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Thursday, 22 August 2013

Reading the Anti-Jewish Runes

Winston.Clementine.ChurchillCall me an old softie, but I can never think of Winston Churchill without becoming emotional. A visit to his bunker at the Imperial War Museum, London and a trip to the Spencer-Churchill Family gravesite at St Martin's Church, Bladon in Oxfordshire had me in full  spate.

I was born  in 1954 – nine years after the end of World War II and six following the establishment of the State of Israel. But  believe me, I would not be sitting here now  at my desk in modern Israel’s Western  Galilee if it had not been for him.

Yes, he was an occasional drunken, dreary bore. Granted, he made a thousand  terrible mistakes during his  incalculably long career. Further, he most probably did make as many enemies as he had ardent fans. But that is the nature of public life.  So if we’re sensible, I think we may regard Professor Richard Toye’s  book, The Roar of the Lion: The Untold Story of Churchill's World War II Speeches, as a plucky attempt to find something fresh to say about one of the twentieth century’s best-known figures.

It is impossible to consider the previous hundred years without thinking of the two world wars and the Holocaust. But it seems that hardly a day goes by without someone, somewhere making a handsome living from the deaths of the millions of souls who died so horribly during those years.

Aside from reading about the new Churchill book, this week I have (re-)watched Kate Winslet in The Reader, learned about Italian Jewish writer Primo Levi’s time as an unwilling recruit in the Italian Fascist Volunteer Militia for National Security and viewed the re-mastered feature movie about the 1944 Warsaw Uprising against the Nazis.

Warsaw.UprisingI have seen little of the film but appreciate that it is an accomplished piece of cinematography, adding sound and colour to monochrome photographs and inserting an imaginative fictional narrative in voiceover.

However, the exercise has left me feeling queasy. First, it is not the work of a great director turning one form of fictional art into another for educative purposes or cathartic debate.  I fear the created dialogue  may compromise the truth of what was really said by those seen on screen.

Second, I genuinely don’t understand why the international Jewish media is highlighting the film’s release. Of course there are still many Polish Jews alive who were affected by the events of World War II and the Shoa. But by the time the non-Jewish residents of Warsaw revolted, almost one hundred per cent of their Jewish neighbours had  been deported, murdered or somehow fled. So as far as Jewish audiences are concerned, it would be far more appropriate to produce a similar film about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising which occurred in 1942 – should any material be extant – which I agree is very unlikely.

Last, just as the story about the re-mastered film broke, The Jewish Chronicle highlighted another item about Poland. This one features 87-year-old philosopher  Professor Emeritus Zygmunt Bauman who has rejected an honorary doctorate from the University of Lower Silesia in Wroclaw following antisemitic attacks via social media internet sites. Further, The J.C. explained that 45 years ago in 1968, Professor Bauman “lost his professorship at the University of Warsaw as a result of an antisemitic campaign against him. He came to Britain after teaching at Tel Aviv University”.

I do not think it’s time for the modern Jewish community to revel in a glossy wartime story about Poland where, in ghastly, bleak patches, Jew- hatred is as bad as ever. The story about illiterate Hanna Schmitz in The Reader continues to be re-enacted daily in countless scenarios the world over. Simple, brutish people blindly ‘obey orders’ given by those in power purely because they can’t comprehend what’s happening and most often are too dull to care.  They fall back on a boring routine as it’s easier than challenging a system, no matter what it represents. This is the  banality of evil in practice. Vile - isn’t it?


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