Sunday, December 28, 2008

Limmud UK 2008: Reflecting on "Truth" and the Holocaust

I am sitting here in the cafe after a busy day of teaching and attending sessions at Limmud 08. It is once again an effort that never fails to impress.

But rather than sing the general praises of the event, I want to reflect on a film, Stealing Klimt I saw today about the Klimt paintings that were confiscated by the Nazis, then -- after the war -- "stolen" by the Austrian government, and finally, due to the assiduous work of the owner's niece recovered by the family.

I must admit when people first began to try to recover their property, bank accounts, and artwork I was a bit discomforted. It was wrong of me to feel that way but I admit to it. As all the attention was focused on material goods it seemed that the tragic loss of life was being overshadowed by the loss of property.

[On some level I had internalized antisemitic charges and was responding to that. But more of that on another occasion.]

One day -- I don't remember what brought about the change -- I recognized I was dead wrong.

Heck, this belonged to those families, why shouldn't they get it back? There's nothing wrong and everything right with their saying: this is mine. It was stolen from me and I want it.

This film relates the unbelievable story of how one woman together with a dedicated lawyer pursued these unbelievable paintings.

More importantly it tells the story of the lowly Austrians who, after decades of successfully claiming that they were Hitler's first victims [and I have a bridge to sell you], were exposed for the culprits that they were.

Not only did they welcome the Nazis with outraised arms, join the SS in droves, and plunder Jews in their midst, but afterwards they claimed Jewish property as their own. If you wanted to get a portion of your property back you had to sign over the rest of it over to the Austrians.

Then they spent decades fighting people trying to get their property back. They lied. They were lowlifes. And they continued to behave that way in relation to this family.

The story is unbelievable and it is factual. It is also well told. The writer is Martin Smith who was responsible for much of the design of the exhibition of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

After a couple of days of being caught up in the morass of Holocaust liars [see under Rosenblatt and Salomon], it's nice to see the truth portrayed so well.

And it's wonderful to be here at Limmud.


Denis Mahaffey said...

Having admired your battle with Irving, and finding your blog in the most accidental way possible (though there are few accidents in life), I want to ask whether you are aware of the existence of non-Jews except insofar as they impact on Jewish life and lives. It is no accident that I raise it on a morning when Israeli planes bomb the Gaza strip, and I read an Israeli comment: "I don't really care about Palestinians."

Deborah Lipstadt said...

The answer to your question is of course. The fact that you ask and the way in which ask leaves me wonderfing a bit about you....

But, in any case, here's my question to you: when southern Israel was being hit by 100s of rockets and shelled on a daily basis, what did you say??

Denis Mahaffey said...

You remind me of the old joke of a woman saying to her suitor, "I've talked enough about myself; now tell me what you think about me."
But I'll be the suitor and meekly answer your question. I have stopped saying anything about destruction of property, in southern Israel or the Gaza strip. Deaths matter more and I speak out about the difference in their number, manner and degree, which you may not accept as relevant. I suspect you, like the other commenter, do not really care about Palestinians.
Your use of the word "wondering" about my query is, I imagine, a snide way of suggesting that I am antisemitic. Would you accept my matching answer "Of course not" ? Anyway, the saying that an antisemite is anyone a Jew disagrees with suggests that you will remain as unconvinced by me as I am by you.

Nachum said...

I'm not uncomfortable with that woman retrieving her painting, as it did belong to her; I'm more uncomfortable with what happened to it afterward. (I.e., the official of Jewish organization responsible for helping her paying her an enormous amount to make it the centerpiece in his new museum. I know, someone had to buy it, but it still smelled funny.)

Ditto the recovery of bank accounts being used for political purposes by candidates for office. There was a sad story about how the woman pursuing it basically did nothing else with the rest of her life, and then was trotted out to make TV ads for a US Senator.

And yes, I do worry how this looks to anti-Semites, like Mr. Mahaffey.

