Wiped out ‘in the blink of an eye’: Only 35 Jews survived from a 2,000-year-old Greek community

A new film from co-producer and director duo Lawrence Russo and Larry Confino documents the WWII decimation of the Jews of Kastoria

allegraconfinocaleveliaou-2-e1480017017376-965x543LOS ANGELES — For the descendants of the Sephardic Jewish community of the idyllic town of Kastoria, Greece, the northern region of West Macedonia inspires memories of picturesque limestone mountains, Byzantine churches, Ottoman architecture, and thriving fur and fishing economies.

It’s a land that has traded hands many times — Norman, Greek, Bulgarian, Byzantine Turkish. In fact, so diverse was this town that it attracted many different ethnic groups, including Jews.

However, during World War II, the previously quiet community, a home for the distinctive Romaniote Jews who settled there 2,000 years before, was extensively damaged and the Jewish population nearly wiped out. Just 35 of the original population survived; it had originally numbered at 900.

A new documentary, “Trezoros: The Lost Jews of Kastoria,” chronicles the history of that Sephardic community and documents the destruction of a minority population — one of many communities that had existed in Greece prior to WWII.


Holocaust Museum Dinner in Philadelphia Demonstrates Power of Artifacts to Convey History

16 November 2016, Philly Dinner.At first glance, the wide-wale corduroy jacket in the box atop the tissue paper might be a gift for Dad or Grandpa — an L.L. Bean special he can wear as fall turns to winter. The cut, the color, the buttons, the pockets — they all look entirely familiar, like the brown corduroy jackets found in countless catalogues and department stores.

Without context, this jacket is a study in banality, as prosaic as they come.

But appearances can be deceiving, especially when it comes to material culture. This particular jacket is, in fact, suffused with meaning, history and a life experience that diverged dramatically from the norm. If it represented banality at all, it was the banality of evil.

Last week, Michael and Peter Feuer, whose late father Otto was one of a small number of Jews to spend 12 years under Nazi rule and survive, presented their father’s brown corduroy jacket at the 2016 Philadelphia “What You Do Matters” Dinner of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The jacket, along with a gray-and-blue striped concentration camp uniform, were worn by Otto at Buchenwald, the last of three concentration camps in which he was imprisoned.

The Feuer family has now donated his clothing (along with other items) to the Holocaust Memorial Museum, whose collection of artifacts is expected to double in size in the next 10 years. Peter Feuer, who lives in Rydal, also donated $1 million to the in-progress David and Fela Shapell Family Collections, Conservation and Research Center, which will have climate-controlled environments, preservation equipment and highly specialized laboratories to house and conserve the collection.

Thirty-three Greater Philadelphia residents have helped that collection grow by donating personal items, and the “What You Do Matters” Dinner was held, in part, to thank them.

About 15 donor-survivors were able to attend, including Eve Przemyski, 93, who seemed a little chagrined about being honored in the evening’s affair.

“I’m not Jewish,” she said, then added, with a laugh, “but it’s not my fault!”

Przemyski gave the museum the diary she kept as a teenager, which she titled Behind the Barbed Wire: A Diary of a Year in a German POW Camp 1944-1945. Though she wrote it in her native Polish, she had it translated in the 1990s.

“It’s a very moving story about a teenage girl who lost it all,” her son-in-law, Jack McFadden, said proudly.

When Przemyski gave her diary to the museum in 2011, she also donated family photographs, identity cards, immigration documents and other ephemera that may be of use to families and researchers, especially given that Przemyski’s mother sheltered two Jewish women during the occupation. “They both survived,” Przemyski said.

Boris Altshtater, 78, who was born in the former Yugoslavia, also gave the museum many documents.

“I donated all kinds of stuff, but the most precious were the letters that my father sent me,” he said in heavily accented English. “They were written from Jasonovec concentration camp [in Croatia]. This was the only country in occupied Europe by Nazis that had their own concentration camps and their own guards and they did their own killing.”

Alshtater said his father was allowed to write 20 words in each letter.

“All he said, ‘I work in economy’ — I didn’t know what it meant — and, ‘send me biscuits and marmalade.’ No ‘how am I doing,’ not normal communication. It had sign of Jasonovec with stamp and date it was sent. And under the letter it was saying, ‘writing is the prize for good behavior.’ They killed him a year later.”

