Above: Jean-Paul Samputu, who lost his family, sings and talks about the genocide
The tragic events surrounding the Rwandan genocide of 1994 must never be forgotten. They are a major reason why some of us despise the isolationists of the right and the so-called “anti-imperialist” “left.” It occurs to me that a new generation of socialists has grown up largely unaware of these events, and miseducated by the isolationism -in-principle of people like the ‘Stop the War Coalition.’
The following is a modified and edited version of the account written by Janice Anderson, Anne Williams and Vivian Head in their book War Crimes and Atrocities (Futura, 2007):
In a period of 13 weeks from 6 April 1994, about half a million people perished in a mass slaughter of the minority Tutsi population of Rwanda, a tiny country in Central Africa. Thousands of the majority Hutus were also slain for opposing the killings
Rwanda’s population is divided into two ethnic groups, the Hutus and the Tutsis. The Hutus are the more numerous and are by tradition crop growers and farmers. Over the centuries, Hutus have encouraged Tutsis from northern Africa to come and work in Rwanda and, for over 600 years, the two groups shared the same language, culture and nationality.
Rwanda was first colonised by the Germans, but during World War I it was taken over by the Belgians, who caused a rift between the two groups by granting preferential status to the Tutsis. Then European missionaries added a further twist, by encouraging the Hutus to fight back, resulting in the loss of over 100,00 lives in a rebellion in 1956. Three years later the Hutus had seized power and over 200,000 Tutsis retreated to neighbouring countries where they formed the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), an army dedicated to taking on the Hutus.
When Rwanda became independent in 1962, the Hutus took power, but were constantly fearful of Tutsi retaliation, which eventually came in 1990, when the RPF attacked, forcing the then-president to sign a power-sharing agreement that was never properly implemented due to Hutu opposition. The situation was made even worse when a plane carrying the Burundi president (a Hutu) was shot down.
Aware that the fragile ceasefire was about to crumble, the UN sent a peacekeeping force of about 2,500 multinational soldiers, but by this time the majority of Hutus, including much of their political and religious leadership, had decided that the Tutsis had assassinated their president and that the only solution was to annihilate the entire Tutsi population.
In April 1994, amid ever-increasing threats of violence, the Rwandan president, Habyarimana and the new Burundi president, Cyprien Ntaryamira, held peace talks with the Tutsi rebels. But disaster struck on 6 April, when the small plane carrying the two presidents was shot down by ground-fired missiles as it approached Kigali airport. Their deaths plunged Rwanda into a frenzied state of political violence, leading to genocide.
Just 24 hours after the plane was shot down, road-blocks started to appear on the roads around Kigali, manned by the Interahamwe militia. The Interahamwe (meaning ‘Those Who Stand/Fight Together’) was the most effective of the Hutu militias. They identified Tutsis and hacked them to death with machetes. Tutsis who could afford to pay were given the option of dying by a bullet. Specially organised death squads, working from prepared lists, went from neighbourhood to neighbourhood in Kigali. Not only did they round up all the Tutsis, but they picked on moderate Hutus as well, including prime minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana: he was guarded by Belgian UN guards, who the attackers arrested, tortured and then killed, causing Belgium to withdraw the remainder of its UN troops.
The violence spread like wildfire from Kigali. Via the radio, the government urged Tutsis to congregate at churches, schools and stadiums, promising that they would make these safe places of refuge. Little did the Tutsis know that by gathering in large groups they in fact made themselves easy targets. Some of the victims managed to ward off attacks by using sticks and stones — until the joint forces of the Rwandan army and presidential guard were brought in to wipe them out with machine guns and grenades. In just two weeks, by 21 April, it is generally estimated that about 250,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered, making this one of the most concentrated acts of genocide ever.
What made the genocide even more atrocious is the fact that it was encouraged by government and church officials, who even bribed the killers to do their dirty work. Local officials and leaders of Anglican and Catholic churches conspired with the killers and in many cases took an active part in the slaughter. Men, women, children and babies were killed in their thousands in schools and churches where, tragically, they had gathered in the hope of finding sanctuary. The victims had to bear the knowledge that they were being killed by people they knew — neighbours, fellow workers, sometimes even relatives by marriage.
The Interahamwe weren’t driven by drink, drugs or even mindless bloodlust, but a fanatical devotion to their cause. They were cold-blooded killers who were urged on by the media and by the government. Participants were often given incentives, such as money or food, and were even told they could keep the land of the Tutsis they killed.
The radio was important in spreading the killing. Even the poorest households would possess a radio and people would listen intently to government broadcasts. When Hutus heard the voices coming through the radio calling on them to “kill, kill. kill the Tutsi minority”, they responded accordingly.
The genocide was initially aimed mainly at young male Tutsis who could have been members of the RPF guerrilla force. However, as the days went by women and children also became victims. Survivors later told stories of being aped by individuals or gangs, sometimes using sharpened sticks or gun barrels. Sometimes they were sexually mutilated or forced into “marriages” that made them a sex slaves.
The killing didn’t stop until July when the RPF finally managed to capture Kigali, causing the collapse of the government. A ceasefire was declared as soon as the Hutus realised that the RPF was victorious, and an estimated two million Hutus fled to Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). It wasn’t until the killing stopped that UN troops and aid workers arrived in significant numbers — while it was going on there had been just a token and entirely impotent UN presence.
