English History

Image
“Vercingetorix throws down his arms at the feet of Julius Caesar” by Lionel Royer, 1899
© AF Archive/Alamy
Passé présomptif
PETER THONEMANN
The first date in English History, according to 1066 and All That, is 55 BC, the year of Julius Caesar’s memorable landing at Thanet. “The Ancient Britons”, Sellar and Yeatman remind us, “were by no means savages before the Conquest, and had already made great strides in civilisation, e.g. they buried each other in long round wheelbarrows (agriculture) and burnt each other alive (religion) under the guidance of even older Britons called Druids or Eisteddfods . . . . The Roman Conquest was, however, a Good Thing, since the Britons were only natives at that time.”
Except for a small minority of mistletoe-wielding henge-huggers, pre-conquest Britain has never really impinged much on the British national imagination. In schools, Our Island Story starts with Roman Britain, which is still basically seen as a Good Thing. There are no public statues of Caratacus, leader of the native British resistance to the Roman invasion under Claudius in AD 43; even Boudicca, who led a later revolt of the Iceni against Rome (AD 60), has never really taken off as a national folk hero on the scale of King Arthur, Elizabeth I, or Winston Churchill. (Just try to think of a famous saying by Boudicca.)
In France, things are different. Ever since the Revolution, the idea of a deep and mystical connection with “our ancestors the Gauls” has been central to French national identity. It is telling that Asterix, the plucky Gallic resistance fighter against the Roman occupier, has no British equivalent. Nineteenth- and twent­ieth-century British imperialists could cheerfully identify with Rome’s civilizing mission in barbarian lands; the French, faced with the problem of incorporating three traumatic foreign occupations into their national self-perception (1870, 1914, 1940), have tended to identify with the native Gaulish Résistance against Rome.
The first date in French history, accordingly, is 52 BC, the year of the great “national” revolt of the Gauls against Rome. Southern Gaul (modern Provence and Languedoc) had been a Roman province since the late second century BC; through a series of brutal campaigns in the early 50s BC, Julius Caesar had brought most of the rest of Gaul into the Roman orbit. Early in 52 BC, Vercingetorix, the chieftain of a powerful Celtic tribe in the Auvergne (the Arverni), assembled a vast alliance of Gallic peoples to drive the Romans out of central Gaul. Caesar crushed the rebellion with extra­ordinary savagery: his siege of Avaricum (near Bourges) ended with the slaughter of all but 800 of the town’s 40,000 inhabitants. Vercingetorix himself surrendered to Caesar after the fall of Alesia (Mont-Auxois, near Alise-Sainte-Reine) in September 52 BC, and was later executed in Rome.
Vercingetorix’s doomed revolt against Rome has made him a particularly potent French culture hero, co-opted and invoked by everyone from Marshal Pétain (“self-sacrifice for the greater glory of France”) to Charles de Gaulle (“the first résistant of our race”), and from Napoleon III (who erected a huge statue of Vercingetorix at Alesia, with the face modelled on his own) to Jean-Marie Le Pen (“Gaul for the Gauls”). It is no surprise that Vercingetorix is the first pre-modern “Frenchman” to be admitted to Gallimard’s prestigious NRF Biographies series.
This handsome series of volumes (forty-nine so far) is a kind of literary Panthéon of French national luminaries: Vercingetorix’s immediate predecessors in the series were Montaigne, Louis Aragon, François Mitterrand and Bonaparte. The occasional foreigner has crept in (Mao, Fellini, Nabokov), as have a tiny handful of women (three out of forty-nine), but on the whole, the NRF Biographical Club is very serious, very male, and very French indeed.
Jean-Louis Brunaux has written a string of popular books on the history and culture of pre-Roman Gaul, and his Vercingétorix is a work of passion and grandeur: it will sell by the thousands. The trouble is that Vercingetorix is about the most unsuitable subject for a biography one could possibly imagine. Our evidence for his life consists, in its entirety, of the following: (1) Caesar’s Gallic Wars Book VII, covering military events of the year 52 BC from the Roman perspective, with a couple of patently fictitious “speeches by Vercingetorix”; (2) a few pages of Cassius Dio’s Roman History, written some 250 years later, which recapitulate Caesar’s account with some additional tabloid flourishes; (3) gold coins bearing the name VERCINGETORIXS, apparently struck during the revolt. Of Vercingetorix’s life before 52 BC we know literally not a thing.
Don’t despair! Are you aiming to write a “serious” 300-page biography of someone about whom we basically know nothing – Wat Tyler, Nefertiti, or Pontius Pilate? Easy: it is all just a matter of careful manipulation of narrative past tenses. When you have genuine evidence for something, you can use the passé simple (and a footnote): “After his defeat at Alesia, Vercingetorix threw his arms down at Caesar’s feet (Caesar, Gallic Wars VII 89.4)”. When the evidence gives out, but there is space for legitimate speculation and analogy, you can use the passé spéculatif: “Caesar may well have required Vercingetorix to pass beneath a yoke of spears, the standard Roman military ritual for humiliating defeated enemies”.
But your secret weapon is what we might call the passé présomptif, a special linguistic tool only used by struggling historical biographers. We have not a scrap of evidence for Vercingetorix’s childhood, or indeed any aspect of his life before the revolt of 52 BC; but presumably he came from a chieftain’s family, presumably among the Arverni, who presumably lived as other elite members of the Arverni did in the first century BC – and suddenly your book starts writing itself:
The family of Vercingetorix would have owned [possédait] several landholdings, and at least one large villa – in fact a huge agricultural manor – at the heart of his estates . . . the young Vercingetorix would have come to know [connaissait] the skill, even the genius of the artisans working on his family estate: the blacksmiths who could forge the most fearsome swords and wheel- and barrel-bands; the potters who, in the plain of Limagne, produced the most beautiful and fascinating ceramics, painted with strange and fabulous animals; the weavers who created coloured fabrics with geometric designs, sometimes embroidered with gold and silver filigree. And so it was that through the first twelve years of his life, this young boy gained experience of a lifestyle, as the Gauls conceived it, intimately linked to nature, and of the people with whom a Gallic chieftain had to deal.
Statements framed in the passé présomptif have several useful characteristics. First, they are not subject to refutation. (Try showing that Vercingetorix wasn’t familiar with late La Tène ceramic ware with painted zoomorphic decoration, or that he wasn’t reared to a “lifestyle intimately linked to nature”.) Second, once you have the knack, statements in the passé présomptif can be strung together into 156 pages of vivid and colourful biography (Brunaux’s first seven chapters, covering Vercingetorix’s life before 52 BC) without breaking sweat. Pick literally any event or object known from first-century BC Gaul; voilà, you have something that Vercingetorix “would have eaten”, “must have seen”, “could have known about”. Third, and most insidious, it allows a biographer to take the moral high ground. Earlier historians, with their tedious insistence on sticking to the evidence-based passé simple, have based their picture of Vercingetorix on the one-sided account of his enemy Caesar; I have got beyond this chauvinistic Roman perspective to show what his life would really have been like.
As a specimen of biography in the passé présomptif, Brunaux’s Vercingétorix is as good as they come. His narrative of the great revolt of 52 BC is swift and exciting, and he does full justice to Caesar’s terrible sieges at Avaricum, Gergovia and Alesia, though the absence of a map does make the campaign unnecessarily hard to follow. But for all its thunderous cadences, Vercingétorix is a deeply problematic book. When its protagonist surrenders to Caesar at Alesia, Cassius Dio claims (probably spuriously) that the defeated chief hoped to be pardoned, “since he had once been on friendly terms with Caesar”. On the basis of this phrase alone, Brunaux includes no fewer than twenty-four pages on the years Vercingetorix “must have spent” as a hostage in Caesar’s camp between 58 and 56 BC. It gets worse: Brunaux reconstructs a year-by-year chronology of their friendship – Caesar was first attracted to Vercingetorix in 58 BC, but their “deep and intimate” friendship only began in 57 BC, and so on. We are in the same territory as Rosemary Sutcliffe’s Eagle of the Ninth or Robert Graves’s I, Claudius.
This kind of thing can be done well. In 2005, Richard Hingley and Christina Unwin wrote a first-rate biography of Boudicca (Boudica: Iron Age warrior queen), about whom we know even less than we do about Vercingetorix. Hingley and Unwin offer not a single example of the passé présomptif: they include one short chapter summarizing what we actually know about Boudicca, two chapters on the material culture of Boudicca’s Britain, and five rich and absorbing chapters on her afterlives in the British imagination, from the Elizabethan period to the present. A book of this kind about Vercingetorix, showing how he has been used and abused by everyone from Napoleon III to Le Pen, would be a terrific thing to have. But Brunaux’s Vercingétorix, I fear, is not that book.

