Mar 28, 2017
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Holocaust Films/Books V
by Doniphan Blair
Marlene Dietrich in gender-bending dress from 'Morocco' (1931), featuring Hollywood's first girl-on-girl smooch. photo courtesy Paramount
Another essential WWW force was embodied by film noir star, actress and singer Marlene "Master Matriarch" Dietrich. An international celebrity since Austrian-Jewish-American director Josef von Sternberg enshrined her as an upper AND lower class heartthrob in the German “Blue Angel” (1930), and six more goddess-worship films, notably the American "The Devil Is a Woman" (1935, a proper romance, scripted by author John Dos Passos), Dietrich has yet to be honored with a street name by her otherwise-liberal Berliner homies. They must fear her ghost's "schadenfreude," that unique German word for pleasure derived from the misfortune of others, since they failed so miserably resisting the Nazis, while she succeeded so spectacularly. In yet another mystical mirroring, Dietrich was the anti-Reifenstahl: born eight months apart and both remarkable female artists, they were divided by fiction and documentary, Jewish and Nazi sympathies, revered and reviled stardom. After becoming the lover of, and going to Hollywood with, the Jewish as well as married von Sternberg (a US citizen since he was 14), Dietrich rejected Hitler’s bended-knee plea to return and become not only his biggest star but the head of the ENTIRE film industry. (Goebbels made a similar offer to the half-Jew Lang, who raced home, packed and fled the very next day). The Allies' most popular pinup girl, Dietrich was a one-woman cheerleading squad and indefatigable entertainer, who toured the fronts and sometimes provided "private performances" for "her boys" before dangerous missions ("Wink, wink—talk about WWW!"). Appointed a US Army captain, she lived on that pittance salary the duration, despite getting security clearance and joining the CIA-precursing O.S.S. In addition to tapping her in-depth intelligence on the German male psyche, she contributed her husky voice to radio broadcasts designed to unnerve Germans, including an O.S.S.-produced "Lili Marleen” (1944, English AND German), which was a romantic powerhouse, despite or because being written from a male perspective. Of course, Dietrich was famous for her gender-bending: she delivered—decked out in a tuxedo—cinema's first girl-on-girl kiss in "Morocco" (1930).
Ironically, "Lili Marleen” started as a WWI poem before becoming a 1939 flop by German chanteuse Lale Andersen (1905-72), who was punished for befriending Swiss-Jewish composer Rolf Liebermann, while the song itself was banned for its "corpse smell," according to Goebbels, who promoted phony romantic illusions not the heart-felt, nostalgic variant. BUT when the Nazi's big radio station in Belgrade was bombed, destroying most of its records, "Lili Marleen” became so popular the DJs feared not the ban but wearing it out and limited play to once daily—the sign-off. So adored was the tune by Rommel's Afrika Korps, and so loud did they blast it across the desert, the Brits also became fans, fostering the oddity of a brief daily truce and the song becoming WWII’s biggest hit on BOTH sides, an icon of art and love over war: “Resting in our billet, just behind the line; even though we're parted, your lips are close to mine; you wait where that lantern softly gleamed, your sweet face seems to haunt my dreams; my Lili of the lamplight, my own Lili Marlene.”
Churchill's 'pinup' as the good gangster with trademark cigar and American 'Tommy Gun,' although his biggest gun was his mouth. photo courtesy British Museum
Aside from all that healing and love, as well as doing jobs left open when men joined the army, or typical male jobs—indeed, the start of WWII was scooped by veteran war correspondent Clare Hollingworth (1911-2017), who happened to notice a valley filled with tanks while touring eastern Germany, the Women's Way of War's big gun was encouragement. Imagine how hard WWII would have been for Churchill, Hitler’s NUMBER ONE adversary—from critiquing his Hebrew obsession to taking over government just before the Disaster at Dunkirk or his indefatigable orating, called “the only bright light in a very dark night”—if he didn’t chase away the “black dog of depression” biting him many mornings with smiles and coffee (not to mention a shot of brandy) delivered by his powerful wife, Clementine, or supportive daughter-in-law. An American, like Churchill's own mother, Pamela Churchill Harriman (1920-1997) was a good listener and carried on to "encourage" many other men (even during the war, even while married to Churchill's sometimes-estranged son, Randolph). Churchill had good reason to be depressed. His concerns had been disregarded in 1936, when Hitler re-militarized Germany's industrial western province, the Rhineland—an obvious harbinger of war, and again in 1938, when Prime Minister Neville “Peace in Our Time” Chamberlain signed away Czechoslovakia’s German-speaking region, also its main arms-producing area, making Munich, the city where he negotiated with Hitler, THE term of art for catastrophic appeasement. Two months later, in November, came the Holocaust's first overt attacks: “Krystalnacht” (Night of Broken Glass), when Nazi gangs smashed Jewish shops and synagogues, broke a BILLION 1938 dollars-worth of glass—which disrupted glass markets for years AND the Jewish community had to repay—and arrested and deported some 25,000 Jewish men. Still snail-like on the uptake, Chamberlain waited almost a year to dispatch diplomats to Russia—by boat—while German Foreign Minister Ribbentrop flew in by plane, cut a deal with counterpart Molotov, and kept the Soviets out of the war for two long years—all ONE week before Germany invaded Poland on September 1rst, 1939! In fact, they divied up Poland, with the Soviets seizing its eastern provinces and inflicting Nazi-like atrocities, notably the Katyn Massacre (April, 1940), where their secret police slaughtered some 22,000 Polish military officers, the largest captive-officer killings in all of recorded history. The Soviets wouldn't fare that well, however, after the Nazi's next step in their march to the East.
