The Holocaust in Austria and The Woman in Gold: A historical battle for art


Up to the 1930’s, and particularly before the Anschluss , or Hitler’s annexation of Austria in March 1938, the Jewish people thrived in Austria. Of course, along with many other European countries, Austria experienced a rise in anti-Semitism during the 1930’s. The country was home to a significant population of Jews, nearly 200,000, most of whom lived in Vienna. They comprised about 9 percent of the capital’s population. When the Nazis marched into the city, numerous Austrians greeted them with enthusiasm. Once Austria became part of the Reich, following a rigged plebiscite that indicated 99 percent of the country was in support of this union, the Nazis hastened to implement anti-Semitic legislation based on the Nuremberg Laws already in effect in Germany.

The anti-Jewish rallies, pogroms and laws that took years to consolidate, gradually, in Germany swept over Austria in a matter of months. Jews were arrested on various pretexts, tortured and humiliated. Their property and stores were looted; many of their synagogues were burned. Hundreds of them were sent to the Dachau concentration camp in Germany and to Mauthausen, the newly established concentration camp in Austria. Many Jews tried to flee the country. Those who chose to stay or couldn’t escape in time were eventually deported to various Jewish ghettos in Eastern Europe–particularly Minsk, Riga and Lodz–from which they were eventually liquidated or sent to die in concentration camps. Thousands of Viennese Jews were also sent to the Theresienstadt concentration camp in Czechoslovakia, from which they were eventually deported to Auschwitz. By 1942, fewer than 10,000 Jews remained in the country, most of whom were saved by the fact that they were married to non-Jewish Austrians.Right after the Anschluss, both Eichmann and Göring came to Vienna to speed up the implementation of anti-Semitic legislation. In a speech delivered on March 26, 1938, Göring stated that the Aryanization of Austria—which entailed, among other things, the confiscation and redistribution of Jewish property to “Aryans”—must occur immediately and be carried out in an “absolutely systematic manner” (The Holocaust, 105). As Leni Yahil explains, the term “property” included “assets of all kinds: works of art, jewelry, even all types of commercial and social benefits” (The Holocaust: The Fate of European Jewry, 1932-1945, translated from Hebrew by Ina Friedman and Haya Galai, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990. 105).

This is the historical era that the newly released film, The Woman in Gold, captures magnificently. The movie, which is based on a true story, follows the legal and emotional struggles of an elderly Jewish Austrian woman living in the U.S.., Maria Altmann (played by Helen Mirren), to reclaim a painting of her aunt Adele. This portrait is executed by none other than the famous Art Nouveau painter Gustav Klimt. In 1907, the artist was comissioned by Adele’s husband, Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, a wealthy industrialist working in the sugar industry, to paint several portraits of his beautiful young wife.

When Adele died from meningitis in 1925, her husband discovered in her will that she wished to donate the Klimt painting to the Austrian State Gallery. Years later, to save himself from the Nazis, Ferdinand fled to Zurich. After the Anschluss, the Nazis took over his property, including the Klimt portrait of his wife. In 1941, the portrait of Adele was transferred to the Belvedere Palace in Vienna, owned by the Austrian State Gallery.

Over the years Klimt’s gilded and elegant portait of Adele Bloch-Bauer became one of Austria’s most prized artistic possessions, with an estimated value of well over 100 million dollars. When Maria tries to reclaim the painting, she finds that the Austrian government is not willing to part with it. Despite her reluctance to revisit the past and open old wounds, Maria does just that. She hires a young lawyer, E. Randol Schoenberg (played by Ryan Reynolds), to help her fight for her family’s treasure. This battle, to her, represents far more than a sentimental attachment to her aunt’s portrait: it represents justice, decades later, for the countless Jewish people robbed by the Nazi regimes.

After several court battles in the U.S. that carries the case of stolen art to the Supreme Court, in 2006, Maria is able to win a binding arbitration battle in her native Austria. On June 19, 2006, Ronald S. Lauder, the President and co-founder of Neue Gallery in New York City, announced that he acquired the Adele Bloch-Bauer portrait. It sold for 135 million dollars. Mr. Lauder stated: “With this dazzling painting, Klimt created one of his greatest works of art. We are overjoyed to be able to give Adele Bloch-Bauer a permanent home at the Neue Galerie. Her presence will enrich the museum immesurably.”( While some critics interpret this legal dispute for Klimt’s famed portrait as an exercise in greed, I think that the movie rightly emphasizes the greater historical dimensions of this magnificent work of art.

