Allied troops sweeping across Germany early in 1945 reacted to Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Auschwitz, with incredulity, revulsion, and fury.
Proposing an International Plan of Rescue
Allied troops sweeping across Germany early in 1945 reacted to Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Auschwitz, with incredulity, revulsion, and fury. “There are no words in the English language to describe Dachau,” is the opening sentence of an official United States Army report. The solicitude the Army forced upon the emaciated men they found there, Jews in large part, sprang from deep compassion for the victims of a crime enormous beyond all precedent.
Until then, the drama of rescue had followed the lines of the simplest movie plot. But the drama did not end there. The rescue was a respite only. It was followed by a change from one camp to another, in which the “liberated” victim, today, twenty months later, is still captive and still in jeopardy. There was a change also in the hero. Incredibly, the solicitous rescuer has become the camp-keeper, cold and unfriendly. The happy ending has been reconverted into tragedy. The victims still await final rescue.
Those who have stood opposed to their rescue—figures like Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Morgan and isolated United States Army officers who have recently echoed him through the instrument of Mr. George Meader—have helped postpone the freeing of the displaced, stateless Jews by denying their needs, discrediting their motives, and attacking their character.
Nor have the spokesmen of American Jewry, or liberals generally, been always correct in their facts or statements. Creature conditions in the DP camps are sub-standard, but are by no means at a level warranting statements that the present camps are “just as bad” as the Nazi concentration camps. And the attempt merely to arouse pity for people who are far from sitting on their hands, or waiting passively for their second liberation, is grossly inappropriate to their problem.
The displaced Jews have an almost obsessive will to live normally again, to reclaim their full rights as free men. Their energies and talents have been dramatically exhibited in the vigorous communities they have created in the camps, despite scant material resources and highly abnormal environmental conditions. This achievement in reconstruction reduces to absurdity the efforts made to stigmatize the Jewish survivors. It deserves the world’s admiration. More important, it calls for the determination that such character and courage shall no longer be denied fulfillment. Since the story of the achievement of the displaced persons is not generally known, even in informed American circles, I propose to tell it here out of my year’s experiences in sharing the day-by-day life of one of the largest and earliest Jewish DP camps, that at Landsberg, in the American zone of Germany.
Essential as prologue to the story is a brief background placing the Jews within the displaced persons situation as a whole.
Of 8,000,000 uprooted Allied nationals in Germany and Austria at the end of the war, approximately 1,000,000 remain today where they were found. Why don’t they “go back where they came from”?
Roughly 75 per cent of them are Baits, Poles, Yugoslavs, and Ukrainians. Some were collaborationists, mercenaries who volunteered more or less eagerly to help build the Nazi war machine, and these realistically fear the reprisals awaiting them at home. A considerably larger number accepted the opportunities for work in Germany to save themselves or their families from starvation; they, too, fear reprisal at home—whether realistically or not is unknown.
The largest group were slave laborers brought forcibly into the Reich. While they have no ostensible reason to expect punishment in their homelands, they fear the new regimes that are aligned with the Soviet Union.
The remaining 25 per cent are Jews, with a quite different war and postwar history. They fall into three groups. The first are the accidental survivors of the concentration camps, which differed from the extermination camps only in that their victims were starved, tortured, and worked to death slowly instead of being summarily executed in mass. Almost all who were nationals of the Western countries, and of Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Rumania, accepted repatriation. But those from the Baltic States and Poland had suffered as much from their compatriots as from the Nazis, and their faces were turned predominantly to Palestine. Nevertheless, most of these did return briefly to their former homes in the desperate and generally futile hope of finding their kin and recovering their possessions.
There they encountered the second, and smallest, category of Jewish survivors, those who had contrived to escape the ghettos by hiding in the forests or on the “Aryan” side of the ghetto walls.
The “Katsetler” (concentration camp) Jews quickly returned to the DP camps to which they had been moved directly after V-E day. Soon after, under the rising tide of terrorism in Poland, there followed the “forest” Jews in a stream that jammed the Jewish camps by early winter (1945-1946).
The third group of Jews were those evacuated in family units by the Russians from Poland in 1941, principally to Siberia. In the spring of 1946, approximately 150,000 accepted the Russian offer of repatriation, and were resettled largely in the new Polish province of Silesia (now cleared of its German population). From the first, sporadic attacks had indicated that, despite the ostensible good will of the Polish government, the Jewish position in Poland was untenable. Jews now began to trickle westward, and with the Kielce pogrom in July, they fled in panic to join their brethren.
In accepting them without restriction, despite the fact that existing facilities were inadequate and many complex problems were involved, Generals McNarney and Clark maintained the best American traditions of giving refuge to the persecuted and the oppressed.
In all, 275,000 Jews are homeless and stateless, suspended for almost two years now in an exodus that can move neither forward nor back, waiting for the moment the barriers will be lifted. Approximately 155,000 are in the American zone of Germany, and 25,000 in the British zone. Some 40,000 are in Austria, almost exclusively in the American zone, and 25,000 in Italy. In addition, there are an estimated 30,000 Jewish refugees, on temporary visas only, in France, Sweden, Switzerland, and the Low Countries.
This is a predominantly male and overwhelmingly young adult population. Age and sex statistics, based upon a Joint Distribution Committee census taken in Bavaria early in 1946, mutely reveal the lines of Nazi extermination policies. The sex ratio is two male survivors to one female. Only 8 per cent are under the age of seventeen, only 11 per cent are over forty. That is, 81 per cent are between the years of seventeen and thirty-nine.
The census is not revealing as to economic status and occupational background. Nevertheless, I should judge that about 5 per cent of the adults are upper-middle class in origin, i.e., business executives and professionals; 20 per cent upper-lower class, i.e., heavy workers; and approximately 75 per cent lower-middle class, principally skilled craftsmen, small shopkeepers, and merchants.
Landsberg is a picturesque town, unscarred by the war, set in beautiful rolling country on the approaches to the Bavarian Alps. It has a placid air about it, which seems to be confirmed by its population of 14,000 solid, conservative, respectable burghers. But a closer glance brings into focus its meaning as a symbol of the whole recent history of Germany. Here, in a small but comfortable attendant’s room in the town prison, Hitler wrote Mein Kampf. The townspeople converted the room into a national shrine.
Here, within sight of Landsberg, are the remains of a network of concentration camps, ancillary to Dachau, whose prisoners built the huge underground munitions works in the area. Through the streets of Landsberg, under the eyes of the burghers, the weary prisoners were often marched. On the town’s outskirts are numerous mass graves of Jews. And in Landsberg proper are cavalry barracks built for the First World War. It is this military camp that received the Jewish survivors of Dachau in May 1945, and still houses them and their refugee brethren, 5,500 in all.
The Landsberg Jewish Center, as it is officially called, is characteristic in many respects of the older Jewish DP camps, particularly in the American zone of Germany.
The visitor arriving in town sees Jewish faces here and there on the streets. At the camp entrance, he sees residents coming and going without interruption. The barbed-wire enclosures he may have expected are nowhere in sight, and he learns that displaced persons are allowed unrestricted movement within the American zone. On the other hand, the visitor, whether American or German, finds that he cannot enter the camp except on official business, a matter checked at the entrance by a Jewish policeman in a smart uniform with a Star of David on his cap.
At the entrance is a waist-high red-brick wall, obviously new, flanked by two pylons.
Set into one pylon is a memorial tablet to the 6,000,000 Jewish dead, civilian and military. In the other is a tablet expressing Jewish aspirations for the future. Crowning the pylons are statues of the Jew of the exile, bent by the Torah scrolls on his back, and of the halutz (pioneer), ramrod-straight, with a shovel at his shoulder.
The visitor enters the camp and walks through the cleanly swept streets. Men are moving about—many with a look of purpose, obviously about work. On a huge sport field set with goal posts, a group of boys is noisily playing soccer. In a little tree-shaded park, young women sit with infants in their arms.
