Tag Archives: Claudia Moscovici

The Turning Point of the War: Review of 1941 by Andrew Nagorski

The Turning Point of the War: Review of 1941 by Andrew Nagorski

by Claudia Moscovici

 

We tend to think of D-Day as the turning point of WWII: the day the Allies landed in Normandy to liberate France, and the entire Europe, from the Nazi invaders. But Andrew Nagorski’s new book, 1941: The Year Germany Lost the War (New York, Simon & Schuster, 2019), persuasively argues that this crucial year was the beginning of the end for Hitler’s regime and the beginning of hope for the Allies. In fact, had Hitler not chosen to follow in Napoleon’s footsteps and replicate his mistake—that of invading Russia at the wrong time–it’s likely that the descendants of the Nazi victors would be writing a very different history today.

Nagorski points out that before he launched Operation Barbarossa and invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, Hitler had Europe in the palm of his hands. He had swept through most of the Continent, while Britain found itself fighting the war almost alone. The United States, and especially President Roosevelt, was on its side. However, America hadn’t yet joined the Allied forces and the President was still struggling with isolationist tendencies in Congress. Furthermore, Germany was relatively safe from the danger of Soviet invasion thanks to the Nazi-Soviet (or Molotov-Ribbentrop) neutrality pact of 1939. Judging by Stalin’s shock and hesitation to retaliate when he first found out that Germany attacked his country, the Axis powers could have continued to trounce the Allied forces. But Hitler’s racial theories—which considered the Slavs to be an inferior people—coupled with his ideology of Lebensraum, or the conviction that the Aryan race would thrive if they vastly expanded their territory and resources by conquering the Soviet Union, led Hitler to make the same mistake in 1941 that caused Napoleon’s fall over a century earlier.

Catching the Soviet Union unprepared for war and with its army leadership decimated by Stalin’s Great Terror purges of 1936-1938, Hitler expected to conquer quickly the Soviet Union. He was especially interested in getting his hands on the natural resources of the Ukraine which is why, contrary to the wise advice of General Heinz Guderian, who counseled him to invade Moscow first, Hitler decided to make Kiev his immediate target in the early fall of 1941. This postponed the attack on Moscow to the late fall and winter (October 1941 to January 1942), with the Nazi soldiers unprepared for the extremely cold temperatures of the region and running out of supplies and energy. As Nagorski points out, both totalitarian rulers made big miscalculations during the war. But in 1941 they began to follow different paths. As Stalin started trusting and taking the advice of his key generals, particularly his ruthless and courageous Chief of Staff, Georgy Zhukov, Hitler, fueled by his previous easy victories and obsessed with directing soldiers and resources to the mass murder of the European Jews, began making big mistakes. “It was their calculations—and, more significantly, gross miscalculations—that were determining the trajectory of the war” (1941,143).

The prolonged battle of Moscow was not the only turning point in the war, however. The continuing rapprochement between Roosevelt and Churchill, the decrease in power of the main proponents of the “America First” isolationist movement (Charles Lindbergh and Joseph Kennedy, not accidentally, both Nazi sympathizers), and especially Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, all changed the fate of Europe and the direction of the war. “History is written by the victors,” Winston Churchill is often cited as saying. In the case of the Jews, and perhaps also the Slavs, it would have been not only their history, but also their very existence that would have been effaced had the Nazis won the war. Nagorski’s exceptionally well researched and magnificently written book reminds us of the pivotal importance of the year 1941. This book, along with Robert Conquest’s The Great Terror: Stalin’s Purge of the Thirties (1968) and Alan Bullock’s Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives (1991), should be an essential reader for anyone interested in Hitler, Stalin and WWII history.

 

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No Friends but the Mountains: Kae Bahar’s eloquent call for Kurdish nationhood

No Friends but the mountains: Documentary Filmmaker Kae Bahar’s eloquent call for Kurdish nationhood

by Claudia Moscovici

 

Documentary film director Kae Bahar’s No Friends but the Mountains is a must-see film for those interested in the issues of Kurdish Independence, the fallout from the civil wars in Syria and Iraq, and the plight of the Yazidis in the aftermath of these countries’ partial occupation by ISIS. This one and a half hour documentary, released in 2017, is available to watch internationally, including on Amazon Kindle. The film is not only educational—sometimes even overtly didactic–but also polemical, as it makes a compelling argument for Kurdish nationhood.

