Painful History

[Update on post below – The verdict is not good. Though the historians do not have to pay damages, they have been ordered to apologize for writing about what they had discovered through rigorous study and research.]

This is very disturbing as to how it potentially affects the study and research of history – and for other reasons. (I have written about my own experiences in Poland as it pertains to the Holocaust.)

The case has its roots in the Nazi occupation of Poland during World War II, when terrified Jews took shelter in the forest and, according to a survivor cited in a recent Polish study of the Holocaust, were murdered there after the wartime mayor of Malinowo, a Pole, told the Nazis of their hiding place.

That horror, however, has now resurfaced, revived by a libel suit against two scholars who edited the study and who stand accused of besmirching the honor of the long-dead mayor and the Polish nation. A verdict in the case, which was brought by the elderly niece of the mayor with support from bodies funded in part by Poland’s government, is expected Tuesday.

The targets of the libel action are Jan Grabowski, a Polish-Canadian history professor at the University of Ottawa, and Barbara Engelking, a historian with the Polish Center for Holocaust Research. Together they edited “Night Without End,” a 1,700-page 2018 study on the role played by individual Poles in aiding Nazi murder.

I lived in France for five years and have spent a lot of time elsewhere in Europe, particularly Italy. No question that any discussion of the Holocaust brings up myriad emotions, sensitivities, anger and denials across the Continent and across the board. There are also, of course, those who are honest about the past, those who were heroic and paid the ultimate price for that heroism, as well. But the silencing of historians in Poland is worrying.

A propos, about five years ago, I read this book – along the same lines as the research of the two historians currently facing legal action, and about as cheerful. I seem to recall Grabowski figuring in Bikont’s book and I know Engelking has also written about Jedwabne. Highly recommend. Would be interested to know what Deborah Lipstadt thinks about this.

The Captain Has Left Us

Christopher Plummer died. Anyone who knows me knows I am an obsessive Sound of Music fan – naturally, I am in immense grief. The Captain has left us. It saddens me that he so – apparently – resented the role, when it made so many people happy and when, quite frankly, it has long helped women (perhaps some fellas, as well) get through life’s tough patches. I cannot tell you how many times, after heartaches, I would watch The Sound of Music and it would just lift me. One of my fondest memories of my oldest brother is of us watching it simultaneously and sending emails back and forth about it – this was pre-social media, otherwise that might have been where we exchanged comments. It was a fun back and forth, because he had previously been super contemptuous of the film, but that evening he came to appreciate much about it. (My love for TSOM guarantees me life-long membership in the Philistine Liberation Organization, but that is another matter. I once wrote a piece in the Ottawa Citizen about my love for TSOM, back in the early aughts – it is likely archived and you would have to pay to read it, which trust me, wouldn’t be worth it.) Of course, there are other Plummer films I love – notably The Scarlet and the Black (with bonus Gregory Peck). Significant Other and I were lucky to see him in The Tempest at Stratford a few years ago. A truly terrible film he made was Must Love Dogs (so bad I won’t link to it), but there was a lovely scene therein where he recites Yeats. Enjoy.

Beryl O’Links: First 2021 Edition

The case against the Iran Deal (to which, stupidly, the Biden administration apparently longs to return) – by Yossi Klein Halevi and Michael Oren, two gentlemen I was fortunate to lunch with on a press trip I took to Israel in the aughts.

Nervana Mahmoud’s beautiful tribute to her mother, who died of Covid. I imagine I would be touched by this eulogy at any point, but perhaps due to the death of my brother from the same virus I feel a special connection to Mahmoud’s words.

Rats are playful, feeling, living creatures – heck, they giggle! We should not be torturing them in labs (or anywhere).

A fair and thorough analysis of why Trump lost, from the Claremont Review of Books.

A vegan restaurant gets a Michelin star. Take that, snooty anti-veganites!

Silvia Foti’s grandfather was a Nazi. But in Lithuania, he has been celebrated as a war hero.

As human birth rates fall, a rewilding is unfolding. (I rather like this.)

Navalny is all-in on bringing down Putinism. I hope he succeeds. If he does it will be with the help of courageous protesters in Russia.

A wolverine caught on camera in Yellowstone for the first time. Extraordinarily cute little gaffer.

So cool: Caligula’s Garden of Delights, unearthed and restored.