Claudia Moscovici

Literature Salon

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A Holocaust Hero in Hungary: The courage of Raoul Wallenberg

The Talmud states: “Whoever destroys a soul, it is as if he destroyed the whole world. And whoever saves a life, it is as if he saved the whole world” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:9, Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 37a). There’s so much wisdom in this saying, which also resonates with history. The Nazis did everything in their power to destroy the whole Jewish race while Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat, did everything he could to save them. He worked relentlessly to save 100,000 Hungarian Jews from the Holocaust.

Wallenberg’s own life story contains as much triumph as it does tragedy. By the time Wallenberg, only 31 years old, arrived in Budapest 437,000 Jews living outside the city had already been deported to Auschwitz. He could do nothing to save their lives. But there were aproximately 230,000 Jews left in Budapest, all of whom Adolf Eichamann, who was then stationed in the capital, planned to send as efficiently as possible to their deaths. The preparations of the death machine had already begun. Most of the Jews in Budapest had already been herded by the Nazis and their Fascist, Arrow Cross collaborators, into a Jewish Ghetto. They were deprived of any means of subsistence and living in terror. Every day they were subject to the Nazi actions to deport them to concentration camps as well as at the mercy of mob pogroms encouraged by the Arrow Cross.

In this humanitarian crisis, where time was of the essence, Wallenberg proved to be both flexible and resourceful. He didn’t limit himself to traditional, slow diplomatic measures to save Budapest’s Jewish community. Using his own funds, he cajoled and bribed members of the Hungarian Fascist party in power, the Arrow Cross, as well as German officials in Budapest in order to protect the lives 100,000 Hungarian Jews. Responding promptly to every call for help, he issued tens of thousands of official-looking Swedish Embassy protection papers to the desperate Jews.

Kati Marton’s beautifully written biography, Wallenberg: The Incredible True Story of the Man Who Saved the Jews of Budapest (New York: Arcade Publishing, Centenary Edition, 2011), narrates the life of this courageous and altruistic man. It also explores the still unsolved mystery of his death while imprisoned in the Soviet Union. Having managed to save tens of thousands of innocent lives and to survive WWII and the Nazi terror in occupied Hungary, in an ultimate irony of fate, Wallenberg perished at the hands of the Allies. He was caught in the lethal web of the Soviet secret police, the NKVD. Yet he managed to accomplish so much in such a short period of time.

By the time he reached Hungary in his early thirties, Raoul Wallenberg had already lived a lifetime. He had travelled the world and gained enormous life experience. Born in an affluent and established family of Swedish bankers and industrialists, Wallenberg preferred to travel and learn about different cultures rather than devote himself to making money. Although he probably could have selected any university in Europe, he chose to study at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, eager to learn more about the U.S. He also travelled to Haifa, Palestine. Through family connections he met Koloman Lauer, a Hungarian Jew who was the Director of a Swedish Import and Export Company, the Mid-European Trading Company. Within a few months, the young man impressed Lauer so much with his competence and efficiency, that he became a joint partner in this enterprise. Given the Lauer’s family and business ties to Hungary, Wallenberg traveled to Budapest, following closely the political situation there. He was especially touched—and alarmed–by the fate of the Jews.

Wallenberg also took trips to Vichy France and Nazi Germany and learned a lot about the Fascist regimes and how their bureaucracy and killing machine operated. His observations that the Nazi regime functioned through a mixture of need for respectability and natural authority served him well when he embarked on the dangerous mission of saving Budapest’s Jews. He bribed the corruptible officials with cigars, alcohol or food—a strategy that often worked in a time of severe food shortages—while at the same time issuing official-looking passports and protective orders, couched in formal language, under the auspices of the Swedish Embassy and government. At one point he even faced the “Engineer of death”—Adolf Eichmann himself—in a showdown of wills in which Eichmann backed down and Wallenberg managed to save hundreds of Jews from the clutches of the Nazis.