Don’t despair! Are you aiming to write a “serious” 300-page biography
of someone about whom we basically know nothing Wat Tyler,
Nefertiti, or Pontius Pilate? Easy: it is all just a matter of careful
manipulation of narrative past tenses. When you have genuine evidence
for something, you can use the passé simple (and a footnote): “After his
defeat at Alesia, Vercingetorix threw his arms down at Caesar’s feet
(Caesar, Gallic Wars VII 89.4)”. When the evidence gives out, but there
is space for legitimate speculation and analogy, you can use the passé
spéculatif: “Caesar may well have required Vercingetorix to pass beneath
a yoke of spears, the standard Roman military ritual for humiliating
defeated enemies”.
But your secret weapon is what we might call the passé présomptif, a
special linguistic tool only used by struggling historical biographers. We
have not a scrap of evidence for Vercingetorix’s childhood, or indeed
any aspect of his life before the revolt of 52 BC; but presumably he came
from a chieftain’s family, presumably among the Arverni,
who presumably lived as other elite members of the Arverni did in the
first century BC and suddenly your book starts writing itself:
The family of Vercingetorix would have owned [possédait] several landholdings,
and at least one large villa in fact a huge agricultural manor at the heart of his
estates . . . the young Vercingetorix would have come to know [connaissait] the
skill, even the genius of the artisans working on his family estate: the blacksmiths
who could forge the most fearsome swords and wheel- and barrel-bands; the
potters who, in the plain of Limagne, produced the most beautiful and fascinating
ceramics, painted with strange and fabulous animals; the weavers who created
coloured fabrics with geometric designs, sometimes embroidered with gold and
silver filigree. And so it was that through the first twelve years of his life, this
young boy gained experience of a lifestyle, as the Gauls conceived it, intimately
linked to nature, and of the people with whom a Gallic chieftain had to deal.

Statements framed in the passé présomptif have several useful
characteristics. First, they are not subject to refutation. (Try showing that
Vercingetorix wasn’t familiar with late La Tène ceramic ware with
painted zoomorphic decoration, or that he wasn’t reared to a “lifestyle
intimately linked to nature”.) Second, once you have the knack,
statements in the passé présomptif can be strung together into 156 pages
of vivid and colourful biography (Brunaux’s first seven chapters,
covering Vercingetorix’s life before 52 BC) without breaking sweat. Pick
literally any event or object known from first-century BC Gaul; voilà,
you have something that Vercingetorix “would have eaten”, “must have
seen”, “could have known about”. Third, and most insidious, it allows a
biographer to take the moral high ground. Earlier historians, with their
tedious insistence on sticking to the evidence-based passé simple, have
based their picture of Vercingetorix on the one-sided account of his
enemy Caesar; I have got beyond this chauvinistic Roman perspective to
show what his life would really have been like.
As a specimen of biography in the passé présomptif,
Brunaux’s Vercingétorix is as good as they come. His narrative of the
great revolt of 52 BC is swift and exciting, and he does full justice to
Caesar’s terrible sieges at Avaricum, Gergovia and Alesia, though the
absence of a map does make the campaign unnecessarily hard to follow.
But for all its thunderous cadences, Vercingétorix is a deeply problematic
book. When its protagonist surrenders to Caesar at Alesia, Cassius Dio
claims (probably spuriously) that the defeated chief hoped to be
pardoned, “since he had once been on friendly terms with Caesar”. On
the basis of this phrase alone, Brunaux includes no fewer than twenty-
four pages on the years Vercingetorix “must have spent” as a hostage in
Caesar’s camp between 58 and 56 BC. It gets worse: Brunaux
reconstructs a year-by-year chronology of their friendship Caesar was
first attracted to Vercingetorix in 58 BC, but their “deep and intimate”

friendship only began in 57 BC, and so on. We are in the same territory
as Rosemary Sutcliffe’s Eagle of the Ninth or Robert Graves’s I,
Claudius.
This kind of thing can be done well. In 2005, Richard Hingley and
Christina Unwin wrote a first-rate biography of Boudicca (Boudica: Iron
Age warrior queen), about whom we know even less than we do about
Vercingetorix. Hingley and Unwin offer not a single example of
the passé présomptif: they include one short chapter summarizing what
we actually know about Boudicca, two chapters on the material culture
of Boudicca’s Britain, and five rich and absorbing chapters on her
afterlives in the British imagination, from the Elizabethan period to the
present. A book of this kind about Vercingetorix, showing how he has
been used and abused by everyone from Napoleon III to Le Pen, would
be a terrific thing to have. But Brunaux’s Vercingétorix, I fear, is not that
book.
Anúncios