Denis Mahaffey said...

Oh dear ! I shouldn’t have ventured in here, but at least it has not taken me long to realise it. From the force of your writing and what I had heard of you, I thought I could ask a question with the likelihood of a vigorous argument. God knows, as an Irishman I know the temptation to see everything in Irish terms, and appreciate being pulled up on that. But you imply – and Nachum states – that I am unacceptable. I did not expect both of you to insult me so promptly. Now I also have the answer to a question I had not raised, about the possibility of dissent being discussed, not dismissed on racial grounds. I had better tiptoe out. Pity.

Sharon from WI said...

ArtNews magazine has been doing a commendable job of covering the issue of Holocaust-era artwork that was looted by the Nazis. Several articles focuses on Austria's Leopold Museum.

While this museum was built with government funding, the Leopold is designated as a private concern and therefore exempt from any restitution legislation Austria has. This is particularly convenient. The museum is a virtual repository of artwork that was stolen by the Nazis, including works by Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele.

And the thing is, the museum’s museological director Rudolph Leopold, is aware the museum is in possession of stolen work and is intent on possessing these works rather than return them to their rightful owners or heirs.

Sharon from WI said...

Mr. Mahaffery,

It may be a surprise to you, but Israel has shown quite a bit of restraint as these shellings have been going on for some time.

You come here with your tone and then you are shocked when people respond.

Israel has a right to defend herself and those who support her make no apologies for her doing so.

amy said...

I am a Canadian living in Austria right now, and am having a nice time learning about the culture and seeing the sights. However, it is quite difficult to learn about the history of the war and holocaust "on the ground", so to speak, as it is certainly a taboo subject here. I have found that many people feel (or express that they feel) that Austria was partly a victim in WW2, and this blog post is the first affirmation of my observation that I have encountered.
I am wondering if you could suggest any books or other resources dealing specifically with Austria and it's post-war history in dealing with the Holocaust. From what I have experienced it seems that not much effort has been put in to confronting what happened and their role in it- speaking to young people my age it seems they learned less about the holocaust in school than I did. I am very interested to know exactly what Austria has done to confront its past, because frankly I expected more.

Hilary Ostrov said...

One has to laugh at poor "insulted" Mr. Mahaffey "tiptoeing" out - after venturing in with a completely off-topic question (not to mention a rather transparent agenda!)

He has provided no source whatsoever for his allegedly observed "Israeli comment". Perhaps it's on his blog, I thought. And it may well be; but, alas, unless one has been specifically "invited" to view Mr. Mahaffey's blog, one will never know.

On the other hand, he could have gleaned the answer to his own off-topic question by simply perusing the posts here. I'm sure that if his mouse weren't so lazy he could have found several posts in which Prof. Lipstadt's knowledge of the "existence of non-Jews except insofar as they impact on Jewish life and lives" is quite evident.

All Mr. Mahaffey has proven is that some "of course's" are more valid than others.

Rilwen said...

The problem of art objects stolen by the Nazis is not limited to Jewish property only -- Poland has been trying for decades to recover its heritage stolen during the WWII by the Nazis.

Say nothing about the art destroyed by the Nazis *on purpose*...

hockey hound said...

I'm laughing at Mr. Mahaffey too. I'm Irish-Canadian, a non-Jew, and I've had my ears warmed by Prof. Lipstadt quite a few times. But never once was I accused by Prof. Lipstadt of being an anti-Semite.

Poor Mr. Mahaffey, being Irish, and therefore well aware of the enmity that so often has permeated the Emerald Isle, should be intuitive enough to understand how an Israeli Jew--an object and target of unconstrained, religiously-propagated hatred on the part of the Gaza electorate and the elected Hamas, a terrorist entity in the Gaza strip--might make this remark. Now you accuse Prof. Lipstadt of being bias and insular toward non-Jews? Such unctuous tripe!