On January 17, 1945, following the Ally victory and Budapest’s encirclement by the Soviet army, Wallenberg and his chauffeur went, under Soviet military escort, to meet with a high-ranking Russian general. Wallenberg hasn’t been heard from ever since. Marton’s book describes that several eyewitnesses claim they have seen him in the Lyubianka and, later, in several Gulags well into the 1970’s. But, ultimately, this information is highly speculative. The evidence seems to point to the fact that Raoul Wallenberg perished in 1947 at the hands of the NKVD. The heroic man who saved countless lives from the Nazis could not be saved himself from the cold injustice of the totalitarian killing machine.

Claudia Moscovici,

Literature Salon




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(Un)orthodox and Hasidic Judaism


Raised by her grandparents, aunts and uncles in the Satmar sect of Hasidic Judaism in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, even as a child Deborah Feldman felt oppressed and out of place. In her controversial memoir, Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of my Hasidic Roots (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2012), she casts light upon the secretive and mystical world of Orthodox Judaism. Hasidic Jews live in the midst of our contemporary world in a way that strictly observes the religious rituals of their eighteenth-century Polish orthodox roots. Hasidic Judaism, which in the Hebrew language means “piety” or “loving-kindness”, originated in the Pale of Settlement region of eighteenth-century Poland, part of a large area in Eastern Europe set up by Catherine the Great of Russia in 1791 for Jewish habitation. The Pale of Settlement included a large part of the Polish Commonwealth as well as regions in modern Lithuania, Belarus, Moldova, the Ukraine and Russia.

Setting itself apart from the then prevalent Rabbinism, which had become a kind of religious formalism, Hasidic teachings emphasized Jewish mysticism and the strength of the religious community. It embraced the medieval tradition of Kabbalah and encouraged the religious study of the Torah by every Jewish male, an education that begins at the age of three and continues throughout their lives. Today there are approximately 30 large Hasidic groups, which rarely intermarry, and hundreds of smaller groups. Although similar in religious outlook, these groups tend to stick together to their own ethnic communities.

In the Hasidic religion, women are prohibited from religious study and even discouraged from reading lay books, which may corrupt their modesty. They are prescribed traditional roles as wives and mothers. Strict religious rituals govern the interaction between men and women. In the documentary entitled A Life Apart, depicts the patriarchal microcosm of Hasidic Judaism:


“Orthodox women in particular are charged with a religious obligation to raise children and are “exempt” from all commandments that are considered “time-bound,” i.e., those that must be performed at a certain time. These include the obligation to study Torah, and to attend daily prayer services. Men and women thus have considerably different experiences of spirituality and daily tasks. Most observers would not dispute that the Hasidim live in a traditionally patriarchal system. (

Most members of Hasidic communities value deeply their traditional way of life and feel it is their duty to preserve it even in the midst of an increasingly egalitarian contemporary society. But what happens to those—particularly to women–who feel oppressed by the rules and patriarchal underpinnings of this atavistic way of life?

This is the predicament that Deborah Feldman, a young woman who feels trapped by the practices of her Hasidic community, finds herself in. Ignorant of sexuality and having had little contact with men outside her family, Deborah’s world dramatically changes for the worse when, according to the practices of the Satmar Sect of Hasidic Judaism to which her extended family belongs, she’s forced into an arranged marriage at the age of seventeen. Her husband, Eli, who although only 24 years old, is considered a late bloomer, is not a horrible man. But Deborah’s awakening feminist consciousness and her growing reluctance to embrace the world of Hasidic Judaism, combined with her husband’s strict observance of the traditional ways of his family, makes for a very unhappy marriage. Had Eli been paired up with a woman who was equally observant of the Hasidic religion, he might have made an excellent match. But his marriage to Deborah is, from the start, doomed to failure.

Their sexual inexperience–and Deborah’s ever-growing anxiety in living in a devoutly religious world she rejects—leads to sexual dysfunction for the couple. When, after several years of religious counseling and conventional therapy, Deborah and Eli have a baby (Yitzhak, whom they call Yitzy), the young mother finds herself as detached from their son as she is from her religiously observant husband. She’s alarmed by her own lack of maternal feeling, wondering, “Could I be so damaged by my childhood experiences that I was drained of the ability to love anything? It was one thing if I couldn’t manage to love a man I was arbitrarily arranged to marry. It was a whole other thing to feel detached from my own child” (217).

