Category Archives: Hannah Arendt

“OPERATION FINALE”— Finding Eichmann

“Operation Finale”

Finding Eichmann

Amos Lassen

Fifteen years after World War II, a team of secret agents comes together to track down Adolf Eichmann, the infamous Nazi architect of the Holocaust. It was Eichmann who organized the transport of Jews from countries all over Europe to concentration camps where millions were murdered. After the war, he fled to his home country of Austria and then moved to Argentina. The Israeli intelligence agency Mossad uncovered the whereabouts of the infamous Nazi in 1960, and teams of Mossad and Shin Bet agents staged a raid to capture the war criminal and brought him to Israel to face crimes against humanity and the Jewish people. He was sentenced to hang and was executed in 1962 and remained unrepentant all the way to noose. This is the story of the manhunt for one of the most diabolical war criminals of the 20th century.

Ben Kingsley plays Eichmann and Oscar Isaac is Peter Malkin, the Mossad member and head of a group of Israeli spies who took him down. Eichmann had murdered Malkin’s sister and her children so he had his own personal interest in capturing the man. He was sentenced and executed by hanging. Writer, humanitarian and Holocaust survivor Simon Wiesenthal was instrumental in finding the location of Eichmann. The reaction of the world to the entire affair was as different as can be imagined and debates took place about Israel’s right to extradite and try the man for crimes against humanity. Hannah Arendt’s “Eichmann in Jerusalem” and her theory of the banality of evil both hurt and helped her career as a political philosopher and perhaps even tarnished her reputation as one of the most brilliant minds of the twentieth century.

In the newly released trailer, we see Eichmann supervising the mass murder of hundreds of concentration camp prisoners, then defending his actions in a voiceover,  “You have no interest in what I have to say,” he says. “Unless it confirms what you think you already know. My job was simple: save the country I love from being destroyed. Is your job any different?”

Chris Weitz directed the drama from Matthew Orton’s screenplay about the capture of Eichmann, who organized the transport of Jews from all over Europe to concentration camps, where an estimated 6 million people were killed.

In the same trailer, Isaac’s Peter Malkin is warned,” If you succeed, for the first time in our history, we will judge our executioner… If you fail, he escapes justice, perhaps forever. I beg of you, do not fail.”

The film also stars Lior Raz, Melanie Laurent, Nick Kroll, Joe Alwyn, Haley Lu Richardson, Michael Aronov, Ohad Knoller, Greg Hill, Torben Liebrecht, Mike Hernandez, Greta Scacchi and Pêpê Rapazote. “Operation Finale” opens in theaters on August 24, 2018.

“ABOUT EXECUTING EICHMANN”— The Arguments

“About Executing Eichmann”

The Arguments

Amos Lassen

On December 15, 1961, in Jerusalem, Adolf Eichmann was sentenced to death for crimes against the Jewish people and against humanity. Eichmann had been a major player in the mass deportation of Jews to Nazi extermination camps, and the judgment of the court was largely met favorably. However, a group of Holocaust survivors and intellectuals, including Hannah Arendt, Hugo Bergmann, Martin Buber, Yehuda Bacon and Gershom Scholem, called for Eichmann’s sentence to be commuted. By opposing Eichmann’s execution, they felt they were defending the values of Judaism, and raised questions about Jewish morality, and the very nature of a Jewish State.

“About Executing Eichmann” examines their arguments, bringing together texts, eyewitness accounts, archival footage, audio recordings, and materials from the time, along with discussions amongst contemporary Israeli historians and philosophers, including historians Anita Shapira and Hanna Yablonka, and philosophers Moshe Halbertal and Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin.

Not many remember this debate but it was central to its time and shows how relevant the issues continue to be today, and why we should revisit them.