As the visitor moves about, he notes the many garages and stables, some functioning as intended, others used as official warehouses, clubrooms, workshops, and even classrooms. Three-story, solid, stone buildings, streaked with green and buff camouflage, bear signs in Yiddish and English: “Herzl House,” “Weizmann House,” “Roosevelt House,” “Balfour House,” etc. These are the living quarters. Escorted by the “House Elder,” a Jewish worker responsible for maintenance, sanitation, and distribution of firewood in each house, the visitor looks into the rooms. Most are very large, and he remembers that these buildings were designed as barracks. The single beds are built of new, but unpainted, slats. Bumpy, straw-filled burlap sacks serve as mattresses, and are covered by United States Army blankets. The visitor is taken aback by the number of beds in each room, and he is told that Army regulation allocates 36 square feet per individual, a standard he knows may be adequate for troop dormitories, but not for family living-quarters. In a room of about 450 square feet, he counts 16 beds instead of the 12 required by regulation. The House Elder explains that with some doubling up in the beds, there are actually 20 occupants in the room, and adds that although the camp is badly overcrowded, it was at one time last winter considerably worse. The impossibility of privacy is emphasized by the pathetic attempts of neighboring couples to place their high wooden clothes-lockers in such a way that, with a blanket strung on a rope, each has a tiny cubicle shut off from the eyes, at least, of the others. Into this recess is generally squeezed a small table and a few chairs for entertaining friends.
Chatting with occupants, the visitor is told that such overcrowding is a constant irritation, depriving one not only of privacy, but of self-respect as well. “A man,” says one, “cannot always live in a crowd. In the concentration camp we also lived . . . and died . .. in a crowd.” The overcrowding is to some extent voluntary, built up over the months by the arrival of long-separated kin, friends, and landsleit. With what may be called the “psychology of the lifeboat,” refugee-newcomers are often accepted and squeezed in somehow, despite orders to the contrary.
Such overcrowding would be accepted as the inescapable condition of a people in flight except for one factor vehemently stressed by every occupant: “We don’t mind overcrowding itself. But while we are crowded into barracks, twenty or thirty to a room, the Germans and even Nazi party-members in town are living in their own homes. Why can’t we be assigned the houses in town until we leave, and have the Germans live in this camp they built for their own sons?” It was the same thought that led one Jewish leader to say: “It is better today to be a conquered German than a ‘liberated’ Jew.”
Family cooking being impossible in barracks rooms, food is served in three large mess-halls, one of which is kosher. Emphatic comments are made about the quantity of food, which is calorically the minimum necessary for bodily activity, but is both physically and psychologically inadequate for people with a history of long starvation.
The strongest language is reserved for the deadly monotony of the diet, which has deteriorated steadily for the past year, until now all fresh foods—meat, milk, vegetables, and fruit—have been supplanted by a starchy diet of bread, potatoes, ersatz coffee, lentils, dehydrated vegetables, and a few shreds of Spam. The deficiencies in vitamins and in such essential elements as proteins, carbohydrates, and fats make for a grossly unbalanced diet, especially for growing, seriously stunted children and adolescents.
It is pointed out, further, that while the Germans officially get somewhat less food, the rich agricultural neighborhood insures that “unofficial” food sources are available to them. And even the official German ration provides a variety of fresh foods. Certainly, to the eye of the observer in the Bavarian area, the Germans still give the appearance of being the best fed people in Europe.
And there is another factor. “This is the bitter bread of charity,” one Jew said. “When will I again be able to buy my own bread and say to myself, ‘I am a man again like all men. I am free—I earn my own bread!’ We want nothing from the American government, or from the American Jews, generous as they have tried to be. Like you Americans, we want to help ourselves. This feeding makes us feel like prisoners and slaves.”
It is apparent that the conditions of camp existence weigh heavily upon these stranded Jews. Yet, looked at another way, there is reassurance in this very fact, for it indicates how far they are from being reconciled to the dependent status of wards.
Immediately after liberation and physical recovery, these Jews began the painful reconstruction of their lives. Destitute of family in most cases, the first step in the process was the establishment by each of a special patchwork type of kinship group. Incorporated in it, generally, are the few surviving distant kin, former landsleit, and, above all, concentration-camp “brothers.” These relationships are so close and intense that they often provide administrative difficulties when overcrowding requires the redistribution of a group to other rooms or, worse, to other camps. These bonds combine characteristics of the strong Jewish family structure and the “blood-brotherhood” of the “buddies” relationships among American combat soldiers.
The next major step is the establishment of the family by marriage, early among the single people, relatively late among the widowed. Despite disheartening living conditions, children often follow quickly. Even for a population predominantly young adult, the birth rate is extraordinarily high. This does not reflect lack of knowledge about birth control. Rather, it can be explained by two factors: children are needed as pillars of a normal life; and the traditional high valuation placed upon children among Jews as a foundation for group survival has been still further heightened by the slaughter of almost an entire generation of Jewish children.
Perhaps only second in importance to the re-establishment of kin and family groups is the recovery of productive work-skills. Since postwar Germany provides no appropriate economic framework for learning and practicing occupations, and, even if it did, the former victims of that economy would have nothing to do with it, the only alternative was to create an economic system in each camp. Despite persistent difficulties, such systems have slowly been built up. Since this aspect of Jewish camp life has been the particular focus of misunderstanding, it is necessary to clarify it in some detail.
Two facts must first be emphasized. First, work is voluntary in the Jewish camps—a humane policy, in view of the number of ailing and unemployable. Second, material incentives for work, beyond somewhat larger rations of food and amenities (cigarettes, soap, etc.), are not available. Despite the fact that there is little difference in the living conditions of worker and non-worker, and work is exclusively on a volunteer basis, there are in the Landsberg camp, for example, over 2,000 regular workers and young work-trainees in a population of 3,500 males of all ages.
What do they do? Within the camp proper, they prepare, cook, and serve meals to 5,500 people daily. They clean the streets, load and haul away refuse. They chop wood in the forest, haul, store, and distribute it for use in room-stoves. They repair plumbing and wiring, paint rooms, and construct new communal facilities. They haul supplies from distant cities, store them and distribute them. They man the camp’s police, fire, and sanitary-inspection departments. They teach in the schools. They staff, nurse, and assist in the camp’s out-patient and dental clinics, and in the model 200-bed hospital that they themselves set up in an empty barracks building. They drive and repair the camp’s trucks and ambulances. They operate the camp post-office and numerous recreational facilities. They employ their skills in the camp’s system of workshops—repairing furniture, shoes, and clothes, barbering, printing, painting signs, sewing women’s housedresses and men’s caps. Finally, they perform clerical and supervisory functions in the camp’s complex administrative apparatus.
All the services indispensable to maintenance of the life, health, order, and welfare of any normal town are performed exclusively by camp residents, not merely because it is expected of them or out of necessity, but out of a sense of personal, social responsibility, a moral regard for work, and the normal drive to develop one’s skills and talents for a better future. Camp facilities, in fact, are never sufficiently extensive to absorb all who desire work. In Landsberg, there are waiting-lists of those who have registered for employment of various types, but for whom there are no suitable places or equipment. If the machinery and materials could be secured, hundreds more could be employed in productive work. Indeed, plans are now maturing to secure equipment and raw materials for the establishment of factories in Jewish camps to employ thousands of skilled craftsmen.
How account, then, for the reports that have created in some quarters the false stereotype of the displaced Jews as drones? First of all, a camp economy such as Landsberg’s is necessarily the result of protracted and dogged procurement and scrounging. A work program is impossible without equipment and materials, which are as difficult to secure in Germany as gold itself. It is not done in a day or a month.
A routine example of the obstacles involved and the efforts necessary to overcome them is provided by one Landsberg experience. The leaders decided that the entrance to the camp was unsightly and unworthy, and prepared plans for the handsome memorial wall and pylons previously described. The camp construction department, to which the plans were given for execution, had no bricks on hand, nor could any be secured because of German priority. Therefore, the brick lean-to’s that protected the entrances to the camp’s air-raid shelters were carefully dismantled. But to remove the encrusted cement from the bricks, a special type of tool was required. Again, such tools were not at hand or procurable—German priority. The camp machine-shop was asked to make them. But the salvaged metals on hand required, for this special purpose, forging with coke. And coke was not to be had. Nevertheless, after considerable search, the small amount’ necessary was procured, the tools were made, the bricks were prepared, and the memorial wall was built—after months of unflagging effort.