Nachum is correct: Mr. Mahaffey, in my opinion, is an anti-Semite. Only trouble is, Mr. Mahaffey doesn't know it yet.

"Candies are not handed out in a time of war."

hockey hound said...

I will never understand the majority Irish stance on the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Such a stance, a pro-Palestinian stance, confuses the real histories of both Ireland and Israel.

Just so Mr. Mahaffey doesn't doubt my credentials. My folks came to Canada from Armagh and Antrim during the Potatoe Famine. Some of my family died on the coffin ships getting here. One of them, my grandmother of that luckless generation, died on a ship in the harbour of Kingston, Ontario. Her name is on a monument there. So close to land but so far away from the reward of her Irish determination.

I write this to articulate the confusion the Irish of this generation exhibit when they say they can "empathize" with the Palestinians. How so? As an Irish-Canadian, I empathize with the Jewish people. We Irish never forget dates like 1171. We have Irish alzheimer: we forget everything but the grudges. But now the avant-garde Irish left (and I've heard they're thicker than thieves at a fair) insouciantly forget the fact that Arab Muslims invaded Israel way back before the refigerator was invented, an event as insalubrious for the Jews of Israel as was King Henry's invasion of Ireland insalubrious for the Irish.

The new Irish activist can remember those evil, almost annihilated Jewish survivors of Adolf Hitler's Nazi genocide making for themselves, by foot and by fathom, a home in "the Arab Middle East". We Irish can remember back as far as 1171, but these pro-Palestinian, pro-Hamas Irish "messiahs" refuse to empathize with their true political counterparts, the Jews, who were invaded by Muslim armies and their land stolen from them by force of violence. They refuse to acknowledge that, like the Irish nationalists, the Jews of Israel refuse to forget, no matter the length of days or years or millennia, that the land of Israel (Gaza and the West Bank included) was once Jewish property.

I view the Muslim population of Israel as exactly similar in political proportions to that of Northern Ireland's Protestant population. And I view the State of Israel's existance as exactly similar in political proportions to that of the Republic of Ireland: both entities have regained somewhat of the sovereign land stolen from them by a conquering and expansionist invader.

The survival of the both the Irish and the Jews can be summed up in the Chinese proverb, "The palest ink is better than the best memeory." Only problem with the Irish, particularly those who protest in support of Hamas and the Palestinians and against the Jews of Israel, is they refuse to look at history deliberately. They continue to debate the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in sciolistic terms. This is in contempt of the truth.

I remember Frank Dimant of B'nai Brith Canada challengeing an opponent in a debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by asking her, "Do you really want to turn back the pages?" I knew exactly what Mr. Dimant was driving at; his opponent, obtuse as run-of-the-mill activists usually are, did not.

Turn back the pages, Mr. Mahaffey. The history you find there should inspire within you more respect for the Jewish people. You cannot miss it. As Lewis Carrol so humorously wrote, "It's as large as life, and twice as natural."

Are ye in the mood for singin', laddie? LOL

Denis Mahaffey said...

I tiptoe back in, like one of those debaters who threaten to walk out then, unable to resist the urge to go on talking, sit down again, aware of being faintly ridiculous.
Hockey Hound completes the definitions. There were the non-Jews who hate Jews for being Jews, and the Jews who hate themselves for being Jews; now he identifies non-Jews who hate Jews without knowing it.
It provides a convenient way of labelling and thereby dismissing all the crowds demonstrating today, as driven only by anti-Jewish bias, and not giving a hoot about Palestinians.

I was at a school in Ireland that was full of Jewish pupils (I imagine, looking back on it, because shul must have been nearby). They were my friends or not, like everyone else (the only difference that mattered was between Catholics and Protestants). I never remember them assuming the victim status so commonly claimed today, even though one rabidly protestant boy, commenting on our religions, said to my friend Derek “You killed Jesus.” I had not the faintest idea what he meant, but I was aware that this was what I now, with more vocabulary, would call prejudice, and to be condemned.
There now, I’m sure I am laying myself open to further abuse, but that’s life on the Web.

