering, to his regret, that he was not Jewish, then mused that he could find some sympathy for Hitler and concluded: “Ok, I’m a Nazi.”
Now, I wasn’t there, but I can only assume the Danish enfant terrible was as serious about this Nazi stuff as he was about making hard core porn with Kirsten Dunst. But you joke about Jews and Nazis at your peril; just ask Mel Gibson. Von Trier said, “I really wanted to be a Jew and then I found out I was really a Nazi, because my family was German, Hartmann, which also gave me some pleasure.” He went on:
“What can I say? I understand Hitler. I think he did some wrong things, yes absolutely, but I can see him sitting in his bunker in the end. . . I think I understand the man. He’s not what you would call a good guy, but I understand much about him and I sympathize with him a little bit. But come on, I’m not for the Second World War, and I’m not against Jews. . . I am of course very much for Jews. No, not too much because Israel is a pain in the ass. But still . . . how can I get out of this sentence? OK, I’m a Nazi.”
Apparently Dunst and Gainsbourg were no longer amused. But Von Trier couldn’t let go of it. When a journalist charitably tried to bring the discussion back to the movie, asking if he might direct something on a bigger scale, he said, “Yeah, we Nazis … have a tendency to try to do things on a greater scale. Maybe you could persuade me.” He then made a crack about the press conference being the “final solution with journalists.”
It’s a perverse a way to publicize his movie, a sensitive tragedy about the end of the world that could be accused of many things, but is probably the least controversial of Von Trier’s films. Maybe he was trying to make up for it.
Melancholia is the story of an ill-fated wedding that takes place in a vast seaside chateau surrounded by its own 18-hole golf course. Dunst plays the miserable bride, Gainsbourgh her sister, who is married to the wedding’s benefactor, a cold-blooded tycoon played by Keifer Sutherland. What looms over the entire story, however, is the approach a planet called Melancholia, which is on a lethal collision course with Eart. The film is preceded by an exquisite overture of super slow-mo, painterly images—from Dunst in a vast wedding dress, dragging herself across a golf green and sinking into it like quicksand, to an image of the bride floating like Ophelia.
To be sure, something is rotten in the state of this state of Denmark, but the malaise is cosmic. Continue…
By Brian Bethune - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
Philip Kerr’s private eye Bernie Gunther walks the mean streets of Nazi Berlin
There’s an obvious chicken-and-egg question that arises in an interview with British author Philip Kerr. A thorough pro, Kerr has penned stand-alone novels in various genres, including science fiction, and a first-rate preteen fantasy series (Children of the Lamp). But he’s best known for seven thought-provoking novels featuring German private eye Bernie Gunther. A note-perfect Berliner, from his alcohol consumption to his instinctive antipathy to authority, Bernie is both an everyman striving to maintain his humanity (and his life) in the Nazi and postwar eras, and the Teutonic reincarnation of Raymond Chandler’s PI, Philip Marlowe.
So which came first, noir or Nazis, an interest in hard-boiled detective stories or in the Third Reich? “Germany—I went there long ago,” the 55-year-old replies, “to do a post-grad degree in philosophy of German law. Really, just an excuse to read German philosophy. You know how Bernie hates lawyers? That’s because I hate lawyers.” Immersed in German history, Kerr—like so many writers before him—fell under Berlin’s spell. “Its role in the world wars and the Cold War, its cultural influence in the 1920s—Berlin is the ur-city of the 20th century.”
And the city’s inhabitants won him over too, partly because Berliners had, in Kerr’s opinion, the right enemies—any group loathed by Bismarck and Hitler couldn’t be all bad—and partly because of their black humour, which “sounds cruel if you don’t understand it,” Bernie once remarked, “and even crueller if you do.” Rather like the detective’s comment during his harrowing if brief stay in the Dachau concentration camp, where he met an inmate who was not only Jewish but homosexual and a Communist: “That made three triangles. His luck hadn’t so much run out as jumped on a f–king motorcycle.”