The steady growth of the Jewish population in Germany has necessitated the regular opening of new camps. New camps, given the barriers to the acquisition of necessary equipment, have always had a high proportion of idle hands.
A visitor pressed for time, or perhaps selecting evidence to prove a thesis, can look into a new camp briefly, find many people not at work, and draw the erroneous conclusion that they will not work. And even a fair-minded visitor cannot see the full magnitude of a camp’s work activity, given the wide dispersal of workers within and without the camp locale. To my knowledge, there has yet to appear a newspaper or official report that does even partial justice to the large-scale and indispensable work going on as a routine part of life in the established camps.
Also contributing to the stereotype of the displaced Jew is the sensational newspaper treatment of black marketing in the camps. There is no denying that such activities exist. But it is a matter of elementary fairness to set the phenomenon in proper perspective. In the first place, no controlled, rationed economy operating under acute shortages of necessities has ever been free of clandestine trade. Nor are any elements now in occupied Germany immune to the temptations it offers. However, for the sake of completeness, it should be pointed out that among all elements so engaged, the displaced Jews, being largely destitute, have least to contribute to the commodities that are the traffic of the market. If all the displaced persons in Germany were resettled tomorrow, the traffic would be diminished in no important way.
In the Jewish camps, there are those who are actively and usefully employed, those who are waiting for work opportunities to open, those who, for physical reasons, are unemployable, and those who in varying degrees are involved in what is known as “speculation” or “trading.” The last group requires understanding also. Left destitute materially, and warped psychologically, they have not been able to resist the temptation present on every hand to recover part of the capital stripped from them by Nazi Germany. But it is a testimony to the moral backbone of the displaced Jewish population as a whole that this group remains a small minority, against whom camp leaders and workers have waged a persistent campaign. Seeing the picture in the large, one learns to appreciate how ail-pervasively the spirit of self-help and stubborn make-do has bulwarked camp existence. Without it, the camps would have disintegrated into anarchic disorder instead of operating as the bustling and orderly communities they are. The working force has made work the warp and woof of camp community life.
Into this fabric of communal life in the Jewish camps have been woven variegated and vigorous motifs of cultural activity. Landsberg has a pre-school kindergarten, and a compulsory elementary school for children between six and sixteen. It has a technical high school, with more than 700 students receiving professional training as carpenters, machinists, electricians, radio technicians, shoemakers, ceramic technicians, bricklayers, tinsmiths, chauffeurs and auto mechanics, dress cutters, seamstresses, milliners, farmers, nurses, and dental mechanics. This school is transforming a whole generation of unskilled Jewish young people into skilled craftsmen. Its graduates are taking places in the camp economy, and have even become instructors in the technical schools recently opened in the newer camps.
Landsberg also has an evening adult-education program organized as a “People’s University,” with courses in history, literature, geography, elementary science, Hebrew, and English. Students number almost 500. Completing the camp’s educational system is a yeshiva, with approximately fifty students preparing for the rabbinate.
Landsberg’s Chaim Bialik Library, named for the great Hebrew poet, occupies what was formerly the conference room of the Wehrmacht commandant. With its chandelier, high draped windows, huge fireplace, and comfortable furniture “rescued” from a ruined castle, it is the only really attractive room in the camp. Gracing its walls are restful landscapes, and portraits by camp artists of Bialik, Sholom Aleichem, and two more recent figures—Roosevelt and Eisenhower. On its shelves are 2,000 books secured largely through JDC’s library-service program, and on loan to camp workers. The library draws on the average about 1,000 visitors weekly.
It can be said that Landsberg’s educational program, created originally by the camp residents themselves, with later assistance from such organizations as JDC, ORT, and UNRRA, is the peer of any available in most ordinary towns of comparable size. Nor can the scale of the achievement be fully appreciated without knowledge of the prodigies performed to secure the most elementary essentials—books, paper, pencils, blackboards, not to speak of the heavy equipment necessary for the technical school. Another handicap has been the shortage of room space, which compels the use of garages and warehouse lofts as classrooms.
In religious life, Landsberg presents a picture of schism. The trend toward secularization in religious outlook was already well advanced among the pre-war youth of East European Jewry. The Nazi ordeal—surprisingly or not—appears to have reinforced that trend. As a result, the community is sharply split into non-religious and religious groups. The latter are extreme in their orthodoxy, and are organized in a congregation of approximately 1,500 people. Though it is a minority, the religious group, with an alert rabbinical and lay leadership, is aggressive in enforcing general observance of the Sabbath, holidays, and other religious regulations. The schism rests, for the most part, on questions of emphasis—upon the letter of the Law, upon ritual or faith, upon divine or folk tradition, and so on.
More important than outside Yiddish newspapers, which arrive four to five weeks after publication, are Landsberg’s own camp newspapers, written and printed locally. The Landsberger Lager-Caytung is a semiweekly newspaper, somewhat larger than tabloid in size, of sixteen to forty-eight pages. It carries international, Palestinian, American, local, and DP news, of both general and specifically Jewish reference. It includes political commentaries, literary pieces, historical articles on the war period, pictures of camp life, essays on health and hygiene, and a page of “seeking kin” items. Except for a page in Hebrew covering Zionist and Palestinian matters, it is written in Yiddish, with most pages set in roman type because of the shortage of Yiddish type. Circulation, reaching most of the Jewish camps in the
United States zone, is over 15,000, and would be considerably larger if more paper were available. Visitors have agreed that in the quality of its writing and editing, and the range of its contents, it is the equal of Yiddish newspapers published in America and Palestine.
Supplementing the Lager-Caytung is a journalistic innovation, an outdoor daily “wall newspaper” called the Landsberger Szpigel. It consists of two huge bulletin boards, laid out in the format of an eight-column newspaper, consisting, in effect, of four pages. Into the columns are set photographic exhibits, large cartoons, and typewritten camp news and radio “flash” bulletins.
Completing Landsberg’s information service is its “radio station,” a public-address system that twice daily broadcasts music, international news of Jewish significance monitored by radio, and camp announcements of special importance. Programs are prepared by the Szpigel’s staff. All in all, by their own energy and ingenuity, Jewish camp residents keep themselves as well informed of world and local developments as the citizens of any metropolis. A Truman-Bevin conference in the White House or a United Nations debate on the International Refugee Organization is a matter of common knowledge and general discussion the day after.
Landsberg’s recreational facilities include two indoor cafés and a decorative outdoor café, where couples dance to the music of small camp orchestras. An outdoor teagarden, under the shelter of trees, has been arranged for the older folk. Chess and ping-pong rooms draw many others. The camp kino, showing principally American films, gives two performances nightly to packed houses. On the rare occasions when a Yiddish film is shown, total attendance far exceeds the camp population, because many see the film more than once.
Landsberg’s strikingly attractive 1,300-seat theater was converted from a huge, bare Wehrmacht parade-hall. The balcony and stage, of standard dimensions, were built from lumber secured by tearing down a cavalry stable. The reflectors in the footlights were hammered out of discarded tin cans, the lighting contrived from German army equipment, the curtain sewn together from old stock and dyed maroon, the proscenium decorated by camp artists. Here the camp’s drama group stages its periodic productions. Here the camp’s orchestra and chorus, as well as visiting artists and musical ensembles, have given concerts. Here, also, are held general meetings, lectures, and all-zone Jewish conventions. The Bet Yichud (House for All), as it is called, is in the fullest sense a communal cultural center, in use almost every night of the week.
The keystone of the camp’s recreational framework is its athletics program. In addition to athletic activities for children on all school levels, there are first and second adult teams in soccer, basketball, volley ball, boxing, swimming, track, and gymnastics. Centers for these activities are two sports fields and an ex-parade-hall gymnasium. All these teams compete in the Jewish camp leagues in the zone, and occasionally engage Jewish teams from the British zone as well as local American Army teams. The games are the focus of intense community spirit and draw thousands of spectators.