Florence Jammot’s riveting documentary explores the moral and philosophical questions raised around Adolf Eichmann’s trial and execution. The film juxtaposes the two overarching themes of vengeance and justice as it explores the drama behind the attempt of a group of Jewish intellectuals to spare Eichmann’s life. Using letters, court footage, and eyewitness testimonies, Jammot reveals the astonishing true story of Buber, Scholem, Arendt, Bacon, and others who lobbied Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi not to execute Eichmann, but rather to commute his sentence. Their thoughts revolved around how could death of one man atone for the deaths of six million and if Israel had the authority to pass judgment on behalf of all Jews. Since Eichmann’s indictment was (for the most part) crimes against the Jewish people, how could he receive a fair and unbiased trial in Israel? Jammot explores each of these questions interview style, and allows her speakers generous time to make their points. Her choices of commentators make the film.

In the film there are two important informational omissions: Eichmann’s trial was the first one to be televised in history and that Eichmann has been the only person in Israeli history to be executed.

Jammot’s film is not for the novice, as it provides little background information. It assumes that the viewer has knowledge of not only the Holocaust and Eichmann’s role in it, but also of the various Israeli statesmen and intellectuals involved. For those who are familiar with these events of the early 1960s, the film is a wonderful work. Particularly moving is the large segment given to painter Yehuda Bacon, an Auschwitz survivor, who conquers his own demons and petitions for Eichmann’s life to be spared.

“Why Read Hannah Arendt Now?” by Richard J. Bernstein— Rethinking Arendt

 

Bernstein, Richard. “Why Read Hannah Arendt Now?”, Polity, 2018.

Rethinking Arendt

Amos Lassen

Since reading Hannah Arendt as an undergraduate many years ago, I have always felt in awe of her—– she was a great mind and even when I did not agree with her, I understood from where she came. Of course there were sections of her “Eichmann in Jerusalem” that infuriated me but probably because I understood what she was doing and I am fascinated by the fact that many young Israelis now see as a titular mind.

In fact, there has been an extraordinary international revival of interest in Hannah Arendt. Perceptive of dark tendencies in modern life, she knew that they would continue to plague us. She developed a concept of politics and public freedom that remain a critical standard for judging what is wrong with politics today. I am quite sure that why Arendt has once again become popular is because of her profound insights that aid us in thinking about those dark times and where the light is today. Author Bernstein examines “her thinking about statelessness and refugees; the right to have rights; her critique of Zionism; the meaning of the banality of evil; the complex relations between truth, lying, power, and violence; the tradition of the revolutionary spirit; and the urgent need for each of us to assume responsibility for our political lives.”

This is a compact little book that contains a great deal how today’s world has been shaped. Arendt spent her life looking at the meanings of the burdens that exist in the world and had no fear of publicly attacking them. It would be extremely interesting to see how she would react to the Trump presidency. You can be sure that she would have had something to say about it.

“Thinking Without a Banister: Essays in Understanding, 1953-1975” by Hannah Arendt and edited by Jerome Kohn— Searching for Meaning

Arendt, Hannah. “Thinking Without a Banister: Essays in Understanding, 1953-1975”, edited by Jerome Kohn, Schocken Books, 2018.

Searching for Meaning

Amos Lassen

I often have a difficult time explaining to others my obsession with Hannah Arendt and there are still many, many Jews who fault her because of her writings about Eichmann. We do not have many thinkers like Arendt and love her or hate her, I doubt that anyone can deny that she was one of the greatest minds to write and philosophize. I remember attending one of her lectures and feeling like I was witnessing greatness.

“Thinking Without a Banister” refers to Arendt’s description of her experience of thinking and she thought without any of the traditional religious, moral, political, or philosophic pillars of support. Arendt was her own support. The book includes topics on many subjects and from many varied writings: the essays, lectures, reviews, interviews, speeches, and editorials. All of these taken together, exhibit the relentless activity of her mind as well as her character. In these writings, we see the person Arendt was and who has hardly yet been appreciated or understood. 