By Brian Bethune - Tuesday, April 5, 2011 at 10:31 AM - 0 Comments
Book by Deborah Lipstadt
The true trial of the 20th century unfolded in a Jerusalem theatre 50 years ago. Adolf Eichmann, a key figure in the Nazi genocide machine—the man who organized the trains that brought Jews to the death camps—had escaped to Argentina after the war. In 1960, located and kidnapped by Israeli agents, he was smuggled into Israel to answer for crimes against humanity. Historian Lipstadt, herself the defendant in a notable trial after Holocaust denier David Irving sued her for libel in 2000 (he was thoroughly routed in British High Court), does a masterful job of showing just how unprecedented the case was, and the way it set the template of how the Holocaust and its ramifications have since been viewed.
There was diplomatic outrage over Israel’s infringement of national sovereignty, and loud denial of its right to try Eichmann. Some diaspora Jews quarrelled with Israel’s claim to speak for all Jews. There was debate whether an Israeli court could render impartial justice in a Holocaust case, especially when one of the three presiding judges had already called Eichmann “Satan” in an earlier trial. There was trouble finding a defence lawyer, and even more trouble in finding someone willing to pay him; eventually the state of Israel had to assume the costs for the defence.
All those issues faded away as the voices of Holocaust survivors—90 out of 100 witnesses—began to be heard in a way they were not at Nuremberg. Survivors’ testimony took on what it still possesses now, Lipstadt writes, “an iconic, almost mystical authority.” None of the legal uncertainties helped Eichmann. Evidence of his guilt was overwhelming, and he admitted to his actions, claiming innocence on the grounds he was merely following orders. That was a defence of no avail in Nuremberg, and it didn’t work in Jerusalem. On May 31, 1962, Adolf Eichmann was hanged, the only civilian death sentence ever carried out in Israel.
By Erica Alini - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 at 12:00 PM - 22 Comments
Efforts to equate Nazi and Soviet atrocities open old wounds on both sides of the old Iron Curtain
A recent decision by the European Union has evoked the ghosts of horrors past. Last month, the European Commission rejected calls by countries in Eastern Europe to criminalize the denial of crimes perpetrated not only by Nazi but also Communist regimes, reviving a highly contentious debate over whether Soviet atrocities can be equated to the Holocaust. Lithuania, Latvia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and the Czech Republic argued that Soviet crimes “should be treated according to the same standards” as the Holocaust. But due to a lack of consensus, the proposal was rejected, though it remains under review.
The idea of a so-called “double genocide” law that links Nazi and Communist crimes concerns some Jewish commentators and Western countries. Critics paint Eastern Europe’s lobbying efforts as an attempt to rewrite history by focusing attention on its role as a victim of the Soviets rather than as a collaborator in the extermination of Jewish minorities during the Nazi occupation. Anti-Semitism, critics say, is alive and well in Eastern Europe. Lithuania, for instance, has shied away from trying some suspected Nazi war criminals, and waged a controversial campaign to investigate alleged crimes committed by Jewish partisans during the Second World War.
By Jane Switzer - Thursday, September 9, 2010 at 1:00 PM - 0 Comments
New DNA tests on his relatives reveal that Hitler may have had North African and Jewish ancestors
Saliva samples taken from Adolf Hitler’s relatives show that the Nazi leader may have biological links to Africans and Jews. Belgian journalist Jean-Paul Mulder and historian Marc Vermeeren tracked down 39 of Hitler’s relatives earlier this year, among them Hitler’s cousin, an Austrian farmer identified only as Norbert H., and grand-nephew Alexander Stuart-Houston, a social worker from Long Island, N.Y. Results of their DNA tests found a chromosome called Haplogroup E1b1b1, which is rare in Western Europe but most commonly found in the Berbers of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, as well as among Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, Mulder said. The chromosome appears to be one of the major founding lineages of the Jewish population, and accounts for 8.6 per cent to 30 per cent of Sephardic Y-chromosomes. Their results, published in the Belgian magazine Knack, conclude that Hitler “was related to people whom he despised,” Mulder wrote.