The whole complex camp administrative system is headed by an executive body known as the Camp Committee, which is elected by the vote of all residents over the age of eighteen and is the prime force in the community structure. In the regular elections for a camp committee like Landsberg’s, three principal political parties, all Zionist in orientation, contest for the places. On the Right, and least influential, is the Revisionist party. In the Center is the Unity party of Social-Democrats, with which the religious group is generally leagued. And on the Left (but definitely not Communist) is the Labor or Progressive party. In Landsberg, as in most Jewish camps, the committee has generally been a coalition with the centrist party predominating. Ideological differences, which reflect the politics of the Palestinian community, have generally been secondary to personalities in determining the results of an election. Campaigns are always spirited, with mass meetings, posters, and leaflets, and reach at their close a high pitch of partisanship. The right to democratic representation is one that the displaced Jews accept with pride and seriousness.
Around each of the political parties is clustered a complex of unofficial associations, voluntary organizations that have significant functions in camp social life. The most important of these are the kibbutzim, pioneer youth organizations composed largely of orphans, and patterned after the cooperative agricultural settlements in Palestine. Each kibbutz has its own quarters in the camp, and its own mess, and operates under a scheduled regimen combining schooling and assigned work. The leaders of the kibbutzim are themselves young people out of the concentration camps, who serve, in effect, as fathers and mothers to groups of children and adolescents ranging in number from 50 to 250.
These youngsters have for years been without parental influence or schooling of any kind. They are stunted three to four years in physical growth, wise beyond their years, though often illiterate, precocious in some psychological respects and retarded in others, especially in social discipline. The close fraternal bonds of the kibbutz group, and the firm hand of its leaders, are slowly restoring them to normal, as perhaps no other kind of organization could do. (The various kibbutzim have swept up and recovered thousands of orphaned children from all corners of the Continent, from peasant homes, monasteries, city streets, and forests.)
To facilitate the processes of re-education, the kibbutzim have adopted boy-scout methods. Marching, with their distinctive khaki shorts and white shirts, their Jewish and kibbutz flags, and their spirited singing, they are one of the most colorful of camp sights. And by their discipline, high morality, and morale, they act as a steadying influence on the adults.
In Landsberg, there are eight kibbutz groups with a total membership of approximately 800. Three of these groups are quartered outside the camp on farm installations, where they are trained in agricultural and allied crafts for pioneer life in Palestine.
A poll early in 1946 revealed that approximately 15 per cent of the Landsberg population listed the United States as their first choice for a place of resettlement, with the primary motive, understandably, reunion with kin. Since that time, there are indications that the proportion has grown somewhat, a trend halted only by the discouraging fact that President Truman’s directive to facilitate DP immigration to the United States is plainly not being implemented.
In the same poll, approximately 80 per cent declared Palestine as their resettlement choice. Those in this group had during their final weeks in the concentration camps nursed dreams of migration to Palestine immediately after liberation. Detention in Germany—in camps, again—was their first blow. President Truman’s statement in August 1945 recommending admission of 100,000 displaced Jews to Palestine renewed their hopes of an early release. Nine months more of growing impatience and perplexity went by as the British continued to block immigration, until in May 1946 the Report of the Anglo-American Committee seemed sure evidence that deliverance was near. Now, nearly two years after liberation, they see their fate still in the balance.
These long months, as this account has indicated, have been turned to remarkably constructive use. Almost every aspect of the community system they have built is the result of a determination to undo the past and build for the future. One of the inscriptions on Landsberg’s memorial wall reads: The Landsberg Jewish Center is the corridor where we work and learn in preparation for the Messed day when we shall march through this gateway to our promised land—Eretz Yisrael.
Before the war, Palestine was a personal goal for relatively few of the displaced Jews. The war was the catalyst for conversion. As one Landsberger expressed it: “We Jews in Galut have always been insecure. But we never suspected the potentialities of that insecurity until we saw them written out in the blood and ashes of our wives, children, and brothers. We have learned the lesson. We want no more of Galut.”
These Jewish survivors cannot forget the slaughter and their complete helplessness against it. They feel that only in the Jewish homeland will they find the security and the strength to insure against a repetition. With its elementary survival value, therefore, Palestine has become a sine qua non, an irresistible goal. But blocking their way to that goal stands a still immovable obstacle. This produces what experimental psychologists often call “a classical frustration situation.”
In compensation, the displaced Jews in the camps have poured their newly released energies into the reconstruction of their personal and social lives for “the blessed day” when they will depart for their goal. As time passes and the obstacle seems to grow and the goal to recede, these energies begin to shift themselves and hammer at the obstacle. As a result, since this summer in particular, frustration in the Jewish camps has been accumulating apace, intensified by the collapse of the promises held out by the seemingly definitive Anglo-American Committee Report.
To a psychologist, the camp’s communal and cultural institutions came to be seen as a kind of behavioral facade, behind which ran progressively deepening currents of bewilderment, depression, despair, and fear of abandonment to a limbo existence as “stateless, homeless, rejected living-dead in this bloody graveyard.” The anxious question asked repeatedly was: “What will become of us?” As a result of this blockage, some are now willing to accept migration “anywhere—as long as it’s out of Germany and Europe.” The final stages in the frustration experiments of psychologists are random flight followed by breakdown.
Such currents must be seen against the background of one more set of facts, namely, the deep psychic damage suffered as the result of experiences in the concentration camps and Nazi ghettos. The symptoms form a constellation almost identical with that prevalent among combat soldiers and labeled “combat fatigue” by American military psychiatrists, but also generally referred to as “war shock.”
Among the symptoms found in varying degrees of intensity and somewhat different individual combinations in both displaced Jews and disabled American combat personnel are: excessive perspiration of face and extremities; disturbed sleep—insomnia, somnambulism, nightmare; impaired memory—partial or total amnesia for extreme events and periods of the war, and occasional defective recall of recent events; reduced capacity for mental concentration and application; irritability, sensitivity, restlessness, and impatience—necessity for action and movement; spells of depression and withdrawal.
The genesis of this condition among displaced Jews and disabled soldiers is fundamentally the same: repeated exposure to catastrophic danger in situations of individual helplessness that induce overwhelming anxiety and nervous shock. Further, as one medical authority states, the appearance of war shock “in most cases does not occur under the sudden impact of one catastrophical accident, but after the protracted accumulation of traumatic influences—certainly, physical and emotional exhaustion are predisposing factors for a soldier’s breakdown in war.”
Concentration-camp prisoners were far more defenseless against SS brutality than American bomber crews against German interception. After enough “close calls,” the normal individual in either case might find his nervous system disabled by traumatic “overloading.” Although the surviving Jews were exposed to situations of mortal danger for a far longer period, and had fewer channels of response to it than had combat personnel, the precipitating incident for the latter was often more explosive. This may account for my observation that while the incidence of war shock was far higher among Jewish survivors than among American combat personnel, the shock condition on the whole reached a less acute stage in the Jewish survivors than among the combat men. I must stress the fact that this observation refers to the surviving Jews, because it is not improbable that prisoners in more advanced stages of nervous shock were summarily executed. It may be presumed, therefore, that only the sturdiest individuals could have survived.
In the Jewish and military war-shock groups, symptoms and precipitating factors were similar. Similar therapy, therefore, would be indicated for cases in comparable stages of severity. While the details of the American Army’s therapeutic program for the milder cases need not be elaborated here, its underlying principle is relevant and may be stated, somewhat simplified, in the following terms: provision of a normal, sympathetic environment, free of strain and anxiety, which allows the individual’s own resources free rein to effect recuperation.
How does this principle apply to the Jews in the DP camps? Their community creation, on the one hand, is an excellent example of recuperative resources in action, and the community institutions have secondarily provided the social framework for further self-help and self-cure activities. On the other hand, for all the communal facade, their situation remains abnormal, laden with a heavy weight of anxieties and strains from six distinct sources:
- These people are largely middle-class in background, and they share the American middle-class attitude toward charity as a form of parasitism. Their dependent status injures their self-respect and accentuates their depressive and anxiety tendencies.
- Their subsistence is considerably below their needs, giving rise to constant insecurity, irritation, and a feeling of deprivation and degradation.
