Thursday, May 29, 2008

Libel Tourism: What You Can do to Protect America's Concept of Freedom of Speech

As I posted last week, a bill has been introduced into the House of Representatives which would protect American autors and publishers from being subjected to other countries's laws regarding freedom of speech.

The bill was prompted by a New York Times op-ed I wrote together with my colleagues Professor Michael Broyde of Emory's Law School.

The bill has won the strong support of the Association of American Publishers.

Spearheaded by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), the legislation was co-sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) and nine members of the Committee (Issa, Nadler, Berman, Coble, Lofgren, Jackson-Lee, Wexler, Johnson, and Gutierrez), along with Reps. Mark Udall (D-CO) and John Yarmuth (D-KY).

If you believe in free speech as we have defined it here in America and are an American citizen, contact your representative and tell him/her to support H.R. 6146.

You can make a real difference.

Obama's Auschwitz Mistake [2]

Here's some background on what the American soldiers who came upon [I generally avoided the word "liberation"] Ohrdruf camp.

Gen. Eisenhower was one of them and his comments upon seeing the camp are well known. "We are told that the American soldier does not know what he is fighting for. Now, at least, he will know what he is fighting against."

For a short film of what the Americans, Obama's uncle among them, saw see here

The camp wasn't an Auschwitz but remember, American soldiers had nothing to compare it to, i.e. they couldn't say, "Oh this isn't nice but we know Auschwitz was worse."

I went to some of the Republican blogs and some of the comments are really vicious. [Adam Holland links to them.]

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Obama's Auschwitz Mistake

The comments and emails have been coming in. They all want to know what did I make of Obama's statement that his "uncle" [great uncle] helped liberate Auschwitz.

The fact is that Auschwitz was liberated by the Soviets.

This is typical family lore where one camp is substituted for another. Had Obama thought about it he probably would have known the story has a historical mistake.

Turns out he meant Ohrdruf, one of the Buchenwald sub-camps. [He apologized for his mistake.]

The RNC has pounced. You can almost hear it licking its chops. It should save its energy. This is a matter of historical ignorance not anything diabolical.

Fact is that most Jews -- including those who are strongly identified -- would get it wrong. Witness the number of people who fell -- and continue to fall -- for the apples over the fence story. [Which I hear is being made into a movie.... fiction I hope.] That is a far more dangerous distortion.

I would say to them, before you beat up on Obama, make sure all the stories you tell are true.

Boston's Musuem of Fine Arts [2]: Rewriting History to Save a Painting

Oskar Kokoschka's painting "Two Nudes (Lovers)"

In an earlier post I criticized Boston's Museum of Fine Art's contention that Jews in Vienna were acting in free will when they disposed of their possessions in 1939.

The debate centered on a painting by Kokoschka which a Jewish family had sold in Vienna in 1939. The MFA, which currently has possession of the painting, argues that the family was not forced to sell the painting but did so voluntarily.

Let's remember the historical context: Eichmann was on the scene and was doing everything possible to get Jews to emigrate without any of their possessions. To argue that they were selling possessions because they "wanted" to is ludicrous.

Well it turns out that -- not surprisingly -- other historians feel similarly. See the most recent article by Geoff Edgers on the topic.

It is striking that the MFA refuses to release its own art historians report on the painting. I can't help but wonder why.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Historian Michael Burleigh reviews History Lesson: A Race Odyssey by Mary Lefkowitz

Michael Burleigh, the British historian, in his review of Mary Lefkowitz's book History Lessons, demonstrates how history can be rewritten on some of America's finest campuses with the support of the administration all in the name of not making a fuss.

If should give those of us who think Holocaust denial could never gain traction on campus -- which includes me -- some pause.

Hating HIllary Cause She's a Woman

This article by Andrew Stephen, who has been watching American politics for a long time, is painful to read. It shows the relentless sexist attack used to bring down Hillary Clinton. It is really mind boggling.

And if you think you have read all this stuff before, let me assure you that you have not.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Libel Tourism: New York Times Op-Ed by Lipstadt and Broyde Spurs Federal Legislation

The op-ed my colleague Michael Broyde and I wrote on libel tourism has prompted proposals for federal legislation. Emory has just released the following press release.