Why was it that while the genocide was happening the international community deserted Rwanda? Erratic media coverage conveyed the false notion of two ‘tribes’ of African ‘savages’ mindlessly killing each other as they had done for many years. As a result there was little public pressure in the West for governments to intervene. Controversy has raged ever since over the role (or lack of it) of foreign governments and the UN in allowing the genocide to proceed. It wasn’t until 7 April 2000, the sixth anniversary of the massacre, that Belgium’s prime minister apologised for the international community’s failure to intervene. He told an audience at the site of a memorial that, “A dramatic combination of negligence, incompetence and hesitation created the conditions for the tragedy.”
Linda Melvin, in the Guardian, points out that General Roméo Dallaire, the UN force commander in Rwanda in 1994 had wanted just 5,500 reinforcements to stand guard at places where desperate people were sheltering; this would have sent a clear signal to the machete-wielding Interahamwe that the world would not stand for their brutality.
Melvin concludes her important piece as follows:
The 20th commemoration of the genocide sees fine words spoken by all and it seems timely to reflect on why Rwanda was so quickly abandoned to its fate in 1994. There has never been a satisfactory explanation for the indifference over Rwanda. Western governments – the US, UK, Belgium, France – continue to withhold a wealth of information about events. Neither the US nor the UK, two permanent members of the UN security council, has ever answered accusations of a failure to abide by obligations under the 1948 genocide convention, nor revealed the information on which their decisions were based. The failure to critically examine the role of ministers and officials has further encouraged the sort of secretive and unaccountable decision-making that will no doubt shroud the decision-makers today and those who sit and read the cables.
With no official inquiry by either the US or the UK, blame for inaction over the genocide has simply slipped away from the officials and politicians responsible. This might be a suitable time to find out why the UK government was so determined in the security council that Dallaire’s UN peacekeepers be withdrawn from Rwanda, leaving behind a “token force” in order to “appease public opinion” – not to protect civilians but to try to negotiate a ceasefire in the civil war.
Since 1994 there has been an almost continuous series of debates, studies and resolutions on the failure over Rwanda. These have shown how little true humanitarianism there is at the heart of states that both possess abundant resources and profess a commitment to human rights. Nothing has changed.
Above: famine/genocide in Ukraine, 1932-33
Thanks to Roger McCarthy for drawing our attention to this article by Gary Brecher. It makes depressing reading and it should not be assumed that we endorse all the sentiments expressed. But it seems to be well-informed and is certainly well worth a read:
Reading the Anglo-American press babble on about Crimea is painful, if you know anything at all about that part of the world.
Mark Ames tried to wipe away some of the slime a few weeks ago in his article, “Everything You Know about Ukraine Is Wrong,” — and you can just assume that everything you know about Crimea is even wrong-er. Today I’ll try to take apart the nonsense going around about the Crimean Referendum and impending union with Russia.
It’s not easy diagnosing the psychotic episode brought on in the western media by Crimea, because anti-Russian stories are pushing two totally contradictory lines at the same time. Sometimes the party line is that Putin has gone crazy, and Russia is a joke, “a gas station masquerading as a country” that will pay a “big price” for grabbing the Crimean Peninsula.
Then there’s the neocon version of Russophobia, peddled by shameless old Iraq-Invasion boosters like Eli Lake. According to Lake’s latest in the Daily Beast, “Russia is invading Ukraine in the shadows.” The proof? Eli don’t need no stinkin’ proof. He’s been told that the dreaded SpetzNaz troops—Nazgul with black ski masks—are “spreading out” through the entire territory of Ukraine. His source? “U.S. officials who spoke to The Daily Beast on condition of anonymity.”
When you read a story by a shameless war shill like Lake, it’s fun to count the qualifiers and disclaimers:
“The same [Russian] special forces that appear to be rigging the elections in Crimea…”
“[t]he Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) arrested a group of people led by a Ukrainian citizen who were said to be scoping out three of its most crucial military divisions…”
“The forces behind these operations, according to U.S. officials briefed on the updates in Ukraine, are likely the Spetsnaz…”
And finally, my personal favorite:
“On the ground in Ukraine, such confusion reigns that the role of Spetsnaz is hard to confirm. But its involvement would come as no surprise.”
If you’re old enough to have lived through the mass lobotomy that afflicted America in the leadup to the 2003 invasion, the phrasing and logic of that last quote should be painfully familiar. It amounts to this: “We have no proof but they [Saddam, the Russians, whoever you want to spend a few trillion blasting] did it anyway.”
I’m not saying Eli Lake has no more shame than a hungry weasel, but that’s what was said to me, on condition of anonymity, by the same Leprechaun who told Ralph Wiggum to burn things.
Whoops, I outed my Leprechaun source, and on St. Paddy’s day, no less. Well, no big deal—he happens to be gay, this leprechaun, so they wouldn’t have let him in the parade anyway.
You can reasonably assume that the same anonymous U.S. officials who told Lake that Russian special forces are behind all the uproar in Ukraine are the same geniuses who informed him, when he was cheerleading for the Iraq Invasion, that Saddam Hussein was tight with Al Qaeda.
Lake was so attached to that idea that even after the rest of the neocons admitted they might’ve been wrong—not that they ever apologized to the families of the dead—Lake was still looking for proof that Saddam and Osama were in it together and trying one more time in 2013 with a ridiculous claim that an “Al Qaeda conference call”—seriously, Eli said that—forced US embassy closures around the world.
The call, according to Eli, was “like a meeting of the Legion of Doom.” Especially since it turned out to be fictional, not to say totally made up, as anybody with the barest knowledge of insurgent technique knew the second they read Eli’s comic-book fantasy. Al Qaeda is headstrong but not stupid, or at least not stupid enough to do a 20-member “conference call.”
