Thursday, October 30, 2003

LEFTIST LATIN AMERICA

Brazilian blogger Luis Afonso blogs in Portuguese so he has sent me this English language summary of his present concerns about Latin America:

Some worrying news from Latin America... The events in Bolivia have flashed an alarm...

We didn’t notice that while we were worried about Brazil-Venezuela-Cuba connection, a newer link arose: Bolivia and its future cocaine-planters-defender president Evo Morales.

Morales is not yet the president, but the way he manipulated the poor population (of the poorest country of Latin America) to remove Lozada from the presidency suggests that the same thing will happen with the vice-president, until Evo himself reaches the presidency...

What was terrible was the international silence about this "coup d├ętat". Here in Brazil all newspapers claimed that "peace" returned to the country...

Other bad news for us is that the accusations about connection between Cuba and Brazil (which Lula da Silva denied during the election race last year) are true: Brazil is sending money from our National Investment Fund to Cuba... I think Brazil (despite our poor situation) is going to be Cuba´s savior (like USSR once was..)

It´s depressing... I hope we may be better some day but I think Latin America is drowning....

Saturday, October 25, 2003

A Rose on the Crematorium

By Arlene Peck

Describe Krakow? That's easy. It's a city full of cobblestone streets, interesting yet dismal buildings and a feeling that time stopped in 1955. Walking down the narrow streets, it's easy to get a feeling of deja vu. Krakow reminds you of the back lot from a Hollywood set, as your mind goes back to all those old movies on the television.

The same feelings were felt from the train that I caught from Warsaw to Krakow, where I sat with five others in a private compartment watching the countryside move swiftly by. My hotel, the Copernicus was a 15th century building with huge rooms that was truly amazing. President Bush had stayed there recently; my suite was large enough to land a plane in!

However, on the last night I moved to the Eden Hotel, which is located in the heart of the Old Jewish Quarter, and it is the only hotel with kosher food in Krakow. What I found interesting about this place is that while it is a kosher assessable hotel and most of the guests were orthodox from New York, there is another side to the hotel, which was absolutely fantastic. In the evenings, in another section of the hotel is a karaoke bar, held two or three times a week, where the local kids congregated.

The owner, Allen Haberberg was probably the most informative and helpful person who informed me about the Jewish community or, what's left of it. A community that once consisted of 75,000 Jews has been reduced to a community of only 120 Jews. Sadly enough from what I can see, there is not much leadership or education or much of anything from the ones that are left. At least in Warsaw I saw a slight resemblance of a typical Jewish community, although very slight.

Not so in Krakow, where I traveled to Casmir which was once the heart of the Jewish community. I traveled to three of the seven of the synagogues that are still remaining, but they are being used for museums now. Some have been rebuilt while the others are closed. I observed some of the Jewish restaurants that were on many of the street corners; deceptively called "Jewish style", but in fact, they were not really Jewish or kosher. They were all filled with Jewish art, mostly depicting Jewish scenes and I couldn't help but wonder where they acquired the paintings. Alan took me to several of these Jewish restaurants. None were owned or operated by anyone slightly Jewish. At one, which was named "Noah's Ark," I spoke with the owner and asked him why he opened up such an establishment and was told that he admired Jewish traditions and food.

This was virtually the same answer that I received from nearly all of the Jewish stores that were catering to the non- Jewish clientele. I had to restrain myself from shouting out to the German group that was eating in there how they sickened me. But I was totally appalled when I went to the Center for Jewish Culture, and again, there was nobody Jewish present with whom I could speak. The man working there he told me that before the war one out of every four residents in the town was Jewish. When I asked why they even had such a building he answered, "To protect the Jewish culture" Too bad they didn't think of that before their mass slaughters.

Next, I was taken to the "Seat of Jewish Community Center" and yet again, the same story. It was close to lunchtime and I was told about a Jewish 'soup kitchen' which was supposed to serve the elderly in Krakow. I was hoping to finally meet someone there who was Jewish and spoke English. I was wrong on both counts. Several Polish employees were working there but none of them were Jewish. In addition, they were incredibly rude. I then began to wonder if the Jewish community paid their salaries and, if so, why?

These people were starving. Not for soup kitchens or a lack of food, but for assistance from the outside. In fact, where is the aid from the Polish government? When I went to Auschwitz, I was told that they had four guides who spoke English for a fee of $50.00 which included a tour of the camp. This is incredibly expensive for Poland. I stopped for lunch and had a delicious lunch of soup, salad, fish potatoes, vegetables, desert and tea for a mere $3.00.

When I mentioned to the woman working at Auschwitz that the government should supply funding for such things she seemed truly surprised at my statement. I commented had it not been for many of her countrymen there wouldn't have been an Auschwitz.

