The Little Traitor

I loved the novella by Amos Oz called ‘Panther in the Basement’.  This film is based on that book and, even though the title is a touch too ‘cute’ for my taste, it is an interesting transposition of the story to film.  The wonderful Alfred Molina is terrific as Sergeant Stephen Crabtree, the British soldier posted to Palestine during the British Mandate.  He is a man fascinated by this land of the Bible and delighted to meet a young boy who looks able to help him understand the language. They strike up a friendship which is odd since the boy, Proffy to his friends, is brought up to hate the British and declares himself a sworn enemy.

The political is personal, though, and soon Proffy is conflicted by the difference between what he has been told about the British and what he likes about Sergeant Crabtree.  The two spend time together, usually at the British mess, and Proffy helps the sergeant with Hebrew while Crabtree teaches Proffy English.

Proffy’s friendship with two friends of the same age as him is based on their sense of fighting back against the British Mandate.  They plot ways of attacking the enemy as young boys do, oblivious to the dangers involved.  Proffy sees an opportunity to use Crabtree as a source of military information to further their freedom fighting cause but things do not turn out that way and when he is followed by his friends his secret visits to the British mess are misinterpreted.

The resulting interrogation of Proffy by a Jewish group was confusing to me: who were they and on what authority did Proffy’s parents subject their son to such treatment?  A sub-plot showing their involvement in the Haganah might explain this.  In any case, Proffy is branded a traitor in his community and he questions the nature of friendship; learning  too late that Sergeant Stephen Crabtree was more of a friend than he realised at the time.  The final scene is worth waiting for since it brings a resolution not found in the book.

On balance, the book is far better than the film, even with the presence of Alfred Molina, but the location filming adds a dimension that I could not see in my mind’s eye when reading.  The sense of Jerusalem in the 1940s is brought to life.  For this reason, the film is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?

East West Street

I read this book by Philippe Sands after seeing the film ‘My Nazi Legacy’.  The film shows his search for answers about his wider family in the company of two men whose fathers were important members of the Nazi regime.  Although the experiences shown in the film are covered here, the book is wider.  In particular, he shows how the work of two men from the city of Lvov were instrumental in thinking about human rights law.  The awful events in Lemberg (as Lvov was called at certain points in the twentieth century) are covered as is the approach of the allies on winning the Second World War; the Nuremberg trials are detailed in the second half of the book.

Hersch Lauterpacht was a professor of International Law.  He grew up in Lvov.  His major contribution to the trials at Nuremberg was to focus on crimes against humanity; there was no hiding behind the State, if you committed a crime, you committed a crime. The other major thinker was Raphael Lemkin, also a resident of the Lvov, and also Jewish so restricted by the anti- semitic laws in pursuing his career.  His contribution to law was to establish the concept of genocide.  He believed that the intent to destroy whole groups or races needed to be recognised as a crime.  It seemed to me that the ideas of both men overlapped, although it was not always seen this way when the trial was underway in Nuremberg and Lemberg, in particular, was frustrated that his ideas were not readily picked up.

Hans Frank features more than the other Nazi criminals as he was in charge of the area in which Lvov fell.  He was also the father of one of the men Sands had come to know.  It is this sense of the historical as personal that makes this book so powerful.

I was fascinated to learn that the idea of putting Nazis on trial was contested, especially as it looked as if some would be acquitted or receive lenient sentences.  This is not a book about Nazis, though, and it is important to remember the people who suffered.  Leon, Sands’s grandfather has pride of place in this memoir because the events formed him and allowed Sands to see history in a more personal light.  This is an amazing memoir and I was left, at the end, with a sense that it was just that the two lawyers who had the biggest impact on legal thinking in the Nuremberg trials were both Jewish and had both been pushed out by the very regime they were holding to account.

BlogEastWestStreet

My Nazi Legacy

This documentary from Philippe Sands was fascinating even if somewhat painful to watch at times.  Sands, an eminent Human Rights lawyer accompanies two sons of prominent Nazis as they visit sites of their fathers’ notorious careers.  The trip is made more poignant by the fact that the extended family of Sands himself were victims of the very men the sons are talking about.

Niklas Frank is the son of Hans Frank, the governor of Poland.  He has long ago denounced his father’s crimes and he does so again in this film, making it clear that we can only move on if the atrocities of the past are exposed.  At no time does he try to defend his father’s actions.  Horst von Wächter on the other hand will not concede that his father did anything wrong despite documentary evidence to the contrary.  His father was Otto Wächter, the governor of Galicia in modern Ukraine.  The tension between the three men increases as Wächter maintains that, although the regime was criminal, his father was not.  At times he suggest that things would have been worse if a man other than his father had been in charge.