But the “Legion of Doom” theory is all Eli knows; it’s how he makes his living. It’s a template, the kind where you just fill in the bad-guy name and run it through the same old program. Out come the SpetzNaz and the anti-SpetzNaz funding, which is what Eli and his anonymous NatSec sources are all about anyway.
The two versions of Russia—McCain’s “gas station masquerading as a country” and Lake’s fearsome conqueror—both start from the same bitter knowledge, even if Senator McCain and Mr. Lake will never admit that fact in public. It’s a simple one: Russia will take Crimea, won’t pay a big price for it, and there’s not a thing anyone can do about it.
They all know Russia has a free hand in Crimea. Just look at McCain’s punchline: “A gas station masquerading as a country,” Why “gas station”? Because Russia is now the world’s #1 oil exporting nation, topping Saudi Arabia—that beacon of democracy and fine American ally—by more than a million barrels a day.
With reserves estimated at 80 billion barrels, Russia will have a stash of what everybody wants for a long, long time.
Which makes it kind of a big gas station, even by I-80 standards. “Two zillion pumps, no waiting!” And Russia’s gas station is never going to run short of customers. The oil market is like the recreational-drugs trade: Pundits may make up stories about “pushers,” but the truth is there’s always more demand than the supply can handle. Nobody needs to push those products; they sell themselves, and people will pay anything to get them. That means the people who own the world’s #1 “gas station” can pretty much do anything they want, like Arrakis, the only spice-exporting planet, in Dune. The crude must flow, no matter how crudely its Russian owners behave.
The only media that seem willing to acknowledge this are the finance sites. They can’t afford to let jingoism affect their bets, so they’ve been surprisingly clear-headed, saying outright that there’s nothing the West can do…
Analysts from Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Bank of America Corp. and Morgan Stanley have said Europe probably won’t back sanctions that limit flows of Russia’s oil and gas. European members of the Paris-based International Energy Agency imported 32 percent of their raw crude oil, fuels and gas-based chemical feedstocks from Russia in 2012.
It’s a sad day for America when you have to get your honest news from the pigs at Goldman Sachs, B of A, and Morgan Stanley. Kind of like Clarice having to walk through a gauntlet of tossed cum to hear Hannibal Lecter’s take on the latest serial killer. But the stats don’t lie: the EU gets a third of its energy from Russia, and no country on earth could survive a one-third cut in energy, especially an optional, self-inflicted one ordered by those up top on behalf of some people who, as far as anyone can tell, actually want to join Russia anyway. Read the rest of this entry »
The situation in Gaza is bad but to compare it to the Holocaust is grotesque. Yasmin Qureshi is right to have apologised
By Mark Ferguson, re-blogged from Labour List:
As I rule I try to write about the Middle East only when necessary so as to avoid the black hole into which all online commentary about the that subject inevitably falls. But sometimes someone who should know better says something so completely wrong – and they have to be pulled up on it.
Here’s what Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi said in a Westminster Hall debate:
“What has struck me in all this is that the state of Israel was founded because of what happened to the millions and millions of Jews who suffered genocide. Their properties, homes and land – everything – were taken away, and they were deprived of rights. Of course, many millions perished.
“It is quite strange that some of the people who are running the state of Israel seem to be quite complacent and happy to allow the same to happen in Gaza.”
Now it seems very clear to me that the situation in Gaza, and the hardship faced by so many of those who live there, is harsh. The Palestinian people deserve the right to their own state, and have suffered incredibly for many decades. Cameron once called the Gaza Strip a “prison camp” – that seems an accurate description
But to compare the treatment of people in Gaza to the holocaust is grotesque. Qureshi appears to be comparing the situation in Gaza with the mechanised and industrial extermination of an entire people. No-one who has seen the gas chambers and the ovens of Auschwitz could honestly make such a comparison. No-one who has any knowledge of the mechanical way in which Jews were rounded up, shipped off and murdered in the Holocaust could compare any other form of oppression or repression to that cold, calculated and brutal attempt at extermination.
I’m afraid that however strong your feelings are on the undoubted injustices that the people of Gaza have faced, they are not seeing anything comparable to the holocaust.
Yasmin Qureshi should apologise. And she must do it today.
Update: I’ve had a response from the party – and it’s fair to say I’m not impressed. Here’s what they’ve said:
“These remarks were taken completely out of context. Yasmin Qureshi was not equating events in Gaza with the Holocaust. As an MP who has visited Auschwitz and has campaigned all her life against racism and anti-Semitism she would not do so.”
Except it’s clear from reading the full quote of what Qureshi said (see above) and reading the whole Westminster Hall debate – which we’ve linked to – that Qureshi was making a comparison between the impact of the Holocaust and the situation in Gaza, whether that was her intention or not. Instead of trying to get her off the hook, the Labour Party should be telling Qureshi to apologise.
Update: Yasmin Qureshi has released a statement apologising for any offence caused by her remarks:
“The debate was about the plight of the Palestinian people and in no way did I mean to equate events in Gaza with the Holocaust.
“I apologise for any offence caused.
“I am also personally hurt if people thought I meant this.
“As someone who has visited the crematoria and gas chambers of Auschwitz I know the Holocaust was the most brutal act of genocide of the 20th Century and no-one should seek to underestimate its impact.”