Tão felizes que nós éramos

Anda por aí gente com saudades da velha portugalidade. Saudades do nacionalismo, da fronteira, da ditadura, da guerra, da PIDE, de Caxias e do Tarrafal, das cheias do Tejo e do Douro, da tuberculose infantil, das mulheres mortas no parto, dos soldados com madrinhas de guerra, da guerra com padrinhos políticos, dos caramelos espanhóis, do telefone e da televisão como privilégio, do serviço militar obrigatório, do queres fiado toma, dos denunciantes e informadores e, claro, dessa relíquia estimada que é um aparelho de segurança.Eu não ponho flores neste cemitério.Nesse Portugal toda a gente era pobre com exceção de uma ínfima parte da população, os ricos. No meio havia meia dúzia de burgueses esclarecidos, exilados ou educados no estrangeiro, alguns com apelidos que os protegiam, e havia uma classe indistinta constituída por remediados. Uma pequena burguesia sem poder aquisitivo nem filiação ideológica a rasar o que hoje chamamos linha de pobreza. Neste filme a preto e branco, pintado de cinzento para dar cor, podia observar-se o mundo português continental a partir de uma rua. O resto do mundo não existia, estávamos orgulhosamente sós. Numa rua de cidade havia uma mercearia e uma taberna. Às vezes, uma carvoaria ou uma capelista. A mercearia vendia açúcar e farinha fiados. E o bacalhau. Os clientes pagavam os géneros a prestações e quando recebiam o ordenado. Bifes, peixe fino e fruta eram um luxo.
A fruta vinha da província, onde camponeses de pouca terra praticavam uma agricultura de subsistência e matavam um porco uma vez por ano. Batatas, peras, maçãs, figos na estação, uvas na vindima, ameixas e de vez em quando uns preciosos pêssegos.
As frutas tropicais só existiam nas mercearias de luxo da Baixa. O ananás vinha dos Açores no Natal e era partido em fatias fininhas • para render e encharcado em açúcar e vinho do Porto para render mais. Como não havia educação alimentar e a maioria do povo era analfabeta ou semianalfabeta, comia-se açúcar por tudo e por nada e, nas aldeias, para sossegar as crianças que choravam, dava-se uma chucha embebida em açúcar e vinho. A criança crescia com uma bola de trapos por brinquedo, e com dentes cariados e meia anã por falta de proteínas e de vitaminas. Tinha grande probabilidade de morrer na infância, de uma doença sem vacina ou de um acidente por ignorância e falta de vigilância, como beber lixívia. As mães contavam os filhos vivos e os mortos era normal. Tive dez e morreram-me cinco. A altura média do homem lusitano andava pelo metro e sessenta nos dias bons. Havia raquitismo e poliomielite e o povo morria cedo e sem assistência médica. Na aldeia, um João Semana fazia o favor de ver os doentes pobres sem cobrar, por bom coração. Amortalhado a negro, o povo era bruto e brutal. Os homens embebedavam-se com facilidade e batiam nas mulheres, as mulheres não tinham direitos e vingavam-se com crimes que apareciam nos jornais com o título ‘Mulher Mata Marido com Veneno de Ratos’. A violação era comum, dentro e fora do casamento, o patrão tinha direito de pernada, e no campo, tão idealizado, pais e tios ou irmãos mais velhos violavam as filhas, sobrinhas e irmãs. Era assim como um direito constitucional. Havia filhos bastardos com pais anónimos e mães abandonadas que se convertiam em putas. As filhas excedentárias eram mandadas servir nas cidades. Os filhos estudiosos eram mandados para o seminário. Este sistema de escravatura implicava o apartheid. Os criados nunca dirigiam a palavra aos senhores e viviam pelas traseiras. O trabalho infantil era quase obrigatório porque não havia escolaridade obrigatória. As mulheres não frequentavam a universidade e eram entregues pelos pais aos novos proprietários, os maridos. Não podiam ter passaporte nem sair do país sem autorização do homem. A grande viagem do mancebo era para África, nos paquetes da guerra colonial. Aí combatiam por um império desconhecido. A grande viagem da família remediada ao estrangeiro era a Badajoz, a comprar caramelos e castanholas. A fronteira demorava horas a ser cruzada, era preciso desdobrar um milhão de autorizações, era-se maltratado pelos guardas e o suborno era prática comum.
De vez em quando, um grande carro passava, de um potentado veloz que não parecia sujeitar se à burocracia do regime que instituíra uma teoria da exceção para os seus acólitos. O suborno e a cunha dominavam o mercado laborai, onde não vigorava a concorrência e onde o corporativismo e o capitalismo rentista imperavam. Salazar dispensava favores a quem o servia. Não havia liberdade de expressão e o lápis da censura aplicava-se a riscar escritores, jornalistas, artistas e afins. Os devaneios políticos eram punidos com perseguição e prisão. Havia presos políticos, exilados e clandestinos. O serviço militar era obrigatório para todos os rapazes e se saíssem de Portugal depois dos quinze anos aqui teriam de voltar para apanhar o barco da soldadesca. A fé era a única coisa que o povo tinha e se lhe tirassem a religião tinha nada. Deus era a esperança numa vida melhor. Depois da morte, evidentemente.

Clara Ferreira Alves


Estilo

«- Se eu quisesse, enlouquecia. Sei uma quantidade de histórias terríveis. Vi muita coisa, contaram-me casos extraordinários, eu próprio… Enfim, Às vezes já não consigo arrumar tudo isso. Porque, sabe?, acorda-se às quatro da manhã num quarto vazio, acende-se um cigarro… Está a ver? A pequena luz do fósforo levanta de repente a massa das sombras, a camisa caída sobre a cadeira ganha um volume impossível, a nossa vida… compreende?… a nossa vida, a vida inteira, está ali como… como um acontecimento excessivo… Tem de se arrumar muito depressa. Há felizmente o estilo. Não calcula o que seja? Vejamos: o estilo é um modo subtil de transferir a confusão e a violência da vida para o plano mental de uma unidade de significação. Faço-me entender? Não? Bem, não aguentamos a desordem estuporada da vida. E então pegamos nela, reduzimo-lo a dois ou três tópicos que se equacionam. Depois, por meio de uma operação intelectual, dizemos que esses tópicos se encontram no tópico comum, suponhamos, do Amor ou da Morte. Percebe? Uma dessas abstracções que servem para tudo. O cigarro consome-se, não é?, a calma volta. Mas pode imaginar o que seja isto todas as noites, durante semanas ou meses ou anos?