I spoke with Rabbi Edgar Gluck, who is a member of the Presidents Commission for the Preservation of America Heritage, and I told him that he had his hands full. Starting with Poland. Rabbi Gluck told me "This is my 19th year of serving the Jewish community of Poland. Most of which were spent in Krakow during the High Holy days. I have also traveled almost the width and length of the former Jewish Poland reconstructing grave sites and 'ohels' which are small houses built at the site of a father grand rabbi tomb. Many of which have been burned and desecrated."

As bad as I found the situation in Warsaw, it seemed to me even worse in Krakow. The few Jews that are there, as in Warsaw are in dire need. I had a marvelous dinner with the rabbi, and even attended his Shabbat service at the only functioning synagogue, which was situated near the Eden Hotel. The service was Orthodox, however, they had no books, onag Shabbat or any of the 'perks' that we Jews typically take for granted. And, despite my liking of the man, we still differ in our attitude as to what should be the fate of the Jews of Poland. He is against conversion and feels most of the people who are looking to find their Jewish roots are not 'really Jewish" Perhaps he is right. However, in a situation like the present one in Krakow, or, even Poland, this is not the time for "us vs. them." The fledging resurgence of Jewish civilization should be helped in their efforts.

The rabbi is proud that he just spent his 19th year serving the Krakow Jewish community. He is getting assistance and was telling me how LOT airlines had helped him so much in cooperating in helping to bring kosher food to the entire community for the Jewish holidays. However, there is so much more that is needed. We discussed how he must get on the case of the Polish government and working with the American Embassy in rebuilding the desecrated synagogues and cemeteries on Polish ground. So much more needs to be done. The Jews of Warsaw and Krakow are Jews who should be salvaged.

Mostly I find a mixed crowd with many who were young and held the desire to be "Jewish." Sevyron Askonizy in Warsaw has taken over an enormous job of rebuilding the Jewish community of Warsaw. However, it cannot be a one-man show. Where is the outside help in giving them the organization that they need? The Progressive synagogue has no rabbi. The Orthodox rabbi, from what I gathered, travels to New York twice a year and raises funds for his salary. It would be a better situation if there were a combined effort to help the Jewish community as a whole. Both communities appeared to be in dire need of books, and many more of the necessities that we in the States take for granted.

The community, in my opinion, should be run as a business. There should be a governing board with outside checks on where the money ultimately ends up. Under this, their duties should be delegated. These duties should include education, membership and fund raising, directors assigned with committees under that, such as classes in Jewish history, political heritage, Hebrew language, Israeli dance, etc. This should include anything that comes under the realm of education. And, that includes the badly needed books in both English and Hebrew that are now missing. The same sort of committees should come under the director of membership, fundraising etc. And finally, the Rabbi and cantor should be paid a salary along with the outside employees who have been brought in to operate and manage the synagogue and surrounding grounds.

Fundraising for salaries has no place being done representing a group. At this point in time, the issue should be to realize that the Jews of Poland haven't left as a whole and probably will not. These are for the most part young people who are looking for leadership, managerial skills and education. Thank G-d for the Ronald Lauders and Sevyron Ashkenazi's but that's not enough. Who is going to send the Rabbis who not only make them feel accepted but also have personalities and knowledge to keep them interested within the fold? If there are going to be Jewish restaurants, clubs, Cultural committees, bookstores, synagogues, and Jewish community centers, better they should be manned by Jews and not Polish employees, as is the case now. Money must be raised to pay their salaries.

I wanted to buy a Kiddush cup, Shabbat Candlesticks... anything in the synagogue in Krakow and found absolutely nothing available to purchase. Worse, nobody working there even knew what I was talking about. At Auschwitz I was appalled to learn that there were only four guides who spoke English and there was not one on the premises who spoke Hebrew. Why is the Polish government not picking up the slack in simple remedies like this? When I mentioned this to the guide I had arranged, she responded, "Why should the Polish government pay anything? They had nothing to do with it." I answered, "Maybe they should take some of the billions of dollars that they stole from the homes they confiscated?" She seemed truly surprised and said "Oh no, that was the communist. The Poles had no choice. They were assigned where to live."

The Germans in their maniacal efficacy were so devious in the building of these death camps that I remember thinking while traveling through Majandak Concentration Camp in Lublin a few days earlier how in another place, or another time those peaceful looking wooden barracks could have been Camp Barney Meditz where I went to summer camp outside of Atlanta, Georgia as a child. Driving into the camp I passed lovely scenery and picturesque houses. I couldn't help wonder what memories or better yet, nightmares the residents living in them have. Nothing can prepare one for the rare barbarianism and cruelty, which these people have done. I will never be able to look at a German or even some Poles without feelings of contempt and disgust.