Right now, the Kurds are dispersed throughout several countries and regions. They comprise about 20 percent of the population in Turkey, 17 percent of Iraq, and 10 percent of Iran and Syria each. Moreover, as a result of oppression and civil war, close to 1.5 million Kurds have immigrated to Europe. Once part of the Ottoman Empire, when the latter disintegrated at the beginning of the twentieth-century, the Kurds, like the Armenians, were ethnic minorities that were perceived as a threat in Turkey. The nationalist Turkish movement “Young Turks” deported hundreds of thousands of Kurds. By the end of WWI, nearly 700,000 Kurds had been deported and more than half perished during this process of ethnic cleansing.

Not surprisingly given their history of oppression, the Kurds have been demanding their own country for decades. The Socialist organization PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) has been most active in calling for national independence. While the PKK has been accused of terrorist activities, a more moderate party, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP or PDK), under the leadership of President Masoud Barzani, pushes for a democratic and independent Kurdistan. Today, as the President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan is becoming increasingly repressive and squelching moves for independence, the chances of Kurdish separation from Turkey look rather bleak.

The civil wars in Syria and Iraq, however, have created enough of a political vacuum for the creation of the independent region of Kurdistan. Comprising almost 20 percent of the Iraqi population, the Kurds suffered through a genocidal campaign run by Saddam Hussein, leading to mass murder, the use of poison gas on civilians, and the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Kurds. This genocidal policy led to the deaths of almost two hundred thousand Kurdish Iraqis. The UN condemned Hussein’s actions and established “safe havens” for Kurdish civilians in 1991 in Northern Iraq. When Saddam Hussein’s murderous regime was toppled, the Kurds celebrated the fall of the tyrant and welcomed American troops in the area. The Kurdish military forces, called the Peshmerga (literally meaning “before death” or “those who face death”), expanded their control over part of the autonomous region of Kurdistan, with a population of almost six million Kurds. Once ISIS took control over large parts of Iraq and Syria, the Peshmerga forces, remarkably comprising of both male and female soldiers, have been a crucial force in pushing back the terrorist organization and helping the resistance movements regain control of large parts of these countries. The Kurds have also been a source of aid to the Yazidis, a minority group in Iraq and Syria who have been targeted by ISIS for murder, pillage and—horrifically—the kidnapping, rape and sexual slavery of thousands of young women and girls. In fact, Bahar’s documentary features a scene where the Peshmerga help a group of Yazidis, comprised mostly of women and children, who managed to flee ISIS into the mountains populated by the Kurds. The scene is one of the most moving of the documentary: as very young children are crying from hunger and thirst, we see the Peshmerga soldiers, after doing a necessary security check, bring them life-saving vegetables, flatbread and water.

The title of this documentary says a lot. With “No friends but the mountains”, the Kurds have suffered oppression in Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran. Without their own nation, they are, like the Jews were for centuries, at the mercy of their host countries, where they are usually oppressed minorities. Showing the Kurds as a peaceful people who have even helped other suffering minority groups, like the Yazidis, Bahar makes a compelling humanitarian and political argument for Kurdish nationhood. This would grant the Kurds more international protection and legitimacy.

I think there’s no question that, morally, the Kurds deserve a nation of their own. The question I have after seeing this thought-provoking documentary is pragmatic: namely, is this the right time to assert the Kurds’ right to nationhood? As older nation-states in the Middle East—Iraq, Syria, and Libya—have been shaken by violent upheavals since 2011 from which they haven’t yet recovered, what would happen if Kurdistan created its own nation? Would it fall prey to the same upheavals or, as Bahar implies, would it be a stabilizing force in the area? Moreover, it seems that, in Turkey, Erdogan continues to veer towards increasingly repressive measures towards his own people and especially towards Kurdish separatist groups. No doubt, he would feel extremely threatened by the state of Kurdistan. What would happen to the Kurds in Turkey? Would they fall victim to increased oppression or even ethnic cleansing once again? It’s difficult to answer these questions in the abstract. But clearly the Kurdish people and their leaders feel that the time is ripe to seize the moment and establish the nation-state they rightfully feel they deserve. Bahar’s film suggests it is now up to the international community to give them recognition and help them fulfill their political dreams.