Emory Professors' Op-Ed Spurs Federal Legislation on 'Libel Tourismʼ'

U.S. Reps. Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Darrell Issa (R-CA) are expected to introduce today a bill to end "libel tourism," a phenomenon whereby plaintiffs seek judgments from foreign courts against American authors and publishers for making allegedly defamatory statements.

Two Emory University professors, Michael Broyde and Deborah Lipstadt, brought the problem of libel tourism to the attention of federal lawmakers in a co-written New York Times opinion piece (Oct. 11, 2007). Broyde, an expert in comparative and Jewish law, helped draft the federal bill. He and Lipstadt are drafting a follow-up opinion piece designed to support the bill's passage.

The bill would prohibit U.S. courts from recognizing or enforcing foreign defamation judgments that are inconsistent with the First Amendment.

The bill's authors contend that libel tourism "threatens to undermine our nation's core free speech principles, as embodied in the First Amendment. U.S. law places a higher burden on certain defamation plaintiffs in order to safeguard First Amendment-protected speech. Other countries, including those that generally share our legal tradition, provide no such protection…"

Broyde and Lipstadt wrote the op-ed in response to billionaire Saudi businessman Khalid bin Mahfouz's 2004 lawsuit against Rachel Ehrenfeld, an American author who wrote "Funding Evil: How Terrorism Is Financed and How to Stop It." The 2003 book argues that bin Mahfouz has financed Osama bin Laden and other terrorists. Bin Mahfouz sued Ehrenfeld for libel in Britain, where libel laws place the burden of proof on defendants. She lost the case and was ordered to apologize, destroy all copies of the book and pay bin Mahfouz $230,000 in damages.

Lipstadt faced a similar legal battle when Holocaust denier David Irving sued her in Britain for her 1994 book, "Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory," which asserted Irving had deliberately distorted Holocaust facts. Although Lipstadt won, her case lasted four years and cost more than $1 million in legal fees.

Broyde is a professor of law and a senior fellow in Emory's Center for the Study of Law and Religion (CSLR), and Lipstadt is Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies and a CSLR associated faculty member.

Contact: Elaine Justice at 404-727-0643 or

Professor Kevin McDonald in his own Words

The ADL has compiled some very telling quotes by California State University Long Beach professor, Kevin McDonald.

For McDonald's role in my trial see History on Trial, Chapter 10.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Kaddish by the Polish Chief Rabbi at a Catholic burial ceremony: An Appropriate Statement

Irena Sendler, who was involved in the rescue of 2500 Jewish children, was buried in Warsaw last week. At the Catholic ceremony Rabbi Michael Schudrich, Chief Rabbi of Poland, recited Kaddish in front of her grave. I find this to be quite something. A well deserved tribute to a hero.

[photo: VIN News]

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Thoughts on Irena Sendler and on Not Knowing What I Would Have Done

In my post on the Warsaw Ghetto uprising [notes from the speech I gave at the Sami Rohr Prize presentation in Jerusalem] I have been having an exchange with Roman Werpachowski, a Polish reader who believes the Warsaw Ghetto fighters were wrong to have fought to the end.

He believes that, since they knew they were going to die fighting, it would have been better for them to escape and lived. He makes a legitimate point but I am not sure if he is right.

But that is not the issue between us.

When I quoted Irena Sendler in the previous post on the bravery of Jewish mothers, those who were willing to give up their children to a stranger with no guarantee of the child's safety, I knew that I did not know what I would have done.

And I thought back to my exchange with this reader in which he delcares that he would have escaped. My issue with him has been that I simply don't know what I would have done in that situation:
Fought to the death?

Stayed with my family who might have needed my help?

Escaped to the other side knowing that it would result in my family's immediate deportation to a death camp?

Sat paralyzed with fright?
I don't know and I don't believe anyone else can know precisely what they would have done -- until they are in that position.

Funny thing, when I was younger I knew exactly what I would have done.....