Hannah Arendt was born in Germany in 1906 and lived in America from 1941 until her death in 1975. Her life and her thought spanned much of the twentieth century. She did not think of herself as a philosopher even though she studied and maintained close relationships with two great philosophers—Karl Jaspers and Martin Heidegger throughout their lives. She was a thinker who sought the meaning of appearances and events. She was a questioner rather than an answerer, and she wrote what she thought, hoping to encourage others to think for themselves. She was courageous and she found courage woven in each and every strand of human freedom.

“In 1951 she published The Origins of Totalitarianism, in 1958 The Human Condition, in 1961 Between Past and Future, in 1963 On Revolution and Eichmann in Jerusalem, in 1968 Men in Dark Times, in 1970 On Violence, in 1972 Crises of the Republic, and in 1978, posthumously, The Life of the Mind. Starting at the turn of the twenty-first century, Schocken Books has published a series of collections of Arendt’s unpublished and uncollected writings, of which Thinking Without a Banister is the fifth volume.” 

“The Correspondence of Hannah Arendt and Gershom Scholem” edited by Marie Luise Knott— Germany, Jewish Identity and the Holocaust

Knott, Marie Luise (editor). “The Correspondence of Hannah Arendt and Gershom Scholem”, University of Chicago Press, 2017.

Germany, Jewish Identity and the Holocaust

Amos Lassen

“Few people have thought as deeply or incisively about Germany, Jewish identity, and the Holocaust as Hannah Arendt and Gershom Scholem”. The letters included in this book (which I have been waiting for) shows that much of that thinking was developed in dialogue, through more than twenty years of correspondence.

Arendt and Scholem first met in 1932 in Berlin and quickly bonded over their mutual admiration for and friendship with Walter Benjamin. They began exchanging letters in 1939 and their correspondence continued until 1963, when Scholem vehemently disagreed with Arendt’s coverage of the trial of Adolf Eichmann and the book that she wrote about it, “Eichmann in Jerusalem”. Their disagreement continued until Arendt’s death a dozen years later. The years of their friendship were filled with a remarkably rich bounty of letters in which they try to come to terms with being both German and Jewish, the place and legacy of Germany before and after the Holocaust, the question of what it means to be Jewish in a post-Holocaust world, and more. Almost hovering above the correspondence was Walter Benjamin whose life and tragic death show the very questions that preoccupied the pair.

This are letters and while many are valuable to the world of academia, there are also lighter moments contained within them and these include travel accounts of travels, gossipy dinner parties, and the details that make up life even in the shadow of war and loss.

In today’s world where we continue to struggle with questions of nationalism, identity, and difference, Arendt and Scholem are still regarded as crucial thinkers and their give us a way to see them, and the development of their thought from a different perspective. The book is due out in October, 2017.

 

‘VIA ACTIVA— THE SPIRIT OF HANNAH ARENDT”— Contradictions

via activa

“Via Activa—The Spirit of Hannah Arendt”

Contradictions

Amos Lassen

A couple of months ago I reviewed this film yet I have not been able to stop thinking about it. Hannah Arendt has always been one of my philosophical heroes and I have been wondering how she would react to this film biography of her life. Arendt was

“an anti-nationalist but briefly Zionist, essentially German but defiantly Jewish, intellectually rigorous and romantically passionate”. The film attempts to capture the many contradictions of a woman who was one of the great thinkers of the 20th century’s great minds.

When we meet her here, she is reading correspondence between Karl Jaspers and herself as we see Germans being captured after the war. It is in these letters that we see some of Her Contradictions, complexities and idiosyncrasies. She never denied her Jewish background and heritage yet she had a love affair with the notoriously anti-Semitic philosopher Martin Heidegger. In the film, Arendt at times looks like little more than a housewife but this changes once we hear her speak.

Arendt here is always portrayed sympathetically even during the section on “Eichmann in Jerusalem” in which she coined the phrase, “the banality of evil”. It was with this that she sparked a tremendous and angry debate in the American Jewish community.

I find it extremely interesting that today Arendt is once again at the top and that many who wrote her off in the 60s have moved toward her way of thinking. The real treat of the film is getting to see and hear Arendt speaking about what she had to say and as well as some fantastic pre-war and post-war German footage and while some of it is chilling, we get a chance to think about what happened once again.