She looks within and considers exploring other paths in life, which could make her feel more fulfilled. Perhaps her lack of emotion is tied to her sense of dissatisfaction. Once she takes a poetry course at Sarah Lawrence College, she discovers her talent for writing and starts flourishing in a modern environment so different from the traditional society she was raised in. Deborah then realizes that a large part of her emotional unavailability is caused by the strain of living in a traditional culture to which she feels she doesn’t belong. Yet she feels torn, since the traditional way of life that she was brought up in is all she knows. For awhile, she leads a double life, struggling to change personas, from Hasidic to modern, as often as she changes her clothes: from the traditional long skirts prescribed by her religion to the jeans she changes into when she takes classes at Sarah Lawrence College. But only one persona reflects her true identity. Just as she feels more herself in jeans, she feels more at home in mainstream American society. Eventually, after much hesitation, Deborah takes a leap of faith, leaving the Hasidic way of life to begin a new, modern life with her son. The more at ease she feels with herself, the more bonded she feels to her baby. Deborah associates contemporary society with freedom: not the freedom to engage in excess, as it is for some youths who leave the Hasidic community, but the freedom to discover her talents and identity without shame and without having to hide.

When first published, Unorthodox was highly controversial, particularly for members of the Hasidic community, many of whom felt offended. This memoir offers a very critical and intimate perspective on a fundamentalist religion that many embrace wholeheartedly and willingly. For me, the most important aspect of this book was not so much its critique of orthodoxy as its emphasis upon individual choice: the freedom to choose one’s religion and way of life as an adult and, along with that, the freedom to choose one’s identity.

Claudia Moscovici

Literature Salon

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The suffering of innocents: Romanian orphanages during Ceausescu’s regime

One of the most distressing aspects of the Holocaust is the fact that millions of children starved, fell ill and died as a result of Hitler’s genocidal policies. Even before studying the history of the Holocaust in greater depth, I became sensitized to the issue of children’s suffering during communism in the infamous orphages of my native country, Romania.

From the beginning of his rule, Romania’s dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, made rapid industrialization a cornerstone of his domestic policy. During the 1960’s, however, the country approximated zero population growth, which meant, in the long run, a reduced labor force. In response, Ceausescu abolished abortion in 1966, except for cases of rape, incest and danger to the life of the mother or if the mother was over 45 years old and had given birth to at least four children. Later, he introduced more punitive pronatalist measures to offer Romanian citizens further incentives to have more children. The government increased taxes for men and women who remained childless after the age of 25. In 1967 Ceausescu practically abolished divorce. A miniscule quota of maximum 28 divorces was allowed in the whole country that year. The government also offered some positive incentives. Mothers received a monetary reward upon the birth of their third child and the income taxes of couples with three or more children were lowered by 30 percent.

The policy that proved to have disastrous consequences for the country was the abolition of birth control. Contraceptives, which were not manufactured in Romania, were banned, making effective birth control extremely difficult. Initially, the birth rate rose dramatically, but then quickly declined again as women began resorting to dangerous, illegal abortions, which could sometimes be obtained in exchange for a carton of Kent cigarettes. By the early 1980’s, the government took more intrusive measures to regulate women’s reproductive cycles. Doctors performed mandatory monthly gynecological exams on all women of reproductive age to detect and monitor pregnancies. The government also launched a propaganda campaign praising “patriotic” couples that had several children. These measures, however, failed to achieve the desired results. After decades of repressive policies, birthrates in Romania were only slightly higher than those of nations where abortion was legal. However, these draconian measures did manage to increase the number of unwanted children, many of whom were put up for adoption in Romania’s infamous orphanages, which began to receive international media attention during the 1980’s.