May we never find out.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Irena Sendler, Oskar Schindler of Warsaw Ghetto, Dies

[edited 10:15 a.m. EDT]

Irena Sendler who saved approximately 2,500 children from the Warsaw Ghetto died at age 98. [According to Deborah Dwork she was personally responsible for saving about 400 children herself and being the "prime mover" for the saving of the rest.]

It has been said of her that, had Poland had better public relations, Oskar Schindler would have been known as the "Irena Sendler of Germany."

There is a nice obit for her in the New York Times. In it she praises the bravery of Jewish mothers in the ghetto:
"Here I am, a stranger, asking them to place their child in my care. They ask if I can guarantee their safety. I have to answer no. Somethimes they wold give me their child. Other times they would say come back. I would come back a few days later and the family had already been deported."
May her memory and their bravery be for a blessing.

Professor at Cal State Long Beach [who testified for David Irving] : Profiled by LA Jewish Journal

I have posted on Professor Kevin McDonald, who testified [voluntarily and poorly] for David Irving previously. An in depth profile of him by Brad Geenberg appears in the LA Jewish Journal. Greenberg also discusses his experience interviewing McDonald on his blog.

To read McDonald's testimony brief testimony at my trial see [ pages 6-24. ] He clearly had no idea what the trial was about. I discuss his ludicrous performance in History on Trial, Chapter 10.

[The photo at the right shows Kevin MacDonald being honored in 2004 for his work on the Jews by The Occidental Quarterly, a white supremacist publication. He was accompanied by Virginia Abernethy, a self-described "white separatist."]

McDonald has discussed the clannish behavior and negative influence of Jews on the show of Hesham Tillawi. It's long, tedious, and pretty sobering when one thinks that this kook -- and I could use words far worse than that -- is a professor at an American university.

I am a firm believer in academic freedom but it seems that Cal State Long Beach is really pushing the matter by continuing to award him with merit leaves -- a hard fought privilege at that school -- and the like. I just wonder what would happen if he were saying these things about other minorities....

Finally, I am reminded of what Professor Dan Jacobson of the University of London had to say about McDonald after his testimony: "That witness had a small dull mind possessed by a large dud idea."

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Holocaust Denial on YouTube

There is an insidious Holocaust denial movie on YouTube. It relies primarily on footage from Terezin [Theresienstadt] and some seems to come from the propaganda film the Nazis made about that "camp" called The Fuhrer Gives the Jews a City.

By the way, there was a swimming pool at Auschwitz 1 -- not Birkenau where most of the Jews were -- it was rarely used by inmates and its main purpose was to store water for fire fighting.

In Conversation with Jan Gross: YIVO tonight

I will be in conversation with Jan Gross tonight at YIVO at 7 p.m. For details click here

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

HDOT, Emory website on Holocaust Denial, Receives 120K Grant

HDOT Website Receives 120K Grant from Claims Conference

Release date: April 30, 2008
Contact: Elaine Justice at 404-727-0643 or

Funding will support translation into Arabic, Farsi, Turkish, Russian

Emory University Professor Deborah Lipstadt has received a grant of $120,000 from the New York-based Claims Conference (The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany) on behalf of her Web site, Holocaust Denial on Trial (

The grant will be used to translate elements of the site into Arabic, Farsi, Turkish and Russian and to develop educational lesson plans.

Holocaust Denial on Trial chronicles Lipstadt's 1996-2000 British trial versus Holocaust denier David Irving. In 1996 he sued Lipstadt in British court alleging libelous content in her book "Denying the Holocaust."

Following her resounding victory in 2000, Lipstadt founded the site in conjunction with Emory to provide complete archives of the trial's documents. The site strives to empower readers to identify and reject the lies, distortions and misleading innuendo used by Holocaust deniers.

But there are still those who spread disinformation on the Holocaust. That's why Lipstadt began She is out to make such distortions a thing of the past."When people don't have historically accurate information they are susceptible to all sorts of distortions and fabrications," says Lipstadt. "This is true for the Arab speaking world and the English speaking world as well."

Grant Will Fund Translation, Education Tools

The grant will allow to complete 50 myth/fact sheets about the Holocaust in Arabic, Farsi, Turkish and Russian, and to introduce two educational modules on the topic of Auschwitz denial for use in advanced secondary school and undergraduate college courses.