- The example of those who profit conspicuously by illegal trade, set against their own acute physical needs, induces conflicts that drain their stamina and undermine their resolve.
- They are enclaved among the Germans, whom they hold collectively responsible for Nazism and regard, with some reason, as still Nazi-minded; their underlying apprehensions about the Germans are revealed in the remark: “if the Americans were to leave today, we would all be dead by morning.” Also, they have seen that in the eyes of American military personnel their status as “camp inmates” has fallen lower, while that of the Germans has been rising rapidly and ominously; the Meader Report to the Senate War Investigating Committee, with its reckless use of hearsay and impressions, was a particularly cruel and devastating climax to this trend.
- They are haunted by the feeling that their time is running out, that the waste in their lives continues without end. “The war broke our lives in 1939, and now seven years later the war is still not over for us alone. ‘How long, oh Lord, how long?’“
- Their drive to get to Palestine or the United States, into a congenial environment where they might find security and peace to effect their self-cure, has been blocked for almost two years. Together with this frustration, their uncertainties and fears for the future have been proliferating.
All six factors in combination grind away slowly and inexorably on even the strongest characters. Under such abnormal circumstances,
even psychologically healthy people would in time be worn down. But these are people still suffering in varying degrees from war shock, and their anxieties and tensions, instead of being lightened to allow self-recovery, have been heavily exacerbated and multiplied. As a result, their psychic wounds are not only not being healed, but are actually being aggravated. The camp communal organizations have been a vital counterforce without which there would have been mass psychological disintegration, but they obviously constitute a structure built upon an environmental morass. It has slowed, but not reversed or even halted the pressures upon the processes of deterioration. There is evidence suggesting a prognosis of acceleration in these processes. After fourteen months without a single nervous breakdown in Landsberg, three occurred in rapid succession during my last two weeks in the camp. Since that time, there has been a report, which I have been unable to verify as yet, of a wave of suicides in the Jewish camps.
Speedy resettlement of the displaced Jews is thus not merely a matter of justice for allies who have suffered most at the hands of the common enemy, and who morally deserve far better at our own hands than detention in former German military camps. More important, only such resettlement will save these people from further irreparable injury, blight, and disaster.1
In my opinion, to allow the present slow rot of the DP camps—against which their inmates are increasingly defenseless—to continue its course is to be accessory to a form of genocide. The DP camps are destroying the extraordinary capacities of these people for psychic recovery much as the concentration camps destroyed their bodies. By obstructing their removal and resettlement, the Western democracies will be committing, more slowly but against the same people, the substance of the crime that at Nuremberg they pinned with overwhelming detail of evidence on the perverted master-architects of Nazism.
The displaced Jews themselves are clear about the alternatives. As one of them said to me in bidding me farewell: “Tell our American and English friends that if we are not freed from here soon, they might as well start re-stoking the crematoria for us!”
If this crime is not to be consummated, there must be an immediate, aroused call to forthright action. What practical lines should such action follow?
Although the needs of the displaced Jews are the most acute, the problem embraces all displaced persons. The solution must accordingly be framed inclusively, although with due regard for the special requirements of the Jews.
At this remove from V-E Day, it is highly improbable that voluntary repatriation to any significant degree will still occur. Since the throwing of the displaced persons upon the German economy is also ruled out on fundamental moral grounds, the only remaining alternative is resettlement for all.
Resettlement of 1,000,000 people a year was no problem in the free immigration period before World War I. With the present almost universal restrictions to immigration, it is a political problem only, although one of international dimensions. To expect the various nations unilaterally to admit displaced persons in adequate numbers is to be unrealistic to an extreme. So dark is the outlook, indeed, that the New York Times could recently report under a Lake Success date line: “No solution of the problem except providing for a considerable part of the refugees and DP’s for the rest of their lives, is seen by competent sources. Whether the refugee camps established by UNRRA will be continued for another generation is an unsolved question.” This statement reflects a crass, callous, and imaginatively paralyzed acceptance of the displaced persons as lifelong, institutionalized pauper-pariahs.
To be sure, temporary liberalization of immigration quotas on the part of the United States has been urged by President Truman and many others, both to offer a small contribution to the solution and to ‘lead the way for other countries.” But, at the time of writing, all signs indicate it will be touch-and-go whether Congress approves the proposal. And even should Congress approve, there is no certainty that other countries will follow. Therefore, unless the attempt to
solve the problem is to be abandoned altogether, the remaining alternative is to treat it as the international problem that it is, by the established methods of international conference.
Since the International Refugee Organization lacks the necessary authority, the United Nations should hold a resettlement conference to which would be called all nations economically and culturally capable of absorbing DP immigrants. All the countries of Western Europe, the Middle East, the British Commonwealth, and North and South America, would be included.
This conference would seek an agreement establishing the proportion of the total DP population each nation would accept, which should be determined by such national differentials as population, area, and economic capacity. The quota fixed for each nation could be received over a period of twenty-four to thirty-six months. Thus, the DP population would be spread equitably without burden on any one country. The increments would average approximately one-fifth of one percent (.002) of the present population of each country. The IRO would assume full responsibility for execution of the mass migration and would bear the costs of transportation and, where necessary, of settlement. It is obvious that such costs would be no more than a fraction of those involved in indefinite international maintenance of the DP camps.
The following selective principles and priorities might be applied in organizing the migration:
- Palestine to accept 100,000 Jews from the camps, to be followed by the 45,000 Jewish orphans on the continent, but not in camps.
- The remaining 175,000 refugee Jews to be absorbed as 17.5 per cent of the quota of each sharing nation.
- The DP’s of other nationalities to be similarly represented in the quota of each sharing nation in a proportion equivalent to that of each DP nationality in the total DP population. Thus Poles, who number approximately 400,000 of the total DP population of 1,000,000, would constitute 40 per cent of the quota of each receiving country.
- Preferences of individual displaced persons as to countries of choice for resettlement to be respected so far as is possible within the quotas set. Should a country be “oversubscribed” by a given DP nationality, then those DP’s with kin in that country would receive first priority, and concentration-camp victims second.
- All DP immigrants to be accorded United Nations citizenship and passports. Thereby, those who migrate to countries other than their choice would be free subsequently to re-emigrate upon acceptance by country of choice.
- Priority for order of migration to be accorded concentration-camp victims, regardless of creed, and persecutees.
Only by concerted international action along such general lines can there be hope of quickly relieving the displaced persons from the doom of a life sentence in the camps, and of lifting a heavy weight of guilt from the world’s conscience.
The injustice of the enforced detention of 1,000,000 war victims in the displaced-persons camps continues not by intent but by international default arising from the inertia of individual nations. National inertia, in turn, derives from the inertia of individual citizens. Ultimate responsibility, therefore, rests squarely upon each of us.
If belated justice is to be done, it must be initiated by each of us implementing our good will with the actions that are both the privilege and the duty of alert and free citizens. We need only speak out to our government, calling for international action on behalf of the oppressed. Established channels for such expressions are civic and religious organizations, and communications to the President and to our senators and congressional representatives. An aroused and articulate public opinion will not be denied.
A million human lives are at stake. Also at stake are our own professed humane and democratic standards.
1 “It is plain that to continue indefinitely to support [the displaced persons] camps is not a solution of the problem and is, in fact, an injury to [the displaced persons] .”—From the statement of the Catholic Bishops of the United States on Man and the Peace.
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Why the DP’s Can’t Wait
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Justice both delayed and denied.
According to Senate Judiciary Committee Democrat Chris Coons, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who has accused Judge Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when she was a minor, did not want to come forward. In an eerie echo of Anita Hill’s public ordeal, her accusations were “leaked to the media.” With her confidentiality violated, Ford had no choice but to go public. Coons could not say where that leak came from, but he did confess that “people on committee staff” had access to the letter in which Ford made her allegations. Draw your own conclusions.