Qureshi’s apology should draw a line under this, and rightly so. If there was no intention to cause offence or equate events in Gaza with the Holocaust I am happy to accept that. But it’s also a salutary reminder to MPs from all sides of the house – if you’re talking about hugely emotive topics, be careful with your metaphors, and don’t be sloppy with your language…
* H/t: Roger M
* Related posts at Labour List:
- The Holocaust was not simply a moment in time
- The Holocaust is the clearest warning from history of what happens when we leave prejudice unchecked
- As we focus on the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust in Europe – let us also remember what happened in Rwanda
- Labour and Gaza: Hamas is not Palestine
- Ed Miliband on Gaza: “a full scale ground invasion would be a disaster”
This project – a collaboration between the Cincinnati youth arts centre ‘Elementz’ and the (Reform synagogue) Temple Sholom – may seem a strange way of remembering the Holocaust. Some might even consider it inappropriate. But it’s clearly well-intentioned and seems to be raising awareness amongst these young people. It’s also in marked contrast to the trend in some “radical” circles these days to down-play Holocaust remembrance, or dismiss it as an “industry” or a pro-Zionist conspiracy.
Above: the wreckage of a Jewish shop in Berlin, the day after Kristallnacht
From the Irish Times:
It took a month – and a pointed request from Dublin – for our man in Berlin to file a report on Kristallnacht, November 9th, 1938.
Now a Berlin synagogue destroyed 75 years ago in the so-called “Night of Broken Glass” is exhibiting Charles Bewley’s “disgraceful and unfathomable” report.
The 13-page document, condemning the “undesirables in the Jewish race”, is notorious in Irish diplomatic and academic circles. But a German curator expects it to cause “astonishment” when it goes on display for the first time on Monday in Berlin.
“That a diplomat let fly like this is singular, I’ve never seen anything like it and I’ve read a lot of reports,” said Dr Christian Dirks, curator of the exhibition of diplomatic dispatches on the 1938 pogrom.
After years of official harassment of Jews in Nazi Germany, the state-sanctioned violence against Jews, their businesses, homes and places of worship on November 9th-10th, 1938, is seen as the start of the rapid road downhill to the Holocaust.
The Nazis dubbed it a “spontaneous expression of outrage” at the murder of Ernst vom Rath, a German diplomat in Paris, by Herschel Grynszpan, a German-born Jewish refugee of Polish parents. But many of the 100 diplomats cited in the exhibition noted that Germans were ashamed of this flimsy attempt to cover up high-level Nazi involvement.
The Bulgarian embassy wrote that it seemed “nothing will be able to stop a permanent solution to the ‘Jewish question’”.
Even Italy, a future Axis ally of Nazi Germany, was shocked by events, writing that it was “simply not imaginable that, one day, 500,000 people will be put up against a wall, condemned to suicide or locked up in huge concentration camps”.
Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels noted in his diary on November 11th: “We’ll wait for the reactions abroad. For now there’s still silence, but the uproar will come.”
There was much uproar, just not from Bewley. In sober language he describes the growing exclusion of Jews from German public life and describes the events of November 9th as “obviously organised”.
But his report, which begins in the tone of a dispassionate diplomatic observer, soon identifies with claims in Germany of the time that Jews dominated the worlds of finance and entertainment and used their influence to instil what he calls “anti-Christian, anti-patriotic and communistic” thinking.
He says their corrupting moral influence – promoting abortion, controlling the white slave trade – helps explain the “elimination of the Jewish element from public life”.
“Of all the diplomatic reports this one is usually demagogic and nasty,” said Dr Hermann Simon, director of Berlin’s Centrum Judaicum. “He really left no cliche out.”
In the report’s last section, Mr Bewley takes issue with the Irish media for following the pro-Jewish line of the “British press, itself in Jewish hands”, and “Anglo-Jewish telegraph agencies” by displaying prominently news of oppression against Jews but suppressing news of crimes perpetrated by Jews and anti-fascists.
In his conclusion he holds back from advising Dublin on how to correct what he believes is Ireland’s one-sided view of what he calls the “Jewish problem”, while leaving little doubt that he views Jews themselves as the key issue.
The anti-Semitic virulence in Bewley’s report is “unique” among the diplomatic dispatches, according to curator Christian Dirks.
“The report bowled us over,” he said. “It proffers an educated anti-Semitism which doesn’t just blame the Jews for everything but provides alleged reasons for anti-Jewish feeling. In many passages it recalls arguments you hear today from neo-far right thinkers like David Irving. ”
As well as quotes from the Bewley report in translation, the exhibition details his appointment to Ireland’s mission to Berlin in September 1933, his recall in summer of 1939 and subsequent departure from the diplomatic service. He settled in Rome and died there in 1969.
Von Trotta is eager to fight Arendt’s battles, but time and again shows that she is no more equipped to understand them than [Mary] McCarthy was. Especially clumsy is her attempt to correlate Arendt’s philosophy to a contemporary posture toward Israel. Despite von Trotta’s having Arendt refer to her Zionism as a “youthful folly”, the political picture has simply changed too much for an overlay of Arendtian acetate paper to mean anything.
The Yad Vashem footage and Hannah Arendt are not the only film releases to explore Arendt’s legacy, or Eichmann’s. At this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Claude Lanzmann premiered his documentary The Last of the Unjust. More than three-and-a-half hours long, the film is a series of outtakes from Lanzmann’s monumental Shoah, all of them featuring Benjamin Murmelstein, a Nazi-appointed “Jewish Elder”, who speaks about the choices he had to make while running the Czechoslovakian concentration camp Theresienstadt; at one point, he describes himself as a “marionette that had to pull its own strings”.
Murmelstein is a figure like those that Arendt implicated in Eichmann in Jerusalem, where she alleged that the co-operation of leaders of the Judenräte (Jewish councils) with the Nazis expedited their own annihilation. Murmelstein’s reflections make Arendt’s wholesale indictment of those in his position seem unjust.