Adding additional languages and lesson plans is just the beginning, says Dan Leshem, web development specialist at Emory, which hosts the site. "We strive to be responsive to our readers' needs. For that reason, we also want to build a connection to the site's readership," he says.

Visitors can sign up for periodic newsletters and subscribe to an RSS news feed of Lipstadt's frequently updated blog entries. "The weight of this site is its integrity," says David Lower, a business analyst at Emory who oversees the site's development.

"We have to hold these translations to the highest possible standards. We know that deniers will look for any errors on the site to exploit for their own purposes."One example of precision in translation was the word "Holocaust" itself, says Leshem. "We transliterated the word and got 10,000 hits."

Then, based on a recommendation by a scholar of Arabic, they used another term for holocaust in Arabic that is much more common—it translates loosely as 'the catastrophe of the Jews'—and got 150,000 hits, simply because it is the more common term. "That goes back to the translators knowing the content," Leshem says.

So far, that diligence seems to be working. After posting the first translations of the myth/fact sheets in Arabic, Leshem copied the name "Anne Frank" in Arabic and did a Google search. was listed at number three.

Thomas Paine Got it Just Right

Thomas Paine, the American patriot who wrote Common Sense, the pamphlet (1776) which was so influential in supporting revolution against the British, and who was an outspoken Deist, is credited with the following statement

To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead.
Talk about an eternal truth.....
[Thanks to David Gorski for passing this on.]

Hungarian Antisemitism: The Re-emergence of an Old Hatred in a Renewed Society

Michael Kimmelman of the NY Times reports on the reemergence of antisemitism in Hungary. This confirms much of what I heard a few weeks ago when I was in Budapest.

Essentially what Kimmelman says is that a pretty virulent form of antisemitism is coexisting with a renewed expression of Jewish culture.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

UK Schools Drop Teaching the Holocaust: A False Story Continues to Make the Rounds

During the past week I have received numerous emails regarding the false story that the UK has dropped all mention of the Holocaust from its curriculum.

The latest iteration of the story is now linked to the fact that General Eisenhower worried, as he toured the concentration camps in April 1945, that someday there might be those who would deny that this happened.

The email then goes on to note that the UK has dropped teaching of the Holocaust. Earlier versions had accused the University of Kentucky of dropping it.

Why people would believe such stories confounds me.

A recent interview on Muslim-Jewish relations in the UK with Michael Whine, government and international affairs director at the Community Security Trust, the defense agency of the UK Jewish community, and defense and group relations director of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the representative body of the community, summarizes the true state of affairs regarding Holocaust education.

Whine notes:

"The MCB* has opposed Holocaust education. Last year they finally agreed to officially participate in Holocaust Memorial Day. Under Muslim influence, the Bolton local council did not hold a Holocaust Memorial Day last year and replaced it with a Genocide Memorial Day. This year they are marking both.

"Yet a significant number of Muslim leaders have attended Holocaust Memorial Day ceremonies, including some members of the MCB Executive. We expect, however, further Muslim attempts to weaken Holocaust remembrance and to replace it with genocide remembrance.

"Almost every municipality has held some remembrance activity on Holocaust Memorial Day. Those with a significant Jewish electorate have usually done more than others. The government provides money for educational material and funds trips to Auschwitz for two students from every high school each year. These are preceded by educational sessions. Britain probably leads the world in Holocaust education.

"A few years ago the Department of Education undertook a study on the teaching of sensitive subjects that included the Crusades, the First and Second World Wars, and the Holocaust. It found that the Holocaust is generally well taught in British schools. One school had considered abandoning its courses for fear of offending Muslim parents in the school. It was misreported by some newspapers and that led to a viral email, which is still going around, claiming that Britain has abandoned Holocaust education in schools."