Yes, understanding WWII's Jewish and WWW aspects are crucial. But, in a carnival of crime which killed 60 million—according to recent estimates (used to be “only” 55), the murder of ten percent has to be considered secondary. Indeed, the overall culture and politics preceding the war and the strategies and maneuvers during it have to be unraveled first simply to not to fall prey to Santayana’s Repetition Paradigm immediately following WWII in the potentially more lethal Cold War. To put WWII in perspective, by my lights, the three obligatory masterworks start with "The Origins of Totalitarianism" (1951) by Hannah “Banality of Evil” Arendt (1906-75), who began writing while the war was raging. Arendt traces Europe’s descent into self-destruction from its earliest anti-Semitic parties (1810s) to the Dreyfus Affair (1890s), European imperialism and the rise of the communist, Nazi and Fascist parties (1917, '20 and '21, respectively), which she sees as metastasizing movements not functional political organizations. Following Arendt's monumental "Origins" by nine years is Shirer's sweeping and Gibbon-like "Rise and Fall of the Third Reich", with Barbara Tuchman’s “The Guns of August” coming shortly thereafter (1962). If the two world wars were actually one long conflagration, separated by a 21-year truce (as is the consensus among historians), the big question is: How was a half-century of European peace, prosperity and passport-less borders so easily shattered by a Serb nationalist assassinating the Austro-Hungarian heir-apparent? Indeed, if that historical conundrum has ever kept you up at night, Tuchman’s excellently researched and eminently readable book is for you. If it hasn't, here's a Cliff Notes version:
In 1914, the largely-Protestant Germany was allied with the Catholic Austro-Hungarian Empire against the rebellious Serbs, who were backed by their cousins, the similarly-Slavic and Orthodox Christian but also much, much, MUCH more numerous Russians. Once war appeared inevitable, to keep the 50 year-old Empire from coming apart at the seams, the German high command hoped to get the jump on Russia’s two-month troop mobilization schedule by quickly trouncing its ally, France, with its one month call-up, and then racing their armies east on their extensive, well-run railroads. Although this sounds tricky, the generals were confident, having made short shrift of their Frankish cousins in the previous conflict, the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), capturing Napoleon III in six weeks and Paris in six month. Indeed, there was no reason to think their better equipment and discipline, not to mention bigger population, couldn't affect victory again—ditto with the Russians, minus the numerical advantage. Unfortunately, all that racing around precluded the precious time needed to think strategically about anything longer than the short war all parties assumed it would be, let alone to negotiate. “Guns” features great bon mots, like “the greater the terror, the more terror seemed to be necessary,” to explain the German policy to deter guerrilla attacks in captured French towns. First they took three officials hostage, but that soon escalated to ten officials, then ten citizens from EVERY street and, finally, one person from EVERY house—graphically illustrating a martial society's proclivity to err on the side of violence. Then there's the rich remark by General Moltke "the Younger" (nephew of the storied General Moltke from the Franco-Prussian War) to Kaiser Wilhelm II, eldest grandchild of England’s Queen Victoria and an exemplar of the inbred old order about to go up in infernos, although the English monarchy, as well as Dutch, Danish and others—just NOT the German—would survive. Moltke said something like: Stop worrying Willy! It doesn’t matter which side Italy comes in on. If against us, we’ll need ten divisions to take her out; if with us, ten to prop her up!
Shirer's detailed dissection of Western Civilization's major misstep, all 1483 pages, in its bestselling, $10, unabridged and 1967 paperback glory. photo: D. Blair
William Shirer (1903-1993) left paradise, living with new wife on a Portuguese beach, next door to world-famous guitarist Andrés Segovia, to take a job in hell, the Nazi capital of Berlin, where he reported for a year-and-a-half, until Pearl Harbor (Dec 7, 1941) and Germany's gratuitous declaration of war on the US. In addition to dramatically diagraming Hitler’s origins, the Nazi takeover of Germany and the war’s myriad major battles, "Rise and Fall" looks at the European Theater’s four other principals, Churchill, Roosevelt and, to a lesser degree, Stalin and Mussolini, personalizing what can seem like a massive, troop movement story, and propelling the reader through its nearly 1,500 pages. Nothing equals Shirer’s art photography—as opposed to snap shots—of history: “[I was] standing in the Wilhelmstrasse [in Berlin] before the [German] Chancellery about noon when the loudspeakers suddenly announced that Great Britain had declared herself at war with Germany. Some 250 people—no more—were standing there in the sun. They listened attentively to the announcement. When it was finished there was not a murmur. They just stood there. Stunned. It was difficult for them to comprehend that Hitler had led them into [another] world war.” While WWI was welcomed by cheering crowds and recruitment parades in Berlin, Vienna and Paris (see Celine’s hilarious opening chapter in “Journey to the End of the Night”), there was nothing of the sort the second time around, a mere 25 years later.
