Medieval treasure won’t return to Jewish heirs: Medieval artifacts that the Nazis allegedly acquired from Jews under duress need not be awarded to the original owners’ heirs, a German arbitration panel has ruled.
Hmmm … maybe an arbitration panel from a different country ought to rule on this one?
I think I speak for all of us when I say, “Finally, someone has adapted the saddest scene from a Holocaust movie into an acrobatic figure-skating routine.” No? Just me? No one else?
That’s Justin Peters, writing over at Slate the other day about Julia Lipnitskaia’s routine at the Sochi Olympics in which she wore a red costume and skated to the theme from Schindler’s List.
A number of people have asked about my level of outrage and the answer is that it’s pretty low. Lipnitskaia certainly isn’t the first person to skate to music from Schindler’s List and I’m certain she won’t be the last.
Do I think we need a whole lot more of this sort of thing? I don’t. But, then, I also won’t watch a single minute of ice skating or ice dancing or whatever at this year’s Olympics or at any other. I don’t find it exciting or moving or even interesting.
But a whole lot of people do.
And some of those people will likely find themselves very interested, moved, or excited about Lipnitskaia’s performance. And maybe some of them will even watch the film or read the book for the first time. And then perhaps they’ll find themselves learning about and caring about the victims of the Holocaust.
Is that Lipnitskaia’s intention? Probably not. But neither is it her intention to offend. Surely some people will be offended, in no small part because some people will always be offended; indeed, some people will likely be offended by this blog post. But it isn’t clear, at least to me, exactly what’s offensive about adapting a scene from Schindler’s List for an ice skating program. And, more importantly, it’s also the case that people who didn’t know much about Schindler’s List might decide to learn a little bit about it or about the Holocaust as a result of both the competition itself and the online discussion it prompted.
And that’s something.
This morning, after something like two weeks of working through it, I finished watching my grandfather’s Shoah Foundation video testimony.
Both of my grandparents were interviewed about their experiences back in November 1997, but I hadn’t seen either video. I borrowed copies of the DVDs from my parents last year, before my grandfather passed away, but I waited until my sabbatical so I could spend a serious amount of time with them.
I’m glad that I waited. These interviews are, not surprisingly, very difficult to watch. Even fifty or more years after the events, their emotions are right on the surface when they talk about their parents, their siblings, and the last time they ever saw them.
After nearly two hours of talking about unimaginable tragedy, my grandfather is asked about his life today. He says, “We have a nice, happy life here. Children, grandchildren. We are happy with what we got here.” The interviewer asks him if he has any anecdotes about his family that he wants to share and he proceeds to talk, for about five minutes, about my sister and me, telling a few stories from when we were little kids. It’s the only time, in two hours, that he smiles and laughs.
You might think this is the unexpected gift, those few minutes. And there’s no denying that I’ll watch him recounting those stories again and again for many years to come. The stories are ones that my grandmother always tells whenever she reflects on our childhood, but this time they are told by my grandfather; they are in his voice, with his laughter.
The larger gift, though, is really the entire two hours of testimony; it’s a tour of our family history and a permanent link to a past that could so easily be papered over or minimized with just a few words. When my children are older, I’ll show it to them to teach them this part of who they are and to connect them to great-grandparents for whom they, the next generation, were two of the most important people in the world.
Well, here’s a disturbing trend I didn’t know about until this morning:
The so-called “quenelle” signal, popularized by notoriously anti-Semitic French comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, allows these youngsters to openly flout the strict anti-hate speech laws in some parts of Europe.
Apparently, posting photos of oneself doing the “quenelle” is popular for Europeans teens, athletes, and even politicians.
In related news, today is the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, where members of my family were murdered in 1944 and where the young man above is saluting their murderers.
As dysfunctional as Washington is these days, change is still possible when ‘We the People’ get engaged, run for office themselves or make their voices heard. After all, how else could a country doctor from Muskogee with no political experience make it to Washington?
Coburn’s question is a good one. How indeed can a country doctor with no political experience make it to Washington and participate — some might even say participate in a way that’s directly responsible for some of the dysfunction — in what many people would suggest is the most dysfunctional Congress in anyone’s memory? How indeed. I can only imagine that when the good people of Oklahoma sent Dr. Coburn to Washington without a shred of political experience, they expected precisely what they ended up getting … like the blockage of the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, or holding up passage of legislation to create the Lewis and Clark Mount Hood Wilderness Act, or placing a special hold on the Veterans’ Caregiver and Omnibus Health Benefits Act, or protesting NBC’s decision to air “Schindler’s List” in prime time because it contained nudity, violence, and profanity.
Anyhow, fare thee well, sir.
Now which brave soul will step into the breach and take up the mantle of desperately trying to stop political scientists from receiving federal funding to study American politics?
Whenever I write something or give a lecture about Israel — on the human rights situation, international relations, or its domestic politics — someone invariably says to me, “Why are you so against Israel? You’d feel differently if your loved ones lived there or if you thought seriously about the legacy of the Holocaust.”
This is interesting for a couple of reasons:
First, because it’s so obviously wrong. I actually think I like Israel quite a lot (in fact, I also frequently get nasty notes from people who think I’m some sort of rabid Zionist), I have a whole bunch of family living in Israel, and I tend to think I know quite a bit about the legacy of the Holocaust since two of my grandparents survived it and a whole lot of my family did not.