The interview was conducted by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

* Whine notes that the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) was founded by the government as an umbrella organization in 1977. This body has been influenced since by its radical leadership and nowadays represents no more than five hundred mosques and separate organizations. To put this in perspective, there are probably around fifteen hundred official and unofficial mosques in Britain these days, although official estimates are around nine hundred

Monday, May 5, 2008

In Defense of Jimmy Carter: A Letter that Speaks for Itself

The following letter speaks for itself. I was in Israel during Carter's visit and the interesting thing was how even my far left friends thought of it as a stunt by Carter and not something that would in any way move the peace process further..
Ugly old yenta,
As the following article* makes clear - President Cater's recent meeting with Hamas in Damascus opened the door for the EU (and soon the U.S.) to include the organization in future peace talks. Shouldn't you be extending an aplogy and an olive branch to the Nobel Peace Laureate for the bilious resentment and virulent anti-Gentile hate you spewed towards him after his fine book: "Israel - Not Apartheid"? When will you account for your canards against the man? Or, are you still clinging to the position that Israel is "The Land of Milk and Honey" and that the Palestinians are "filthy shvatz goyim" that need to be "done away with"?
One Proud Jew
Dean Chancery []

*No article was included in this eloquent message.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Rohr Prize [2]: Warsaw and Cairo - Distant Echoes of Two Decimated Communities

edited May 5th 6:26 a.m.

At the Rohr Prize ceremony I was asked to speak on behalf of the judges. The following are excerpts from my remarks.

Tonight we gather to celebrate, honor, and commemorate. We celebrate the fact that tonight is Pesach, zeman simchatanu, the time of our rejoicing.

We celebrate that this important event takes place in Jerusalem.

We honor one family’s remarkable generosity and commitment to enhance the writing of Jewish books.

We celebrate Lucette Lagnado’s book, The Man in the Sharkskin Suit, a book that is in and of itself an act of commemoration of a community that is no more.

We also gather to honor the work of two other authors, Eric Goldstein, author of The Price of Whiteness, a meticulous and important book on Jewish integration into the American mainstream, and Elana Blumberg, author of In the House of Study, a fascinating memoir on the author’s sometimes troubled path in discovering her way in the world of traditional Jewish texts and her own identity as a Jewish woman.

But there are other things that it behooves us to commemorate: On these very nights of Pesach 65 years ago two groups of Jews were fighting to preserve Jewish dignity and memory.

One, of course, was the group of young, wildly inexperienced Warsaw ghetto fighters, who managed, despite having no military training whatsoever, to hold off the Germans for over three weeks. Their bravery, meseerat nefesh, and commitment are the stuff of legends… legends that are true.

But they did not fight alone. In the ghetto there was another group which fought to preserve Jewish history and dignity. And their contribution and commitment – while less dramatic than that of Anilevitch and his colleagues ---- is no less important and, in fact, may be as important.

I speak, of course, of the work of Oyneg Shabbes, the group gathered by the historian Emanuel Ringelblum. They took it upon themselves to preserve in an unbelievably comprehensive fashion the history and day to day life of the ghetto and its inhabitants.

In a magisterial new book, Who Will Write Our History? historian Samuel Kassow [a review of which I have posted on this blog] tells the story of how Oyneg Shabbes recorded every aspect of the ghetto’s existence.... No detail was too small or considered too “unimportant” to be included in their efforts.

[I previously posted about their commitment to getting the record of what was being done to them precisely right. I shall, therefore, skip over that part of my talk.]

They worked with military precision. Though over 300 people were involved in the effort no person knew some one else’s identity unless it was necessary for the project.

And none of those involved knew which three people had been entrusted with burying the archives. That way, if one was caught, he or she could not be forced to reveal the other’s identity.

This was an operation worthy of elite army. What is remarkable is that it was done, not to save lives, but to save documents, to preserve the history of a community which faced an enemy that was committed – to paraphrase the Haggadah – l’akore et hakol, to destroy them all.

They so desperately wanted – in a way that is guaranteed to break the heart of even the most rigorously exacting historian – to be remembered. Let us hear it in their own voices:

Israel Lichtenstein, one of those assigned to bury the Oyneg Shabbes archival collection wrote the following as he was burying them:

I do not ask for any thanks, for any memorial, for any praise. I only wish to be remembered.

I wish my wife to be remembered, Gele Sekstein. She has worked during the war years with children as an educator and teacher, has prepared stage sets, costumes of children’s theatre… both of us get ready to meet and receive death.