By the end of Ceausescu’s dictatorship, there were approximately 100,000 children in Romania’s orphanages. Given the regime’s pronatalist policies and the country’s low standard of living, many families were placed in the impossible position of choosing between food and their newborn babies. Thousands of children were placed in orphanages whose living conditions resembled those of concentration camps. SoRelle notes that even older children were not potty trained and were left to wallow in their own waste. Children slept huddled together on cots or on the floor, covered by the soiled blankets. Many lacked shoes or appropriate clothing for the cold winters. Many were also lice infested because of the unhygienic conditions and lack of proper cleaning supplies. Dunlap observes that orphanages didn’t have disinfectant, soap and hot water. Diseases were rampant and medical care insufficient. Instead of playing with toys, the orphans played with dirty needles. Babies lacked proper attention and children were left unattended and uneducated, remaining illiterate into their teens. Even the international attention such a blatant human rights violation received did nothing to change the dictator’s pronatalist policies or the appalling conditions of the Romanian orphanages.

Claudia Moscovici, Literature Salon


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Review of The Last Seven Months of Anne Frank by Willy Lindwer


The Diary of Anne Frank is one of the most important legacies of the Holocaust. It documents the experiences of a young Jewish girl, her family and their friends while hiding for years in concealed rooms behind a bookcase, called “the Secret Annex”, in Nazi occupied Netherlands. Anne Frank’s father, mother and sister moved into the Secret Annex in July 1942. Soon they were joined there by the Van Pels family and by Fritz Pfeffer, a dentist. Their non-Jewish friends and employees, Victor Kugler, Johannes Keliman, Miep Gies and Bep Voskuijl, provided them with food provisions as well as with information about current events, to reduce their anxiety and isolation. Although they could face the death penalty for harboring and aiding Jews, these courageous friends risked their lives to help those living in hiding.

In her journal, Anne documents the daily difficulties of living in hiding as well as the family dynamics and challenges of becoming an adolescent in such difficult and dangerous circumstances. However, we know much less about what happened to Anne and her family once they were caught by the Dutch Nazis. On August 4, 1944, the Secret Annex was stormed by the Grune Polizei, led by the SS officer Karl Silberbauer.

The Nazis had received a tip that Jews were living in hiding in that office building. The Jewish families were interrogated, then imprisoned in Weteringschans and sent to the punishment barracks for having lived in hiding. A few days later, the Frank family and their friends were transferred to Westerbrook, a transit camp for Dutch and German Jewish prisoners. Then, on September 3, 1944 they were deported to Auschwitz. The train journey to the concentration camp took three days. There the Franks encountered Anne and Margot’s friend from the Jewish Lyceum, Bloeme Evers-Emden, who was later interviewed about the Frank family by a Dutch filmmaker, Willy Lindwer, for the documentary which was also published as a book, The Last Seven Months of Anne Frank (Doubleday Publishing, New York, 1988).

The book contains several interviews by eyewitnesses and friends who encountered the Frank family in Auschwitz as well as information about how people were transported to Auschwitz (in cattle trains, without food and water) and what happened to them once they got to the concentration camps. After the men were separated, upon arrival, from the women, Edith Frank and her daughters, Anne and Margot, were sent to Barrack 29. The Frank sisters spent almost two months at Auschwitz in the hospital after they contracted scabies. Their mother stayed there too to take care of them until Anne and Margot were sent to Bergen-Belsen, most likely on October 28, 1944. They were part of large groups of Jewish prisoners who were led on death marches to concentration camps within Germany, as the Russians were occupying Poland and approaching Auschwitz. Within a few months, in January, their mother, Edith Frank, died from sorrow and exhaustion. Their father, Otto Frank, survived the Holocaust and devoted the rest of his life to preserving his family’s legacy—as well as the memory of the Holocaust–by disseminating Anne’s diary.

Although Bergen-Belsen was originally an exchange camp that had better conditions than the concentration and death camps, by 1944 it became overcrowded and disease-ridden as the Germans forced more and more prisoners into it. Lindwer states that the conditions became so bad in the camp during the final months of the war that “although there were no gas chambers, ten thousand people died… There was almost nothing to eat, it was winter, and sickness and disease were everywhere… As a result, in the last months before the liberation of Bergen-Belsen and in the first weeks thereafter, most of the inmates perished. Among them were Margot and Anne Frank, who died of typhus within days of each other. The camp was liberated by the British shortly thereafter, on April 15, 1945” (6-7). We still don’t know for sure when the Frank sisters perished. Although Lindwer’s book states that they died in March, the Anne Frank Foundation recently published an article that indicates that they probably died earlier, in February 1945.