At that very moment, in fact, the Polish cavalry was being crushed—sometimes literally—by German Panzer tanks, the sharp shapes of which will remain, along with the Auschwitz gate marked "Arbeit Macht Frei" ("work sets you free"), an eternal icon of petrification and doom. A week later, ridiculously romantic Polish kids filled the roads, flocking to Warsaw for a last-ditch defense, where they were mowed down by strafing and dive-bombing Luftwaffe; Marisa, a gentile friend of my mother, went and returned uninjured but covered by little more than a blanket riddled with bullet holes. Poland was textbook “blitzkrieg” (lightning war), another Clausewitzian concept—instead of dragging out a war by maneuvering around the edges, the utmost force is applied immediately, center stage, compelling the loser to negotiate terms and thereby saving lives, in theory, since the more powerful party would eventually win anyway—perfected by the Nazis, if without Clausewitz's moral niceties. The thing is: such total war logic only works in a shared-values setting like Old Europe, not the end of civilization itself, and only returned to functionality during the Cold War's "mutually assured destruction," oddly enough. The Germans mopped up Poland in four weeks FLAT—like the country's terrain itself, which gives tanks an unstoppable advantage. Seven months later (May 9th, 1940), those now-crack armored divisions came crashing through foolishly-neutral Belgium, completely circumventing France’s extensive defensive fort system, the vaunted Maginot Line, almost exactly as the Germans had in WWI (“Forgot Santayana’s Repetition Paradigm, did you…”), if in inverse order (they went east first, the second time). Within a month, the 150,000-man British Expeditionary Force, sent to re-enforce France (another WWI repeat), was utterly eviscerated at the northern French city of Dunkirk, where only the extra-human efforts of English fishermen and yachters saved some 85% of the army. Hitler blinked and failed to bring his Panzers in for the kill, perhaps because staring him down across the English Channel, now in command of the Empire's ENTIRE armed forces, was Winston "Warrior Poet" Churchill.
Whatever shortcomings Churchill may have had—as an adventurer eager for a fight, as a gambler living above his means, as a militarist making hard choices injuring entire peoples, as the occasionally infantile patriarch of a dysfunctional family, he was brilliant and creative. Not only was he a great author, in oratory, journalism and books, but a Sunday painter (like Roosevelt, coincidentally) and a curious traveller, who bummed around Morocco in the '30s, during his "wilderness years" out of government. All of this, in combination with his soldiering in the Second Boer War (1899-1902, South Africa) and the Mahdist War (1881-99, against messianic Sudanese Muslims), informed his often equal parts balanced AND visionary politics and maneuvering. In contrast to claims otherwise, Churchill was also philo-Semitic: his father had many Jewish friends, unusual for an aristocrat, as did he; in the course of his voracious reading, he concluded Jews were early and ongoing progenitors of civilization; and he generally supported them and a Jewish homeland, while rebuking anti-Semitism, including in his own family and during the Wales Riots of 1911. When assigned to interview Hitler in the early '30s, he announced so many times that his first question would be something like, Mr. Hitler what is it with you and the Jews?, that Hitler cancelled.
The Polish cavalry to the rescue the first day of WWII at the Battle of Mokra, one of their few victories. photo courtesy Polish National Museum
Lingering doubts about Churchill were finally put to rest by two books, arriving almost simultaneously in 2007: Michael Makovsky's "Churchill’s Promised Land: Zionism and Statecraft" and "Churchill and the Jews: A Lifelong Friendship", by his official biographer, Martin Gilbert (also author of “The Holocaust”, 1985, an important but not critical addition to the oeuvre), and both building on Michael J. Cohen's groundbreaking "Churchill and the Jews" (1985). An excellent review of all three by Daniel Mandel can be found on the Jerusalem Center for Foreign Affairs site (2009), but to summarize Mandel's summary:
"[In the start of] his parliamentary career, Churchill... attacked the Conservative government of Arthur James, Lord Balfour, for... severely curtailing the immigration into Britain of Jews... He took a general, sympathetic interest in the Jewish National Home policy... A 1921 visit to Palestine... affirming [that]... Churchill resisted Arab pressures to scale back Jewish immigration, but accepted the advice of T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia, one of his closest advisers at this time) to excise Transjordan [now Jordan] from the Palestine mandate [established by the 1917 Balfour Agreement]... [This] secured the otherwise waning British commitment to Zionism and set the groundwork for the lengthy period of Jewish immigration that would one day enable a Jewish state... [After] the 1937 Peel Royal Commission Report... [which] recommended establishing a [much smaller] Jewish state encompassing less than 20 percent of [the Palestine Mandate]... Churchill, still out of government, opposed partition... [H]e favored, for all its imperfections, the continuance of British rule until Britain was in a stronger international position, at which time it might discharge its Balfour obligations... Britain lacked the power to stand up to both the Arabs and Italians in the Mediterranean, and that partition would simply drive the Arabs into Axis arms... he also called for the arrest of the mufti of Jerusalem... All three authors note that Churchill himself had called... for some restrictions on Jewish immigration... [but] sought to ease pressure on Zionism and Britain by a calculated act of limited appeasement, aimed at quelling Arab animosity on the eve of a looming world war... The Chamberlain government rejected this proposed policy and instead promulgated a White Paper (19 May 1939) which planned not only to curtail Jewish entry to Palestine much more drastically... but also to foreclose on its continuation in five years... and to create a majority Arab state in ten, thus aborting all prospects of Jewish statehood... All three authors provide abundant examples of Churchill’s disgust and frequent clashes with British officials, whom he often held to be anti-Semites using dubious strategic and spurious anti-Zionist arguments to dignify their hostility and indifference to Jewry... [While he didn't oppose it outright, he] sought to have the White Paper rendered merely the caretaker, not fixed policy... Churchill frequently intervened to ease the escape of Jewish refugees from Europe and to allow those reaching Palestine to stay... As first lord of the admiralty (1939-40), Churchill instructed Royal Navy vessels not to intercept ships suspected of bringing illegal Jewish immigrants to Palestine... In February 1942 Churchill argued successfully... to release from internment approximately eight hundred Jewish refugees... In April 1943 Churchill leaned heavily on the Spanish ambassador to have the Franco regime reopen its border to Jewish refugees... Churchill was also fighting hostility and inertia within the British military establishment to create a Jewish fighting force to fight under its own Zionist flag against the Nazis. He finally succeeded," although the result of all of his Judeophilic efforts, Mandel admits, "were relatively meager."