Uma vez fui a um médico.
– Doutor, estou louco – disse. – Devo estar louco.
– Tem loucos na família? – perguntou o médico. – Alcoólicos, sifilíticos?
– Sim, senhor. O pior. Loucos, alcoólicos, sifilíticos, místicos, prostitutas, homossexuais. Estarei louco?
O médico tinha sentido de humor, e receitou-me barbitúricos.
– Não preciso de remédios – disse eu. – Sei histórias tenebrosas acerca da vida. De que me serve barbitúricos?

A verdade é que eu ainda não havia encontrado o estilo. Mas ouça, meu amigo: conheço por exemplo a história de um homem velho. Conheço também a de um homem novo. A do velho é melhor, pois era muito velho, e que poderia ele esperar? Mas veja, preste bem atenção. Esse homem velhíssimo não se resignaria nunca a prescindir do amor. Amava as flores. No meio da sua solidão tinha vasos de orquídeas.

O mundo é assim, que quer? É forçoso encontrar um estilo. Seria bom colocar grandes cartazes nas ruas, fazer avisos na televisão e nos cinemas. Procure o seu estilo, se não quer dar em pantanas. Arranjei o meu estilo estudando matemática e ouvindo um pouco de música. – João Sebastião Bach. Conhece o Concerto Brandeburguês n.º 5? Conhece com certeza essa coisa tão simples, tão harmoniosa e definitiva que é um sistema de três equações e três incógnitas. Primário, rudimentar. Resolvi milhares de equações. Depois ouvia Bach. Consegui um estilo. Aplico-o à noite quando acordo às quatro da madrugada. É simples: quando acordo aterrorizado, vendo as grandes sombras incompreensíveis erguerem-se no meio do quarto, quando a pequena luz se faz na ponta dos dedos, e toda a imensa melancolia do mundo parece subir do sangue com a sua voz obscura… Começo a fazer o meu estilo. Admirável exercício, este.
(…)»
Herberto Helder, Os Passos em Volta (Assírio e Alvim), pp. 9-11


Sortir des mathématiques? oui, c’est possible!

Science, Travail & Environnement

Manifeste du 1er Avril 2015, initié par la revue Progressistes

IL FAUT SORTIR DES MATHEMATIQUES

Les mathématiques : un bilan désastreux

Chaque jours, des milliers d’informations traversent les océans afin d’optimiser les opérations financières des bourses du monde entier. Chaque jour des supercalculateurs traitent des millions d’opérations : addition, multiplication,division, dérivé, intégration, probabilités…Toutes ces opérations servent les grandes multinationales de la planète pour licencier et détruire l’environnement. Les mathématiques ont un bilan effroyable : de l’esclavage, car elles ont permis la navigation intercontinentale des navires transportant les africains (repérage dans l’océan sur la base d’observation d’étoiles), aux grandes guerres mondiales, dont les allemands ont fait un usage massif pour développer leurs armes modernes…on ne compte plus les morts dus aux mathématiques.

Comment éviter cela ?

Certains « experts » représentant le lobby des livres de mathématiques, tentent de convaincre les populations que les mathématiques sont contrôlables et peuvent être au…

View original post mais 781 palavras


Conspiranóia

“We need to fight conspiracism wherever we find it. I can’t emphasise this enough. There is a lot of work debunking this or that conspiracy theory, but nowhere near enough serious work analysing the ideology of conspiracism (the idea that all of world history is down to a few blokes twirling their well-waxed moustaches in a smoky room someplace) and examining the corners it originates in.

in a society where people are depoliticised and unsatisfied, conspiracism is an extremely attractive nuisance. People are looking for some alternative to what they rightly recognise as bullshit in the papers and on TV, something that matches their experience of feeling powerless at the hands of rich, powerful people who are feathering their own nests. Conspiracism seems to provide that.

I have spent a lot of time studying conspiracism first hand in various places, and I came to the conclusion some time ago that conspiracism is the default analytical mode of fascism. Every fascist and reactionary ideology or regime has had some form of conspiracism, from the backlash against the French Revolution to the fascists of the 1930s and 1940s. It is also interesting how few links you have to click in order to go from “9/11 was an inside job” or “chemtrails” or the like to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and openly neo-Nazi material. Sometimes, you don’t even have to leave the site.

Conspiracism has a cult-like dynamic that sets up anyone who questions or doubts it as either one of the “sheeple” (a “sherson”, perhaps?) or, as one person once claimed about me “in the pay of the shadows”. Because of this, once someone takes the bait on one of the “gateway drugs” like 9/11 “truth” etc., they will many times tend to start believing more and more of it, until one gets to the openly racist “theories” that are never too far from the surface.

To me, this is an area where we have a lot of work to do. These “theories” are being pushed by fascists, and they are succesfful far too frequently for comfort. We need a clear understanding of the dangers of this ideology and of the importance of calling it out (including pointing out its origins) and debunking it and exposing its pernicious consequences, and a practise of combating it wherever we find it. We trivialise this problem at our own risk.”  Elise Hendrick

http://skepoet.wordpress.com/2013/02/16/interview-with-elise-hendrick-on-liberal-naivete-and-entryism/

Ver também: https://www.facebook.com/notes/elise-hendrick/am-i-ever-gonna-see-your-face-again-conspiracist-edition/10151094842447876


Will the Real Holocaust Deniers Please Stand Up?

 

I have long believed that discussions of the Holocaust focused far too much

attention on the murderous activities of the Germans and their pro-Nazi Axis

accomplices, while neglecting the complicity of the Allied ‘United Nations’

and neutral governments. True, the Nazis, abetted by their French, Croat,

Hungarian and other collaborators, performed the actual ethnic cleansing by

rounding up the Jews, seizing their property, and shipping them off to the

concentration-camps and the death-ovens – setting the example for today’s

Serb and Croat Red-Brown dictatorships to imitate. But Hitler’s dream of a

Judenrein (“cleansed of Jews”) Europe could not have been achieved without

the complicity of the U.S., Britain, Russia, Switzerland, the Vatican, et al. –

any more than Milosevic’s and Tudjman’s dreams of ethnically cleansed

Yugoslavia today.

 

I use the world “complicity” not in some vague, passive, moral sense, but in

the strict judicial sense. For the neutral and Allied governments were witting

accomplices before, during and after the fact of Nazi war crimes against the

humanity – and what is more, accomplices who shared in the spoils of money

and property stolen from the Jews! Consider the following: 1. The Allied

governments were accomplices before the Holocaust in that they

systematically shut their doors to the persecuted Jews of Germany and the

Nazi-occupied territories who had legitimate grounds for seeking asylum under

international law. 2. The Allies were accomplices during the Holocaust in that

they systematically hid the knowledge of the death-camps, thus lulling the

Jews into believing the Nazi cover-story of “labor camps” and enabling the

Hitlerites to round up their ignorant victims “like sheep.” 3. The Allies were

accomplices after the Holocaust in that they systematically helped the Nazi

war criminals to escape with part of the booty they looted from the Jews, while

hiding their own part of the booty in secret vaults where the Jewish survivors

could not claim it. Please allow me to develop these three deliberately

provocative accusations in more detail:(163)

 

1) Jewish Exclusion By refusing the Jews (and left anti-fascists) asylum, the

foreign offices of Britain, the U.S. and their dependencies in Latin America

deliberately condemned millions to persecution and eventual death.(164) These

governments uniformly refused to recognize Hitler’s persecutions (including

the murder of anti-fascists and other non-Jews) as an international emergency.