As a toddler, Altshtater was in two concentration camps himself — as well on the run with his family in the forest — but there’s much he doesn’t know about his own history. “My mother didn’t want to tell me anything,” he said, but the family did save photographs of the young Altshtater taken in the camps. Those are now in the museum’s collection.

Przemyski, Altshtater and the other survivor-donors were all praised effusively by the evening’s speakers, including Andres Abril, director of the museum’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Office. As a slideshow of artifacts was displayed on video screens behind him, Abril said the museum’s success depended upon the power of these objects to illuminate personal histories.

“As the museum was being conceived, original artifacts were seen as a critical part of how we would share this history,” he said. “And in mid-construction, in the early ’90s, the very first artifact was lowered into the building. … It was as if we were placing into the museum the beating heart of what Elie Wiesel called ‘living memorial.’”

Artifacts, Abril added, “transformed the experience at the museum for millions of people, from a history lesson to something far more tangible, far more personal. … Every artifact represents a human being, a family, and therefore every artifact is also a memorial.”

A chair is not a chair, he said; it is Louisa’s chair that was given to her by her parents on her second birthday while in hiding. Even the smallest items, like a ring found in a mass grave, tell the stories of individuals. “These have become our treasures,” Abril said, “and while they have no intrinsic value, when they’re combined with the history and the humanity of their owners, they are transformed into timeless personal witnesses of history.”

The evening’s next speaker, Elaine Culbertson, has been using the museum’s treasures for many years as an educator.

The program director of the Holocaust and Jewish Resistance Teachers’ Program, Culbertson is the daughter of two survivors who heard many stories of tragedy and triumph from her parents and their survivor friends growing up. She became a teacher in the Philadelphia school system, but at the time she didn’t teach the Holocaust because it wasn’t part of the curriculum. Then one day something happened to change her mind.

“When I heard a boy in my class tell another boy that he was going to buy a leather jacket and he hoped he could ‘Jew the guy down,’ I realized that my African-American students — who assured me they knew no Jews, not recognizing that I was Jewish — had no knowledge of any prejudice other than the prejudice directed against them,” she recalled. “That began my search for materials to teach students about the Holocaust.”

In the process of educating herself beyond her family history, she was struck by the weight of historical objects: “The extraordinary power of a baby’s dress in a glass case at Auschwitz. Or a bit of rouge a woman used to redden her cheeks to pass the selection. Or a Star of David that was fashioned out of a tin plate. These things were palpable,” she said. “Who could not be moved by seeing these things and connecting them to real people?”

When she became a teacher of other teachers, Culbertson took them to the museum and had them choose an object that would illuminate history for their students.

“The one that stops the discussion is the shoes,” Culbertson said of the exhibit of victims’ footwear confiscated at Majdanek, “because that is the one [exhibit] that is about individuals more than any other, and that is the one that invites personal stories to become the focus.”

The next speaker also remarked upon the power of the shoes. Rebecca Dupas, a Washington, D.C., native, first visited the museum as a high school student. Now the museum’s coordinator of community partnerships, youth and community initiatives, Dupas said after she saw the shoes as a teenager, “it hit me — the power of those shoes to remind me that this is not necessarily a story of millions, but a story of one person millions and millions and millions of times. The shoes made the story very individual to me, and it is a feeling and lesson I will never forget.”

Last summer Dupas worked with nine students who also found artifacts that resonated for them.

“For me it was the shoes; for them it was the milk can,” she said. One student said the milk can reminded her that these were regular people with regular families. Another said the milk can was important because it wasn’t a replica, because it was real. “Artifacts are extremely important in our ability to connect to the history.”

Dupas then read a poem, “An Unlikely Voice,” about her experience as an African-American woman who chooses to serve as a Holocaust educator. “In speaking for one, I speak for all,” she said. “I must bear witness, and silence can never be my choice.”

The night’s final speaker was Eli Rosenbaum, director of the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations. Rosenbaum, a Penn alum, has spent his career pursuing and prosecuting Nazi war criminals, including several who made their lives in Philadelphia. He spoke of the role artifacts play as forensic evidence, without which he could not do his job.

Though the evening was replete with video testimonies and fascinating speakers, there was a sort of reverential awe that was reserved for Otto Feuer’s garments — including that regular, old corduroy jacket.