The only conceivable candidate for wartime prime ministership, Churchill was summoned hastily three weeks before the Debacle at Dunkirk to be sworn in to Parliament: England's last hope to save the nation, not to mention civilization or European Jewry. When the ousted prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, died five months later, no known cause save a broken heart, Churchill eloquently eulogized his old adversary, noting he died a secular saint and believer in peace—as naive as that obviously was. (Churchill did not attend Roosevelt's funeral, evidently still aggrieved over England having to carry so much water during the war, while being treated shabbily, or so he thought.) Curiously, there've been only a half-a-dozen TV movies, and no big pictures focusing on Chamberlain and Churchill at the center of that supra-historical vortex. Yes, the BBC's "Gathering Storm" (2002), with the excellent Albert Finney and Venessa Redgrave, as Churchill and his wife, portrays a nice mix of the Woman's Way of War and the political machinations but couldn’t Anthony Hopkins do for Churchill what he did for Oliver Stone’s “Nixon” (1995)? Or is the actual history so dramatic and etched in our DNA there’s simply no point trying?
Brilliant as well as cute, in that Jewish sort of way, Hannah Arendt was beguiled by the philosopher and Nazi Martin Heidegger before writing two great books on Nazism. photo: Hannah Arendt Center
Like Shirer and Dietrich, Hannah Arendt was well-positioned on the ground, not to mention her back, to study the German male psyche, having been the student lover of the married professor and eventual Nazi, Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), Germany’s best-known modern philosopher—except for the more visionary Fridrich Nietzsche, whose language, if not full spectrum of ideas, was purloined and perverted by Hitler. The affair earned her approbation from Jews and Nazis alike—one thing they agreed on, ironically, although, in fact, it was a typical Cabaret Era, mixed-race love fest: Heidegger was the teacher's pet of the German-Jewish philosopher Edmund Husserl (1859-1938), from whom he took over the University of Freiburg philosophy chair; a close mutual friend was the Swiss philosopher, Karl Jaspers (married to a Jewess), for whom Arendt did her doctoral thesis on the Christian theologian St. Augustine; and they were all supposedly inspired by Augustine's ideals of grace, brotherhood and romantic love. Arendt’s earlier, arguably more interesting, master’s thesis was on Rahel Varnhagen (née Levin, 1771-1833), one of the many Jewish women leading the very popular and activist cultural salons which emerged in the early 19th century across Romantic Era Europe. Varnhagen desperately wanted to convert and consign her love, as well as famous charm and wit, to a man of the Gothic tribe, only finally doing so after various rejections, age 43, with biographer Karl August Varnhagen. Arendt called Varnhagen, "my very closest woman friend, unfortunately dead a hundred years now."
While Heidegger’s brilliant, if almost unreadable, “Being and Time” (1927) starts with Aristotle and extends to modern anxieties, notably about death, it aligns with pre-industrial sensibilities, nationalism and military machismo (despite his desk job during WWI), putting him in the Nazi camp, as it were, though he supposedly stopped some anti-Semitic excesses at Freiburg University, which he ran for one year (1934). Regardless, Heidegger rejected his father-figure, the Jewish Husserl, answered the "Nazi Question" out of both sides of his mouth—once even insisting Hitler was a pure manifestation of the human freedom of which his philosophy spoke, maintained his party membership until the Gotterdamerung, turned out to be a big believer in Jewish conspiracies and other racist idiocies (ignominiously revealed in his "The Black Notebooks", finally published in English in 2014) and never ONCE squeezed out a single word of penance. Nonetheless, he did remain preternaturally obsessed with Ms. Arendt.