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A precedent for the Holocaust: The Armenian genocide and The Promise

Review by Claudia Moscovici, author of Holocaust Memories: A Survey of Holocaust Memoirs, Histories, Novels and Films (Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, 2019)

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/076187092X/ref=ox_sc_saved_title_3?smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER&psc=1

As Peter Balakian points out in the Preface of his book, The Burning Tigris: The Armenian genocide and America’s response (New York: Harper Perennial, 2004), the Holocaust had a significant historical precedent: one which, unfortunately, is all too often ignored. The Armenian genocide, he states, “has often been referred to as ‘the forgotten genocide,’ ‘the unremembered genocide,’ ‘the hidden holocaust,’ or ‘the secret genocide’” (xvii). He adds that many historians—including Yehuda Bauer, Robert Melson, Howard M. Sachar and Samantha Power–rightfully consider the Armenian genocide as “the template for most of the genocide that followed in the twentieth century” (xviii). Over a century later, Turkey still refuses to acknowledge the systematic and premeditated mass killings of the Armenian population by the Ottoman Turks, even though this genocide, officially recognized as such by 29 countries, is very well documented: “In the past two decades, scholars have unearthed and translated a large quantity of official state records documenting the Committee of Union and Progress’s (Ottoman Turkey’s governing political party) finely organized and Implemented plan to exterminate the Armenians” (xxi). Balakian himself studied “hundreds of U.S. State Department documents (there are some four thousand documents totaling about thirty-seven thousand pages in the National Archives) written by American diplomats that report in depth the process and devastation of the Armenian Genocide. The extermination of the Armenians is also illuminated in British Foreign Office records, and in official records from the state archives of Germany and Austria-Hungary, Ottoman Turkey’s World War I allies. The foremost scholar of the Armenian Genocide, Professor Vahakn Dadrian, has made available in translation body of Turkish sources both primary and secondary” (xxi).

The genocide involved the systematic mass murder and ethnic cleansing of approximately 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Turks during WWI. The extermination started on April 24, 1915, with the deportation and execution of a few hundred Armenian intellectuals from Constantinople. It progressed to the forced conscription, imprisonment in labor camps and murder of able-bodied males. Soon thereafter, it led to the mass murder of women, the elderly and children, who were herded by Turkish military escorts for hundreds of miles across the Syrian desert, without sufficient food, water, medical care or sanitary facilities. The Turks periodically butchered entire villages and communities mercilessly driven on these death marches. Women and young girls were often subjected to rape and torture before being killed. Sometimes the victims were loaded on cattle trains for days, without any provisions, in a manner similar to the Nazi transportation of Jews to concentration camps almost three decades later.

Similarly to the Jewish Holocaust, the Armenian Holocaust didn’t happen out of the blue. Like the Jews in many European countries, the Armenians were considered second-class citizens in the Ottoman Empire. Even during relatively Enlightened times, when the Ottoman rulers granted the Christian and Jewish minorities relative autonomy and minority rights, non-Muslims were still considered to be “gavours”: meaning “infidels” or “unbelievers”. In the Eastern provinces, Armenian villages found themselves subject to higher taxation and often invaded by their Turkish and Kurdish neighbors. Moreover, like the Jews in the Pale of Settlement region, the Armenians fell victim to periodic pogroms.

However, discrimination and subjugation don’t necessarily lead to wide-scale genocide. Consequently, just as the Jews couldn’t have anticipated the extermination of their people by the Nazis, nothing prepared the Armenian communities living under Ottoman rule for their ethnic cleansing at the hands of the Turks. In both cases, world wars were used as an excuse—and incitement–for genocide. The Ottoman Empire entered WWI on August 2, 1914, when it signed a secret treaty with Germany to fight on the side of the Axis powers. The Turkish leadership wanted the local Armenian population to act on their behalf. It called for their insurrection against the Russian Army. The Minister of War, Enver Pasha, launched an attack on the Russians. He attempted to encircle and destroy the Russian army at Sarikamish in order to reclaim Turkish territories occupied by the Russians since 1877. However, his plan failed and his troops were defeated. The Turks blamed their defeat on the local Armenian population, claiming that they were traitors who helped the Russians. Subsequently, able-bodied Armenian men living in the Ottoman Empire were discharged from active military service, disarmed, and sent to forced labor battalions, where many were executed by the Turks.