Instead, they punctiliously enforced the most absurd provisions of their

immigration codes and visa requirements. The notorious anti-Semitism of the

classes from which Western diplomats were then recruited does not suffice to

explain the systematic rejection of these useful and otherwise inoffensive

refugees. Although the diplomats’ vile upper-class caddishness was given free

rein, the racist policy decisions were made at the top for reasons of state,

racism being the health of the capitalist state.

 

This closed-door policy of the capitalist democracies faced with Hitler’s

campaign to create a “Jew-free” Reich during 1933-1945 was historically

unique and a direct cause of the “Final Solution.” After all, there was nothing

new or original in Hitler’s plan to scapegoat the Jews, persecute them, steal

their property, and then get rid of them, leaving his Empire free of Jews. The

Fürher was only following in the noble footsteps of European sovereigns over

the centuries. In 1290, King Edward banished all Jews from England… In

1306, Philip IV expelled all Jews from France, seizing their property and

money owed them… In 1492 Ferdinand and Isabella celebrated their marriage

and the unity of the Spanish monarchy by expelling the Jews, and so on…

However, previous to 1933-1945 other states had always been found willing to

welcome the fleeing Jewish refugee populations, if only to use them, squeeze

them, and expel them subsequently. The unique difference in 1933-1940 was

the democracies’ systematic refusal to follow tradition, leaving Hitler little

choice but to introduce the “Final Solution.”

 

2) Holocaust denial. By systematically ignoring, downplaying and keeping

secret a multitude of reliable intelligence reports and survivors’ tales

establishing beyond reasonable doubt the existence of the death-camps, the

Allied governments aided and abetted Hitler’s maniacal crimes. Churchill,

Roosevelt and Stalin were thus the original “negationists” whose denial of the

Holocaust while it was happening enabled it to happen. There is no question

that they “knew.”

 

Although Roosevelt issued an order to his staff not to show him any documents

concerning the Holocaust (Nixon didn’t invent ‘plausible denial’) and turned a

deaf ear to Eleanor’s pleas for Jewish and anti-fascist refugees (among them

Victor Serge), the other Allied governments officially acknowledged the fact

Holocaust… And proceeded to do nothing to stop it. Nonetheless, on 24

August 1941, Radio Moscow transmitted the Appeal of the Soviet Jews: “The

very existence of the Jewish people is today in doubt.” On July 1, 1942 Jean

Marin talked about “gas chambers” on the Free French radio broadcasting from

London. Finally, in December 1942, a declaration was signed by eleven Allied

governments and the Free French Committee: ‘The German authorities are

carrying out Hitler’s often repeated intention to exterminate the Jewish people

in Europe.’ (165) How widely was this epochal news circulated? In 1945, when

the camps were finally liberated, the G.I.s and accompanying journalists saw

the extent of the horror, they were totally incredulous. Nothing had prepared

them for what they stumbled into on their advance through Germany and

Poland.

 

All the justifiable furor over the post-facto scribblings of negationist

‘historians’ like Fourisson and his miserable defenders ironically serves to

cloud the issue of the active complicity of the negationist governments and

statesmen during the commission of the actual, and preventable, crimes against

humanity. Instead of daring the raise the question of the guilt of Hitler’s

international accomplices, journalists and scholars touch at most on the

question, “what could they have done?” The answer is: “a great deal.” The

conventional arguments over whether bombing the camps and the rails leading

to them would have “diverted” planes from “important military targets” are

hardly worth considering in the light of the useless bombing of Dresden. In any

case, it was not by withholding the bombers but by withholding the truth that

Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin ultimately condemned the European Jews to

destruction.

 

It takes only a little historical imagination to picture what might have happened

if the Allies had systematically used their radio, airdrop leaflet and

underground propaganda apparatus to spread the word about the death camps

among East European Jewry. By 1943, London was crawling with escaped

Jews clamoring to tell their authentic stories in Yiddish and every language of

Nazi-occupied Europe reached by Allied broadcasts and propaganda.

Assuming the word reached only half the Jews and was believed by only half

of them, the effort would still have resulted in a minimum of one million who

could have hidden, run away, perhaps armed themselves and resisted. Now

imagine the problems that a million refractory Jews would have created for

Nazi administrators like Eichmann, whose vast and minutely-organized

roundup operations depended on his victims’ near-total passivity and

cooperation. Apparently Eichmann had only a couple of hundred troops in his

command. Imagine the diversionary effect on the Nazi war effort if troops had

to be systematically diverted to hunt down, round up and guard these Jews.

 

But why not take this perfectly likely scenario one step further? Among the

million-odd European Jews who might have heard and believed the truth about

the fate Hitler had in store for them if the Allies hadn’t deliberately kept it from

them, there would have been a certain percentage who would have attempted

not just to escape, but to resist – as they finally did in the Warsaw Ghetto. For

if many European Jews were a-political, pious and passive (like their non-

Jewish counterparts), there were also plenty of hot-headed teenagers, Zionists,

Bundists, Socialists, veterans of the First World War ready and able to fight.

And if the Jewish resistance trapped in the Warsaw ghetto was able to inflict

real harm on the Nazis with homemade weapons, what might a Jewish

Resistance have accomplished if coordinated, supported and supplied by the

Allies like the French, Italian, Yugoslav and other Resistance movements

were?

 

There is nothing absurd about this notion. After all, the U.S. wartime OSS

(Office of Strategic Services: predecessor of the CIA) went to great lengths to

recruit its officers among such unlikely groups as labor agitators, Communists,

Spanish Civil War veterans in order to drop them behind the Nazi lines and

link up with their counterparts in the local maquis. So why didn’t they send

anti-fascist American Jews to help the Jews to resist? The sad fact is that the

idea never occurred even, for example, to the Jews who were active in the

French Resistance itself.

 

Forget, for a moment, the number of Jews who might have been saved by such

a policy. Just think of the diversion it would have caused behind the Axis lines

and of the number of Allied lives that might have been saved. And this at the

minimal cost of extending to the Jews the same programs of propaganda and

strategic support services the Allies aimed at stirring up the other peoples of

occupied Europe; indeed at the “cost” of NOT suppressing the truth of the

horrors of Nazism in the case of the Jews!