Paradoxically, Heidegger’s dense ideations were popularized by the premier French philosopher, socialist and defender of the oppressed, Jean-Paul “Mr. Existentialism” Sartre (1905-80), who, even more oddly, read “Being and Time” during nine months internment in a German POW camp. After his prisoner exchange, Sartre supposedly joined the French resistance, perhaps even its storied rural wing, the Maquis, which valiantly fought the Nazis and the Vichy collaborators governing Southern France. Although Charles de Gaulle, leader of the Free France movement in London and later the country's president, endlessly lauded the resistance's redemption of France from full humiliation, its estimated 200,000 men and women under arms were later revealed to be orders of magnitude smaller. Moreover, their most prominent fighters included many Jews, often Eastern-European refugees, notably the Jewish Partisan Unit of Paris, and another around Toulouse, formed after their rejection by other partisans. In the history of Holocaust/Nazi films/books, a single release has only a few times affected an Art War atomic bomb: one was the 1978 mini-series, “The Holocaust”, another 1969's “The Sorrow and the Pity”, a four-hour documentary by Marcel Ophuls. Ophuls’ father, Max, was yet another prolific German-Jewish director, who escaped the Nazis and worked internationally and in America, 1946-49. He made four Hollywood films, notably the low-key and romantic but precise noir, “Caught" (1949), about a women trapped between a manipulative millionaire and a decent doctor, while allowing Marcel to attend the legendary Hollywood High School. Opening up French identity like a tin can, "Sorrow”'s incisive first half centers on a Jewish resistance leader and its second on a French SS man who fought on the Russian front with the 7,000 strong, French Charlemagne Division (arrested after the war, he was pardoned in 1948). Since there were also volunteers from Denmark to Romania fighting for the SS, "Sorrow" came to be of continent-wide consequence, triggering a cascade of exposés, including one involving Jewish collaborators, which only came to full light in the 1990s.
Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Bay Area queer girls who took Paris by storm, in their country estate before the war and moving to Southern France, where they lived openly the duration. photo courtesy of Cecil Beaton Archives
As it happened, two of France’s most famous Jews, as well as MOST famous lesbians, Oaklander Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) and San Franciscan Alice B. Toklas (1877-1967) were BFFs with a French scholar of American history, the academic wunderkind and author, Bernard Faÿ. Toklas called Faÿ Stein’s “dearest friend during her life,” given he became her intellectual partner in the 1930s, collaborating on books, careers conquests and an activist, if conservative, view of history. As it doubly happened, Faÿ, who came to head France's National Library, became a Gestapo agent. Bizarrely, not only did Stein and Toklas not flee Nazi-occupied Europe, or even France ("I'm fussy about my food," she explained), save for a trip to Switzerland to sell a Cezanne for living expenses, they collaborated. While Vichy and Nazi troops were hunting down France's 350,000 Jews, 73,000 of whom died in camps (mostly Auschwitz), Stein wrote Vichy propaganda and translated into English the speeches of its chief, Marshal Petain, whom she likened to Washington. The Freemason-obsessed Faÿ protected both their Paris apartment and its famous art collection, which the Nazis would have happily looted despite its "decadence," not to mention the women themselves in the South of France, where they lived openly, above ground. Yet another mixed-race love fest—Faÿ also happened to be Catholic and gay, the story is begging for a sophisticated cinema investigation befitting the art queen Stein certainly was for 1920s Paris. The last of the titanic Jewish women saloniers to reign over Europe's Romantic Era, Stein nurtured French painting AND American literature—Picasso and Hemingway, among many others—while becoming an important avant-garde author herself. Indeed, she earned a Time magazine cover and US tour after the success of her "The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas" (which she wrote, 1932, and which became famous among the hippies for Alice's hash brownies recipe) and her Broadway opera ("Four Saints in Three Acts", 1934), with music by Virgil Thomson, her disciple as well as an important innovator of the "American Sound" in classical music. Despite her sexuality and heritage, Stein was quite conservative (hated Roosevelt and socialism; revered the 18th century), somewhat anti-Semitic (her 1936 "Money" blamed Jews; her pet name for Alice was "my little Jew"), and manor-born (back when Oakland was full of large Victorian single-family homes). Still, she saw herself as—and certainly was—a genius, in many fields, albeit just not humanitarism and political science. Perhaps Stein's striking, punctuation-less and inner-folding phrases, like "A rose is a rose is a rose," or "There is no there, there" (in reference to Oakland, but only that her family had moved out of town), allowed her to explain herself to herself to herself, as it were, if not most of her old friends, many of whom were shocked, if not devastated, by her totalitarian turn. Faÿ was sentenced to life, despite Stein's elevated character recommendation, but escaped to Switzerland and was eventually pardoned. Her wartime activities unknown, Stein was revered as the great artistic mother/survivor by Americans flooding Paris post-war and even starred in a newsreel about her and some hipster GIs touring the ruins of Germany, although she succumbed to stomach cancer shortly thereafter. The heartbroken Toklas lived until 1967 in penury, after being snookered out of her extensive art collection by Stein's relatives, although she was comforted and assisted by Faÿ, who also facilitated her conversion to Catholicism—a complex, confusing denouement to one of the 20th century's most avant and artistic menage-a-trois.