In a move that would prefigure the Jewish genocide in the Eastern Territories during WWII, on May 29, 2015, the Turkish Central Committee passed a law of deportation (the “Tehcir Law”) that gave the Ottoman Empire the right to deport anyone they considered a threat to “national security,” which, in their minds, included women and children. The mass deportation—in grueling death marches–of the elderly, women and children soon followed. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians died from starvation, disease, and being butchered in mass shootings. To carry out genocide, the Turks formed a paramilitary organization that has been compared to the Nazi Einsatzgruppen. The Turkish Committee of Union and Progress founded a “Special Organization”, comprised mostly of Turkish criminals released from prisons, who were put in charge of the deportations and massacres of the Armenians. They killed countless helpless civilians, decimating their numbers through forced marches, shootings, mass burning, drowning and even poisoning. Like the Nazis, the Turks experimented with toxic gases and biological warfare (inoculating healthy Armenians with the blood of typhoid patients). After the Allies defeated the Axis powers, on November 3, 1918 Sultan Mehmet VI was ordered by the Allied administration to hold war trials for the Turkish leaders of the Armenian genocide, which included Mehmed Talaat Pasha, Enver Pasha and about 130 high officials of the Ottoman Empire.

The contemporary movie The Promise (2016), directed by Terry George, captures the trauma of the Armenian genocide in an epic drama reminiscent of War and Peace. The movie traces the love triangle between Mikael, an Armenian medical student who falls in love with Ana, an Armenian tutor educated in France, who is engaged to Chris, an American journalist covering the war for the Associated Press. A small town boy from a poor family, before meeting Ana, Mikael himself becomes engaged to a wealthier neighbor, whose family gives him a dowry (400 gold coins) to cover his expenses for medical school in Constantinople. At a party held by his wealthy uncle, Mikael is introduced to Ana, his nieces’ tutor, as well as Emre, the son of a Turkish official, whom he befriends. He’s smitten with Ana as soon as he meets her. The young woman captivates him with her beauty, culture and sophistication. But the beginning of WWI nips their romance in the bud. Mikael is sent to a labor camp, from which he manages to escape. In one of the most harrowing scenes of the film, Mikael rides on top of a cattle train, hoping to elude the Turkish army and make it back to his native village to help his family. Suddenly it starts to pour. He hears strange sounds emanating from the train: terrible moaning and cries. Hands emerge between the grates of the train, trying in vain to cup the drops of water. To his shock, Mikael discovers that hundreds of Armenian civilians are trapped inside, dying of thirst and hunger. Before jumping off the train, the young man manages to pry open the lock to one of the doors and save the trapped prisoners. He finally makes it to his parents’ house, where the family has an emotional reunion. However, realizing that it would be too dangerous to stay with his parents, Mikael and his fiancée get married in great haste and move to a remote area, where they live together in a rustic cabin. A few months later, his wife becomes pregnant and experiences health complications.

Meanwhile, his friends, Ana and Chris, visit Mikael’s parents trying to locate him. They are helping a group of orphans escape from the murderous Turkish troops. As Mikael joins them on the back roads to lead the orphans to a safer area, he watches helplessly as a group of Turkish soldiers carry off his own family and other inhabitants of his little village, Sirun. He runs to their aid but arrives too late: most of his family and neighbors lie murdered in a ditch. Only his young niece and his mother have (barely) survived, left for dead by the Turks. The rest of the beleaguered Armenian community decides that it’s better to fight to the death rather than be butchered like sheep by the Turks. Armed with rudimentary tools and a lot of courage, the refugees fight valiantly and manage to hold off the Turkish onslaught until a French ship, le Guichen, comes to their rescue. As Mikael takes a lifeboat of orphans to safety, Ana drowns when her boat is capsized by Turkish artillery. Despite their rivalry for her love, both Mikael and Chris mourn her death. This tragedy resolves the tension of the love triangle that had divided them.