“Hannah Arendt and Theology” by John Kiess— Theology and Thought

hannah arend and theology

Kiess, John. “Hannah Arendt and Theology”, (Philosophy and Theology), Bloomsbury, 2016.

Theology and Thought

Amos Lassen

Hannah Arendt is regarded as one of the most important political philosophers of the twentieth century and she has kept that standing even with the controversy that came as a result of her coverage of the trial of Adolph Eichmann for “The New Yorker” magazine. She is famous for her work on totalitarianism and her book about it is still required reading in history degree programs on many campuses. However, her real came with her coinage of the term “the banality of evil” and I am sure there are those who are familiar with the concept without knowing that this came from Arendt who is found at number 38 on the list of women read today in academia. She is also noted for her work regarding the Holocaust, statelessness and human rights, revolutions and democratic movements as well as for her studies on the various challenges of modern technological society. She went through a period in which the world seemed to be angry at her but in recent years, we have seen a growing appreciation of her work especially concerning the complex relationship to theological sources, namely Augustine, the subject of her doctoral dissertation and a thinker with whom she contended throughout her life.

This new book explores how Arendt’s critical and constructive engagements with theology inform her broader thought, as well as the on-going debates that her work brings about in contemporary Christian theology on such topics as evil, tradition, love, political action, and the life of the mind. What we see is a very unique interdisciplinary investigation that brings together Arendt studies, political philosophy, and Christian theology. “Hannah Arendt and Theology” looks at how the insights and provocations of this public intellectual aid in setting a constructive theological agenda for the twenty-first century.

Although I have not always agreed with her, I must state that there is no doubt in my mind that Arendt was a brilliant mind that certainly advanced philosophical thought. She was gifted with the ability to be able to reframe questions about how we should live and thus pushed us into rethinking that which we thought we knew. I cannot even begin to think about how many discussions I have had in my life about Arendt and I see her work as essential. One would probably suppose that if her work is so essential, then she must be easy to understand and that is simply not true.
This is where the value of this book comes in. Writer John Kiess gives us clear understandings of Arendt’s theological thought and leads us clearly to understand the interrelation between Arendt and the importance of her work in the fields of religion and theology.

Just a year old ago I taught a course on Arendt and her banality of evil as it affects and effect the Jewish community and had I had this book then, my class preparation would have been so much easier. However, one of the pleasures of dealing with Arendt is the ideological arguments I would have with myself about what she had to say. One thing I learned years ago is that contrary to what some members of the Jewish community have said— that she was an anti-Semitic Jew is most definitely not true. She never left her Judaism and she acknowledged it especially with the brouhaha that came into being with the publications in the New Yorker about the Eichmann and trial and later with the publication of “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil”. And do not think that I have not been chided by members of my own Jewish community for standing up for Arendt when few others dared to.

In looking at theology, Arendt is difficult to stay away from and it is very easy to distort what she had to say. She was complicated and she was implicit when it came to traditional matters and concerns. A book like this has been needed for a long time and Kiess gives us a comprehensive, well integrated, and dialogical reading of Arendt and theology and I sure that is especially welcome for readers of Christian theology. There is a lot to think about and to me that is what makes a book worthwhile. Below is the table of contents:

Acknowledgments

Abbreviations

Introduction

Ch. 1 A Public Philosopher: The Life and Thought of Hannah Arendt

Ch. 2 The Problem of Evil Reconsidered

Ch. 3 Amor Mundi: Worldliness, Love, and Citizenship

Ch. 4 “That a Beginning Be Made”: Natality, Action, and the Politics of Gratitude

Ch. 5 In the Region of the Spirit: Thinking Between Past and Future

Notes

Index

“VITA ACTIVA: THE SPIRIT OF HANNAH ARENDT”— One of the Most Influential Thinkers of the 20th Century

vita activa

“Vita Activa: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt”