Unlike his rival, the handsome, dashing Albert Camus (1913-60), Sartre exaggerated his resistance activities—surprise, surprise, the short, wall-eyed thinker was not a street brawler. Still, he did spend the second half of the war very hard at work, writing and getting his books past Nazi censors, including his monumental Heidegger-deciphering, “Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology”, published right in the middle of the war (1943), amazingly enough. Only a bit more readable than his mentor's “Being and Time”, it formed the foundation of French Existentialism, along with Camus’s “The Plague” (1947), “The Second Sex” (1949), the seminal feminist text by Simone De Beauvoir (Sartre's girlfriend), and, of course, Kafka. Moreover, as V-Day arrived and Paris erupted into festivities, Sartre kept at his typewriter, penning a precise contribution to our understanding of that ancient hatred so intertwined with the European ontology, or nature of being, “The Anti-Semite and Jew” (1946). In sentences simple enough for uneducated readers to understand, Sartre lays out how racism metamorphosizes the average Jew into an imaginary master of cosmopolitanism and banking, nothing less than a mystical mirroring of the anti-Semites' supposedly more earthy and native ontology. Such sublimation allows haters to froth freely at the mouth without opening their eyes to more obvious power structures: the ancien regime, in general, and their own fathers, in particular. “Anti-Semitism is a problem that affects us all directly,” Sartre concludes, “we are all bound to the Jew because anti-Semitism leads straight to Nationalist Socialism. And if we don’t respect the person of the Israelite, who will respect us?”
The existentialist super-couple, despite endless infidelities, the tall Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre in the romantic Rio de Janeiro, 1960. photo courtesy JP Sartre Archives
This was a critical philosophical addendum to Heidegger's silence, although Sartre's noble conclusion was nothing new, having been elucidated most famously by the German-Protestant pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) in his oft-quoted: “[After coming for various groups] they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me." Actually, Niemöller started as a Nazi supporter, who met with Hitler in the ‘30s and was mollified by his “promise” that there would be no ghettos or pogroms in his final solution of the Jewish Question. Nevertheless, his conscience nagged and, overcoming preconceived prejudices, Niemöller began lodging protests in 1936. Soon arrested and incarcerated in Sachsenhausen and then Dachau, he survived by sheer luck, mutual assistance and the moral rectitude which Anus Mundi provided in spades. I am better off inside, speculates Dr. Kogon, in "The Theory and Practice of Hell", than having to deal with the catastrophic moral failure of freedom and seeing such atrocities from afar, given the many satellite camps surrounding most lagers, with inmates marching to and fro daily, which made ignoring them impossible. Immediately after the war, Niemöller initiated the stunning "Stuttgart Declaration of Guilt" (1945), "[t]hrough us infinite wrong was brought over many peoples... we accuse ourselves for not standing to [sic] our beliefs more courageously," the first of many acts of penance by German pastors. Another was erecting a youth hostel near Auschwitz where German teens could learn what happened and do preservation work, and which remains available today for similar reconciliation efforts as well as nice, reasonably-priced rooms.
While Sartre was composing his seminal texts in occupied Paris, Hannah Arendt was across the ocean in the trenches of her own magnum opus, “Origins”. After fleeing Germany in 1934, she came to Paris, where she worked with Zionists and helped Jews seeking refuge in the US and Palestine, until her arrest in 1940 and incarceration in the French internment camp at Gurs, along with her second husband, the gentile German poet and Marxist Heinrich Blücher. Amazingly, they escaped Gurs, narrowly dodged arrest in Marseille and reunited with her mother, whom she had gotten out of Germany. Crossing the Pyrenees to Portugal, using forged US visas issued by Hiram Bingham, an American diplomat in Paris, who helped some 2,500 Jews flee Europe, they sailed from Lisbon in May, 1941. Along that escape route, they encountered the philosopher Walter Benjamin (cousin of Arendt's first husband) and took some of his manuscripts for safe keeping, a prescient choice, since he was stopped at the border and, at a loss to assimilate world events, killed himself. They settled into New York's Upper West Side, near Columbia University, Blücher both encouraging Arendt and becoming her one-man crack research team, laboring mightily in New York's main public library (he went on to help found the ultra-liberal Bard College in upstate New York). Despite their deep, mind-body romance, when Arendt returned to Europe five years after V-Day, she headed straight for Heidegger, who remained romantically obsessed, if not intellectually engaged. Over 60 and having just completed his de-Nazification (rated the lowest level, he was not punished), Heidegger jogged through the streets of Freiburg, flowers in hand, to welcome home his beloved Hannah. Arendt’s enumerable twists and turns are lovingly and loquaciously laid out in Elisabeth Young-Bruehl’s “Hannah Arendt: For Love of the World” (1982) but she doesn’t probe quite far enough, like: Did they have sex the second time around? In fact, “The Arendt-Heidegger Affair”, a fecund farrago of philosophy, fornication, Nazism and Judaism, is the as-yet-unmade, cinematic cornerstone of the Shoah oeuvre, where almost every intellectual aspect of that tragic Gordian Knot could be unraveled in conversation, not contrived plot nor, god forbid, philosophical exposition. What could possibly match its thrilling climax, when Hannah and Martin's post-war philosophical gabfest is rudely interrupted by his Nazi Youth wife (and mother of his two sons), who storms into the café and drags him away by the ear before half the town while he blows kisses to “that Jewish whore”? Unfortunately, such a script would require deep knowledge of WWW, which few go in for, as well Heidegger’s AND Arendt’s ideas.