Though many observers insist that what we have witnessed since Ford’s allegations were made public is about justice, it’s hard to see any rectitude in this process. Ford has been transformed into a public figure apparently against her wishes. The details of the attack that Ford alleges are deeply disturbing, but they are not prosecutable. Ford’s recollection of the events 36 years ago is understandably hazy, but what she alleges to have occurred is too vague to establish with much accuracy. She cannot recall the precise date or location in which she was supposedly attacked. Contrary to the protestations of Senate Democrats like Kamala Harris, the FBI cannot get involved in a matter that is not within the federal government’s jurisdiction. And even if local authorities were inclined to involve themselves, the statute of limitations long ago elapsed.
With precious few facts available to congressional investigators and without the sobriety that public scrutiny in the age of social media abhors, the spectacle to which the nation is about to be privy is undoubtedly going to make things worse. A public hearing featuring both Ford and Kavanaugh will be a performative and political display, if it happens at all. It will be adorned with the trappings of courtroom proceedings but with none of the associated protections afforded accused and accuser alike. It will further polarize the nation such that, whether Kavanaugh is confirmed or not, public confidence in Congress and the Supreme Court will be severely damaged. And no matter what is said in that hearing, it is unlikely to change many minds.
Given the dearth of hard evidence, it is understandable that observers have begun to look to their own experiences to evaluate the veracity of Ford’s allegations. The Atlantic contributor Caitlin Flanagan is the author of a powerful and compelling example of this kind of work. Her essay, entitled “I Believe Her,” is important for a variety of reasons. Maybe foremost among them is how she all but invalidates defenses of Kavanaugh that are based on the positive character references he’s assembled from former female acquaintances and ex-girlfriends. Flanagan was assaulted as a young woman, and her abuser—a man she says drove her to a suicidal depression similar to what Ford has described to her therapist—was not interested in a romantic relationship. CNN political commenter Symone Sanders, too, confessed that “there is no debate” in her mind as to Kavanaugh’s guilt, in part, because she was the victim of a sexual assault in college. The similarities between what she endured and what Ford says occurred are too hard for her to ignore.
These are harrowing stories, but they also reveal how little any of this has to do with Brett Kavanaugh anymore. For some, this has become a proxy battle in the broader cultural reckoning that began with the #MeToo moment. Quite unlike the many abusive men who were outed by this movement, though, the evidentiary standard being applied to Kavanaugh’s case is remarkably low. His innocence has not been presumed, and a preponderance of evidence has not been marshaled against him. It is not even clear as of this writing that Kavanaugh will be allowed to confront his accuser. At a certain point, honest observers must concede that getting to the truth has not been a defining feature of this process.
In the face of this adversity, there are some Republicans who are willing to sacrifice Kavanaugh’s nomination. Some appear to think that Kavanaugh’s troubles present them with an opportunity to advance their own political prospects and to promote a replacement nominee with whom they feel a closer ideological affinity. Others simply don’t want to risk standing by a tainted nominee. The stakes associated with a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court are too high to confirm a justice with an asterisk next to his name—a justice who may tarnish future rulings on sensitive cases by association. Those Republicans are either capitulatory or craven.
Based on what we know now, Kavanaugh does not deserve an asterisk. Maybe he will tomorrow, but he doesn’t today. Those who would allow what is by almost all accounts an exemplary legal career to be destroyed by unconfirmable accusations or outright innuendo will not get a better deal down the line. Some Republicans are agnostic about Kavanaugh’s fate and believe that his being stopped will make room for a more doctrinaire conservative like Amy Coney Barrett. But they will not get their ideologically simpatico justice if they allow the defiling of the process by which she could be confirmed.
The experiences that Dr. Ford described are appalling. Even for those who are inclined to believe her account and think that she is due some restitution, no true justice can be meted out that doesn’t infringe on the rights of the accused. Those in the commentary class who would use Kavanaugh as a stand-in for every abuser who got away, every preppy white boy who benefited from unearned privilege, every hypocritical conservative moralizer to exact some karmic vengeance are not interested in justice. They want a political victory, even at the expense of the integrity of the American ideal. If there is a fight worth having, it’s the fight against that.
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Terror is a choice.
Ari Fuld described himself on Twitter as a marketer and social media consultant “when not defending Israel by exposing the lies and strengthening the truth.” On Sunday, a Palestinian terrorist stabbed Fuld at a shopping mall in Gush Etzion, a settlement south of Jerusalem. The Queens-born father of four died from his wounds, but not before he chased down his assailant and neutralized the threat to other civilians. Fuld thus gave the full measure of devotion to the Jewish people he loved. He was 45.
The episode is a grim reminder of the wisdom and essential justice of the Trump administration’s tough stance on the Palestinians.
Start with the Taylor Force Act. The act, named for another U.S. citizen felled by Palestinian terror, stanched the flow of American taxpayer fund to the Palestinian Authority’s civilian programs. Though it is small consolation to Fuld’s family, Americans can breathe a sigh of relief that they are no longer underwriting the PA slush fund used to pay stipends to the family members of dead, imprisoned, or injured terrorists, like the one who murdered Ari Fuld.
No principle of justice or sound statesmanship requires Washington to spend $200 million—the amount of PA aid funding slashed by the Trump administration last month—on an agency that financially induces the Palestinian people to commit acts of terror. The PA’s terrorism-incentive budget—“pay-to-slay,” as Douglas Feith called it—ranges from $50 million to $350 million annually. Footing even a fraction of that bill is tantamount to the American government subsidizing terrorism against its citizens.
If we don’t pay the Palestinians, the main line of reasoning runs, frustration will lead them to commit still more and bloodier acts of terror. But U.S. assistance to the PA dates to the PA’s founding in the Oslo Accords, and Palestinian terrorists have shed American and Israeli blood through all the years since then. What does it say about Palestinian leaders that they would unleash more terror unless we cross their palms with silver?
President Trump likewise deserves praise for booting Palestinian diplomats from U.S. soil. This past weekend, the State Department revoked a visa for Husam Zomlot, the highest-ranking Palestinian official in Washington. The State Department cited the Palestinians’ years-long refusal to sit down for peace talks with Israel. The better reason for expelling them is that the label “envoy” sits uneasily next to the names of Palestinian officials, given the links between the Palestine Liberation Organization, President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction, and various armed terrorist groups.
Fatah, for example, praised the Fuld murder. As the Jerusalem Post reported, the “al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the military wing of Fatah . . . welcomed the attack, stressing the necessity of resistance ‘against settlements, Judaization of the land, and occupation crimes.’” It is up to Palestinian leaders to decide whether they want to be terrorists or statesmen. Pretending that they can be both at once was the height of Western folly, as Ari Fuld no doubt recognized.
May his memory be a blessing.
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The end of the water's edge.
It was the blatant subversion of the president’s sole authority to conduct American foreign policy, and the political class received it with fury. It was called “mutinous,” and the conspirators were deemed “traitors” to the Republic. Those who thought “sedition” went too far were still incensed over the breach of protocol and the reckless way in which the president’s mandate was undermined. Yes, times have certainly changed since 2015, when a series of Republican senators signed a letter warning Iran’s theocratic government that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (aka, the Iran nuclear deal) was built on a foundation of sand.
The outrage that was heaped upon Senate Republicans for freelancing on foreign policy in the final years of Barack Obama’s administration has not been visited upon former Secretary of State John Kerry, though he arguably deserves it. In the publicity tour for his recently published memoir, Kerry confessed to conducting meetings with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif “three or four times” as a private citizen. When asked by Fox News Channel’s Dana Perino if Kerry had advised his Iranian interlocutor to “wait out” the Trump administration to get a better set of terms from the president’s successor, Kerry did not deny the charge. “I think everybody in the world is sitting around talking about waiting out President Trump,” he said.
Think about that. This is a former secretary of state who all but confirmed that he is actively conducting what the Boston Globe described in May as “shadow diplomacy” designed to preserve not just the Iran deal but all the associated economic relief and security guarantees it provided Tehran. The abrogation of that deal has put new pressure on the Iranians to liberalize domestically, withdraw their support for terrorism, and abandon their provocative weapons development programs—pressures that the deal’s proponents once supported.
“We’ve got Iran on the ropes now,” said former Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman, “and a meeting between John Kerry and the Iranian foreign minister really sends a message to them that somebody in America who’s important may be trying to revive them and let them wait and be stronger against what the administration is trying to do.” This is absolutely correct because the threat Iran poses to American national security and geopolitical stability is not limited to its nuclear program. The Iranian threat will not be neutralized until it abandons its support for terror and the repression of its people, and that will not end until the Iranian regime is no more.