One of the Most Influential Thinkers of the 20th Century

Amos Lassen

Hannah Arendt, the German-Jewish philosopher, caused uproar in the 1960s with the subversive concept of the “Banality of Evil” as she referred to t the trial of Adolph Eichmann, which she covered for the “New Yorker” magazine. Her private life was also quite controversial due to her early love affair with the renowned German philosopher and Nazi supporter Martin Heidegger. This new thought-provoking documentary is an intimate portrait of the whole of Arendt’s life. It takes us to places where she lived, worked, loved, and was betrayed. Arendt was a great and influential philosopher who wrote as about the open wounds of modern times. Now, probably because of the recent film by Margarethe von Trotta, a biopic, there is renewed interest in Arendt throughout the world, especially among young people who find her insights into the nature of evil, totalitarianism, ideologies, and the perils faced by refugees, more relevant than ever.

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 Arendt caused an uproar in the 1960s by coining the subversive concept of the “Banality of Evil” when referring to the trial of Adolph Eichmann, which she covered for the New Yorker magazine. Her private life was no less controversial thanks to her early love affair with the renowned German philosopher and Nazi supporter Martin Heidegger. This thought provoking and spirited documentary, with its abundance of archival materials, offers an intimate portrait of the whole of Arendt’s life, traveling to places where she lived, worked, loved, and was betrayed, as she wrote about the open wounds of modern times.

vita2

We learn of connections between her life and her thought, we get a different look at Arendt.Ada Ushpiz’s documentary is one of the new films that examine Israel from a variety of diverse historical, cultural and political perspectives. Hannah Arendt’s work has brought about growing interest and she is presented as a flawed figure, an intellectual who defended ideas in public that she later disavowed in private. Even though some of her complex views on ideology, totalitarianism, and Jewish refugees left stateless by the Holocaust have been challenged since her death, they continue to be heard and resonate in today’s geopolitical climate.

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Arendt’s thoughts on European refugees who were made stateless by the outcome of war and their lack of rights are focused upon. The film looks at Arendt’s accomplishments and failures. Commentators take her to task for her misjudgment of Adolf Eichmann’s character, her apology for Martin Heidegger’s Nazi affiliation, and her tough and inaccurate portrayal of the Judenrat (Jewish councils that were established by the Nazis) and its leaders, which Arendt herself later repudiated. The film implies that her most famous concept, the “banality of evil,” was appropriated from her mentor, Karl Jaspers, who coined the phrase in a letter to her.

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Here we see Heidegger, her teacher and one-time lover as a sexist, selfish, vain, and pompous man, whose his love letters to Arendt are full of embarrassing romantic clichés. Heidegger was one of the most famous philosophers of the 20th century is seen calling for the “extermination of the enemy” before the Nazi rise to power. This very damning evidence of his inherent anti-Semitism is used against Arendt for her promotion of the Heidegger myth, that claimed that he was a fellow traveler of the Nazis who had been duped by Hitler’s lies. We see Arendt’s not taking Heidegger into account for his crimes is presented as one of her great moral failures.

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Arendt was an ardent Zionist in the 1930s and early ’40s but grew disillusioned with Israel and labeled the Eichmann case a “show trial” staged by the Israeli government. The film suggests that this attitude resulted from her preconceived notions about Israel that she brought with her to Jerusalem when sent there to cover the trial for the “New Yorker” and we now know that she begged to have a change to cover the Eichmann trial. The documentary shows Arendt as a philosopher whose prejudices often led her to fail.

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Nonetheless, her ideas have lost none of their potency or relevance with the passage of time. Her reflections on subjects such as the totalitarian state and the banality of evil have made her one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century. The film uses wealth of source material in a detailed examination of her convictions. We hear voiceovers as we see the photographs, home movies and other archive material, and these scenes are intercut with interviews with her contemporaries. What we really see is Arendt’s unremitting sense of displacement. During the Second World War, Arendt fled to the United States, where she felt herself to be living in exile. This is a very important concept, since she belonged to a people dismissed as “superfluous.” This was the wellspring of her theories and views about the establishment of a state of Israel, Zionism and the Holocaust. However looking at these on another level, we see they can easily be understood when used to explain the current refugee situation with millions of displaced people at the borders of Europe. The American philosopher and gender theorist Judith Butler refers to Arendt’s work, saying that a society that tries to do away with plurality becomes genocidal. This documentary warns us that that if we ignore the helpless and reject critical thinking, we are bound for totalitarianism.