Shirer, for his part, barely mentions the Third Reich's third front, the Jews, while both he and Arendt avoid Jewish resistance and rebellions. This indicates not so much anti-Semitism or self-hatred, as some have said, but early investigators who didn’t want to postpone publication or muddy already-monumental theses and tomes—a whopping 1483 and an extremely dense 479 pages, respectively—before the research was in. Indeed, Arendt's "Origins" did an excellent job of dissecting how Nazism came to be and her "Eichmann in Jerusalem" (1961) nailed its final result: Nazi thinking, such as it was. Eichmann was tried in Israel in 1961, after its agents located him in, and kidnapped him from, Argentina, "illegally" drugging and secreting him through Buenos Aires customs to an Israeli plane—see any number of action-packed films on the subject. In fact, the Eichmann Trial finally brought the Holocaust’s disgusting details into full public view, both on the new medium of television and in Arendt's book, first published as FIVE installments in the New Yorker, which had featured little by or about Jews until then, making the respected, if WASPish, magazine not a little anti-Semitic.
(lft) Hannah Arendt (late '60s), whose books exposed Nazism's heritage and architects; (rt) her lover, the philosopher and Nazi, Martin Heidegger, and wife, Elfride, 1960. photos courtesy H. Arendt Center/M. Heidegger Archives
Alas, Arendt’s analysis, trumpeted by her subtitle, "A Report on the Banality of Evil," portrayed Eichmann as a simpleminded bureaucrat barely able to think, let alone outside his assigned box, and not a premeditated monster, which, most people assumed, would be obligatory to affect such egregious atrocities. While her Eichmann description was contradicted by subsequent study, which indicated that he was, in fact, a zoological anti-Semite and devout Nazi, her Banality of Evil thesis did apply rather precisely to tens of thousands of other functionaries who were not particularly Hebrew-hating but pencil-pushed the Nazi murder machine into the genocidal stratosphere. Interestingly, László Nemes's short, "With a Little Patience", where he developed much of "Son of Saul"'s style, concerned just such an office worker, an oblivious young woman, engaged in an office romance while "just doing her job," and Hirschbiegel's masterpiece "Downfall" another. That narrative film begins AND ends with candid and revealing documentary footage of one of Hitler's secretaries. Even more injurious to Arendt's reputation, however, was her very valid critique of the Judenrat—the Nazi-installed, Jewish administrators of the ghettos, who managed the brutal Jewish police, followed German deportation orders and kept exact records, all of which facilitated the enactment of genocide—and, by extension, upper-class Jews in general. Wealthy German-Jews certainly knew a lot, or heard troubling rumors, but barely reported on, let alone investigated, the Nazi threat, nor informed neighboring Jewish communities. Ironically, and au contraire conspiracist claims about world control, the Jews were largely unorganized, with almost non-existent defense, intelligence gathering or clandestine communication apparatus. Powerful American Jews, like NY Times publisher Sulzberger, feared inflaming anti-Semitism and barely lobbied for more aggressive action, even though one of their own, Henry Morgenthau, was Secretary of the Treasury and Roosevelt’s “Jewish friend.” (Morgenthau did little but lead a commission recommending Germany be returned to a pre-industrial state—also disregarded by Roosevelt.) Although there are only a few fiery sentences in Arendt's “Eichmann”, they garnered her approbation for blaming the victim, and, when she refused to retract or temper them, they combined with sleeping-with-the-enemy accusations to earn her excommunication, Spinoza-like, from New York’s powerful Jewish community. That sad story, as well as Arendt’s friendships with New York intellectuals, notably novelist, Vassar graduate and wild girl Mary McCarthy (1912-1989)—who could have easily written "The Arendt-Heidegger Affair” considering her sex-saturated and intellectual bestseller "The Group" (1963)—is evoked in the excellent and nuanced European co-production, “Hannah Arendt" (2012) by the notable German director Margarethe von Trotta.
Once we have WWII’s historical context in hand, we can return with confidence to Holocaust history, which only started appearing in the early '60s. On top of Arendt’s seminal “Origins”, the paragon of philosophical overview, there are three noteworthy volumes (plus Nora Levin’s “The Holocaust”, 1968, also good but covering similar material). In ascending order of importance: Lucy Dawidowicz’s “The War Against the Jews” (1975), Gilbert's aforementioned “The Holocaust”, and Raul Hilberg’s groundbreaking—literally, 1,273 pages as well as first to market—“The Destruction of the European Jews” (1961). The latter features lots of Nazi documents and smoking guns, crazy-making for Holocaust deniers, if they were to ever crack a book of actual research (conversely, "Shoah" director Lanzmann blackened his copy with prodigious notes). While the first two historians were New York and London Jews, respectively, Hilberg (1926-2007) was Viennese and endured the devil in the flesh. After the Anschluss, he and his family were evicted at gunpoint while his father was arrested, albeit eventually released in consideration of his WWI army service, an early courtesy indulged by the Nazis to avoid offending fair-minded veterans. The Hilbergs fled to France and Cuba, finally settling in Brooklyn.