 

Excuse me for insisting at length on this point. The veil of “military

expediency” has always concealed what seemed to me the blatant guilt of the

Allies what is usually perceived as their “failure to help the Jews.” But if

military expediency dictated sparing Allied lives and materiel by encouraging

the resistance of the Jews with the same cynicism with which the OSS

encouraged the resistance of the Communists, the Gaullists, the Mafia, the

Poles and tutti quanti, then the truth behind the veil is revealed. The truth is the

predominance of Allied anti-Semitism and the complicity in Hitler’s genocidal

crimes of the original Holocaust deniers, Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin and their

aids.

 

3) After the fact: hiding the criminals and sharing the loot. It has now

become general knowledge that the Vatican and the Allied Occupation forces

and intelligence services (principally the OSS/CIA) conspired with neo-Nazi

and anti-Communist networks throughout Europe and Latin American to

organize the famous “rat-lines” which enabled thousands of notorious Nazi

war-criminals to escape prosecution and reach safe havens. Indeed, the charge

that the democratic governments were Nazi accomplices after the fact of the

Shoah is barely controversial, since in recent years retired Allied intelligence

officers have willingly told their tales, either out of guilt or in order to justify

coddling Nazi war criminals as recruits in the anti-Communist crusade.

 

We now know how the “rat-lines” network systematically sought out Nazi warcriminals

concealed under aliases in the teeming displaced persons camps, hid

them in churches and monasteries, got them visas and false papers, organized

their escape to Latin America, and employed them as advisors and agents. For

example in training the torturers employed by the right-wing Argentinean junta

and then loaned to the CIA to train the Nicaraguan Contras. So it is hardly a

surprise that the world had to wait until most of the criminals had died natural

deaths before learning how carefully and for how long they were protected.

 

The more shocking revelations of 1997 concerned the disposal of the booty the

Nazi killers looted from the Jews they murdered. Not only did the Swiss banks

knowingly welcome Nazi deposits that probably included gold from the teeth

of death-camp victims, the banks also systematically concealed from the

Jewish survivors and their relatives the records of their wartime holdings in

order to embezzle the money for their own profit. Financial institutions in the

U.S., Britain, and Sweden also profited by concealing confiscated Jewish

wealth during the post-War period when Jewish Holocaust survivors continued

to suffer and die on the road or in Allied displaced person camps for lack of

money to pay for food and medicine. Hanna Arendt coined the phrase “the

banality of evil” to describe the personality and activity of Nazi bureaucrats

like Adolf Eichmann.

 

Looking soberly at the chaotic picture of half-destroyed Europe in the months

after the victory of “democracy” over “Nazism,” one almost has the impression

that the Allies set out to finish the extermination job begun by Hitler. Indeed,

in post-war Poland, thousands of returning Jewish survivors were murdered

and despoiled with impunity. Jewish camp survivors wandered Europe for

years as starving and homeless as DP’s (Displaced Persons) with no support

from the Allied governments and little charity from U.S. Jewish congregations,

which had done little or nothing before and during the Holocaust for fear of

bucking the government and attracting unfavorable attention to themselves,

returning Jewish survivors.(166) On the one hand we see the Nazi victimizers

rescued, coddled, and helped to flee; on the other the Jewish victims despoiled,

neglected, persecuted, confined and forcibly prevented from fleeing to

Palestine.

 

Why do I feel so particularly outraged, indignant and angry over all this

particular hypocrisy? I had grown up believing that WWII was fought to defeat

fascism and save the Jews from Hitler. At home, they worshiped Roosevelt. In

my little bed I imagined the Allies were protecting me and other Jewish

children against the ultimate Bad Guys. Then I learned the truth. We were

betrayed. World War II was ending as when learning to read and learn about

the world. Only once did I dare glimpsed a photo in a book of skeletal Jews in

striped pajamas as a little kid. After that, I walked carefully around the place

that book was kept. But my parents read papers and magazines like The Nation

and the left-wing National Guardian, and our daily paper was the independent

(no ads) P.M. whose star reporter was I. F. Stone, my hero and role model and

a family friend. In 1946, he covered the refugee story and wrote a sensational

book Underground to Palestine describing the plight of the homeless Jews in a

heartless world. Also the Negroes: P.M. was the only paper that regularly

covered the lynching of returning African-American G.I.s that was taking

place all over the South. They got betrayed too. All this was discussed over

endless cups of coffee (mine mostly milk) in our kitchen, and as they say, little

pitchers have big ears.

 

At that time N.Y. Post, which most liberal Jewish NYers read, was violently

anti-German, forgetting that Hitler had sent the all the German Socialists,

Communists, trade-unionists and anarchists to the concentration camps before

he hit on the Jews. This was the theory of “collective guilt” which Victor Serge

satirizes in his novel Unforgiving Years. Then, a few years later, suddenly the

‘Good’ Germans were on our side against the nasty Russians and nobody

talked about the thousands of Nazi administrators, profiteers, torturers, judges,

police chiefs, professors who escaped the quickly-curtailed Nuremberg war

crimes trials and were now back administering, judging, policing and

professing, if not torturing.

 

I was eight, when the Jewish State was declared in Palestine. I learned that

Jews could fight for themselves. Their cry was “Never again like sheep to the

slaughter!” Sounded good. But how do you avoid going like a sheep when the

whole world – including the democracies and the established European Jewish

leadership – is telling you that the slaughter-house is a rest-home for sheep?

Alas, many of these false leaders, these Judas goats, became prominent in

Israel, as did the hardcore right wing Zionists who were ready to collaborate

with Hitler to get more Jews into Palestine. So that even Israel, for political

purposes, is involved in the denial of Allied complicity in the Holocaust.

 

If my voice sounds hoarse in this article, it’s because I want to shout the truth

from the housetops: put not your faith in princes!

 

 

163 Everyone interested in this question should start with Arthur D. Morse’s

pioneering exposé While Six Million Died: A chonicle of American Apathy.

164 Imagine the effect of post-war economic development of the South

American republics if their governments had taken in a couple of million

Jewish engineers, businessmen, teachers, doctors, lawyers, scientists, skilled

bakers, jewelers, tailors and mechanics. Within a generation or two, this leaven

of European technical and entrepreneurial skill would have enabled Latin

Americans to free themselves from dependency on the U.S., climb out of

poverty and develop modern capitalist economies.

165 Denis Peschanski, “Extermination des juifs: que savait Vichy?” Nouvel

observateur Sept. 18, 1997

166 I am not making this up. The official commemorative histories of local

congregations which I have perused in West Hartford and Philadelphia while

visiting relatives both explicitly express regret and embarrassment at their

temple’s inaction during the Holocaust years.