In a genocide in which the death of an individual counted for nothing; in which millions of people were shot and buried in mass graves or incinerated anonymously in concentration camps, Anne Frank’s diary–as well as books like Lindwer’s—continue to remind us that each life was important and that each death in the Holocaust is worth commemorating.

Claudia Moscovici, Literature Salon



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Decoding Nazi Germany’s Enigma Code: Review of “The Imitation Game”


Decoding Nazi Germany’s encrypting machine, Enigma, was no easy task. Invented by the German engineer Arthur Scherbius at the end of WWI, Enigma machines were used by the Nazis during WWII to exchange (encode and decipher) secret messages pertaining to national security and strategy of war. Three Polish cryptologists who worked for Polish military intelligence—Marian Rejewski, Jerzy Rozycki and Henryk Zygalski—were the first to begin deciphering Enigma messages, using theoretical mathematics and information given by French military intelligence.


During the war, the Allies captured an actual Enigma machine, enabling them to study its hardware and make further progress in figuring out how it worked.  Two compatible Enigma machines would have to work together, the first one encoding a secret message, the second decoding it. An operator would type in a message in German. The Enigma machine would automatically convert each letter into a different letter of the alphabet, through a process of random substitution. The encrypted text would be sent to another operator whose deciphering machine was similar and compatible with the first operator’s machine: only in this case the second Enigma machine would convert the random letters into plain German.


A new movie, The Imitation Game, directed by Morten Tyldum and starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley, focuses on the life of British mathematician and cryptologist Alan Turing, who is credited for helping decode the Nazi Enigma machines. Loosely based on Andrew Hodges biography, Alan Turing: The Enigma (Princeton University Press, 2014), this movie succeeds as a character study as well as a very interesting historical thriller. Turing faces barriers not only from the Navy Commander Denniston, but also from his colleagues, who initially resent the fact he’s entirely focused on building a machine at the expense of their collective work. Portrayed as slightly autistic, without friends lacking a sense of humor, Turing ends up being a fascinating character nonetheless. In fact, his flaws make him seem all the more unique. He goes against the grain to invent the machine capable of solving the puzzles that hundreds of brilliant minds working in the field cannot. Turing’s more sensitive side evolves in his friendship with his colleague Joan Clark (marvelously played by Keira Knightly), whom he asks to marry him in the spring of 1941. Although she accepts despite the fact Turing confesses to her his homosexuality, soon thereafter he changes his mind and breaks up with her in a dramatic scene.


Turing’s homosexuality becomes as central to the plot of the movie as his creation of the machine that breaks the Enigma codes. A few years after the war, in 1952, Turing, by then 39 years old, has a sexual and romantic relationship with a homeless young man named Arnold Murray. When one of Murray’s acquaintances burglarizes his house, Turing calls the police. During the investigation, the detectives called to the scene discover that Turing is homosexual, a criminal offense in Britain at the time. He’s charged with “gross indecency” and given the choice of going to prison or two years of probation (which includes taking hormonal treatment to reduce his libido). On June 8, 1954, the man who helped save millions of lives and shorten the war by at least two years tragically commits suicide by ingesting cyanide. The movie implies that the hormonal treatment, criminal charges and social isolation have a lot to do with Alan Turing’s untimely death, while the Hodges biography indicates this could have been an accidental death.


To transform a messy, complex human life into a drama, a film has to change many aspects of that life. In a recent review of The Imitation Game for Slate, L. V. Anderson goes over some of the ways in which the film deviates from Turing’s life as described by Hodges’s biography:


The (real) Alan Turing depicted by Hodges in Alan Turing: The Enigma, though eccentric, was a much more likable and social person than the character in the film. He was well liked by his fellow cryptologists working at Bletchley Park, who describe him as “a very easily approachable man” and claimed to be “very very fond of him”. In the film, Alan’s more of a loner who is taught to value human emotion by Joan Clark, his friend and confidante. The movie also exaggerates Alan Turing’s role in single-handedly deciphering the Enigma machine, downplaying the roles of others and of the Polish precedents. The movie romanticizes Alan’s early crush for a fellow student at Sherborn School, a boy named Christopher Morcom with whom he shares a love of cryptology (in real life, L. V. Anderson states, they shared a love of chemistry and math). In the movie this love is described as reciprocal, while in the biography it appears to be a more ambiguous relationship, probably just friendship on Christopher’s part.