And finally, speaking of Auschwitz. I can describe Krakow but Auschwitz is beyond description. As much as the mind can envision, the life under these animals, the Nazis, was unspeakable. However, after traveling to Prague and Lubin and also visiting places such as Thereseinstadt, Birkenau, Majdanek, and Treblinka by the time I got to Auschwitz I thought I had become desensitized. That is, until I walked inside a lone barracks building looked in the semi darkness and looked down the long rows of shelves where these poor souls slept and saw one long stem red rose lying there. Shortly after, I walked down the path to the crematorium and saw two more of the long stem roses placed gently on top of the oven. That's about the time I lost it.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

MUSSOLINI AND THE JEWS

Some excerpts from an article by Andrew M. Canepa published in “Patterns of Prejudice” 1979, 13 (6), 18-27.

The Fascist racial laws of 1938 surprised and shocked Jewish and non-Jewish Italians alike. Even after the so-called "Manifesto of the Race" of 14 July, Italian Jews still thought that the storm of government-inspired antisemitic rhetoric would pass, as in the past, without leaving traces in the legislation of the Kingdom or in the basic attitude of the Regime. This, at least, was the impression gathered on the spot by the distinguished American-Jewish journalist Martin Agronsky, shortly after the fond hopes of his Italian coreligionists were belied by the racialist decrees of September and October. According to another contemporary foreign observer, Sir Andrew McFadyean, the 50,000 Jews of the peninsula were struck dumbfounded by the unexpected laws, "like people stupefied by a bad dream from which they had not yet awakened." The reaction of Gentile Italians, most Fascists included, was not dissimilar. The secret reports of local Fascist Party officials testify to widespread dissent and opposition throughout the Kingdom, and, according to the historian D. A. Binchy, the majority of the population greeted the antisemitic campaign with "resentful shame." Indeed, students of the period now argue that the racial laws of 1938 marked the first major break between the Italian people and the Regime, ended the so-called "years of consensus," and sounded the death-knell of Fascism.

Given the context of modern Italian history, the feelings of perplexity and resentment shared by Jews and Gentiles were natural. Emancipation in Italy, extended to the whole of the peninsula in 1870, had been a unique success, in both its positive and its negative aspects: in the security, opportunities and acceptance accorded Italian Jews, and in the progressive erosion of their Jewish identity. The genuineness of Jewish equality in Italy has been attested to by informed and not uncritical sources such as Cecil Roth, Max Nordau, Chaim Weizmann and the late Italian Zionist leader Dante Lattes. Jews were fully integrated into Italian society and politics and had access to careers in diplomacy and the military, careers generally closed to them elsewhere in the West. In this light, it is no mere coincidence that both the first Jewish minister of war and the first Jewish prime minister in Europe, respectively, Giuseppe Ottolenghi (1902-03) and Luigi Luzzattt (1910-11), were Italians. Until at least 1936, antisemitism on the peninsula was a marginal phenomenon isolated from the mainstream of Italian life. To be sure, after unification, there had been fleeting instances of anti-Jewish polemics in anarcho-syndicalist, in nationalist, and even in liberal circles. However, even the only consistent current of antisemitism in pre-Fascist Italy, the clerical campaign from the early 1880s to the turn of the century, was an exception which proved the rule. That is, far from being an asset, the Judeophobia of Catholics served only to further isolate them from the politics of the Kingdom, and as clerical forces finally became integrated into the Italian political system under Giovanni Giolitti, they concurrently muffled their anti-Jewish polemics. Nor did the favourable situation of Italian Jewry change with the transition from the Liberal to the Fascist State. Indeed, as we shall have occasion to discuss, during the first fourteen years of the Regime - the "honeymoon period," as Meir Michaelis calls it - a symbiosis developed between Fascism and the Italian Jews, and in certain respects (though not in others) their legal status was actually enhanced.

The Jews of Italy, for their part, were more than grateful to the beloved patria for the equality and opportunities accorded them and were anxious to express this gratitude......

During the "honeymoon period" - which, as far as the Regime's official attitude is concerned, could be extended to 1936 - not only were relations between Mussolini and the Jews (both Italian and foreign) cordial, but to some extent an actual symbiosis developed between Fascism and Italian Jewry. In the decade following the March on Rome, the religious and civil rights of Italian Jews were respected and safeguarded; the Duce issued a series of antiracialist and warmly philo-Semitic statements; the government even encouraged (up to a certain point) the activities of the Italian Zionist Federation. Italian Jewry, for its part, because of the favourable attitude of the Regime and because of its own largely middle class makeup, on the whole accepted Fascism and the Fascist State. By 1933, 7,300 Jews had enrolled in the PNF (Partito Nazionale Fascista); and, though there were numerous Jews in the anti-Fascist camp, until 1938 there was no specifically Jewish opposition to the Regime. The symbolic highwater mark of cordial relations was reached in the spring and summer of 1932, when Mussolini made his most noted denunciation of antisemitic racialism in an interview with Emil Ludwig and, as a confirmation of his convictions, appointed Guido Jung as Minister of Finance.....