While Kerry’s decision to hold a variety of meetings with a representative of a nation hostile to U.S. interests is surely careless and unhelpful, it is not uncommon. During his 1984 campaign for the presidency, Jesse Jackson visited the Soviet Union and Cuba to raise his own public profile and lend credence to Democratic claims that Ronald Reagan’s confrontational foreign policy was unproductive. House Speaker Jim Wright’s trip to Nicaragua to meet with the Sandinista government was a direct repudiation of the Reagan administration’s support for the country’s anti-Communist rebels. In 2007, as Bashar al-Assad’s government was providing material support for the insurgency in Iraq, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sojourned to Damascus to shower the genocidal dictator in good publicity. “The road to Damascus is a road to peace,” Pelosi insisted. “Unfortunately,” replied George W. Bush’s national security council spokesman, “that road is lined with the victims of Hamas and Hezbollah, the victims of terrorists who cross from Syria into Iraq.”
Honest observers must reluctantly conclude that the adage is wrong. American politics does not, in fact, stop at the water’s edge. It never has, and maybe it shouldn’t. Though it may be commonplace, American political actors who contradict the president in the conduct of their own foreign policy should be judged on the policies they are advocating. In the case of Iran, those who seek to convince the mullahs and their representatives that repressive theocracy and a terroristic foreign policy are dead-ends are advancing the interests not just of the United States but all mankind. Those who provide this hopelessly backward autocracy with the hope that America’s resolve is fleeting are, as John Kerry might say, on “the wrong side of history.”
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Michael Wolff is its Marquis de Sade. Released on January 5, 2018, Wolff’s Fire and Fury became a template for authors eager to satiate the growing demand for unverified stories of Trump at his worst. Wolff filled his pages with tales of the president’s ignorant rants, his raging emotions, his television addiction, his fast-food diet, his unfamiliarity with and contempt for Beltway conventions and manners. Wolff made shocking insinuations about Trump’s mental state, not to mention his relationship with UN ambassador Nikki Haley. Wolff’s Trump is nothing more than a knave, dunce, and commedia dell’arte villain. The hero of his saga is, bizarrely, Steve Bannon, who in Wolff’s telling recognized Trump’s inadequacies, manipulated him to advance a nationalist-populist agenda, and tried to block his worst impulses.
Wolff’s sources are anonymous. That did not slow down the press from calling his accusations “mind-blowing” (Mashable.com), “wild” (Variety), and “bizarre” (Entertainment Weekly). Unlike most pornographers, he had a lesson in mind. He wanted to demonstrate Trump’s unfitness for office. “The story that I’ve told seems to present this presidency in such a way that it says that he can’t do this job, the emperor has no clothes,” Wolff told the BBC. “And suddenly everywhere people are going, ‘Oh, my God, it’s true—he has no clothes.’ That’s the background to the perception and the understanding that will finally end this, that will end this presidency.”
Nothing excites the Resistance more than the prospect of Trump leaving office before the end of his term. Hence the most stirring examples of Resistance Porn take the president’s all-too-real weaknesses and eccentricities and imbue them with apocalyptic significance. In what would become the standard response to accusations of Trumpian perfidy, reviewers of Fire and Fury were less interested in the truth of Wolff’s assertions than in the fact that his argument confirmed their preexisting biases.
Saying he agreed with President Trump that the book is “fiction,” the Guardian’s critic didn’t “doubt its overall veracity.” It was, he said, “what Mailer and Capote once called a nonfiction novel.” Writing in the Atlantic, Adam Kirsch asked: “No wonder, then, Wolff has written a self-conscious, untrustworthy, postmodern White House book. How else, he might argue, can you write about a group as self-conscious, untrustworthy, and postmodern as this crew?” Complaining in the New Yorker, Masha Gessen said Wolff broke no new ground: “Everybody” knew that the “president of the United States is a deranged liar who surrounded himself with sycophants. He is also functionally illiterate and intellectually unsound.” Remind me never to get on Gessen’s bad side.
What Fire and Fury lacked in journalistic ethics, it made up in receipts. By the third week of its release, Wolff’s book had sold more than 1.7 million copies. His talent for spinning second- and third-hand accounts of the president’s oddity and depravity into bestselling prose was unmistakable. Imitators were sure to follow, especially after Wolff alienated himself from the mainstream media by defending his innuendos about Haley.
It was during the first week of September that Resistance Porn became a competitive industry. On the afternoon of September 4, the first tidbits from Bob Woodward’s Fear appeared in the Washington Post, along with a recording of an 11-minute phone call between Trump and the white knight of Watergate. The opposition began panting soon after. Woodward, who like Wolff relies on anonymous sources, “paints a harrowing portrait” of the Trump White House, reported the Post.
No one looks good in Woodward’s telling other than former economics adviser Gary Cohn and—again bizarrely—the former White House staff secretary who was forced to resign after his two ex-wives accused him of domestic violence. The depiction of chaos, backstabbing, and mutual contempt between the president and high-level advisers who don’t much care for either his agenda or his personality was not so different from Wolff’s. What gave it added heft was Woodward’s status, his inviolable reputation.
“Nothing in Bob Woodward’s sober and grainy new book…is especially surprising,” wrote Dwight Garner at the New York Times. That was the point. The audience for Wolff and Woodward does not want to be surprised. Fear is not a book that will change minds. Nor is it intended to be. “Bob Woodward’s peek behind the Trump curtain is 100 percent as terrifying as we feared,” read a CNN headline. “President Trump is unfit for office. Bob Woodward’s ‘Fear’ confirms it,” read an op-ed headline in the Post. “There’s Always a New Low for the Trump White House,” said the Atlantic. “Amazingly,” wrote Susan Glasser in the New Yorker, “it is no longer big news when the occupant of the Oval Office is shown to be callous, ignorant, nasty, and untruthful.” How could it be, when the press has emphasized nothing but these aspects of Trump for the last three years?
The popular fixation with Trump the man, and with the turbulence, mania, frenzy, confusion, silliness, and unpredictability that have surrounded him for decades, serves two functions. It inoculates the press from having to engage in serious research into the causes of Trump’s success in business, entertainment, and politics, and into the crises of borders, opioids, stagnation, and conformity of opinion that occasioned his rise. Resistance Porn also endows Trump’s critics, both external and internal, with world-historical importance. No longer are they merely journalists, wonks, pundits, and activists sniping at a most unlikely president. They are politically correct versions of Charles Martel, the last line of defense preventing Trump the barbarian from enacting the policies on which he campaigned and was elected.
How closely their sensational claims and inflated self-conceptions track with reality is largely beside the point. When the New York Times published the op-ed “I am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration,” by an anonymous “senior official” on September 5, few readers bothered to care that the piece contained no original material. The author turned policy disagreements over trade and national security into a psychiatric diagnosis. In what can only be described as a journalistic innovation, the author dispensed with middlemen such as Wolff and Woodward, providing the Times the longest background quote in American history. That the author’s identity remains a secret only adds to its prurient appeal.
“The bigger concern,” the author wrote, “is not what Mr. Trump has done to the presidency but what we as a nation have allowed him to do to us.” Speak for yourself, bud. What President Trump has done to the Resistance is driven it batty. He’s made an untold number of people willing to entertain conspiracy theories, and to believe rumor is fact, hyperbole is truth, self-interested portrayals are incontrovertible evidence, credulity is virtue, and betrayal is fidelity—so long as all of this is done to stop that man in the White House.
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Review of 'Stanley Kubrick' By Nathan Abrams
Except for Stanley Donen, every director I have worked with has been prone to the idea, first propounded in the 1950s by François Truffaut and his tendentious chums in Cahiers du Cinéma, that directors alone are authors, screenwriters merely contingent. In singular cases—Orson Welles, Michelangelo Antonioni, Woody Allen, Kubrick himself—the claim can be valid, though all of them had recourse, regular or occasional, to helping hands to spice their confections.