At the end of the night, attendees were welcomed to the front of the room to see the both the jacket and uniform up close. As they crowded around and peered into the boxes, it was clear: Words and pictures tell us a great deal, but there is nothing that compares with survivor artifacts to convey the experience real people had during the Holocaust — a world event that, without this material testimony, would be too horrific to believe.


Russian ice skating contest features Holocaust-themed performance

Saturday evening’s chilling performance did not represent the first time Russian TV featured performers dressed in Holocaust-themed decor to perform in a reality show competition.

The social media sphere reacted with a largely cold reception after two “celebrity” ice skaters, donning Holocaust-era Jewish prison uniforms fitted with yellow stars of David, performed Saturday night on the Russian reality television show “Ice Age.”

Olympic ice dance champion Tatiana Navka, along with her skating partner Andrew Burkovsjy, slid and glided across the ice, in their chilling performance accompanied by “Beautiful that Way,” Jewish Israeli singer Acinoam “Noa” Nini’s vocal version of the theme song from the heart-wrenching Italian Holocaust film “Life is Beautiful.”

Eyebrows were further raised as Navka is the wife of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson.

However, Saturday evening’s number did not represent the first time Russian television featured performers dressed in Holocaust-themed decor to perform in a reality show competition.

In April, Russia’s version of “Dancing with the Stars” featured a dance number starring a Nazi officer searching for a young Jewish girl hiding behind a piano.

The piece began with the officer playing the instrument, stopping suddenly and demanding the girl reveal herself before “shooting” his weapon at her feet.

Taken aback at her beauty, he lowers his weapon and the two begin to dance to “Fly me to the Moon” by Frank Sinatra.

The piece arrived at a heartbreaking conclusion when an “enemy” assault leaves the Jewish girl dead on the ground while he screams and shoots randomly in no particular direction.

Russia’s ostensibly insensitive posture toads the Jewish community also extended itself earlier this month, when a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson caused controversy after suggesting that the recent US presidential election was influenced by a “Jewish conspiracy,” according to the BBC.

During an interview with a Russian television chat show, Maria Zakharova quipped that the best template to gauge America’s political landscape was the New York Jewish community.

“If you want to know what will happen in America, who do you need to talk to? You have to talk to the Jews, of course. It goes without saying.”

At this, the live studio audience applauded loudly, according to the BBC.

Zakharova added that she had formulated the claim while visiting New York during an official visit with a Russian delegation in September.

“I have a lot of friends and acquaintances there, of course I was interested to find out: how are the elections going, what are the American people’s expectations?”

The Russian state employee than attempted to mimic a Jewish accent and said Russian Jews had told her: “Marochka, understand this – we’ll donate to Clinton, of course. But we’ll give the Republicans twice that amount.’ Enough said! That settled it for me – the picture was clear,” adding that “if you want to know the future, don’t read the mainstream newspapers – our people in Brighton [Beach] will tell you everything.”


Croatian president poses with pro-Nazi regime symbol

Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic photographed with coat-of-arms of Ustasha, which persecuted and killed vast numbers of Serbs, Jews, Roma and anti-fascists

15110261_10209507936608588_4074372119233309036_o-e1480201423583-635x357ZAGREB — Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic sparked online debate Saturday as it emerged she posed for a photo during her recent Canada trip with a flag carrying a symbol of her country’s wartime pro-Nazi regime.

Her office shrugged off the incident, insisting there was “nothing questionable” about it.

The photo, posted on Facebook by a Croatian man living in Canada, shows Grabar-Kitarovic posing with him and others in front of a flag bearing the coat of arms used by Croatia’s World War II-era Ustasha regime, which persecuted and killed hundreds of thousands of Serbs, Jews, Roma and anti-fascists.

The checkerboard-patterned shield in the middle of Croatia’s current national flag has 25 red and white squares, starting with a red one in the top-left corner.

A different version with a white square in that corner has been used at other points in Croatia’s history — notably by the Ustasha. It was replaced by the current shield after World War II when Croatia was part of the former Yugoslavia.

Both versions were briefly in use in 1990 ahead of Croatia’s declaration of independence, but under a December 1990 law the national flag bears the red-first version of the shield.

The presidency batted off the row over the photo of Grabar-Kitarovic, telling N1 television, “We see nothing questionable in it.” It noted that such a flag was displayed in front of the Croatian parliament in 1990.

