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Learning from the past

An article about the film, "Defying the Nazis," that I blogged about this past Wednesday, appeared in the New York Times two days ago:

The article makes explicit the parallels between today's refugee crisis and the crisis of the 1930s, when many people including my godmother, father, and family members were trying to get visas to get out of Germany and needed sponsors to lend a helping hand on the other side of the sea. My father was able to migrate to the United States with the help of an organization here; my godmother's brother was not so lucky. This life-or-death situation is the reality of countless refugees today.

From the article:

“There are parallels,” notes Artemis Joukowsky, a grandson of the Sharps who conceived of the film and worked on it with Burns. “The vitriol in public speech, the xenophobia, the accusing of Muslims of all of our problems — these are similar to the anti-Semitism of the 1930s and ’40s.”

The Sharps’ story is a reminder that in the last great refugee crisis, in the 1930s and ’40s, the United States denied visas to most Jews. We feared the economic burden and worried that their ranks might include spies. It was the Nazis who committed genocide, but the U.S. and other countries also bear moral responsibility for refusing to help desperate people.

That’s a thought world leaders should reflect on as they gather in New York to discuss today’s refugee crisis — and they might find inspiration from those like the Sharps who saw the humanity in refugees and are today honored because of it.

Defying the Nazis - a film about Unitarian Universalist rescuers

I read about an interesting film, "Defying the Nazis," by filmmakers Ken Burns and Artemis Joukowsky, in the Jewish Week:

Joukowsky raised money from family and friends for the documentary, and wrote a book about their exploits; he also established a foundation that awards grants and gives the Sharp Rescuer Prize, which promotes “humanitarian work “ following his grandparents' example.

He has framed the couples story in both amacro context (World War ll and the Holocaust) and in a micro one (the effect of the Sharps' decisions had on their children and on their marriage). His goal was to personalize the Shoah. Ken Burns is quoted in the article: “It's very difficult to say the words ‘six million’ and have them have any meaning.”

The documentary includes interviews with people rescued by the Sharps, authors, historians and Holocaust scholars. Burns worked on the project frame-by-frame. “He's meticulous….a perfectionist."  Burns recruited Tom Hanks to serve as Waitstills voice; in vintage Burnsian fashion, Hanks reads from letters and journals. There is also a haunting musical score, and dramatic re-enactments. 

Implied in “Defying the Nazis” are several questions: What is the cost of personal sacrifice? What are the limits of commitment to an ideal? What would you do in the Sharps' shoes?


If this sounds interesting to you, watch it! “Defying the Nazis” will be broadcast on PBS on Sept. 20, 9 p.m., and will be screened at Village Cinema, 22 E. 12th St. in Manhattan Sept. 9-15.


Phoenix - how does war change personal and national identities?

I recently saw Phoenix, a moving film based on themes central to my Mischilnge Exposé, and wanted to share a few quotes from the article included in the DVD booklet that resonated with me. 

From "Just Be Yourself," by Michael Koresky:
"Phoenix is a German film preoccupied with how war forever changes personal and national identities."

"With her entire family dead, her Gentile husband having abandoned her, and her face disfigured, Nelly is essentially without identity. As the film will go to demonstrate, however, identity is never fixed. Does Nelly consider herself a German or a Jew? Is she her own person or somebody's wife?" 

"Other tensions are of a more spiritual nature: When will Nelly accept the possibility of a future untethered to her past? How will she truly identify herself? All of this is in aid of a story that is at its core about the lies we tell to ourselves, and about ourselves, so that we can function within societal structures..."

Powerful film!!
Read the whole article here:

Watch the trailer:

Hitler's Jewish Soldiers

Having recently read Bryan Mark Rigg's groundbreaking book on this topic, I was very impressed by Larry Price's documentary "Hitler's Jewish Soldiers," which also features Rigg as a speaker. It is great to see Mischlinge in similar situations to that of my father portrayed in such a thoughtful way. 

The ironic and fearful predicament of Mischlinge is well presented. Expertly done! I highly recommend this documentary. See an interview with the filmmaker here:

Watchers in the Sky

The proposal sought to outlaw the “premeditated destruction of racial, religious or social collectives.” Lemkin’s attempt to warn the international community was dismissed – his rationale virtually ignored.