Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Forgotten Trials of the Holocaust

Authors Michael J. Bazyler  and Frank M. Tuerkheimer explore how justice was meted in the aftermath of one of the most heinous crimes in human history, the Holocaust.  Forgotten Trials of the Holocaust, as the name suggests, examines some of the lesser known, if not downright forgotten, attempts to bring the criminals involved in the Holocaust to justice.

I have always been of the opinion that too little was done to redress the Holocaust.  This books sheds some like on this issue, by providing examples how well-meaning individuals, across countries, ethnic groups and institutions, made a valiant effort to punish genocidal criminals.

Ultimately, the Cold War caught up to the Holocaust.  A strong West Germany as a bulwark against communism was more important than justice.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention

Manning Marable’s Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention purports to look at Malcolm the man, and not the legend that developed around him in the years following his death.  Much of this legend was fostered by the Autobiography of Malcolm X, and Spike Lee’s movie.  Here, Manning presents the many sides of this complicated man.

People were angry when this book was first released.  I find that odd but expected.  When historians begin to work on a legendary figure, elements of the legend or myth are shown to be false, inflated, or at least not completely based on truth.  Why would Malcolm X be different?  He is still one of the most influential and important Americans of the twentieth century.  History or legend will do not change this unalterable fact.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Where the Jews Aren't: The Sad and Absurd Story of Birobidzhan, Russia's Jewish Autonomous Region

Where the Jews Aren't: The Sad and Absurd Story of Birobidzhan, Russia's Jewish Autonomous Region, by Masha Gessen, is part of the fantastic Jewish Encounters Series. 

The Soviet Union flirted with the notion of creating a Jewish SSR in Soviet Asia.  The results were disastrous; many people died – as often happens in Russian and Soviet history as that benighted people and land, in their attempt to better themselves, let loose forces of destruction and death.

Gessen’s treatment really get to the bone of this issue.  He, and then later she, has lived the life of the literal wandering Jew, never really finding a home .  And this book is about the illusive Jewish home – a treatment no longer really happens after World War Two.  American and Israel are the premier Jewish homelands, seemingly safe and secure.  But if the history of both forced and voluntary Jewish migration is any indication, sadly, this may not always be the case.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Bialik: The Meta-Poet

Hayim Nahman Bialik: Poet of Hebrew by Avner Holtzman is a thoughtful and humane treatment of Bialik, considered the Hebrew “national” poet for most of his life, and well after his death (before the State of Israel was formed).

Bialik was similar in background to many Zionists at the turn of the century.  He had a deep religious background as a boy, and he both used and molded this to create a  new secular Jewish, poetic voice.  He did most of his best work in the diaspora (Odessa, in particular).  He only lived in Palestine for the last ten years of his life.

There were other poets at the time, of course, but he was crowned the king.  Part of his appeal, but not the only part, seems that he fit the bill at that moment.  Modern Hebrew required a meta-narrative, and helped write that story. 

Now, the idea of a national poet in Israel is an outdated notion.  The European Jews who controlled Palestine/Israel must now share the stage with Jews from all over the world.  Fractures and fissures rule the day, and not national artistic unity.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews 1430-1950

In Salonica, City of Ghosts, Mark Mazower chronicles the very long history of this city, following its economic and social vicissitudes, and how people of varied ethnic and religious persuasions have both ruled and lived in its borders.

One is struck by what a crossroads city Salonica was (it is no longer a crossroad).  It was located at the nexus of the Greek, Slavic, Jewish and Muslim worlds, and all four peoples/faith communities have played a substantial part in its history.

Despite such a varied and rich history, this work is ultimately about the erosion and erasure of history.  When the Greeks gained control over Salonica in the early twentieth century, they tried to eradicate the long Muslim history of the town.  When Salonika’s Jewish community was deported to its death in World War Two by the Germans, its ancient cemetery was desecrated by order of Greek municipal officials, not the Nazis, who had long wanted the land to expand the city.

Today, Aristotle University sits atop Jewish bones, and it was only recently that the university placed a memorial on its campus.  It was destroyed by vandals in early 2019 .  The heartless ethnic scrubbing of this city continues.  It is not the ghosts of the city of Salonika that are the abiding problem - it is its living people.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution by Kathleen DuVal

Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution by Kathleen DuVal examines the history of the Gulf Coast during and after the War of Independence.  In this way the author supplies us with another view of the revolution, exposing many myths we often accept without question.  

Not all British colonies in the Americas rose up in revolt.  Canada did not, for one, although DuVal gives Florida center stage.  At the time, West and East Florida were English possessions.  When the Spanish and French declared war on Britain, Spain captured the Floridas.  It was the only area seized from the British that did not rise up in revolt.

DuVal separates each chapter by historical character.  The Spanish war with England was a multicultural affair, fought by slaves, free blacks, Acadians (Cajuns), Irish, Germans, and Native Americans.  She teases out their contributions to the war and the peace, and examines who were winners and who were losers when the war concluded.

This wonderful inversion of our typical reading appetites for the American Revolution is truly enlightening.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Libby Prison Breakout: The Daring Escape from the Notorious Civil War Prison

Libby Prison Breakout: The Daring Escape from the Notorious Civil War Prison, by Joseph Wheelan, tells the story of the horrendous conditions Union POW officers endured in a Richmond warehouse.  

Apologists for the south have always claimed that the Confederacy had few resources for their own troops and civilians, and that Union POWs had the same rations as everyone else.  I doubt that, but even if it is true, what was the cost of keeping POWs in clean, more spacious cells, with access to clean water?

This book simply highlights the moral necessity to treat POWs humanely.  Any excuses for not doing so is a whitewash for war crimes.