Similarly, the facilitated entry to Italian universities (reduced rail fares, cancellation of fees, scholarships), accorded in the 1920s and '30s to thousands of Jewish students from Central and Eastern Europe hit by the numerus clausus at home, was granted with an eye to creating a generation of professionals who would presumably spread admiration for Italian culture and Fascist institutions abroad. As late as 1942, Fascist officials still viewed Italian citizens of Jewish "race" residing in Tunisia and Rumania as the vanguard of Italian economic penetration in those areas, and accordingly sought to protect them against the German forces of occupation....

....the basic elements of the Duce's thought in relation to the Jewish question. One of these constants was Mussolini's personal rejection of the doctrine of biological racialism, an unfeigned conviction which he repeated to intimates and family members even after the promulgation of racialist legislation. Paradoxical as this may seem, it only serves to underscore the dictator's cynical opportunism (an attitude not limited, of course, to his policy vis-a-vis the Jews)....

The beginnings of a reorientation in Fascist policy towards the Jews coincided with the Nazi seizure of power in Germany. For the following three years, until the summer of 1936, Mussolini performed a "balancing act" between Hitler and the West, antisemitism and philo-Semitism. It was during this transitional phase that the evolution of the Jewish policy of the Regime became intimately linked to Italian foreign policy in general and to German-Italian relations in particular.....

After the assassination of the Austrian Chancellor Dollfuss by pro-Nazis in July 1934, the Italian dictator temporarily switched back to his previous tactic of exploiting the Jewish issue (and Jewish grievances against Germany) for political and propagandistic gains. Thus, for example, in a September 1934 article for the official Party organ, Il Popolo d'Italia, Mussolini ridiculed the "Aryan" myth and contended that the vaunted racial purity of the Germans led only to congenital idiocy, citing as evidence the statistics of mental illness in the Reich. A month later, in the course of a meeting with Nahum Goldmann, the Duce called Hitler an idiot and a good-for-nothing and declared himself a Zionist ready to back the formation of a true Jewish State, "not the ridiculous National Home that the British have offered you." What's more, in this case, Mussolini's sympathetic declarations were accompanied by promises of diplomatic action which he in fact honoured: Italian support for the evacuation of Jews from the Saar in the face of impending German occupation, and opposition to the revision of the minority rights guarantees of the peace treaties, with specific reference to the status of the Jews in Poland.

The growing Italo-German rapprochement, though, did not prevent Mussolini from keeping his options open and issuing statements which were as much bridges to the West as they were reassuring overtures to the Jews. Thus, in autumn of 1935, the Duce reaffirmed the equality enjoyed by Italian Jews and even claimed that "Italian and Jewish ideals are fully merged into one. It should be noted that, indeed, during the entire transitional period surveyed above, irrespective of the attitude of the Fascist press (for which the dictator was fully responsible), no alteration in the favourable legal status of Italian Jewry was either effected or contemplated, and no anti-Jewish measures, official or unofficial, were taken by the Regime.

Ironically, the Duce's final break with the Jews was to some extent conditioned by Fascism's earlier, diametrically opposed policy towards them. For, as Michaelis incisively argues, the existence of Jewish generals and admirals, of Jewish government and party functionaries, which the Duce's previous stand had encouraged (or at least facilitated), was now inadmissible in light of Italy's new alignment in world politics. On the one hand, even convinced Fascist Jews could not be expected to maintain wholehearted loyalty to an alliance with the Reich; while, for his part, Hitler would never agree to collaborate with his ally's Jewish servants. The way out of this dilemma Mussolini found in the adoption of a discriminatory criterion which would eliminat the embarrassment and inconvenience posed even by "exception Jews":

In these circumstances the Fascist dictator felt the need for an ideology which would allow him to rid himself not only of the "disloyal Italian Jews" (who were being eliminated anyhow), but also of the "loyal Jewish Italians" (who had hitherto been regarded as a definite asset). This ideology was racialism. However, though side by side, the two allies never marched in step, and this was again reflected during the course of the war in the field of Fascist Jewish policy. Because Mussolini remained committed to the Axis until the bitter end, and because of Italian military dependence on the Germans, the Duce would not back away from his antisemtic legislation, nor could he mitigate the official racialist ideology of the Regime. On the other hand, the Jewish question outside Italy served the Fascist authorities as a means of asserting what little freedom of action from their Nazi senior partners they were able to maintain. Together with genuine expressions of spontaneous humanitarianism, this eminently political consideration explains why the zones of Italian military occupation in France and the Balkans became havens of refuge where Jews were unmolested.....