Posts Tagged ‘Holocaust’

Cheeps and Chirps for July 2, 2016

July 2, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
July 2, 2016

Please enjoy some more recent odds and ends from my Twitter feed.

• Comedy!

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An intriguing tale of World War II atrocities unspools in Ronald Balson’s uneven ‘Once We Were Brothers’

August 21, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 21, 2015

Once We Were Brothers, the 2013 novel by Chicago lawyer Ronald Balson, regularly shifts its narrative between the present-day Windy City and World War II Poland. But the heart of this book is clearly in the events of the 1940s, which Holocaust survivor Ben Solomon recreates over a period of several weeks as he tries to provide his attorney with evidence that Chicago’s most prominent philanthropist was in fact his stepbrother, who went on to become a Nazi war criminal.

Solomon’s counsel, corporate lawyer Catherine Lockhart, initially believes her client to be a seriously disturbed crank. But she quickly becomes enraptured by Solomon’s story, and who could blame her? It’s a story of strong-willed men and women whose lives become irreversibly warped as the continent around them succumbs to a tyrant and his anti-semitic obsession. By the time Solomon brings his account to its conclusion, most of the characters — not to mention millions of Jews and their countless communities — have been exterminated by a vicious genocide.

By contrast, all the drama in Once We Were Brothers’ present-day narrative seems entirely trivial. Will Lockhart’s career — already derailed by a personal meltdown triggered by her duplicitous former husband — be permanently impaired as Solomon increasingly distracts her from her obligations to her corporate clients? Will Lockhart and Liam Taggart, the handsome, savvy private investigator who has loved her since they were children, recognize their mutual passion for one another? These are all low-stakes matters in the grand scheme of things.

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‘Woman in Gold’ movingly portrays the quixotic quest by a World War II refugee and her attorney to correct a Nazi injustice

April 21, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 21, 2015

The new feature film Woman in Gold poignantly tells the true story of a World War II refugee and her lawyer who sue to recover a famous portrait of her aunt decades after it was confiscated by Nazis.

The woman at the heart of the story is Maria Altmann, the daughter of a prominent Austrian Jewish family. Simon Curtis and Alexi Kaye Campbell — it’s the second full-length movie feature directing credit for Curtis, following My Week with Marilyn and numerous TV movies, and the first writing credit of any kind for Campbell — intertwine scenes from Altmann’s earlier life in Vienna with those of Altmann and her attorney, new father Randy Schoenberg.

The titular woman in gold is Adele Bloch-Bauer, whom famed artist Gustav Klimt painted in 1907 in what became an iconic work. As we learn, even this apt and seemingly innocuous title has political implications. (Klimt, incidentally, also painted a second portrait of Adele as well as additional works for the Bloch-Bauers.) The legal battle begins in 1998 when, after the death of Maria’s older sister, Luise, the younger woman finds letters from the late 1940s that her sibling had exchanged with an Austrian lawyer in a futile attempt to recover stolen family property.

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Pawlikowski’s ‘Ida’ was honored by the 2015 Academy Awards

February 25, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 25, 2015

The 87th Academy Award ceremony, which took place Sunday night, turned out to be rather political. Patricia Arquette, who won best supporting actress for her role as the mother in Boyhood, used her acceptance speech to call for gender wage equality.

When “Glory,” the theme from the wonderful civil rights film Selma, was chosen for best song, musician John Legend said, “We wrote this song for a film that was based on events that were 50 years ago, but we say that Selma is now because the struggle for justice is right now.”

Legend had more to say in his acceptance speech, adding: “We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850.” (Legend co-wrote “Glory” with Lonnie Lynn. That musician and actor, who performs under the name Common, appears in Selma as the skullcap- and denim-wearing Rev. John Bevel.)

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A bloody birthright: Why I support Israel’s right to exist

July 29, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
July 29, 2014

The reasons why I support Israel’s continued existence as a Jewish homeland are rooted in the mortal perils that Jews have faced over the millennia. However, the heart of the matter is and will always be the bloody history of the 20th century.

No serious discussion of the subject can overlook the impetus for Israel’s establishment in 1948. That was only a few years after the end of World War II, which went hand in hand with the widespread realization that Adolf Hitler had conducted a massive, horrifying campaign to exterminate Jews and other so-called undesirables.

The Nazi Germany genocide — Raphael Lemkin coined that word in 1944 to describe what we today call the Holocaust — racked up a staggering death toll. The numbers vary from account to account, but according to one tally published by The Telegraph, between five million and six million Jews were killed.

Jews were hardly the Nazis’ only victims; four million Soviet, Polish and Yugoslav civilians died in the German camps, along with three million Soviet prisoners of war, 70,000 individuals with mental and physical disabilities, more than 200,000 Roma and an “unknown number of political prisoners, resistance fighters, homosexuals and deportees.”

Entire Jewish neighborhoods were wiped off the map; Nazis and locals appropriated their property. (There are a few brief but poignant nods to this in The Monuments Men, and this morbid history forms the dark heart of the brilliant Polish movie Ida — although Germans were only indirectly responsible for the killings and theft in the latter film.)

Poland’s Jewish community was hardest-hit, dropping from more than three million in 1933 to about 45,000 in 1950, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. (Here, as elsewhere in Europe, most of the reduction was caused by the Nazi slaughter, although some was due to postwar migration.)

The devastation elsewhere in Europe was comparable: Germany’s Jewish population fell from 565,000 to 37,000 over the same time period; Czechoslovakia’s, from 357,000 to 17,000; Austria’s, from 250,000 to 18,000; Greece’s, from 100,000 to 7,000. And this is only part of the grim census of genocide.