The president’s view on the wartime regime is “clear and she voiced it on several occasions,” it added. Grabar-Kitarovic has condemned the Ustasha in the past.

The row sparked mixed responses online.

“This issue involving our president is more than shameful,” Visnja Skreblin, a woman from Zagreb, commented on online portal Index.

But reader Mario Babic defended the president, saying it was “Croatia’s historic shield, created far before the darkest chapter of Croatia’s history.”

Grabar-Kitarovic took over the presidency — a role with limited powers — in 2015 as the candidate of the ruling conservative HDZ party.

The previous HDZ-led government, which fell in June, was accused by critics of turning a blind eye to a far-right surge in the country, including nostalgia for the pro-Nazi past.


The Scourge Of White Supremacism, And Why It Matters

Who are Richard Spencer and his friends? What precisely is the so-called “alt-right,” and why should we all be very, very concerned?

First, Spencer. He is the admittedly charismatic and deceptively clean-cut head of a white supremacist think tank called the National Policy Institute which describes itself on its website as “dedicated to the heritage, identity, and future of people of European descent in the United States, and around the world.”

Spencer is credited with coining the term “alt-right” or “alternative right” to describe, in the words of the Southern Poverty Law Center, “a loose set of far-right ideals centered on ‘white identity’ and the preservation of ‘Western civilization.’”

For “people of European descent” — read whites.” Spencer advocates “the creation of a White Ethno-State on the North American continent,” while railing against what he has referred to as “the Afro-Mestizo-Caribbean Melting Pot.”

Spencer rejects the Jeffersonian concept of human equality and instead bases his ideology on the proposition that “all men are created unequal.”

Embracing the concept of what he characterizes as peaceful “ethnic cleansing,” Spencer has also vilified the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. as “a fraud and degenerate” who “has become the symbol and cynosure of White Dispossession and the deconstruction of Occidental civilization.”

World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder has denounced the alt-right ideologue in no uncertain terms, calling Spencer “one of the worst hatemongers in America, and his white supremacist and other bigoted ideas are sickening.”

Spencer’s most recent bout of notoriety came on November 19, when his National Policy Institute organized a day-long conference in Washington, D.C., at which he quoted Nazi propaganda, in the original German, no less, and shouted out “Hail Victory” — the English translation of the Nazi “Sieg Heil” greeting — to followers stretching out their arms in the equally notorious Nazi salute.

“America,” Spencer declared, “was, until this last generation, a white country designed for ourselves and our posterity. It is our creation, it is our inheritance, and it belongs to us.”

In addition to Spencer, the speakers at the National Policy Institute’s event included white supremacists Peter Brimelow, Jared Taylor, and Kevin MacDonald. They, too, warrant close scrutiny.

Brimelow is founder and editor of VDARE.com, named for Virginia Dare, the first child born to English parents in the American colonies in 1587, and designated as “an anti-immigration hate website” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

In a 2012 interview, Brimelow said that even legal immigration was creating a “Spanish speaking underclass parallel to the African American underclass,” that “[t]hese are people who are completely dysfunctional,” and that California was “rapidly turning into Hispanic slum.”

In his 1995 book, Alien Nation: Common Sense About America’s Immigration Disaster, Brimelow disparaged the Clinton administration as a “black-Hispanic-Jewish-minority white coalition.”

Taylor and MacDonald, meanwhile, have been a recurring noxious presence on both VDARE and the National Policy Institute website. Their corrosive views are instructive.

“Some of us,” Taylor wrote in 2011, “rather like being white, and would like for our children and grandchildren to be white, too. The self-haters are welcome to go extinct if that is what they want. But what would be wrong in wanting a country — even a small country — where whites are the majority and intend to keep it that way?”

MacDonald, the author of a screed entitled Understanding Jewish Influence, has written that in light of the “record of Jews as a very successful but hostile elite, it is possible that the continued demographic and cultural dominance of Western European peoples will not be retained, either in Europe or the United States, without a decline in Jewish influence.”

President elect Donald Trump has unambiguously repudiated Spencer and his ilk. “Of course I condemn [them],” President elect Trump told editors and reporters of The New York Times. “I disavow and condemn.”