I wish my little daughter to be remembered. Margalit is 20 months old today. She has fully mastered the Yiddish language and speaks it perfectly… I don’t lament my own life or that of my wife. I pity only this little nice and talented girl. She too deserves to be remembered.

With Lichtenstein was Nahum Grzywacz, 18 years old. When they were burying the archives he heard his parents’ building was being blockaded. He wrote.

I am going to run to my parents and if they are all right. I don’t know what’s going to happen to me. Remember my name is Nahum Grzywacz. [emphasis in original]

Also helping was David Graber, age 19. As they buried the archives Graber wrote:

What we were unable to cry and shriek out to the world we buried in the ground. … I would love to see the moment in which this great treasure will be dug up and scream the truth to the world. So the world may know all. So the ones who did not live through it may be glad and we may feel like veterans with medals on our chest. We would be the fathers, the teachers, the educators. Of the future…. But no, we shall certainly not live to see it, and therefore I write my last will: May the treasure fall into good hands, may it last into better times, may it alarm and alert the world to what happened… in the twentieth century. We now die in peace. We fulfilled our mission. May history attest for us. [emphasis added]

Tonight we come to honor Lucette Lagnado. Her book captures the sounds, emotions, smells, tastes of a community that was also prematurely uprooted, a life that is no more.

That community’s end did not occur in as brutal and murderous a fashion as that of the Warsaw ghetto. However, it was destruction none the less, a destruction that too many people have accepted in a matter of fact fashion.

Lucette has described how, since her book’s publication, the Syrian and Egyptian Jewish communities worldwide have embraced her and profusely thanked her for ensuring that their history shall not go quietly into the night.

Wanting to be remembered is a normal human emotion. But it takes on tremendous poignancy when we remember those – whether in Warsaw or in Cairo – whose communities came to a premature end.

So tonight we come to celebrate and to commemorate and to pay tribute to those non-fiction authors who ensure that the history of those who came before us will not be forgotten.

Let us hope that in generations to come others will gather, as we do tonight, in Jerusalem to celebrate non-fiction authors.

And let us pray that there will be no additional uprooted communities whose history needs preserving so those authors of the future can turn their attention to documenting Jewish communities which are living vigorously creative Jewish lives, communities which are thriving.

And, we will gather to celebrate, in the spirit of the Rohr Prize and the work of the Jewish Book Council, communities in whose midst authors are writing and people are reading Jewish books, books of the superbly high caliber that we honor tonight.

Rohr Prize Ceremony, Jerusalem, 24 April 2008

Murdering History: The Holocaust was the Allies' Fault

Former New Statesman editor, Peter Wilby, has come up with an absurdly stupid self-serving argument in the name of attacking the Iraq war.

In an article in The Guardian he argues that, now that all the other reasons for the Iraq war have proved to be a bust, war supporters fall back on the claim that it was worth it because it got rid of a terrible dictator, just like World War II.

He then goes on to passionately argue that the only reason the Allies went to war against Hitler was for self-interest not for moral reasons.

This is, of course, is a complete straw man. No historian worth his or her salt argues anything but that. Wilby seems to believe that because they entered the war for self-interested reasons nothing they accomplished has any moral value.

But where he goes way over the top is when he argues that the Jews would have been better off if the Allies had not gone to war against Germany.

Would the Holocaust have happened if there had been no war or if the western democracies had acted against Nazi Germany earlier? We can never know - though it is likely that, if Britain had made peace in 1940 after the fall of France, the Jews would have been sent to Madagascar. What is certain is that the war prevented any concerted attempt at rescue.

Wilby ignores the fact that Madagascar would have meant a slow death for the Jews. It was uninhabitable particularly for millions of urban people. it was meant to be a place where Jews would die not thrive.

Furthermore, as blogger Marko Attila Hoare points out, Britain controlled the naval routes to Madagascar so it would have had to cooperate with Nazi Germany to get the Jews there.

He then goes on to take his argument to even more absurd heights, that by going to war resources that the Allies would have used to help the Jews were diverted to fight the war.