And so the Arendtian myth suffers a bit, on one end from Lanzmann’s repudiations and on the other from von Trotta’s anaemic boosterism. The best outcome would be a recalibration of her legacy, one acknowledging that her literary inclinations (nurtured by her friend Mary McCarthy) occasionally overtook her philosophical principles.
Read the full article here.
I haven’t seen the film and so cannot comment upon whether Lurie’s criticism is fair. But I’m grateful to her for reminding us that we don’t have to take Arendt’s word for it regarding Eichman’s “banality” as supposedly demonstrated at his trial: we can see, and judge, for ourselves, thanks to the extraordinary and inevitably highly disturbing Yad Vashem footage:
By Terry Teachout, in Commentary
Above: the Vienna Philharmonic under Hans Weisbach, playing in Bucharest in 1941
The Vienna Philharmonic recently issued a report by a group of independent historians in which the orchestra officially acknowledged for the first time the closeness of its relationship to the Third Reich. Not only had half its players become members of the Nazi Party by 1942, but all 13 of its Jewish players had been fired four years earlier and five of them later died in the camps. A few weeks later, Der Spiegel published a 6,000-word essay called “Wagner’s Dark Shadow: Can We Separate the Man from His Works?” in which Dirk Kurbjuweit dealt no less honestly with the continuing inability of many German music lovers to grapple with the fact that Richard Wagner was a virulent anti-Semite whose writings directly influenced Adolf Hitler.
The extent to which Hitler and his cultural commissars sought to control and shape European musical life has been chronicled in detail. But most of these books have dealt primarily or exclusively with German-speaking performers and those performing artists from other countries, France in particular, who collaborated with the Nazis. Yet the unswerving determination of the Nazis to rid Europe of what they called entartete musik (degenerate music) may well have had an even more far-reaching effect on postwar European musical culture. After all, many well-known Jewish classical performers—Fritz Kreisler, Artur Schnabel and Bruno Walter among them—managed to emigrate to America and other countries where they continued their careers without significant interruption. Not so the Jewish composers whose music was banned by the Nazis. Some of them were killed in the Holocaust, and none of those who survived succeeded in fully reconstituting their professional lives after the war.
A turning point in our understanding of the effects of Nazism on European classical composition came in the 1990s when Decca/London began to release a series of albums called “Entartete Musik” containing some 30-odd works by such celebrated Jewish composers as Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Franz Schreker, Arnold Schoenberg, and Kurt Weill, all of whom had their music banned. After the series came to an end, Michael Haas, its producer, decided to devote himself to further study of the subject. Now he has written a book called Forbidden Music: The Jewish Composers Banned by the Nazis (Yale, 352 pp.). It is, amazingly, the first full-length history of what happened to the composers who ran afoul of the Nazi regime.
Though Haas is not a historian by training, Forbidden Music is still an outstandingly fine piece of work, one that not only tells the story of what happened to these composers but also places it in the historical context without which we cannot fully understand their sufferings. For the history of entartete musik is in large part a tale of Jewish assimilation and its discontents—and of Wagner, whose own mad obsession with Judaism had much to do with the fate of the composers who later felt Hitler’s wrath.
Prior to the social emancipation of Jewry that followed the establishment of Austria-Hungary’s dual monarchy in 1867 and the German Reich in 1871, it was all but impossible for German-speaking Jewish classical composers to achieve success in their native lands. The most important ones either emigrated (like Jacques Offenbach) or spent large parts of their career in other countries (like Felix Mendelssohn).
Given the extent to which Austro-German musical culture dominated classical music throughout the 19th century, it stands to reason that emancipation should have inspired many Jewish composers not merely to assimilate socially but to embrace a new cultural identity for which they had longed so intensely. It was, Haas writes, “the long-awaited entry [of the Jews] into the most élite, educated and cultivated ‘club’ on earth.” Arnold Schoenberg, the least “clubbable” of men, went so far as to proclaim that his invention of the 12-tone method of atonal composition would (in his oft-quoted words) “ensure the supremacy of German music for the next hundred years.”
Not surprisingly, many of these composers sought to expunge all recognizably Jewish elements from their music, hoping thereby to compose in the “true” Germanic tradition. Those who, like Karl Goldmark, failed to purge their styles with sufficient thoroughness were attacked for that very reason by such assimilated Jewish critics as Vienna’s Eduard Hanslick, who complained in a review of one of Goldmark’s operas of his “musical transliteration of Jewish Orientalism….It’s even used when general human feelings are called for rather than anything specifically Jewish.”
Despite their fondest hopes, these musicians were never able to escape the blight of anti-Semitism. Part of the problem was that their success led to growing envy on the part of less accomplished Gentile musicians. Just as important, though, was the emergence of a specifically racial brand of anti-Semitism of which Richard Wagner was the first major proponent. In Judaism in Music and Other Essays (1850) and other writings, Wagner proclaimed his “instinctive repugnance against the Jew’s prime essence” and decried “the be-Jewing of modern art,” going so far as to claim that Judaism threatened German culture itself, since Jews were “the purest of all races and it matters not with whom they mix: the Jewish race always dominates.”
Wagner’s race-based anti-Semitism became an accepted part of the cultural conversation in fin-de-siècle Europe, and it may have had an inhibiting effect on at least some of the Jewish composers of the period. The vast majority of German-speaking Jewish composers of the post-emancipation era were so determined to emphasize their “Germanness” that their music became derivative. Some favored Wagner’s hyper-romanticism, others the conservative traditionalism of Johannes Brahms, but whatever their choice, the result was a body of work that is—with good reason—almost totally forgotten today.