We must not lose sight of the fact that fascism, even in unabashed neo-Nazi form, is enjoying a frightening resurgence in many parts of the world. One need only look at the Jobbik Party in Hungary or Golden Dawn in Greece to understand that the ideologies that gave rise to the genocides of the 20th century have not disappeared by any means.

There are objective reasons for Americans to be alarmed as well. According to FBI data, anti-Muslim incidents in the U.S. soared by 67 percent from 2014 to 2015, with anti-Jewish incidents increasing by 9 percent during the same period, and anti-black incidents by 7.7 percent. These are deeply troubling statistics.

In the context of this rising trend in hate crimes, inflammatory anti-minority and anti-immigrant rhetoric can easily morph, if it has not morphed already, into incitement to violence and worse.

Hate speech, whether from the extreme left or the extreme right, whether Jihadist or Hitlerian in orientation, can far too easily result in abhorrent discrimination, persecution, and unspeakable atrocities.

The problem confronting Americans today is not that white supremacist bigots such as Spencer, Brimelow, Taylor and MacDonald are likely to have any formal or informal role or influence in our government. For the time being at least, they, like the erstwhile Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke, are outcasts on the malignant fringe of the American body politic.

However, cancers must be eradicated not when they have already metastasized but as soon as they are first diagnosed. Now that the White supremacists of the alt-right are becoming ever more confrontational with their untethered ideology of racial hatred, it is imperative that they be recognized and exposed as a clear and present danger to our democracy and to our very identity as a civil, and civilized, society.


Does said threefold rise in German antisemitism signal a ‘new era’?

Top European rabbi warns of “new era of antisemitism” amid said rise in German incidents.

showimage-3The world has entered a new era of antisemitism, a top European rabbi warned in response to a report released Tuesday about rising antisemitism in Germany.

Juliane Baer-Henney, a spokeswoman for the German Justice Ministry, confirmed to the Post on the phone Wednesday that antisemitism in Germany has risen threefold in one year – 2,083 cases of attacks on Jews, Jewish property and hate speech against Jews last year, compared with 691 in 2014.

“There is a rejection of mainstream politics, and we need to be aware of the waves of antisemitism sweeping across Europe,” Conference of European Rabbis president Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt said. “As a society we must take measures to reject antisemitism and ensure that it does not become a new norm.”

Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said: “The recent report published by Süddeutsche Zeitung showing that the number of right-wing extremist offenses has risen is indeed worrying. At the same time, the sensitivity of the population and its willingness to report such incidents have apparently also increased. Moreover, the German government actively supports the fight against hate speech, antisemitism and sedition in social networks and elsewhere. These developments partly explain the rise in the number of offenses. We highly appreciate the civic and government engagement.”

Baer-Henney said the criminal statistics are recorded from the 16 German states based on uniform criteria to measure the criminal acts. The Justice Ministry started to assess antisemitic criminal acts based on a uniform standard for the decentralized system in 2014.

The 16 states prior to 2014 used different criteria to determine criminal antisemitism. When asked how the Justice Ministry defines modern antisemitism, the spokeswoman said she would provide the Post the information by the week’s end.

Dr. Efraim Zuroff, top Nazi-hunter for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, does not believe that the reported numbers reflect the true extent of the phenomenon.

“I’m sure there are many incidents that are not reported,” he said, adding that the report is nevertheless cause for serious concern.

“There is no question that the arrival of the millions of immigrants from countries where antisemitism is very rife led to additional problems,” Zuroff said.

The key to effectively tackling the issue of antisemitism, he said, is tied to the extent to which anti-Zionism is identified as a component.

“Invariably, [anti-Zionism] is motivated by antisemitism, and in countries where this is recognized, they understand the nature of the beast,” Zuroff said. He noted that in countries where a link between antisemitism and anti-Zionism is not made, certain incidents are not included in statistics about antisemitic attacks.

“In Germany, in certain quarters, there is an understanding of the link between the two, but there is always a time lapse between understanding something and acting on it, and in some of these countries we are in the time lapse now,” Zuroff said.

Germany is awash in BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) activities targeting the Jewish state. Last week, anti-Israel activists donned inspector uniforms in the city of Bonn and marched into the Galeria Kaufhof department store to isolate “illegal products” from the disputed territories, and ensure Israeli products were labeled correctly based on EU guidelines. Similar anti-Israel actions took place in Frankfurt, Bremen and Berlin.