Kubrick’s variety of topics, themes, and periods testifies both to his curiosity and to his determination to “make it new.” Because his grades were not high enough (except in physics), this son of a Bronx doctor could not get into colleges crammed with returning GIs. The nearest he came to higher education was when he slipped into accessible lectures at Columbia. He told me, when discussing the possibility of a movie about Julius Caesar, that the great classicist Moses Hadas made a particularly strong impression.
While others were studying for degrees, solitary Stanley was out shooting photographs (sometimes with a hidden camera) for Look magazine. As a movie director, he often insisted on take after take. This gave him choices of the kind available on the still photographer’s contact sheets. Only Peter Sellers and Jack Nicholson had the nerve, and irreplaceable talent, to tell him, ahead of shooting, that they could not do a particular scene more than two or three times. The energy to electrify “Mein Führer, I can walk” and “Here’s Johnny!” could not recur indefinitely. For everyone else, “Can you do it again?” was the exhausting demand, and it could come close to being sadistic.
The same method could be applied to writers. Kubrick might recognize what he wanted when it was served up to him, but he could never articulate, ahead of time, even roughly what it was. Picking and choosing was very much his style. Cogitation and opportunism went together: The story goes that he attached Strauss’s Blue Danube to the opening sequence of 2001 because it happened to be playing in the sound studio when he came to dub the music. Genius puts chance to work.
Until academics intruded lofty criteria into cinema/film, the better to dignify their speciality, Alfred Hitchcock’s attitude covered most cases: When Ingrid Bergman asked for her motivation in walking to the window, Hitch replied, fatly, “Your salary.” On another occasion, told that some scene was not plausible, Hitch said, “It’s only a movie.” He did not take himself seriously until the Cahiers du Cinéma crowd elected to make him iconic. At dinner, I once asked Marcello Mastroianni why he was so willing to play losers or clowns. Marcello said, “Beh, cinema non e gran’ cosa” (cinema is no big deal). Orson Welles called movie-making the ultimate model-train set.
That was then; now we have “film studies.” After they moved in, academics were determined that their subject be a very big deal indeed. Comedy became no laughing matter. In his monotonous new book, the film scholar Nathan Abrams would have it that Stanley Kubrick was, in essence, a “New York Jewish intellectual.” Abrams affects to unlock what Stanley was “really” dealing with, in all his movies, never mind their apparent diversity. It is declared to be, yes, Yiddishkeit, and in particular, the Holocaust. This ground has been tilled before by Geoffrey Cocks, when he argued that the room numbers in the empty Overlook Hotel in The Shining encrypted references to the Final Solution. Abrams would have it that even Barry Lyndon is really all about the outsider seeking, and failing, to make his awkward way in (Gentile) Society. On this reading, Ryan O’Neal is seen as Hannah Arendt’s pariah in 18th-century drag. The movie’s other characters are all engaged in the enjoyment of “goyim-naches,” an expression—like menschlichkayit—he repeats ad nauseam, lest we fail to get the stretched point.
Theory is all when it comes to the apotheosis of our Jew-ridden Übermensch. So what if, in order to make a topic his own, Kubrick found it useful to translate its logic into terms familiar to him from his New York youth? In Abrams’s scheme, other mundane biographical facts count for little. No mention is made of Stanley’s displeasure when his 14-year-old daughter took a fancy to O’Neal. The latter was punished, some sources say, by having Barry’s voiceover converted from first person so that Michael Hordern would displace the star as narrator. By lending dispassionate irony to the narrative, it proved a pettish fluke of genius.
While conning Abrams’s volume, I discovered, not greatly to my chagrin, that I am the sole villain of the piece. Abrams calls me “self-serving” and “unreliable” in my accounts of my working and personal relationship with Stanley. He insinuates that I had less to do with Eyes Wide Shut than I pretend and that Stanley regretted my involvement. It is hard for him to deny (but convenient to omit) that, after trying for some 30 years to get a succession of writers to “crack” how to do Schnitzler’s Traumnovelle, Kubrick greeted my first draft with “I’m absolutely thrilled.” A source whose anonymity I respect told me that he had never seen Stanley so happy since the day he received his first royalty check (for $5 million) for 2001. No matter.
Were Abrams (the author also of a book as hostile to Commentary as this one is to me) able to put aside his waxed wrath, he might have quoted what I reported in my memoir Eyes Wide Open to support his Jewish-intellectual thesis. One day, Stanley asked me what a couple of hospital doctors, walking away with their backs to the camera, would be talking about. We were never going to hear or care what it was, but Stanley—at that early stage of development—said he wanted to know everything. I said, “Women, golf, the stock market, you know…”
“Couple of Gentiles, right?”
“That’s what you said you wanted them to be.”
“Those people, how do we ever know what they’re talking about when they’re alone together?”
“Come on, Stanley, haven’t you overheard them in trains and planes and places?”
Kubrick said, “Sure, but…they always know you’re there.”
If he was even halfway serious, Abrams’s banal thesis that, despite decades of living in England, Stanley never escaped the Old Country, might have been given some ballast.
Now, as for Stanley Kubrick’s being an “intellectual.” If this implies membership in some literary or quasi-philosophical elite, there’s a Jewish joke to dispense with it. It’s the one about the man who makes a fortune, buys himself a fancy yacht, and invites his mother to come and see it. He greets her on the gangway in full nautical rig. She says, “What’s with the gold braid already?”
“Mama, you have to realize, I’m a captain now.”
She says, “By you, you’re a captain, by me, you’re a captain, but by a captain, are you a captain?”
As New York intellectuals all used to know, Karl Popper’s definition of bad science, and bad faith, involves positing a theory and then selecting only whatever data help to furnish its validity. The honest scholar makes it a matter of principle to seek out elements that might render his thesis questionable.
Abrams seeks to enroll Lolita in his obsessive Jewish-intellectual scheme by referring to Peter Arno, a New Yorker cartoonist whom Kubrick photographed in 1949. The caption attached to Kubrick’s photograph in Look asserted that Arno liked to date “fresh, unspoiled girls,” and Abrams says this “hint[s] at Humbert Humbert in Lolita.” Ah, but Lolita was published, in Paris, in 1955, six years later. And how likely is it, in any case, that Kubrick wrote the caption?
The film of Lolita is unusual for its garrulity. Abrams’s insistence on the sinister Semitic aspect of both Clare Quilty and Humbert Humbert supposedly drawing Kubrick like moth to flame is a ridiculous camouflage of the commercial opportunism that led Stanley to seek to film the most notorious novel of the day, while fudging its scandalous eroticism.
That said, in my view, The Killing, Paths of Glory, Barry Lyndon, and Clockwork Orange were and are sans pareil. The great French poet Paul Valéry wrote of “the profundity of the surface” of a work of art. Add D.H. Lawrence’s “never trust the teller, trust the tale,” and you have two authoritative reasons for looking at or reading original works of art yourself and not relying on academic exegetes—especially when they write in the solemn, sometimes ungrammatical style of Professor Abrams, who takes time out to tell those of us at the back of his class that padre “is derived from the Latin pater.”
Abrams writes that I “claim” that I was told to exclude all overt reference to Jews in my Eyes Wide Shut screenplay, with the fatuous implication that I am lying. I am again accused of “claiming” to have given the name Ziegler to the character played by Sidney Pollack, because I once had a (quite famous) Hollywood agent called Evarts Ziegler. So I did. The principal reason for Abrams to doubt my veracity is that my having chosen the name renders irrelevant his subsequent fanciful digression on the deep, deep meanings of the name Ziegler in Jewish lore; hence he wishes to assign the naming to Kubrick. Pop goes another wished-for proof of Stanley’s deep and scholarly obsession with Yiddishkeit.
Abrams would be a more formidable enemy if he could turn a single witty phrase or even abstain from what Karl Kraus called mauscheln, the giveaway jargon of Jewish journalists straining to pass for sophisticates at home in Gentile circles. If you choose, you can apply, on line, for screenwriting lessons from Nathan Abrams, who does not have a single cinematic credit to his name. It would be cheaper, and wiser, to look again, and then again, at Kubrick’s masterpieces.