All these changes, in my estimation, add rather than take away from the strength of the film. They render Alan Turing’s scientific contributions seem all the more significant and heroic while the tragic irony of his death becomes all the more acute. After all, the man who helped save the world from the Nazi regime—a regime that killed homosexuals for being gay—is forced by the British government to choose between prison and a debilitating hormone treatment, in a “free” democratic country to which he had devoted his mind and his life.


Claudia Moscovici, Literature Salon

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Filed under Alan Turing, Alan Turing: The Enigma, Claudia Moscovici, history, Holocaust Memory, Nazi Germany, The Imitation Game, WWII

A cowardly success: The Final Solution as a reaction to German failure in war


Holocaust historian Timothy Snyder advances an interesting and plausible hypothesis about some of the motivations behind the Final Solution. Snyder also believes that the accelerated timing of the plan to annihilate European Jews arose from Himmler’s and Heydrich’s efforts to compensate for the (partial) German failure in the war against the Soviet Union. When it became clear that the plan to conquer, starve and enslave the people of the Soviet Union was not moving as quickly as Hitler anticipated and desired, Snyder argues, “Heydrich and Himmler were able to turn the unfavorable battlefield situation to their advantage, by reformulating the Final Solution so that it could be carried out during a way that was not going according to plan. They understood that the war was becoming, as Hitler began to say in August 1941, a “war against the Jews. Himmler and Heydrich saw the elimination of the Jews as their task” (Bloodlands, 188).

When he attacked the Soviet Union in June 1941, Snyder elaborates, Hitler and his henchmen had in mind a dystopic plan for the East:

1) attacking and conquering quickly the Soviet Union;

2) implementing a Hunger Plan that would blockade and starve entire areas of the Soviet Union, causing the deaths of over 30 million people;

3) a Final Solution that would eliminate all Jews after the war was won, and

4) a Generalplan Ost in which native Germans would colonize the western part of the Soviet Union and enslave its people for the German economy

Competing for Hitler’s favor (and for power) with Göring, Himmler started implementing these objectives in 1941. The Hunger Plan, however, didn’t work as effectively as the Nazis had hoped. It achieved only partial success in Leningrad, parts of Belarus and the Ukraine. Overall, the conquest of the Soviet Union was taking longer than anticipated. According to Snyder, “As these utopias waned, political futures depended upon the extraction of what was feasible from the fantasies” (Bloodlands, 187). So Himmler and Heydrich, eager to prove their “courage” and resourcefulness in the face of Germany’s partial failure on the military front, engaged in an act of ultimate cowardice: He ordered the ruthless mass murder of all the Jews in the conquered territories in the Soviet Union, and soon afterward in most of Nazified Europe.

Himmler personally travelled to the Soviet Union in June 1941 to make it clear to the Waffen SS troops and to the Order Police battalions that they needed to kill not only Jewish men—all of whom he labeled as “Communist partisans”–but also Jewish women and children. Himmler and Heydrich worked closely together, engaging in a kind of division of labor of genocide. Heydrich made arrangements for the Final Solution in Berlin, while Himmler managed the administrative details to carry it out, directing the Waffen SS, the Einsatzgruppen and the Order Police under his control to mass shootings of Jewish civilians in the occupied regions of the Soviet Union. By August 1941, Snyder estimates, the Nazis had murdered over one million Jewish civilians in the Soviet Union. “The East,” Himmler pompously declared, “belongs to the SS” (Bloodlands, 189).

While Snyder’s hypothesis that the earlier implementation of the Final Solution had a lot to do with Germany’s partial failure in their conquest, colonization and destruction of the Soviet Union is exceptionally well argued and persuasive, this argument doesn’t take away from the fact that the Final Solution was a central goal for the Nazis regardless of German success or failure in war. The annihilation of the Jews would have no doubt happened had Nazi Germany won the war. Soviet Jews—along with the Jews of conquered nations throughout Europe–were trapped in an impossible situation by Nazi ideology itself, for which anti-Semitism and the annihilation of the Jews was a central priority.

Claudia Moscovici, Literature Salon

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