The Promise, I believe, follows in the footsteps of War and Peace in depicting war on an epic scale through the optic of a personalized family drama and love story. It alludes to the Armenian genocide, and captures episodes of it, without becoming too didactic. While viewers seem to rate the film highly, the critical reception has been mixed. Rotten Tomatoes, the review aggregator website, reports that, so far, The Promise received an average rating of 5.7/10. Benjamin Lee, the film critic for The Guardian found the film “soapy” but well intentioned. Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times concurred, calling it “corny” and “a derivative of better war romances”. The Nation’s film critic, Pietro A. Shakarian, rated it more highly, claiming “The Promise captures the magnitude of this history [of the Armenian genocide] that no prior film on the genocide has done before.” I agree in part with both perspectives. Like Shakarian, I find The Promise to be a moving epic drama that tackles an important and often overlooked subject. At the same time, I feel that the film sometimes privileges the love triangle at the expense of offering viewers more necessary background about the Armenian genocide. For instance, when depicting the friendship between Mikael and Emre (the son of the Turkish official, who is eventually killed because he didn’t turn against his Armenian friend), the movie may give viewers the false impression that Turks and Armenians peacefully coexisted before the beginning of the war. But, as my previous discussion has described, the status of the Armenians living under Ottoman rule was similar to that of the Jews in many European countries: they were considered (at best) second-class citizens and (at worst) enemies to be killed in pogroms. In both cases, the sociopolitical conditions were ripe for mass extermination. World wars were the catalyst, not the cause, of genocide.

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Survivors Club: A Family’s Legendary Tale

 

Survivors Club: A Family’s Legendary Tale

Review by Claudia Moscovici, author of Holocaust Memories: A Survey of Holocaust Memoirs, Histories, Novels and Films (Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, 2019)

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/076187092X/ref=ox_sc_saved_title_3?smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER&psc=1

Michael Bornstein’s Holocaust survival story is the stuff that legends are made of. A few years ago, Bornstein ran across a photo of footage taken by Soviet troops of the recently liberated child survivors at Auschwitz. The documentary wasn’t actually from the day of liberation of the concentration camp. It was filmed as a reenactment a few days later. The children were asked to put on for the last time the striped, threadbare dingy clothes they wore in the concentration camp: only this time they wore them on top of the regular clothes they found in the “Canada” warehouse at Auschwitz, where the Nazis deposited the belongings of prisoners upon arrival. To his own surprise, Michael Bornstein, by now a grandfather, recognized himself in that photograph. He is the gaunt four-year-old boy with wispy, short hair standing in the front. It was miraculous that he had survived. The odds were heavily stacked against him.

Out of the millions of inmates at Auschwitz, fewer than 3000 were liberated by the Soviets and only 52 of them were children under the age of eight. Seeing this picture stirred something in him: not so much full-fledged memories, since Michael had been too young to remember the horrors of the Holocaust, as the desire to record his family’s incredible survival story. With the help of archival research, his father’s documents and interviews with neighbors and surviving relatives, Michael Bornstein and his daughter, NBC and MSNBC News producer Debbie Bornstein Holinstat, co-wrote his Holocaust memoir, aptly calling it Survivors Club: The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017). Although the title alludes primarily to the handful of children who survived Auschwitz, it also refers to Michael’s family. Out of the 3,200 Jews living in Zarki at the time of the Nazi invasion in September 1939, about 30 survived. Most of the survivors were members of the Bornstein family.

Historically, Michael Bornstein’s family and their neighbors experienced first-hand almost every stage of Nazi atrocities in Poland. Upon invading their little town, Zarki, the Wehrmacht burned it to the ground. They rounded up hundreds of Jews and shot them in nearby forests, in the streets and even in their own homes. Soon thereafter, the Nazis set up a Jewish Ghetto. Unlike larger ghettos throughout Poland, however, for most of its existence, the one in Zarki remained open, allowing some life-sustaining trade and interaction with the local Polish population. Michael’s father, Israel Bornstein, was elected Jewish Council President, a heavy responsibility that he reluctantly accepted. He and his resilient and courageous wife, Sophie, did their best to protect not only their own nuclear family—their older son Samuel and Michael, who was still a baby—but also the entire Jewish community of their town.