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A young woman hunts for the truth in the understated, powerful ‘Ida’

June 14, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 13, 2014

Ida, the 2013 film which director Pawel Pawlikowski wrote with Rebecca Lenkiewicz, is the powerful story of a young woman who must grapple with her family’s shadowed past and the fallout of the previous generation’s war.

The movie, which is set in Poland in the mid-1960s, revolves around Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska), who is poised to become a nun at the rural convent where she has apparently been raised since infancy. Days before Anna is scheduled to take her vows, her mother superior tells her that the convent had repeatedly written to her aunt, asking her to pick up the girl; the aunt, her only living family member, declined to do so. The nun vaguely but firmly instructs the Anna to travel to her relative’s city apartment. She tells the young woman to stay there as she needs.

The aunt, Wanda (Agata Kulesza), is a stern, trim figure who initially has little use for any echoes of her past. But she soon reverses course, welcoming Anna into her home and introducing the girl to some of their shared history. Wanda, a lifelong city dweller whose sister was Anna’s mother, agrees to drive the young woman to the small town where her parents were farmers before the Nazi invasion.

Anna’s parents — who, unbeknownst to her, were Jews — are dead, but no one knows where they are buried. The two women decide to find the grave, visiting the people who took over the property that once belonged to Anna’s family and tracking down the ailing elderly man who had once protected them from the crematoria of the Holocaust.

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The Jews who made America sing: Virtues of ‘A Fine Romance’ far outweigh its flaws

May 15, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 15, 2014

A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs is a strange gem of a book. This entertaining work by poet David Lehman is a hybrid. Most of the relatively slender volume — the main text runs 222 pages, followed by a timeline and end notes (but no index, alas) — chronicles the lives and work of Jewish-American composers and lyricists who enjoyed huge success from the 1920s through the early 1960s.

Lehman appreciates the work of these musicians on multiple levels. For instance, he praises this clever couplet from Lorenz Hart’s “Mountain Greenery”:

While you love your lover let 
Blue skies be your coverlet.

The “incredibly clever and uniquely sad” Hart, Lehman writes, also hit upon such polysyllabic rhymes as Yonkers–conquers, Crusoe–trousseau, and “sing to him”–“worship the trousers that cling to him.”

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Oskar Schindler, a slick and self-indulging saint, spares lives amidst Nazi atrocities

April 9, 2013

In 1980, the Australian novelist Thomas Keneally went shopping for a briefcase in a Beverly Hills, Calif., luggage store. The store’s owner, Leopold Pfefferberg, was one of about 1,300 mainly Polish Jews whose lives had been spared during World War II by the heroic efforts of Nazi industrialist Oskar Schindler.

It was a fateful meeting: After years of attempting to interest a writer in doing a full-length treatment of Schindler’s story, Pfefferberg finally found a receptive ear.

Keneally went on to interview 50 Schindlerjuden in America, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Israel and West Germany. With Pfefferberg, he visited European locations frequented by Schindler and the people protected during the war. Keneally’s researches and other efforts went on to inform the 1982 book Schindler’s Ark, which was published in American under a title well known to moviegoers: Schindler’s List.

The book is categorized by its author as a novel, and Keneally admits to having made “reasonable constructs of conversations of which Oskar and others have left only the briefest record.“ However, it reads as a work as journalism, with speculation and extrapolation on certain matters clearly labeled as such by Keneally.

I recently read an American volume of Schindler’s List and found it to be an incredibly moving tale. (This was no surprise; Steven Spielberg’s 1993 film adaptation of Keneally, which I watched last summer, had a similar effect upon me.)

A paradox lies at the heart of this book. In his inimitable fashion, Schindler merrily wined, dined and bribed Nazis as part of a determined effort to spare the lives of about 1,300 workers and their families at his kitchenware and munitions plants in the ancient Polish city of Cracow and, later, the rural Czechoslovakian outpost of Brinnlitz. To find this story inspiring, as I do, is simultaneously to embrace and to deny the backdrop to this feat: The six million European Jews cruelly murdered by Hitler and his armies.
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A flashy but deeply flawed hero saves lives with ‘Schindler’s List’

August 28, 2012

At the start of World War II, a flashy businessman named Oskar Schindler detected the scent of something precious: opportunity.

In the fall of 1939, Schindler, a German living in occupied Krakow, Poland, was wining and dining Nazi officials and looking for a way to make money. After learning of a recently bankrupted factory, he tracked down its former accountant and quizzed him on the business’ fundaments. The suspicious accountant, Itzhak Stern, throws in with Schindler’s decidedly unorthodox business plan. Thus was born an unlikely, and nearly miraculous, partnership that wound up saving some 1,100 Jews from the Nazi death machine.

The story of that alliance is at the heart of Schindler’s List, American director Steven Spielberg’s 1993 outing. (Actually, it was his second picture that year, released after Jurassic Park.) Spielberg is perhaps the most successful director of all time. His credits include influential blockbusters such as JawsClose Encounters of the Third KindE.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and the Indiana Jones movies; other adventure movies such as A.I. Artificial IntelligenceSaving Private RyanMinority Report, Catch Me If You CanWar of the Worlds and The Adventures of Tintin; and more serious dramas such as The Color PurpleEmpire of the SunAmistad and Munich.

Having said all that, and without having viewed many of Spielberg’s acclaimed pictures, I’m prepared to argue that Schindler’s List is one of Spielberg’s most powerful features. Spielberg presents this story of the Holocaust in straightforward fashion, showing atrocious deeds with minimal moralizing or mawkishness. The film also brings forth some fascinating characters — Schindler himself, who has more substance than his outer flash would suggest, as well as the mostly stoic Stern and Schindler’s other crucial business partner, a vicious Nazi officer named Amon Goeth. Read the rest of this entry »

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