Resources used to help Jews would be diverted from the war. . Any mass movement of refugees ran the risk of the Germans planting agents among them. Oil supplies were too vital to Britain to risk upsetting Arabs by evacuating them to Palestine. Any of the suggested swaps - Jews for German POWs, for example - might suggest allied weakness. Besides, why should the allies assist Hitler to rid Europe of Jewry? The best we could do, as Anthony Eden, the British foreign secretary, observed in 1944, was to "hope that the German government will refrain from exterminating these unfortunate people".

What makes him think that the Allies, who in Evian in 1938 would not open their doors to Jewish refugees, would have run to help the Jews?

Moreover, he seems to have convinced himself that Hitler would not have gone to war with the USSR and, in the course of so doing, would not have murdered millions of Jews. With an assurance that the West would not fight him, Hitler would have wasted no time in declaring war on the USSR. He wanted their lebensraum and he wanted their resources to allow the German people to live in luxury.

He might well have won and, if so, millions of more people -- among them many more Jews -- would have been murdered.

Wilby can be against war in general and the war in Iraq all he wants [who precisely is for war? And who, with the exception of John McCain and George Bush, still believe in the rectitude of this war?] But he should not murder history in the process.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

The Sami Rohr Prize in Jewish Literature: Reflections on The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit

One of the reasons I have been lax in blogging is that I was in Israel for the awarding of the Sami Rohr Prize in nonfiction. This prize has been established by the Rohr family to honor their father, who incidently escaped from German shortly after Kristalnacht, on his 80th birthday.

The amazing generosity of this family and their desire to further Jewish literature and culture through this generous award [$100,000 to the winner] speaks to their willingness to think "way outside the box."

The award is given to an emerging writer in the field of Jewish literature. I am one of the judges in the non-fiction category. This year's winner was Lucette Lagnado, author of The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit. I was asked to write something about the book for the program. These are my thoughts on this book:
The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit is a stunningly beautiful book. It addresses epic and age old themes: exile, loss, and rootlessness. It is both a tragic family saga and the story of a compelling man, a bon vivant, who managed to mesh his love of sensual pleasures with his deep commitment to Jewish tradition. Above all it is the story of a world and a community that did not die a natural death. It was uprooted and destroyed by those who rejected its love and fealty.

Lucette Lagnado traces the story the twentieth century Cairo Jewish community by telling the story of her father who was the ultimate man about Cairo. He moved as easily in the synagogue as he did in Cairo’s most elaborate and elegant night spots. She is the child born in his later years and the one who becomes the apple of his eye. It is through her eyes that we watch him make his way through the city and establish bonds with both Muslim and expatriates of every variety.

The Rohr prize judges were swept away by the beauty of the book. It was not, however, only the graceful and luscious prose of Lagnado’s “stunning” [New York Times] memoir which caught our attention.

Starting in the late 1940s and continuing until the 1960s Jewish communities which had lived in relative harmony with their Muslim neighbors were decimated. It was a wholesale destruction, one that was designed to humiliate Jews who had loved their homelands with a deep seated passion. The Egyptians stripped Lagnado’s family of virtually all their possessions prior to their departure. In a final act of degradation, they forcibly removed her mother’s wedding band from her finger as the family boarded the boat. Despite this humiliation as the ship sailed away her father cried out: “Ragaouna Masr,” Take us back to Cairo.

What was this love affair? Who were these Jewish communities? What was the culture they so adored? Jewish tradition and culture is rooted in its history. Lagnado has a painted a brilliant portrait of a world that will never be again. In describing a small piece of that history she has given a great gift to those who were part of that world and to their descendants. She has also given a gift – possibly even greater -- to those who never knew that world.

Ultimately, however, this book transcends ethnic, national, and religious divides. Any reader whose family has ever known exile and immigration will be touched by this book. It will help them understand the sacrifices that have been made on their behalf. And those readers whose families have not been forcibly uprooted will understand how blessed they are.

Excuse the long absence

After travels to Ohio, NYC, Jerusalem, Detroit, Columbia University, Wilkes Barre, and Charleston, West Va. I have returned to Atlanta and to my blogging. Lots to catch up on... Will try to do so in a somewhat measure pace.