 

Richard Greeman, Vegetarian Sharks.


Schindler’s List or E.T. Goes to Auschwitz

 Good intentions don’t necessarily make good movies. Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List was inspired by the director’s revulsion at ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and other forms of racism. His highly acclaimed film about the fate of Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland couldn’t have come at a better time what with so-called “revisionist” historians denying the reality of the Holocaust and gaining credibility. Spielberg’s moving story and vivid images will bring the reality of the systematic destruction of European Jewry home to millions of viewers, not only in the U.S. but also in Germany and East Europe, where the subject has been taboo for fifty years. Yet if Schindler’s List has all the power of a major Hollywood production, Spielberg’s deeply flawed film also embodies Hollywood’s failings.

Schindler’s List is based on the true story of Oskar Schindler, a Nazi businessman who saved 1100 Jews from the gas chambers. He did by employing them as slave laborers in an enterprise originally capitalized by squeezing money out of ghettoized Jews in Cracow, Poland. The exceptional story of the emergence of Schindler’s underlying decency and of his remarkable success in beating the Nazi system deserves to be told. Schindler’s List will certainly be seen by millions who will never be exposed to gritty documentaries like Shoah and The Sorrow and the Pity. With its happy ending and its focus on an identifiable Everyman character, Spielberg’s film is able to confront mass audiences with a subject so horrifying as to be quite literally unbelievable.

But does Schindler’s List truly succeed in awakening its mass audience to the reality of the Holocaust experience? Alas, in curious, but quite specific ways Spielberg’s film actually invites its audience to deny that reality.

The Holocaust, a “Myth”?

To begin with, the film explicitly fails to contradict the revisionist thesis that Nazi’s use of gas chambers at Auschwitz for mass extermination of Jews is a “myth.” The first mention of the gas chambers in the film is a rumor, which Schindler’s Jewish women refuse to believe: “Why kill us?” they reason. “We are valuable workers for the German war effort.” Then, as the film reaches its climax, these women, whose lives the audience had considered “saved” (Schindler had bought them from the Nazis), are shipped to Auschwitz by mistake. Our expectations are suddenly reversed. We witness the horror of the train entering the Death Camp… Night and fog, dogs and searchlights. The shaved heads of naked, terrified women herded into sealed chambers marked “Bath-Disinfectant.” Hysterical farewell embraces: the terrible rumor was apparently true. As we watch and listen in horror, the shower-heads begin to hiss, and out comes – water! Fresh, cool, life-giving water to soothe and cleanse the parched throats and bruised bodies after the slave-labor camps and the cattle-cars.

This stunning anti-climax is never explained, and the audience is only too glad to have been spared the horror. Next morning, Schindler arrives like John Wayne and rescues “his” Jewish women for the second time. As the women reembark on the train to safety, we get glimpses of dead bodies and smoking chimneys. Viewers who already believe in the gas chambers are free to imagine what they believe. So are Holocaust-deniers, who are free to imagine that the bodies represent workers who died of disease and the smoke from the chimneys comes from the factory. Nothing has been shown but a shower-bath. At the heart of Spielberg’s darkness there is – avoidance.

After this central anti-climax, his film has no place to go but down, and it wallows in bathos for the next un-dramatic hour or so. We are treated to endless scenes of tearful re-uniting, lip-quivering gratitude, and heroic modesty with “Schindler’s Jews” (they are never referred to otherwise) standing around their Gentile savior in carefully choreographed groups with dumb grins on their faces, like the Munchkins after Dorothy has saved them from the Wicked Witch. The audience walks out numbed as if they had attended a B’nai Brith Awards Ceremony minus the boiled chicken.

The Jews of Silence

Even during the first half of the film, which is far more dramatic and historically grounded, “Schindler’s Jews” are never developed as characters. Jews are depicted merely as objects of Schindler”s benevolence or as victim’s of the Nazi’s cruelty. There is no space in Spielberg’s very long film for developed dialogues between Jewish husbands and wives or Jewish parents and children. Indeed, Spielberg’s Jewish “characters” only get to speak when they are spoken to – by Nazi officials or by Schindler himself. The actors are reduced to speaking lines like “Ja, Herr Direktor” or later, tearfully and gratefully: “God bless you, Herr Direktor.” Rarely do we hear Jews talk to each other.

 The two exceptions to this rule are themselves remarkable for their curious ambiguity. One is the scene, cited above, where a Jewish woman passes on a rumor about the gas chambers to her companions and is disbelieved. In the other, a circle of idle Jewish men are shown schmoozing in a Krakow street, having just been herded into the ghetto and deprived of their occupations. They conclude that “Here, we are free.” Again, at the heart of darkness – avoidance.

Visually, too, Spielberg focalizes his Jews almost exclusively through Schindler’s Gentile eyes. For example, we look down with Schindler and his mistress (on horseback) from a cliff high above the Krakow ghetto as we watch the SS round up the Jews for the camps. Although the film is shot in black and white to give it a documentary flavor, during this scene the dress of one little Jewish girl is tinted red, which enables the audience, looking down with Schindler, to follow her individual fate during the roundup. Later, we see the red dress again through Schindler’s eyes as the child’s body is dragged by on a cart at Auschwitz while Schindler is loading “his” Jewish girls on the rescue train. Thus does Spielberg “individualize” Jews.

To be sure, during the scenes of the SS roundup of the ghetto Jews, we are shown a few examples of Jews taking action to save themselves. However, they are soon captured and brutally killed. In Spielberg’s Krakow there is no salvation outside of Schindler’s list (although in real life, some Jews did resist and even survive).

The visual and auditory messages are clear. There are two types of Jews: passive victims of the Nazis and passive benefactors of Schindler. The Jewish “characters” barely even rise to the level of stereotypes, their main function being to act as stand-ins for the actual names on the real-life Schindler’s list. There is hardly a need for actors (as opposed to extras) in this production, although Ben Kingsley struggles manfully with the ungrateful role of the grateful Itzhak Stern, Schindler’s Jewish accountant and reluctant confidant.

Indeed, Spielberg dispenses with actors and actually shows us the real-life survivors at the end of his film. A dozen of Schindler’s Jews, most of them in their eighties today, file by the real-dead Schindler’s grave, smiling and grateful and above all silent. As the survivors place stones on the tomb, the audience reads subtitles proclaiming their names – remembered from the famous List. I suppose one could argue with the authenticity of this dubious shift from fiction-film to documentary, but I would gladly have accepted it if only, at long last, Speilberg had allowed some real-life Jews to speak for themselves! No wonder Claude Lanzmann, whose documentary Shoah is made up entirely of first-person survivor narratives, protested Schindler’s List.