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“Vita Activa” will open in New York on April 6 and Los Angeles on April 29.

“THE PEOPLE VS. FRITZ BAUER”— A Historical Thriller

the people poster

“The People vs. Fritz Bauer” (“Der Staat gegen Fritz Bauer”)

A Historical Thriller

Amos Lassen

.Burghart Klaussner, acclaimed German actor, starsin this riveting historical thriller that chronicles the tremendous efforts of German district attorney Fritz Bauer to bring Nazi war criminal Adolph Eichmann to justice.

the people1

Bauer wonderfully encapsulates the conflicted character of postwar Germany as the Attorney General who was instrumental in bringing the elusive Adolph Eichmann to trial in Israel. The film is both a portrait of this complex man and a historical thriller about the tremendous risks undertaken in order to apprehend Eichmann, the chief engineer of the Nazis’ Final Solution.

The setting is the late 1950s when Germany has grown increasingly apathetic about confronting the horrors of its recent past. Nevertheless, Fritz Bauer (Klaussner) tirelessly devotes his energies to bringing the Third Reich to justice. One day Bauer receives a letter from Argentina that was written by a man who is certain that his daughter is dating the son of Adolph Eichmann. The promising lead excites Bauer but he is mistrustful of Germany’s corrupt judiciary system where Nazis still lurk. Bauer goes to Jerusalem to seek an alliance with the Mossad, the Israeli secret service. To do so is treason but he knows that committing treason is the only way Bauer can serve his country.

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We are taken back to a time when much of the world was eager to forget the atrocities of the Second World War even though many of the perpetrators remained at large. Yet this is also a film about the world of today, where justice continues to be undermined by economic interests.

Though relatively conservative in its approach, Lars Krause’s teleplay-style treatment of a still-touchy subject has the nerve to name names and it implicates everyone from former chancellor Konrad Adenauer to Mercedes-Benz. Kraume doesn’t pull punches or shy away from how Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service, the BND, used Kraume’s homosexuality to muzzle him.

Bauer is a brilliant man who must make himself seem as non-threatening as possible in order to accomplish his political goals. He is a Jewish lawyer who was himself briefly interned in a German concentration camp, he has made it his life’s work to bring Nazism’s worst offenders to trail in German courts. In the opening scene, we see the elderly lawman passed out in his bath at home — an incident his political rivals try to misconstrue as a suicide attempt in hopes that it might force him into retirement. But Bauer isn’t so easily dissuaded and says that if he does commit suicide, he will let everyone know and that there will not be rumors.

the people vs. fritz bauer

Bauer is a short, intense little man with another ten years to go before his retirement. Today he is best remembered today for the leading role he played in the Frankfurt Auschwitz trials. In 1957, he hoped Adolf Eichmann might be the first and juiciest former SS officer to stand trial, but as we see here, his crusade pitted him against virtually every entity in the country, from right-wing intelligence agencies to the chancellery itself. Notice the film’s title— it suggests that Bauer, who would go on to prosecute some of Nazism’s worst offenders, was himself being tried in the court of public opinion.

Twice, the film shows Bauer (both the real figure and Klaussner in character) appearing on television to implore Germany’s young people to assert their own identity and “confront Germany’s whole history”. What he means by this is to look past the whitewashed version their own political leaders were feeding them. To have said more at that time could have been treason— the very charge that Bauer was already risking when he went around his superiors’ backs and arranged for Mossad to do his dirty work by giving the Israeli intelligence agency the information they needed to find and arrest Eichmann (who was hiding in Argentina) with the understanding that he might be able to extradite him.