Throughout it all, Sands acts with great dignity even though the position taken by Wächter exasperates him.  The film is best when it expresses the historic through the personal.  The city of Lviv or Lemberg is important in this story since it is where the family of Sands lived.  This film is in my hinterland.

BlogPhilippeSands

The Evacuees

This 1975 television play by Jack Rosenthal was a wonderful example of what BBC television did so well back in the 1970s.  His story of brothers who were evacuated from inner city Manchester to the coast during the Second World War was sweet and poignant.  The drama came from the misunderstandings of the childless host family who did not see why the two Jewish boys shouldn’t do what they did in a Christian home.

Jack Rosenthal’s dramas always used comedy to make serious points and there were many wonderful moments in this play, especially when three boys had only two pairs of roller skates between them and decided they had to share to run away.  Yet the serious moments are here too.  The anxiety of the mother, played by Rosenthal’s wife Maureen Lipman, when letting her children go is clear.

The elderly couple believes they are doing the right thing but the punishments increase and when these include withholding letters from the mother to her boys it seems unbelievably cruel.  The boys struggle with the desire to return home and the need not to worry their mother unnecessarily.  When the truth emerges it is in the most uncomfortable situation but handled brilliantly by the writer.

I saw this programme in 1975 when the BBC first broadcasted it and I have never forgotten it.  That is why is it in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

 

Museum of the Three Cultures

In the Calahorra tower at the end of the famous bridge in Cordoba houses a ‘museum’ or audio-visual display telling the history of the city and its place as a centre of learning where three religions existed in harmony and respected each other.  The ‘Museum of Three Cultures’ is a fascinating place.  Most of the exhibits are reproductions or models but the story of the city’s past is well laid out.

It was here that I saw the reproduction of a painting by Dionisio Baixeras of Abd-ar-Rahman III receiving at his court in Cordoba, the Monk Nicholas, ambassador of the Christian Emperor, Constantine.  The coming together of religions, not to convert but to understand each other, was important then and is important now.

BlogCordoba6

 

 

Maimonides

I was struck, when in Cordoba, Spain, by the way three religions lived peacefully together several centuries ago; Jewish, Muslim and Christian believers managed to co-exist without compromising their own beliefs.

The statue to Maimonides in the old Jewish quarter of the city is the perfect reminder that we can learn from the past.  He was born in Cordoba in 1125 and found fame as a philosopher and author of the Mishneh Torah.  He was also interested in the sciences and in Greek philosophy and Islamic teachings.  He lived in Spain at a time when the enlightened rule of the Moors might be considered a golden age but left when a Berber dynasty conquered the city in 1148.  The status of Christians and Jews was threatened and Maimonides, being Jewish, went into exile with his family, moving around Andalucia before travelling to Morocco and Egypt.

 

 

The Eichmann Show

blogeichmannshowThis drama, broadcast by the BBC, tells an important story in an understated but powerful way.  When Adolf Eichmann was captured by the Israeli’s and put on trial in 1961, there was a move to televise the trial so that the world could learn what had taken place in the Holocaust.  Not everyone was keen on the idea but Milton Fruchtman was convinced that the world had to hear (and see) the court proceedings.  He hired Leo Hurwitz to direct, a move that was brave and bold as Hurwitz had been blacklisted in the USA in the 50s for his strong left-wing views.

The judges had to agree to the plan to televise the plan and did so because the producer and director had the idea to hide the cameras in false walls and behind screens.

Throughout this drama, real footage from the actual trial is blended with the colour of the dramatised film so that the viewer also feels present at the making of the programme.

I had no idea that Jewish refugees from Europe at the end of the war felt like outsiders in the land that became Israel.  The message many of them received was that they were an embarrassment for not having fought back.  For some, relating their experiences in court was the first time they had told of the horrific crimes perpetrated against them and their families.

The drama shows the effect on the crew of capturing this testimony and in an exchange that should not have surprised, the television company complains that the trial is being beaten in ratings wars by events in Cuba and in space.

The motivating factor for Milton Fruchtman and Leo Hurwitz was holding fascism to account.   Telling the truth and reminding people about what happened is an effective way of making sure it does not happen again.  In the most moving scene in the film Anthony LaPaglia as Hurwitz listens while his hotelier, played by Rebecca Front, says to him that nobody believed her when she told them what happened before she came to Israel.  As a result she, and others like her, stopped talking about it.  “They are listening now!” she says.

‘The Eichmann Show’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?