By Katie Engelhart - Tuesday, November 10, 2009 at 11:06 AM - 33 Comments
John Demjanjuk’s trial in Munich may mark the end of an era
It is being touted as the last great Nazi trial. In November, John Demjanjuk—now ﬁrst on the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s list of most-wanted war criminals—will appear before a Munich court. He is charged with 27,900 counts of accessory to murder for his role as a guard at the Sobibor death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. Demjanjuk is 89, and those in favour of prosecuting him feel a sense of urgency. “It’s a race against time,” says Michael Scharf, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University who has worked on the trials of Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic. “They’re trying to close the book on justice before [his] life ends naturally.”
For the most vehement advocates of prosecution, it has been an agonizing wait. Demjanjuk moved to the United States soon after the war, and was able to live quietly for 25 years before evidence of a darker past was unearthed. In the 1980s, he was brought to trial, but his conviction was later overturned on grounds that he had been mistakenly identiﬁed as “Ivan the Terrible,” a notorious sadist at Treblinka death camp in Poland. Only in 2000 was another investigation initiated; even then, nine more years passed until German ofﬁcials issued a warrant for his arrest. In May of this year—some 30 years after the process began—he was deported to Germany, where his trial will begin on Nov. 30. Continue…
By Katie Engelhart - Thursday, October 1, 2009 at 12:45 PM - 5 Comments
Garlasco has also written a book about Nazi-era medals
A Sept. 8 post on the pro-Israel blog Mere Rhetoric outed Marc Garlasco, a senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch (HRW), as an avid collector of Nazi memorabilia. The report, published by blogger Omri Ceren, accused Garlasco of being “Nazi-obsessed” and of holding “anti-Israeli biases.” HRW initially dismissed Ceren’s claims and threw its full support behind Garlasco, who has written articles critical of the Israel Defense Forces for the organization. But last Monday HRW suspended Garlasco without pay “pending an investigation.”
Garlasco is an avid collector of Third Reich articles. Mere Rhetoric quoted his zealous postings on collector sites, including, “The leather SS jacket makes my blood go cold it is so COOL!” According to Ceren, Garlasco operated online under the handle “Flak 88”—a reference to the 88mm German anti-aircraft gun, or perhaps the Nazi rallying cry “Heil Hitler” (H is the eighth letter of the alphabet). Garlasco has also written a 400-plus-page book about Nazi-era medals, titled The Flak Badges of the Luftwaffe and Heer. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Monday, December 15, 2008 at 9:00 AM - 11 Comments
But can a superstar with an American accent be believable as an officer of the Third Reich?
The last time I talked to Tom Cruise was seven years ago, when he breezed through Toronto on a publicity blitz for Vanilla Sky, a movie that flopped despite his best efforts. This week he was back in town to promote Valkyrie, another movie that needs all the help it can get. The blogosphere is already cackling over the trailer—which shows Cruise in a Nazi uniform and an eye patch declaring in a flatly American accent, “We have to kill Hitler.”
The movie, directed by Bryan Singer (X-Men, Superman Returns) is better than the trailer would suggest. It’s a fast-paced suspense thriller with a rip-roaring narrative—the true story of Col. Claus von Stauffenberg, who masterminds a high-level conspiracy among Nazi officers to assassinate Hitler in 1944. But despite the eye patch and amputated hand, it’s hard to get past the fact that you’re watching Tom Cruise. Among the cast, only those playing the most vile Nazis, such as Hitler, have German accents. Nearly all the other German officers are played by Brits—including Kenneth Branagh, Tom Wilkinson and Bill Nighy—speaking with British accents. Among the principals, only Cruise speaks American. And it’s distracting, as if Hollywood has found yet another way for America to win the war.