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We see how uncooperative the BND and other entities were in trying to derail Bauer’s efforts. Both Interpol and German intelligence claimed they were “not responsible for political crimes,” but according to the dramatic license Kraume and co-writer Olivier Guez allow themselves here, agents of those groups were actively trying to sabotage his investigation. In a Danish police record in which Bauer was arrested among male prostitutes, the screenplay invents a closeted state attorney named Karl Angermann (Ronald Zehrfeld), whom Bauer invites into his inner circle and entrusts as his lone confidant.

The film aims to show how the punishingly homophobic Paragraph 175, which sentenced men to harsh prison sentences for any gay behavior, was itself an example of Nazi policy still being practiced in German law, very much like the many politicos who’d shed their swastikas and went right back to work. The recently married Karl, who’s unusually careless in his dealings with a cross-dressing nightclub singer (Lilith Stangenberg), makes a too-easy target, though the blackmail and melodrama that ensues supplies the film its most emotional dimension.

While Bauer was tasked with locating ex-SS officers now in hiding, it proved easier for him to locate Nazi war criminals than to convince his government to act on his information. This is a brilliant film that you do not want to miss.

“Stolen Words: The Nazi Plunder of Jewish Books” by Rabbi Mark Glickman— Tens of Millions of Books

stolen words

Glickman, Rabbi Mark. “Stolen Words: The Nazi Plunder of Jewish Books”, University of Nebraska Press, 2016.

Tens of Millions of Books

Amos Lassen

If you had to guess who had/has the largest collection of Jewish books in the world would you have guessed that it was the Nazi party who had tens of millions of books that they looted from European Jewish families and institutions. Nazi soldiers and civilians were responsible for the empting of Jewish communal libraries, confiscated volumes from government collections. They also stole from Jewish individuals, schools, and synagogues. In the beginning of the Nazi rise to power they burned books in bonfires but what many do not know is that they saved many books and hid them in castles, abandoned mine shafts, and warehouses throughout Europe. Theirs was the largest and most extensive book-looting campaign in history.

When the war ended, the Allies found that there were many questions to be asked regarding the books. Was there a way to identify who they belonged to and where should they go? Where did one find authority to make these decisions and finally the books were turned over to Jewish Cultural Reconstruction, Incorporated, an organization of leading Jewish scholars chaired by the eminent historian, Salo Brown. Philosopher Hannah Arendt who later wrote “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil” was given the job of establishing restitution protocols.

What makes this such a fascinating read is that it is the story of a world that was torn apart and what did remain was a connection with those who survived the horror of that time. Here is the history of members of the Jewish community struggling to gain some understanding of the world after the Holocaust, something that today many of us are still unable to do. The Western world gradually was able to understand just to what extent the world had been devastated, The story of the stolen books was also the story of “Nazi leaders, ideologues, and Judaica experts; of Allied soldiers, scholars, and scoundrels; and of Jewish communities, librarians, and readers around the world”. Like so many others, I find myself still longing to hold a book in my hands at a time when the world seems to be moving in the direction of electronic libraries and research.

Author Rabbi Glickman has explained the period during which the Nazis rose to power and what happened as a result in Jewish communities. He shows it to us as it stands among the other events that were going on at that time. It is fascinating and spellbinding to learn how books were returned to their rightful owners and their reactions when they received them.

I was fascinated by the account of how the books were returned to their rightful owners and how those people reacted when they were. I was even more fascinated to learn of Hannah Arendt’s role in this since I have spent many years studying her and somehow missed this. Glickman’s book played with my emotions and moved me several times. Above all else, we see how important the written word is and how much we are influenced by it. We also see the abuse of the written word and feel the impact of cultural genocide.

As Rabbi Glickman “artfully reminds us, books are ultimately the couriers of human civilization. In their redemption we keep faith with our past and sustain hope in our future.” A word of warning—clear your day before you sit down to read it because you will do nothing else but reading it until you close the covers on the last page.