And finally, Cloris Leachman died a few days ago. Enjoy what I think is one of her funniest MTM moments (from the episode where Phyllis’ husband is cheating on her with Sue Ann Nivens – yes, I have encyclopaedic knowledge of MTM):

Spies of No Country

Isaac Shoshan died last week. He was an Israeli Arab who worked as a spy and who – among others – is profiled in the very good book, Spies of No Country. I read the latter in the early part of the pandemic – fascinating. I’m good at languages, have a great memory, I love travel and I’m quite adaptable, so I often think I would have made a good spy. But then I think about the not talking during torture part, and I realize I didn’t miss my calling. Or maybe I just didn’t miss that particular calling.

Hamnet and Judith

I’m not a big fiction reader, particularly contemporary fiction, which I generally find ham-handed and tedious. But I absolutely loved Hamnet and Judith, by Maggie O’Farrell. It’s historical fiction, about Shakespeare’s two youngest children, twins Hamnet and Judith. Hamnet died at the age of 11, and the novel is about his death, about the plague (fitting for our era of pandemic), as well as the relationship between Shakespeare and his wife. The latter’s childhood and background are part of the story, and this paragraph describing her as a child and adolescent gave me a huge pang, as this was precisely what I experienced in my family.

She grows up feeling wrong, out of place, too dark, too tall, too unruly, too opinionated, too silent, too strange. She grows up with the awareness that she is merely tolerated, an irritant, useless, that she does not deserve love, that she will need to change herself substantially, crush herself down if she is to be married.

(And yes, I have crushed myself down some.) From that rather painful recollection, though, I bring you some uplift: a clip from a sitcom I just discovered – Upstart Crow. It is about Shakespeare and his family, his career, his friends and the Elizabethan era. Hysterically funny and edifying. Unfortunately, only seems to be on at random times on PBS.

Revelation

It’s January 6th, which is the birthday of my late brother, Alan. Miss him terribly, and would sure love to talk U.S. politics with him right about now. I have no other relatives capable of the kind of rational discourse Alan could manage or who are anywhere near as intellectually curious. Would also love to talk poetry with him and as it is Epiphany thought I would try to find some poems other than Eliot’s wonderful Journey of the Magi. I succeeded! This link gives us Eliot’s poem, as well as two others, both of which were new to me: one from Auden and one from Joseph Brodsky, which is just startling. What touched me about the Auden poem was that he had rejected faith as a teenager, but then came back to it. (I have been on a similar trajectory.)

The grandson of Church of England clergymen, Auden renounced his High Anglican faith as a teenager. However, in November 1939 he went to a German cinema in New York City, and as Edward Mendelsohn put it in a review of the book Auden and Christianity, the theatre

was showing an official German newsreel celebrating the Nazi victory over Poland. (Until the United States and Germany declared war, German films could be shown freely in American theaters.) Auden was startled by the shouts of “Kill the Poles!” that rose from the audience of ordinary German immigrants who were under no coercion to support the Nazis. He told an interviewer many years later: “I wondered, then, why I reacted as I did against this denial of every humanistic value. The answer brought me back to the church.”[1]

He eventually found his way to the American version of the Church of England in the United States, the Episcopal Church, and became a parishioner at St. Mark’s-in-the Bowery.

(Emphasis mine.) I have had some similar motivations regarding faith. Follow the above links for the poems and more.

New Year

I know many will be happy to say goodbye to 2020. For me, the restrictions weren’t that bad. I am introverted – extremely so – and fairly misanthropic, so enjoyed having an easy out when it came to not dealing with humans. There were certainly people I missed, and activities – travel would be number one on that list – but in general, I did not find it rough going, as did others. I am lucky: I am not alone; I get along with Significant Other; I have shelter and food.

The low point was the death of my brother from Covid. We were not close, but he was my brother and the loss was painful for my sister-in-law. This doesn’t mean I am not worried about the effects of the pandemic and the decisions various governments have made about lockdowns and such. I take the pandemic seriously, but I am enough of a libertarian that I think we need/needed a better debate about how much personal freedom can be denied to people, as well as about risk-avoidance.

I tried to use the time I had productively: I finished one big writing project and made some headway with another – though I had hoped to finish that one, as well. One lives in hope.

On a superficial note, I gained weight this year — I am officially a “pandemic fattie” — something about which I am not happy. So Bridget Jones’ first resolution here is the only one we have in common. Obviously, will lose 20 pounds. Twenty years ago, when the film first came out, Bridget and I had all of the same resolutions. I gather I have made some progress in this life.