Not until Gustav Mahler, whose First Symphony was performed in 1889, did a Jewish composer of profound, even radical, originality appear on the scene. Yet Mahler’s relationship to his Jewish heritage was complex in the extreme. On the one hand, he unhesitatingly incorporated Jewish elements into his music—the slow movement of the First Symphony, for instance, contains a section that evokes the pungent sound of what would come to be called klezmer. At the same time, though, Mahler was, as Haas explains, equivocal about his background. Not only did he convert to Roman Catholicism to facilitate his appointment as director of the Vienna Hofoper (later the Vienna State Opera), but he “shuddered at the sight of kaftan-wearing, bearded Jews from Eastern Europe and refused to identify with them.”
Whatever his personal feelings about Judaism, Mahler was the key figure in the development of the next generation of post-emancipation Jewish composers. For those who were convinced that Wagner’s all-encompassing romanticism was a dead end—a “debilitating condition” (as the musicologist Alfred Einstein put it) that threatened to smother Austro-German musical culture—Mahler’s symphonically oriented style, at once more acerbic and more linear, offered budding modernists such as Schoenberg a much-needed alternative to the stodgy conservatism of the Jewish composers of the late 19th century.
Schoenberg soon found himself in the vanguard of musical modernism, though he and his followers, Jewish and otherwise, were outnumbered by other composers who still looked to Wagner or Brahms for guidance. But whatever their musical allegiance, these men all followed the path of assimilation, for they were true believers in Austro-German musical culture who wanted to preserve or (in Schoenberg’s case) improve it. It never occurred to them that their passport to that culture could be revoked.
How would Austro-German musical culture have evolved had Jewish composers continued to play a part in its development? The question, while provocative, is unanswerable, for starting in 1933 Adolf Hitler removed them from the scene. Read the rest of this entry »
“I cannot continue to live and to be silent while the remnants of Polish Jewry, whose representative I am, are being murdered. My comrades in the Warsaw ghetto fell with arms in their hands in the last heroic battle. I was not permitted to fall like them, together with them, but I belong with them, to their mass grave. By my death, I wish to give expression to my most profound protest against the inaction in which the world watches and permits the destruction of the Jewish people” – “The Last Letter from the Bund Representative with the Polish National Council in Exile”.
From the Economist blog:
By GG, Jerusalem, Warsaw
THE 19th of April 1943, exactly 70 years ago, saw the first insurrection against the Nazis in occupied Europe: the Warsaw ghetto uprising. The event symbolises both Jewish courage and Jewish suffering. For Poland, its anniversary is also a resonant event in the country’s ongoing reconnection with its Jewish heritage and fight against anti-Semitism.
Last week, more than a hundred volunteers showed up to work on cleaning and restoring the dilapidated Jewish cemetery, perhaps the strongest visual testament to the fact that this city was once one of the largest Jewish centres in the world – and is no more. Almost none of them were Jewish. They told me they had come out of a sense of duty.
The event had been listed on a website devoted to the anniversary commemorations, which are extensive. From now until the May 16th when the Great Synagogue on Tłomackie Street was destroyed, marking the end of the uprising and effectively of all Jewish life in Warsaw, the city hosts ceremonies, exhibitions, concerts and lectures devoted to Poland’s Jewish heritage.
The new Museum of the History of Polish Jews is co-ordinating much of the proceedings. It has used the occasion to officially open as an educational centre even though its permanent exhibition is a year away from being ready evidently hoping its impressive architecture and cultural programme will trump the dubious symbolism of its emptiness.
The guest of honour is Simcha Rotem (Wikipedia entry here), nom de guerre ‘Kazik’. At 89, he is the only former member of the Jewish Combat Organisation (ŻOB) still in good enough health to make the trip. I met him in Israel, where he has lived since shortly after the war, last month. Though tired and in low spirits, he told our correspondent he had decided long ago that if he could possibly make it to this anniversary, he would, regardless of what kind of commemoration was planned for the sake of the memory of his comrades who are no longer alive.
Some of those comrades did live for years after the war though—thanks to Kazik. His is an astonishing story of courage and luck in hellish circumstances. As a 19-year-old, fair-haired ruffian from the Warsaw district of Czerniaków, Kazik did not look Jewish. For that reason the insurgent leader, Marek Edelman, chose him to go to the Aryan side and try to organise a rescue operation for the Jews trapped in the ghetto, already in flames.
After a week on the Aryan side, Kazik finally found two sewer workers who thanks to much goading with vodka in one hand and a pistol in the other, showed him an underground route back into the ghetto. Emerging on Zamenhofa street, he found nothing but smouldering ruins.
It’s at that point that Simcha Rotem’s testimony ends Claude Lanzmann’s epic documentary, Shoah: he believes he is the “last Jew” and has nothing left to do but wait for the Germans. But that is not what he did.
Returning to the sewers, he hears voices: a dozen or so fighters. They say there are more hiding elsewhere, and he tells them to gather and make their way through the sewers to a manhole under Prosta Street, just outside the ghetto.
Simcha Rotem to this day does not know exactly people he saved: “A few dozen. Do you think I had time to count them?” he exclaims. After meeting the group in the sewer, he had returned to the Aryan side and organised for two vans to pick up the survivors at dawn. Only one van arrived, at 10am, and its driver had to be held at gunpoint to prevent him from driving off while the Jews were coming out of the manhole.
