Categories
Movies

‘Ida’

Anna, a young woman training to be a nun in 1960s Poland is on the verge of taking her vows when she meets her only living relative for the first time and learns that she is Jewish and that her real name is Ida Lebenstein. Together they discover what happened to Anna/Ida’s family.

This compact masterpiece has the curt definition and the finality of a reckoning—a reckoning in which anger and mourning blend together.

David Denby, The New Yorker

This jewel is only 82 minutes long and every moment makes good use of the viewer’s time. The story is one example of the decimation of Poland’s Jews during World War II. But in the end, this is not a film about Poland or the Holocaust – but about life.

The film, which came out in 2013, is in black and white. The places photographed are ordinary yet the cinematography is stunning. Each scene looks like a black and white photograph made by a Magnum photographer using a Leica camera. Łukasz Żal is a superb, young cinemaphotographer born in Koszalin, Poland.

Ida is played by Agata Trzebuchowska. Her character is sweet, innocent and beautiful. Her aunt Wanda – Agata Kulesza – is also a fine actress.

Pawel Pawlikowski directed the film. He was born in Warsaw in 1957. At the age of 14, Pawlikowski left Poland to live in Germany and Italy, before settling in Britain. In 2004, he directed My Summer of Love with Emily Blunt and Natalie Press.

This film touched me deeply and left me thinking for a long time about what’s important and what’s not. It is among the best films I have seen.

Categories
History

“The Diaries of Friedrich Kellner”

Photo of Friedrich Kellner in 1934. Scanned from family album by Professor Robert Scott Kellner

I am reading the recently published second and final volume of the biography of Adolf Hitler by German historian Volker Ullrich. It is entitled Hitler: Downfall: 1939-1945. Roger Abrams, writing in the New York Journal of Books, calls Ullrich’s work “a remarkable treatise on the malevolence of power in modern times.”

Early in the volume, Ullrich commends the diaries of Friedrich Kellner. Kellner was a court official in the western German town of Laubach who had no special access to wartime information. Kellner was repulsed by the Nazi regime and kept detailed diaries based on what he read in the German press and by talking to people. He hoped his diaries would be a warning to future generations about blind faith.

Ullrich explains that Kellner’s diaries “show that it was entirely possible for normal people in small-town Germany to see through the lies of Nazi propaganda and learn of things like the ‘euthanasia’ murders of patients in psychiatric institutions and the mass executions carried out in occupied parts of eastern Europe.”

The Kellner diaries were published in 2011 in German and now are available in English. The diaries are also the subject of a touching 2007 TV documentary on YouTube created by Kellner’s American grandson.


Sources:

Ullrich, Volker. Hitler: Downfall (p. 6). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Categories
History

Nuremberg War Crimes Trial Recordings Now Online

The complete recordings of the Nuremberg War Crimes trials are now online for the first time. The International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, the custodian of the original materials, arranged the digitization of its archive, collaborating with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and the Mémorial de la Shoah in Paris. There are 775 hours of recordings so this is not for the casual listener.

Edward Rothstein writing in The Wall Street Journal explains that the recordings aren’t easy to listen to in part because the recordings do not translate the German, English, French and Russian spoken at the trial. Even so, Rothstein concludes that:

what is heard, even now, seems remarkable: a rough first draft of judgment, beginning just five months after the war with Germany ended and unfolding over nearly a year as its arbiters strained to fit minimal forms of existing law to maximal forms of moral degradation.

Categories
History

International Holocaust Remembrance Day

January 27 is designated by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Since 2005, the UN and its member states have held commemoration ceremonies to mark the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau and to honor the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust and millions of other victims of Nazism.

Since 2010, the UN has designated specific themes for the annual commemorations that focus on topics such as collective experiences and universal human rights.

The UN’s theme guiding Holocaust remembrance and education in 2021 is “Facing the Aftermath: Recovery and Reconstitution after the Holocaust”. It focuses on the measures taken in the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust to begin the process of recovery and reconstitution of individuals, community, and systems of justice.

Seven events are planned from January 21, 2021 through February 11, 2021. Registration is free.


It would be a dangerous error to think of the Holocaust as simply the result of the insanity of a group of criminal Nazis. On the contrary, the Holocaust was the culmination of millennia of hatred, scapegoating and discrimination targeting the Jews, what we now call anti-Semitism.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres
Categories
History

US Supreme Court to Hear Two Holocaust-Related Cases on December 7th

Seventy-five years after the end of WWII, the US Supreme Court will hear two Holocaust-related cases on December 7, 2020:

Republic of Hungary v. Simon No. 18-1447:

JNS reports that this case concerns “14 Holocaust survivors—four of whom are naturalized U.S. citizens—suing the Hungarian government and the government-owned railroad for their role in transporting Jews to death camps. They are seeking restitution for the property that was confiscated by the government at that time.”

Question Presented :

May the district court abstain from exercising jurisdiction under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act for reasons of international comity, where former Hungarian nationals have sued the nation of Hungary to recover the value of property lost in Hungary during World War II, and where the plaintiffs made no attempt to exhaust local Hungarian remedies?


Federal Republic of Germany v. Philipp, No. 19-351:

This case concerns an art collection known as the “Guelph Treasure” (or “Welfenschatz”) should be returned to the heirs of four Jewish art dealers in Germany. The collection is reported to be worth about $250 million. See also, Washington Post story.

Questions Presented

(1) Whether the “expropriation exception” of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which abrogates foreign sovereign immunity when “rights in property taken in violation of international law are in issue,” provides jurisdiction over claims that a foreign sovereign has violated international human-rights law when taking property from its own national within its own borders, even though such claims do not implicate the established international law governing states’ responsibility for takings of property; and

(2) whether the doctrine of international comity is unavailable in cases against foreign sovereigns, even in cases of considerable historical and political significance to the foreign sovereign, and even when the foreign nation has a domestic framework for addressing the claims.

Both cases raise significant procedural issues that could prevent the Court from reaching the substance of the claims. These cases are a long way from the Nuremberg War Crimes trials.

The SCOTUSblog has a good summation of the two cases.

Categories
History

Remembering the Lessons of the Holocaust

Christopher J. Dodd served in the United States Senate from 1981 to 2011. His father, Thomas J. Dodd (1907 – 1971) also served in the United States Senate. Earlier in his career, Thomas Dodd served as a prosecutor at the Nuremberg War Crimes trials. He held the number two position on the prosecutorial team which was led by Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson (1892 – 1954).1

Thomas J. Dodd, front left, executive trial counsel, and Robert Jackson, front right, chief U.S. prosecutor and associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States at the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg. (Thomas J. Dodd Papers, Archives & Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries) – UConn Today

In a letter to the editor of The New York Times former Senator Dodd marks the 75th anniversary of The Nuremberg War Crimes trials and explains that the “lessons of Nuremberg must be continually relearned and that the work of protecting dignity and promoting justice are the responsibility of each generation.”

He adds that at this moment, human rights, “the rule of law and even truth itself are threatened by continuing violence, resurgent authoritarianism, racism and anti-Semitism, and rampant conspiracy theories, propaganda and disinformation.”

Dodd reminds us that we have not yet learned the lessons of the Holocaust and that we ignore these lessons at our peril.

  1. Imagine a sitting Justice of the United States Supreme Court traveling to Germany to serve as a criminal prosecutor.