Schindler Unmasked

Schindler alone is active in Spielberg’s film. He is the omnipotent entrepreneur who pits his capitalist skills against the omnipotent SS and wins: first by piling up a fortune exploiting Jewish slave-labor, then by keeping his business going in the face of the “final solution,” eventually by rescuing his Jewish workers.

In Spielberg’s fable, the capitalist ethic is thus depicted ambiguously as saving humanity, or at least a remnant of Jewish humanity. To his great credit, Spielberg also shows us the larger reality, which is the fact that the camps were all slave-labor enterprises run at a profit for German businesses. What the film perhaps cannot be expected to show is the big picture – that Nazism was the final solution to the crisis of German capitalism. (*) To be sure, Spielberg’s film makes tricking the Nazis look almost easy: a little bribe here, some psychology there and voilà! Of course, Schindler is as much a con artist as an entrepreneur, but he soon has the sinister SS buffaloed much as in the world of TV Hogan’s Heroes pull the wool over the eyes of their cute dumb German captors.

This is the level on which Spielberg’s film fails to convince both as document and as drama. Like Hogan’s Heroes, Spielberg’s Jews remain fat and relatively well-dressed throughout World War Two! They look nothing like the photographs of skeletal concentration camps survivors that horrified those of us who were alive in 1945 when the camps were liberated and which continue to shock today. In Spielberg’s sanitized “ET Goes to Auschwitz” version of the Holocaust, Schindler’s Jews are not even believable victims.

Thus, during the final self-congratulatory sequences set in Czechoslovakia, where Schindler has managed to install “his” Jews in a factory in his home town, the Jewish extras appear as chubby and grateful as the happy slaves on Scarlett O’Hara’s plantation. In these crowd scenes Spielberg’s well-fleshed extras are shown massed, Hollywood style, like Dorothy’s Munchkins. Why didn’t Spielberg, that stickler for visual authenticity, bother to hire out-of-work actors with AIDS as extras? After all, they used real midgets in The Wizard of Oz.

Even the extras’ costumes fail to convince us they have endured five years in the camps. Their “slave” outfits look as fresh as if they had just been sewn by the mothers of the Hollywood Hills Jewish Center for their children’s’ Passover Pageant. No wonder there wasn’t a wet eye in the house, when I saw Schindler at the East Hartford shopping mall Cinemas.

Even the character of Schindler, whom Spielberg does attempt to develop as an individual, gets spoiled and sentimentalized in these concluding scenes. Throughout the film Schindler had appeared as an opaque figure, a cynical bon-vivant who, having consciously chosen to make his fortune out of war and slave-labor, inexplicably stops short of implicating himself in the ultimate Nazi horror and chooses to invest part of his profits in bribes to save the workers who have made him rich. The poker-face he uses to deal with the SS is an ideal mask to conceal his motives from the audience and create a totally credible character whose singular aura is enhanced by mystery.

Then Spielberg throws it all away by having Schindler remove his mask before his final getaway. While his chorus of grateful Jews masses around his waiting Mercedes, Schindler breaks down blubbering about how many more Jews he might have saved if only he had drunk less Champagne! It is as if, at the end of Casablanca, Claude Rains, the Vichy Police Captain who saves Bogart, had begun beating his breast about how guilty he felt lining his pockets instead of exiting on the immortal line: “I am only a poor corrupt French official!” Alas, Schindler’s tear-jerking exit scene is more of a homage to Dorothy’s or to ET’s farewells than to Claude Rains’ and Bogie’s tight-lipped, cynical/sentimental departure from Casablanca.

Schindler’s weepy exit lines not only destroy him as a consistent character, they also undermine the logical premise of the plot by suddenly making it appear that this unscrupulous conman-cum-entrepreneur had secretly been nourishing some sort of benevolent plan all along! But only a cynical Schindler who had no scruples about spending his evenings wining and dining Nazi mass-murderers to win contracts could possibly have brought off this tour de force rescue under the very noses of the SS.

Spielberg’s sentimentalized Hollywood ending not only breaks with dramatic consistency, it also violates historical reality. According to Thomas Keneally, the author of the nonfiction novel on which Spielberg based his film, the real Schindler actually fled with a small fortune in jewels he had stashed away.

The final horrendous inaccuracy occurs after Schindler’s departure, when Schindler’s Jews march off into the sunset over the green fields of Czechoslovakia (now in Technicolor like the Munchkins after Dorothy drops out of grim, black-and-white Kansas and saves them). As the camera pans back, the music comes up in a magnificent chorale of triumph and liberation, sung in Hebrew. One imagines some traditional Jewish song or one born of the Holocaust, like the authentic camp song “Peatbog Soldiers.” But no! I immediately recognized the strains of “Jerusalem of Gold,” the stirring anthem commissioned in 1967 to celebrate the victory of the Israeli Defense Forces over the Arabs – a hymn familiar to anyone who has been a tourist in Israel or attended an Israel fundraiser. Let’s not even talk about the ideological twist this 1967 Zionist song gives to this story of the Holocaust – especially for the Jewish audience. Have Schindler’s Jews been transmogrified by Spielberg into Rabin’s Israelis?

One might also object to Spielberg’s exclusive focus on Jews as Holocaust victims, to the exclusion of the millions of Communists, Socialists, Gypsies, Christians, homosexuals and resistance fighters who were sent to the camps. But again, my quarrel is with the film Spielberg DID make, not the one he didn’t. To conclude: I had entered the theater with much trepidation, having grown up during the Holocaust, an American descendant of Krakow Jews and one who is easily upset by graphic movies. I left the theater dry-eyed, with a distinct taste of cold boiled chicken in my mouth.

* The true story of the real Schindler shows how one decent businessman was able to save 1100 Jews without losing his life, indeed while amassing a sizable fortune. It is good that Schindler be remembered and his story told. But Spielberg’s monocular and monopolist focalization on his fictional Schindler prevents the audience from asking the obvious question: why didn’t more German businessmen save more Jews? I’m sure in real life it was much more difficult than in the movies, but the fact remains that German businesses like I.G. Farben profited from the slave labor camps and calculated down to the last gram of bread what was necessary to keep their workers dying slowly enough to maintain profits until the weak were gassed and sent to the ovens to be replaced by ever-new supplies of Jewish labor. Every mark and pfennig was accounted for. No one but Schindler – who in any case was apparently a Czech, not a German, and more of a con-man than a capitalist – seems to have though to keep them alive, even for the value of their skills. Schindler tried to convince his business colleagues to follow his example and fails. Spielberg’s film thus depicts capitalism’s ethic as both complicit in the Holocaust and resisting it. One cannot ask for more.

Richard Greeman, in Beware of Vegetarian Sharks.