After it seemed that no-one else was emerging from the manhole, Kazik told the van to move off. Against all the odds, the few dozen made it to safety the forests north of Warsaw. Yet some had remained underground. Simcha Rotem has had to live with the idea that perhaps he could have done better. But today he says he feels it was the only decision he could make in the circumstances: “The Germans were 100 metres away. It was broad daylight. It was now or never.”
Asked whether his memory of that moment is still vivid today, Simcha Rotem is almost offended: “It is not the sort of thing a person could forget”. His anger at the Nazis is still very much alive, too: “I regret in a way that we didn’t get revenge on the SS. Because they were not conscripts, they chose to do what they did. So they were murderers. And murderers should be hanged. They were not people, but animals walking upright.”
Fear that the world could forget the horror of the Holocaust, or that it could happen again, animates those who do remember it ever more as their numbers dwindle. Irena Boldok, who escaped from the Warsaw ghetto aged eight or nine, gives talks in schools and elsewhere as a member of the Children of the Holocaust association. She speaks gloomily about the experience: “some of them understand, not many. It’s hard to talk to fourteen-year-old kids. It is like a history lesson for them.”
According to the Polish psychologist Barbara Engelking, one reason the ghetto uprising did not happen sooner is that Jews in the Warsaw ghetto maintained the illusion that they might live: the death camps were simply beyond human imagination. With fewer and fewer survivors around to remind us of the horrors of the Holocaust, marking the anniversaries of its key events becomes an ever more important way of ensuring that we don’t forget something that was so unthinkable at the time.
Guest post by Pink Prosecco
Estimates for the number of Roma and Sinti victims of the Holocaust vary widely. Some put the figure as ‘low’ as 220,000 (roughly the population of Norwich) whereas others believe over a million were killed. This online exhibition focuses on some of the Roma and Sinti children who became victims, or survivors, of the Holocaust.
Recently a memorial to the Roma, designed by the Israeli sculptor Dani Karavan, has been unveiled in Berlin. This project has been subject to many delays, and involved several complex and sensitive decisions:
‘Another of Karavan’s proposals – to use Avraham Shlonsky’s poem “The Vow” – was also rejected, to Karavan’s disgruntlement. “This is a poem that vows to remember – and to forget nothing,” he says. He relates that when Romani Rose heard it for the first time, “His hair stood on edge.” However, when he discovered, two weeks after that, that the poem was already quoted at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, the idea was abandoned.
The alternative proposed by the gypsies was a poem by a young poet from the community, Santino Spinelli. However, the poem was about Auschwitz specifically, and Karavan was concerned the memorial would become identified with the death camp and not with the gypsy genocide. The compromise was that the poem would be inscribed on a the floor of the pool, without the word Auschwitz, and with the remark: “Dedicated to [remembering] all the camps where gypsies were murdered.”’
Given the rhetoric and violence against the Roma in some European countries, one would hope that greater awareness of their experiences in the Holocaust – or ‘Porrajmos’ – might encourage people to think twice before demonizing a whole group. But the example of David Ward – who seems to think it’s ‘the Jews’ who needed to take lessons from the Holocaust – demonstrates that a fluent knowledge of historical facts doesn’t always go hand in hand with self-reflection.
I’ve just used a Christmas book token to purchase the latest Noam Chomsky. Well, I say “latest” but in fact the modestly entitled ‘How The World Works’ is, in fact, a collection of “intensively edited speeches and interviews” (writes editor Arthur Naiman) from the 1990s and (in some cases) the late 1980s.
Above: the old genocide-denier himself
Both Naiman and David Barsamian, who conducted the interviews that make up most of the book, are clearly uncritical Chomsky fans, almost breathless in their hero-worship. Naiman writes “I think you’ll find Chomsky’s take on things more insightful than anything you hear on the airwaves or read in the papers today. His analyses are so deep and farsighted that they only seem to get more timely — and startling — with age. Read a few pages and see if you don’t agree.”
Not to be outdone, Barsamian writes “Chomsky is an electrifying speaker, and that’s due solely to what he says, not to the unpretentious, straightforward way in which he says it (he consciously avoids rhetorical flourishes). Sharp as a razer in debate but warm and amiable in convesation, he’s both the most moral and most knowledgable person I’ve ever met.
“I hope he lives to be 100. You should too. The world will be an emptier, lonlier and less just place without him.”
Given the period in which most of the speeches and interviews took place, and also some previous criticisms that I’ve made of Chomsky, I first checked the contents and index to see what the book contained about former Yugoslavia and the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo; I was surprised to find just one piece on the subject, an interview that seems to be from the early 1990’s. Even more surprising, in the light of some of what Chomsky has written and said on the subject since, is the anodyne nature of what he has to say. In answer to the question “Would you comment on the events in the former Yugoslavia, which constitute the greatest outburst of violence in Europe in fifty years — tens of thousands killed, hundreds of thousands of refugees. This isn’t some remote place like East Timor we’re talking about — this is Europe –and it’s on the news every night”, Chomsky replies:
In a certain sense, what’s happening is that the British and American right wings are getting what they asked for. Since the 1940s they’ve been quite bitter about the fact that Western support turned to Tito and the partisans, and against Mikailhovich and his Chetniks, and the Croatian anti-Communists, including the Ustasha, who were outright Nazis. The Chetniks were also playing with the Nazis and were trying to overcome the partisans.
The partisan victory imposed a communist dictatorship, but it also federated the country. It suppressed the ethnic violence that had accompanied the hatreds and created the basis of some sort of functioning society in which the parts had their role. We’re now essentially back in the 1940s, but without the partisans.