Ms Ostrov, my blog will be quite public when I have got it into shape, but it contains only portraits and reviews I publish in French in a regional daily, nothing to do with politics.

hockey hound said...

"I never remember them assuming the victim status so commonly claimed today..."

For someone publishing in a "regional daily" you are not short on rote and worn-out, cosmopolitan terms.

I find it difficult to believe that you refrain from politics altogether in this daily of yours. I admire your discipline. Me, I can't keep quiet. It's a Potatoe Famine "survivor" trait I'm sure.

We have a few of these "regional daily" rags up my way. They have the usual rote-sounding contributors whose views are as simplistic sounding as yours, Mr. Mahaffey, but who arrogate those views as being gargantuan truths on any range of subjects, but especially regarding the conflicts in the Middle East. It is pointless to rebut these people as they are disdainful of breaching taboo or of people like me infracting upon the naivete of Western progressives like yourself.

For the record, I can't remember anyone remarking on this blog that they didn't care about the Palestinians. To opine that Jews don't care about the Palestinians is blatent calumny, a stupidity. You must be unaware of those Israeli "Jews who hate themselves for being Jews" and how these same Israeli (and countless Diasporic) Jews have defended "the rights of the Palestinians" far more effectively and far less insalubriously than have Hamas or the PA or how many other violence-prone homocidal maniacs from that corner of the earth. Hamas and the PA have yet to learn how to build an infrastructure consolidated enough to produce a mere paycheck for the working Palestinian man or women. These Hamas and PA leaders have yet to realize that human beings cannot eat plastique and RPGs.

You must also be unaware that the assumption of victimhood, or even the appearance of being a victim, is forbidden the Jews of Israel. The Islam-dominated Arab member states of the UN have monopolized and patented that appellation for the sole sake and ownership of the entire Muslim Middle East. All Jews, both Israeli and Diaspora, are now become simply human targets without definition save "aggressor" or "occupier". I would have thought you were privy to such knowledge.

No-one's abusing you, Mr. Mahaffey. You're not assuming victim status here, are you? It's tit-for-tat in the real world. That's not only life on the Web, that's life in the Middle East, but also in Ireland, right? Remember the catchy little verse? "I killed one, I killed two, I killed three more than you." That was all about tit-for-tat.

You should perceive that if you slander Israeli Jews on a website (especially Prof. Lipstadt's) dedicated to preserving the memory of the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews, you're running the risk of getting your shins kicked. You should feel the warmth of providence brushing its hinder-parts past your nose that it was an Irishman like me who had the honour of doing so.

Tuck your chin in, laddie.

hockey hound said...

"Israel has a right to defend herself and those who support her make no apologies for her doing so."

Well said, Sharon from WI. Well said indeed.

"Iron sharpens iron."

hockey hound said...

Hatred, Arab Style

Prof. Paul Eidelberg

Israel is at war. Hence, it is of crucial importance for Israeli politicians and journalists to understand and relate appropriately to Israel ’s enemy, especially what the enemy thinks of Jews. For this purpose, allow me to recall what happened some ten years ago when a Jewish reserve soldier, Shmuel Meiri, was lynched by Arabs in Ramallah. I do so because the photographs taken of the faces of his Arab assailants convey a hatred of visceral and demonic proportions. This hatred reminded me of what has been said of the feelings of Muslims Chechens toward Russians.

Writing on the subject in The New York Times (December 18, 1994), Steven Erlanger quotes the celebrated Russian author Leo Tolstoi.

Tolstoi writes of the Russian destruction of a Chechen village: “The emotion felt by every Chechen, old and young, was stronger than hatred. It was not hatred, it was a refusal to recognize these Russian dogs as men at all, and a feeling of such disgust [and] revulsion ... that the urge to destroy them—like the urge to destroy rats, venomous spiders, or wolves—was an instinct as natural as self-preservation.” This aptly describes what Muslims feel toward Jews, as was evident in the faces of the Arabs who lynched Shmuel Meiri.