As in the case of the other Jewish ghettos in Poland, life for Jews in Zarki was a constant struggle to ward off hunger, forced labor, and the relentless waves of deportations to death camps. For awhile, Israel Bornstein managed to round up the resources to bribe the local Gestapo chief, Officer Schmitt, into giving their community more food and occasionally decreasing their burdens. Schmitt, though a callous man and a true Nazi believer was, fortunately, also venal. But small-scale bribery proved to be no match for the immense Nazi killing machine. By the end of September 1942, most of the Jewish inhabitants of Zarki were sent to die at Treblinka. Perhaps wishing to demonstrate his “humanity,” Schmitt made one exception. He spared Israel Bornstein and his nuclear family from death. They, along with Israel’s mother (Dora), were sent to a more lenient labor camp until they, too, were eventually dispatched to Auschwitz. As Michael was to find out later, his father and older brother both perished there.

Michael, by now a toddler, was placed in a children’s section of the concentration camp. Had his mother not managed to sneak him into the women’s camp after a few weeks, he most likely wouldn’t have made it. The older children, themselves starving, were constantly stealing most of his meager portions of daily gruel. Under the wing of his mother and grandmother, Michael managed to live in hiding from day to day. When his mother was reassigned to another labor camp, the little boy was left under the sole protection of his paternal grandmother. Ironically, it was illness that ultimately saved his life. Suffering from high fever, he was placed in the infirmary around the time the Nazis began to force the Auschwitz prisoners on the fatal death marches. From the infirmary window, Michael watched the beleaguered, freezing prisoners file away from the camp under the blows of the Nazi guards. The story of his liberation by the Allies a few days later is captured by the Soviet footage. But the inspiring tale of his survival—Survivors Club–has only now been told.

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A First-Class Experience: CEO Paul Glantz re-Emagines Movie Theaters

EmagineTheaters

A First-Class Experience: CEO Paul Glantz re-Emagines Movie Theaters

by Claudia Moscovici

Ten years ago, many thought that movie theaters would go by the wayside, the way the video rental industry has. With the rise in popularity of Netflix (founded in 1997), Hulu (founded in 2007) and other popular video on demand companies, which allows viewers to enjoy movies and shows in the privacy of their homes, it seemed as if going to the cinema would become a thing of the past.

A few years ago, Paul Glantz, CEO of Proctor Financial and Emagine Entertainment, Inc., based in Troy Michigan, proved this prediction wrong. He raised over 45 million dollars to create a high-end chain of movie theaters throughout the Midwest. Most are located in his native state, Michigan, and a few can be found in Minnesota and Illinois. This concept is bound to expand, as Emagine Entertainment becomes a highly successful national chain. What Glantz has created is a win-win situation: a greatly enjoyable experience for the viewers that creates great profits for the company. “Whenever I put the interest of those on task to serve ahead of my own, it always turns out beautiful for both of us,” Glantz stated in a recent interview with Laurence Technological University. While regular movie theaters did, indeed, lose some business as a result of video on demand companies, Glantz’s venture shows that, as far as movie going is concerned, people prefer to fly first class rather than economy, so to speak.

The analogy fits. Watching a movie at one of the luxurious Emagine theaters is a similar experience to flying first class. You lean back in luxurious leather seats and enjoy a glass of wine—or a beer—with your movie, and perhaps even a delicious, warm dinner. Snacking is more delectable too. Emagine Theaters not only have a wide array of flavored popcorn options—the most popular American movie munchies since the Great Depression—but also serve pizza, pretzels, and other treats. The soda machines are upgraded too. With the push of a button you can flavor your favorite cola however you wish. The theater space is elegantly appointed in a contemporary design that includes plenty of comfortable seating—and even a fireplace—to enjoy conversation with friends while awaiting the beginning of a film. But this is where the analogy stops: you don’t have to pay premium prices for this first class experience. Movie tickets at Emagine Theaters sell for about ten dollars, only three dollars more than at regular movie theaters. The price is so economical, the movie experience so enjoyable, and the food so enticing, that you might be tempted to just move into the theater for good. (But don’t get any ideas…)

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Advance Praise for Holocaust Memories: A Survey of Holocaust Memoirs, Histories, Novels and Films

CoverHolocaustMemoriesBook

 

 

Advance Praise for Claudia Moscovici’s

Holocaust Memories: A Survey of Holocaust Memoirs, Histories, Novels and Films

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/076187092X/ref=ox_sc_saved_title_3?smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER&psc=1

 

The screen that portrays the horrors of the twentieth Century is fading more rapidly than its audience can bear. Claudia Moscovici’s book will go far to help keep it lit longer.