But second, and more importantly, because it’s such a blatant attempt to use private reasons when public reasons aren’t working. When I’m critical of the human rights record of the Israeli government or when I take sides between the various political parties in an election, I’m attempting to use public reasons to sway someone else’s opinion; if I write, for example, that I would prefer a party other than Likud to win an election, my preference is presumably backed by some reason rather than just a feeling. It’s not that I simply dislike Netanyahu; it’s that I can sketch out various ways in which his preferred public policy positions are not in the best interest of the Israeli electorate (to say nothing of non-Israelis). The best response to my claims would be to refute them with other public reasons, to suggest that my own reasoning about what’s in the best interest of the electorate is mistaken for some reason or that there’s a different way to understand the human rights concerns I raise. The worst response is to suggest that I don’t feel deeply enough the tragic history of the Jewish people or that I haven’t established a strong enough connection to Israel.
This type of thinking suggests that — if only I had a more personal connection to Israel, the Holocaust, or maybe even to Judaism — I’d be more willing to ignore the public reasons that I’ve expressed with regard to human rights or public policy matters. But, of course, see #1 above.
Those public reasons aren’t going away, no matter how many family members of mine live in Israel or perished in the Holocaust. In fact, I think it’s important to recognize that I have this connection and that, nonetheless, I can attempt to think somewhat objectively about human rights or war-mongering or the peace process.
So … tell me I’m wrong about negotiations with Iran, or expanding settlements, or whatever else … but use reasons that might convince anyone anywhere, not just someone with your own personal beliefs or history.
Now that my second book’s been published, I guess it’s officially time to start working on the next one.
This new one’s going to be much more closely related to my first book, on human rights, and to a separate research project of mine on Holocaust education, than to my just-published book on heroism.
There’s pretty much nothing like staring down a dozen gigantic library books on a topic you’re excited to start learning about.
This week on the Hero Report podcast, we welcome Elizabeth Svoboda, author of What Makes a Hero? The Surprising Science of Selflessness. The discussion covers Holocaust rescuers, heroism in times of crisis, the relationship between suffering, personal identification, and heroism, how heroism happens, and how we can prepare ourselves for it.
Scalia opened his talk with a reference to the Holocaust, which happened to occur in a society that was, at the time, “the most advanced country in the world.” One of the many mistakes that Germany made in the 1930s was that judges began to interpret the law in ways that reflected “the spirit of the age.” When judges accept this sort of moral authority, as Scalia claims they’re doing now in the U.S., they get themselves and society into trouble.
Scalia cited numerous issues that have been thrown to the courts — a woman’s right to an abortion, society’s right to execute someone for a crime, whether “homosexual sodomy” ought to be allowed — and claimed that judges are unqualified to answer them. Medical doctors, engineers, ethicists and even “Joe Six Pack” would be just as qualified as a legal professional to settle some issues that have come before the high court.
In other words, if the Supreme Court rules against the wishes of “Joe Six Pack” that executions constitute cruel and unusual punishment or that gays and lesbians have the constitutional right to equal treatment with their heterosexual fellow citizens, we’re obviously well on our way to Nazi Germany.
On the other hand, here’s an actual expert ”on the role of German courts during the period leading up to and during Adolf Hitler’s regime”:
A United States Holocaust Memorial Museum historian told an audience today at the Supreme Court of Ohio that pre-World War II German courts set the stage for Nazi atrocities by falling for promises of restoring order, professionalism and judges’ authority.
Even when the number of political prisoners held by the Ministry of Justice increased from 35,000 to 150,000 in the 1930s, Meinecke said the situation looked normal to jurists. “Jurists had no interest in questioning the legitimacy of the Nazi state, because it saved them from the abyss,” he said. “The court was afraid of being irrelevant.”
In his research, Meinecke said he uncovered one sitting judge who challenged Nazi practices. The judge, who objected to a secret killing program of mentally and physically disabled people, was removed from office. Another judge, who refused to take an oath to Hitler resulting in unlimited power, resigned from office. Neither judge was arrested. Other officials with objections were transferred to distant posts with little meaning and little power.
Slowly, Hitler remade the judiciary step-by-step in his own image. “He used the rules of democracy to destroy democracy,” Meinecke said. Jurists, obviously, couldn’t see where all this was headed and called the changes minor because they didn’t affect nonpartisan jurists, only Jews or those politically active, he said.
To me, this doesn’t sound quite like what Scalia has in mind when he talks about judicial activism on issues that ought to be left to the citizenry. Of course, Josef Sechserpack and the citizenry in Germany voted the Nazis into power in 1933, effectively making Hitler the German Chancellor … an inconvenient fact that Scalia omits from his lecture.
But, hey, whatever, right?
Thailand’s premier university has apologized for displaying a billboard that showed Adolf Hitler alongside Superman and other superheroes, saying Monday it was painted by ignorant students who didn’t realize Hitler’s image would offend anyone.
The billboard was up for two days before being removed Saturday in response to criticism. Online photographs showed graduating students in their robes, mimicking Hitler’s raised arm salute.
[…]The study of history in the Thai school system revolves primarily around the history of Thailand and its long line of kings. World history is glossed over, with little or no mention of the Holocaust.
Well, the phrase “ignorant students who didn’t realize Hitler’s image would offend anyone” certainly suggests that the educational system isn’t quite doing its job …
HT: Stefan Dolgert.