Austrian-Jewish-American historian Raul Hilberg endured the Nazis as a youth, wrote the first big book documenting the Holocaust and remains a thorn in the side of deniers. photo courtesy R. Hilberg
Although the Holocaust research in these four books was essential in its day and remains adequate to excellent, even visionary (in the case of Arendt and Hilberg), there are a few controversies and gaping holes: Arendt and Hilberg ignored Jewish resistance while attacking each other—notoriously cantankerous, he claimed her second book plagiarized him—although they agreed on Judenrat complicity; Hilberg dissed Dawidowicz for secondary sources while insisting he was researching Nazism not the destruction of the Jews—his title not withstanding; Gilbert seemed to be addressing the lower-brow reader; and they ALL have entirely inadequate first chapters. To set the stage on how the Holocaust came to pass, all four open around 1800, except for Martin who allocates a single page to the entire Middle Ages, including an insightful Martin Luther quote. After an early Isrealite infatuation, the founding father of Protestantism and devotee of the loving Christ hit upon that peculiar German problem-solver: Genocide the Jews! Why? Because they “extorted usuriously,” a telling phrase: usury means moneylending at high interest. Sure, the 19th century was when Jews were finally allowed to move out of medieval ghettos, seek normal employ and start educating and advancing themselves, eventually becoming musicians, lawyers, entrepreneurs and journalists, as well as the traditional doctors and bankers or, for the women, salon leaders, spouses of respected gentiles or powerful matriarchs devoted to bettering their families and menfolk (until the arrival of women's lib in the 20th century). A few Jews even achieved celebrity status: "the first Jewish genius to escape the ghetto," German philosopher Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786); the revered German poet Heine; the world-famous German-English economist Marx; the adored French actress Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923); and the two-term English prime minister Benjamin Disraeli (1804-81), who some considered Queen Victoria's secret lover after he "gave" her India on her birthday in 1876. All were considered Jews, despite their own or their father’s conversions, except for Mendelssohn and Bernhardt, who did not convert. The notorious multinational banking family, the Rothschilds, also remained proudly Jewish, providing the English Parliament its first actual Jew, Lionel de Rothschild, after Disraeli legalized non-Christians in 1858 (there had been a few converted Jews prior, including the mercurial Lord George Gordon, who converted TO Judaism after leaving government). Arendt excoriates them for NOT exercising their power adequately.
Either way, Arendt’s, Hilberg’s, Dawidowicz’s and Gilbert’s slim historical contexts—Levin dispenses with such pretenses altogether to start in 1941—are woefully inadequate in light of the immense and intimate involvement of Jews in the entirety of European history: physically from late-Roman times and philosophically since the 12 Apostles of Christ (all Jews, not to mention the main man himself) or the Old Testament, a contribution to Western Civilization that can hardly be overstated. Indeed, Hebrew monotheism's overarching, romantic and moral conceptualization of the universe as a unified and progressive entity proved much more durable than Greek philosophy, literature or science, despite its immense import as our civilization's second major influence. By the fifth century AD, the Greeks had converted to Christianity and abandoned their classical forbearers, whose prodigious efforts were only preserved for posterity by Muslim scholars, ironically, who studied and expanded Greek philosophy and science (if not literature and art), three centuries later. In fact, starting a history of the Holocaust in the 19th century de facto dodges the burning question still on many people’s minds, Jews and gentiles alike:
Republican candidate Donald Trump tweeted this image, the Star of David implying ancient associations of Jews with money, July 2016. image courtesy Trump Campaign
What’s with the Jews and moneylending?
Using the word "jew" as a verb, in reference to being fiscally cheap or an aggressive negotiator, while highly derogatory, is equally revealing. I heard it only once while growing up in Manhattan, in an apartment across the street from the world's largest rabbinical school, the Jewish Theological Seminary, and across the hall from one of its directors, Rabbi Brody. I finally learned its full meaning when I was 14, after boarding my first plane and flying to Montana—the cowboy kids told me, although it still didn't add up. Most European Jews were utterly impoverished, it seemed to me, since my mother grew up in a one-room apartment (not one bedroom—ONE room), without electricity or running water, although her Aunt Kriendel was a middle class shopkeeper, while wealthy Jews were wellknown philanthropists, supporting hospitals, schools and other charities. As I immersed myself in holocology, however, I slowly came to cognize the slur's holdover from European traditions of commerce, banking and, at its root, medieval moneylending. The thing is: it's not covered extensively or even at all in the scores of books on the subject. While Paul Johnson's "A History of the Jews" (1987) does a decent job, the recent and acclaimed "The Story of the Jews" (2013), by the respected English-Jewish historian, Simon Schama, has only three short mentions of moneylending. Conversely, "The Jew in the Medieval Community" (1976), by the English Reverend James Parkes, does reveal the entirety of what transpired, as the disorganized Dark Ages—a fine time to be Jewish, oddly enough—shifted to a Middle Ages dominated by feudalism, guilds and the Catholic Church, but that book is almost entirely unknown.
I will attempt to parse this immense, if little-explored and mine-ladened mystery, and a few others, like how Nazi deportment at the end of WWII fully disproves survival of the fittest, as well as finish my investigation of Holocaust film and books, which started increasing in the '60s, exploded in the 1980s and continues apace today, with films like "Son of Saul", in this article's second section, due out in a few months. Until then, please feel free to contact me with any questions or criticisms
Doniphan Blair is a writer, film magazine publisher, designer and filmmaker ('
Our Holocaust Vacation
'), who can be reached
Posted on Jul 25, 2016 - 02:29 PM