 

Rabbi Joseph Polak, Author of After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring, Winner of the 2015 National Jewish Book Award

 

This book fills a present and mounting need for all readers interested in the Holocaust, including scholars and teachers.  With the literature about that unprecedented crime becoming steadily more extensive, Claudia Moscovici’s work offers a valuable and well-written guide to key works on various aspects of the Holocaust or on its entire history.

 

Guy Stern, ​Distinguished Professor Emeritus Wayne State University Director, International Institute of the Righteous Holocaust Memorial Center Zekelman Family Center, Farmington Hills, MI

 

Holocaust Memories is a morally urgent book, an encyclopedia of mourning, remembrance, and compassion, an invitation and a behest to keep memory alive and to resist unwaveringly any form of authoritarian temptation. It is particularly recommended to high school and college students, but also to a general audience. I learned a lot from it and I am convinced that many others will share my superlative endorsement.

 

Vladimir Tismaneanu, Professor of Politics, University of Maryland (College Park), author of The Devil in History: Communism, Fascism, and Some Lessons of the Twentieth Century

 

A well-written series of book reviews that can be used as a solid tool for those who want to study the Holocaust.

 

Radu Ioanid, Author of The Holocaust in Romania and The Ransom of the Jews

 

Intended for a wide public and a new generation of readers, this bold and ambitious book forms an overview of the Holocaust from a myriad of sources – historical, philosophical, or literary works and films. More than sixty lucid and concise essays (usually two or three pages long) introduce various circumstances of human cruelty in Germany, Hungary, Romania, and Soviet Russia, but also in Cambodia and Rwanda. These focused readings comprise an invaluable source book for anyone seeking to understand the horrors of totalitarian regimes, constantly reminding us that moral courage must prevail over politics.

 

Edward K. Kaplan, Kaiserman Professor in the Humanities Emeritus, Brandeis University, author a two-volume biography of Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972)

 

Holocaust Memories provides a wealth of reviews and summaries of major memoirs, histories, biographies, novels and films related to the Holocaust. In the breadth of its coverage it provides an important and much-needed resource for teachers and students of all ages who are exploring the record of a tragedy so extensive and horrific it defies understanding. In bringing together testimonials and perspectives from many different voices and a range of genres, Moscovici provides a nuanced and multi-faceted approach that will allow readers to begin to register the unfathomable pain and loss brought about by the Nazis’ decimation of Jews, Gypsies, Poles and other groups. The clarity and vividness of the writing make the reviews intense, each capturing a sense of the impact of the source being described. And since the anthology also covers works about other genocides, such as those in China, Cambodia, and Rwanda, it underscores that genocide is not just a matter of history; it is sadly also a matter of the present.

 

Natalie McKnight, Dean and Professor of Humanities, The College of General Studies, Boston University

 

The Holocaust is much more than a historical event; it is a continuing story playing out in the lives of survivors, their descendants, their communities and entire societies. It is a seminal presence that provokes reflection and alerts us to the risks of falling into the abyss of inhuman depravity – of what could happen because it did happen. In Holocaust Memories, Moscovici has given us a panoramic view of the Shoah and framed it with other modern genocides. This book is at once much broader than virtually any other work I know, deeper than most in its gentle insistence that we persist in wrestling with the most fundamental moral questions. Those questions are as pertinent today as they were in 1945. Holocaust Memories will be an invaluable resource as I write my own memoirs as a survivor.