Serbia is the inheritor of the Chetniks and their ideology. Croatia is the inheritor of the Ustasha and its ideology (less ferocious than the Nazi original, but similar). It’s possible that they’re now carrying out pretty much what they would’ve done if the partisans hadn’t won.
Of course, the leadership of these elements comes from the Communist party, but that’s because every thug in the region went into the ruling apparatus. (Yeltsin, for example, was a Communist party boss.)
It’s interesting that the right wing in the West — at least its more honest elements — defend much of what’s happening. For example, Nora Beloff, a right-wing British commentator on Yugoslavia, wrote a letter to the London Economist condemning those who denounce the Serbs in Bosnia. She’s saying it’s the fault of the Muslims. They’re refusing to accommodate the Serbs, who are just defending themselves.
She’s been a supporter of the Chetniks from way back, so there’s no reason why she shouldn’t continue to support Chetnik violence (which is what this amounts to). Of course there may be another factor. She’s an extremist Zionist, and the fact that the Muslims are involved already makes them guilty.
Some say that, just as the Allies should have bombed the rail lines to Auschwitz to prevent the deaths of many people in concentration camps, so we should now bomb the Serbian gun positions surrounding Sarajevo that have kept that city under siege. Would you advocate the use of force?
First of all, there’s a good deal of debate about how much effect bombing the rail lines to Auschwitz would have had. Putting that aside, it seems to me that a judicious threat and use of force, not by the Western powers but by some international or multinational group, might, at an earlier stage, have suppressed a good deal of the violence and maybe blocked it. I don’t know if it would help now.
If it were possible to stop the bombardment of Sarajevo by threatening to bomb some emplacements (and perhaps even carrying the threat out), I think you could give an argument for it. But that’s a very big if. It’s not only a moral issue — you have to ask about the consequences, and they could be quite complex.
What if a Balkan war were set off? One consequence is that conservative military forces within Russia could move in. They’re already there, in fact, to support their Slavic brothers in Serbia. They might move in en masse. (That’s traditional, incidentally. Go back to Tolstoy’s novels and read about how Russians were going to the south to save their Slavic brothers from attacks. It’s now being reenacted.)
At that point you’re getting fingers on nuclear weapons involved. It’s also entirely possible that an attack on the Serbs, who feel that they’re the aggrieved party, could inspire them to move more aggressively in Kosovo, the Albanian area. That could set off a large-scale war, with Greece and Turkey involved. So it’s not so simple.
Or what if the Bosnian Serbs, with the backing of both the Serbian and maybe even other Slavic regions, started a guerrilla war? Western military “experts” have suggested it could take a hundred thousand troops just to more or less hold the area. Maybe so.
So one has to ask a lot of questions about consequences. Bombing Serbian gun emplacements sounds simple, but you have to ask how many people are going to end up being killed. That’s not so simple.
Zeljko Raznjatovic, known as Arkan, a fugitive wanted for bank robbery in Sweden, was elected to the Serb Parliament in December 1992. His Tigers’ Militia is accused of killing civilians in Bosnia. He’s among ten people listed by the US State Department as a possible war criminal. Arkan dismissed the charges and said, “There are a lot of people in the United States I could list as war criminals.”
That’s quite correct. By the standards of Nuremberg, there are plenty of people who could be listed as war criminals in the West. It doesn’t absolve him in any respect, of course.
Now that is pretty inoffensive and uncontentious stuff, especially when compared with what Chomsky was writing and saying just a few years later. Take this commentary on Milošević and the Srebrenica genocide, published in Chomsky’s 2006 book ‘Failed States’:
Let us return to the Yugoslavia Tribunal, where Milošević was charged with genocide. The indictment was restricted to crimes in Kosovo. It kept almost entirely to crimes subsequent to the NATO bombing, which, as anticipated by the NATO command and the Clinton administration, elicited serious atrocities in reaction. Presumably because the Kosovo charges were so ambigious, Bosnia was later added, specifically the charge of genocide at Srebrenica. That too raises a few questions, if only because after these events, Milošević was accepted by the United States and its allies as a partner for diplomatic settlement. A further problem is that the most detailed enquiry into the Srebrenica massacre, by the Dutch government * concluded that Milošević had no connection to it, and that he “was very upset when he heard about the massacres,” the Dutch scholar who headed the team of intelligence specialists reported. The study describes the “incredulity” in the Belgrade government, including Milošević, when they learned of the executions.
Suppose we adopt prevailing Western opinion that such unwelcome facts are irrelevant. Even so, the prosecution has had considerable difficulty in establishing the charge of genocide. Suppose, however, that someone were to unearth a document in which Milošević orders the Serbian airforce to reduce Bosnia or Kosovo to rubble, with the words “Anything that flies on anything that moves” [Nixon's instructions to Kissinger to order bombing in Cambodia - JD]. The prosecutors would be overjoyed, the trial would be over, and Milošević would be sent off to many successive life sentences for the crime of genocide — a death sentence, if the tribunal followed US conventions. But as always, the principled exemption from moral truism prevails.
* Chomsky conveniently ignores the July 1999 findings of the International Criminal Tribunal which attributed the atrocities at Sebrenica to a “direct chain of military command” from Belgrade and, specifically, Milošević. He also ignores the fact that one of the two Serb generals who ordered the killings, Radislav Krstic (the other being Ratko Mladic), was promoted to general within a few days of the atrocity.
George Monbiot on the genocide denial of his former “hero” Chomsky (and others on the “left”), here