There is a streak of paganism in their boundless hatred. Let me describe how the late Syrian president Hafaz Assad celebrated the tenth anniversary of the Yom Kippur War. He had Syrian militia girls killing four-foot snakes with their teeth, blood running down their cheeks. The pieces were then roasted and served to Syrian militia men. The men subsequently twisted off the necks of puppies and drank their blood. This is what Arabs and Muslims think of and feel toward Jews.

Boundless hatred and contempt for Jews are fundamental ingredients of Arab-Islamic culture. True, one can find in the Quran occasional passages favorable to Jews. However, those who focus on, and draw conclusions from, such passages suffer from what the eminent psychologist Harry Stack Sullivan called “selective inattention.”

It is common knowledge that the jihad is a basic religious precept for Muslims. The Quran teaches them: “Believers, take neither Jews nor Christians for your friends” (Sura 5:50). “Allah does not forbid you to be kind and equitable to those who have neither made war on your religion nor driven you from your homes.... But he forbids you to make friends with those who have fought against you ... or abetted others who do so” (Sura 60:8-9). From this passage comes the necessity on the part of Arabs to describe Jews—and not only Jews—as “aggressors.” The Quran’s imperative on dealing with aggressors”? “Kill them wherever you find them” (Sura 2:190).

Moreover, according to the Quran, the Jews should be in a permanent state of humbleness; they should be paying tribute to the faithful (Sura 9:29). What troubles Muslims today is that the Jews now have an independent and flourishing and state of their own, a state whose military power is enormous. All the more reason for the Arabs’ boundless and genocidal hatred—which prompts Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s vow to “wipe Israel off the map.”

Nevertheless, there are Israeli politicians as well as American officials who believe that Arabs can live in abiding peace with Jews. I refer to those who advocate the “two-state” solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This willful refusal to face reality is of long-standing occurrence among Jews.

Thus, referring to the Jewish community (the Yishuv) in the pre-State period, Professor Gil Carl AlRoy observed: “One cannot help being astounded at the sheer determination with which the Yishuv for so long denied conflict with Arabs—in the face of conflict. There was an extraordinary tension here between the empirical world and personal and group conceptualization.” Even when conflict was admitted, Zionists explained it away by saying the “Arabs did not truly wish it, but were put up to it by others [their leaders],” Nor is this all.

Ponder an oft-quoted statement Ehud Olmert made in June 2005, when he was Deputy Prime Minister: “We are tired of fighting, we are tired of being courageous, we are tired of winning, we are tired of defeating our enemies, we want … to live in an entirely different environment of relations with our enemies . We want them to be our friends …” How boastful on the one hand, and yet so self-effacing on the other—and how different the mentality of Israel ’s enemies.

In contrast to Olmert, the most humble Muslim is simply and incredibly proud. Writes AlRoy: “The illiterate Muslim, living in squalor and filth ... actually feel[s] as naturally superior to the Jew as English aristocrats would in olden days feel toward Cockneys ...”

Still, a picture often reveals more than words. Those who believe that Arabs can live in genuine peace with Jews in the Land of Israel should look at the faces the Arabs who lynched Shmuel Meiri. For them he was not a human being but a Jew—in their eyes something more repulsive than a rat or a venomous spider.

Unfortunately, this inexpungible fact will be ignored by the fools and opportunists now calling for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

Sarah said...

"I want to ask whether you are aware of the existence of non-Jews except insofar as they impact on Jewish life and lives."

And you think this is an innocuous question? Either you are disingenous or so stupid you're a danger to yourself. Are you, a gentile, aware of the existence of Jews except insofar as they impact on gentile life and lives? What utter nonsense.