 

Martin Heisler, Professor Emeritus of Government and Politics, University of Maryland, College Park

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Janusz Korczak, “The King of the Children”

Korczakandthechildrentoingtoing.com

 

Review by Claudia Moscovici, author of Holocaust Memories: A Survey of Holocaust Memoirs, Histories, Novels and Films (Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, 2019)

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Joseph Stalin once told U.S. Ambassador Averill Harriman “the death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic.” Perhaps this is why readers react so much more sympathetically to the personal account of the Holocaust in The Diary of Anne Frank than to any history or political science book on the subject. The deaths of Janusz Korczak and the nearly two hundred orphans he took care of are far from being a statistic. It is one of the most tragic episodes of Holocaust history, recorded both in his diary describing their lives in the Warsaw Ghetto, Ghetto Diary (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), and in a beautifully written biography by Betty Jean Lifton, The King of Children: A Biography of Janusz Korczak (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1988).

Janusz Korczak, the pen name of Henryk Goldszmit, a Jewish Polish educator, doctor and writer of children’s books and educational philosophy, was famous long before he perished along with his children during the Holocaust. Like Jean-Jacques Rousseau, he devoted a large part of his life to writing about how to raise children. Unlike Rousseau, however, he practiced what he preached. Korczak devoted his entire life to taking care of thousands of orphans and destitute children. He worked first as a pediatrician, then as a leader of the Orphans’ Society. There he met the woman who would become his assistant, friend and greatest collaborator, Stefania Wilczynska.

In 1911 Korczak became the Director of an orphanage for Jewish children. In this context, he implemented some of the ideas expressed in his books: particularly that children need to be encouraged, not punished, and that they need a combination of guidance and autonomy to develop into decent human beings and good citizens. This was especially true of the thousands of homeless and hungry street urchins, both Polish and Jewish, that Korczak and Wilczynska raised, fed and educated over the course of their lives. Like in Korczak’s books, they created a “Children’s Republic”: not a utopia, but a place where the orphans had a lot of say in their upbringing and education, forming their own parliament, court and newspaper. Korczak, a keen psychologist, also encouraged them to write a diary where they learned to express their fears and sadness without allowing it to dominate their lives. He built for his orphans a state-of-the art orphanage: one of the first buildings with electricity and running water in Warsaw.

Not long after the Germans invaded Poland in 1939, they decreed the establishment of the Warsaw Ghetto on October 12, 1940. Korczak was obliged to move his modern orphanage from the Polish section of town, on Krochmalna 92, to a smaller building on 33 Chlodna within the ghetto walls, and later to an even tinier place on 16 Sienna Street. Even in the face of incredible hardship, disease and starvation, Korczak struggled every day to feed, clothe, educate and comfort the nearly 200 orphans under his care. He would go asking for food and donations throughout the ghetto, stage plays and other cultural activities, in the attempt to foster some semblance of normalcy in disastrous conditions. Although several of his Polish former students and friends offered him false papers to escape the Ghetto, he refused to abandon the children.

But on August 6th 1942, even the most cynical couldn’t have predicted that the Germans would send thousands of children living in the Ghetto to their deaths, in Treblinka. They took Korczak, his staff and the children by surprise when they stormed into the orphanage and ordered them to march to the gathering place at the train station, for deportation to the East. Betty Jean Lifton vividly describes the orphans’ sad procession; one of the darkest and most touching episodes in Holocaust history:

 

“The Germans had taken a roll call: one hundred and ninety-two children and ten adults. Korczak was at the head of this little army, the tattered remnants of the generations of moral soldiers he had raised in his children’s republic. He held five-year-old Romcia in one arm, and perhaps Szymonek Jakubowicz, to whom he had dedicated the story of planet Ro, by the other. Stefa followed a little way back with the nine-to twelve-year-olds… As the children followed Korczak away from the orphanage, one of the teachers started singing a marching song, and everyone joined in: ‘Though the storm howls around us, let us keep our heads high’” (The King of the Children, 340).

 

Although Janusz Korczak could not protect his beloved orphans from the gas chamber, he gave them one last gift: the comfort of facing their deaths with dignity.

 

Claudia Moscovici, Holocaust Memory

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Filed under Betty Jean Lifton The King of the Children, Claudia Moscovici, Holocaust Memory, Janusz Korczak, the Holocaust in Poland, the Warsaw Ghetto, Treblinka, Warsaw Ghetto orphans