Austria’s Oscar contender explores exile’s tragic effects on Jewish writer Stefan Zweig

Innovative historical feature film takes on new meaning for audiences watching through lens of contemporary political events

sz-photo-11-965x543When German director Maria Schrader began her work some years ago on her new historical feature film, “Stefan Zweig: Farewell To Europe,” she had no idea just how relevant it would soon become.

Set before and during World War II, the film is about the final years of the prolific Jewish Austrian writer Stefan Zweig. As the Nazis rose to power, Zweig fled his native Austria, went into exile, and eventually committed suicide in 1942. But with the global refugee crisis, the UK’s recent pro-Brexit vote, and the US election of Donald Trump, the film highlights resonant parallels between the political forces that destroyed Zweig’s world and those taking root globally today.

“Stefan Zweig,” an Austrian-German-French production, is Austria’s official entry for the Best Foreign Language Film for the upcoming 89th Academy Awards.

Schrader, who is also a successful actress (Aimee & Jaguar), became fascinated by the exile-induced psychological turmoil that plagued the Vienna-born Zweig, one of the most popular and translated writers of the first half of the 20th century.

As the New York Times‘ A.O. Scott put it, Zweig “left behind an almost absurdly various and voluminous body of work.” A contemporary of Joseph Roth, Walter Benjamin, and Theodor Herzl, his short stories and novellas were his strength. While some criticized his prose for being too lightweight, others praised it for its humanism and simplicity.

Lately, a new generation became aware of Zweig when Wes Anderson revealed that his 2014 critically acclaimed comedic film “The Grand Budapest Hotel” was inspired by some of Zweig’s short stories.

Despite escaping and finding safety first in England, and then on the other side of the Atlantic, Zweig was haunted by the brutal disintegration of the liberal, cosmopolitan Europe he loved, and by the horrors that had befallen those he had left behind.

Stefan Zweig, Farewell to Europe – Trailer from Films Distribution on Vimeo.

In six beautifully shot episodes, Schrader’s film tells the story of Zweig’s life in exile between 1936 and his suicide (together with his second, and much younger, wife Lotte) in February 1942 at the age of 60 in Petropolis, Brazil.

The film’s pacing is unconventional, but effective as things unfold in what seems like real time. It was a deliberate choice made by Schrader.

“I dreamed of making an historical documentary with the tools used to make a fictional feature,” the director said.

In the film’s first episode, the famous author is welcomed and honored like a statesman to Rio de Janeiro in August 1936. The Brazilian foreign minister introduces Zweig to a large group of dignitaries. Zweig, who is banned from publication in Nazi Germany, is impressed by Brazilian society, especially for its peaceful coexistence of people of different races.

The second episode jumps ahead only one month to September 1936, where we see Zweig at a P.E.N. literary congress in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Eighty writers from 50 countries have gathered to discuss the position of the writer in society, in particular against the backdrop of rising fascism in Europe. In an interview with journalists pressing him to go on the record with a condemnation of Hitler, Zweig refuses, maintaining that as a pacifist and an artist, he will not use words as a weapon to respond to the ruthlessness of his opponents.

“I won’t speak against Germany. I would never speak against a country. And I won’t make an exception,” he asserts.

Zweig, played with intelligent restraint by Josef Hader, is also visibly uncomfortable when the gathering stands in reverence as the names of famous intellectuals forced into exile are announced. It is almost too much for him to bear as the crowd erupts into applause as his own name is read out and he is expected to stand.

Next, the film flashes ahead to Bahia, Brazil in January 1941 where, after lecture tours through South America for months after leaving their home in England following the war’s outbreak, Zweig and his wife traipse through a sugarcane field under a burning sun. Zweig also pens telegrams to ambassadors in South America, using his connections to get visas for friends trapped in Europe, symbolized by a burning field he glimpses through a car window.

The film’s fourth, and strongest episode, takes place immediately afterwards in New York City. There, Zweig is reunited with his first wife, Friderike (played by the captivating Babara Sukowa, who had the title role in “Hannah Arendt,” a 2013 film about another famous Jewish exile). Friderike has made it to the US with her two grown daughters from her first marriage and their husbands. Their escape was thanks to Varian Fry, an American journalist who ran a rescue network in Vichy France that helped several thousand high profile Jewish and anti-Nazi intellectuals leave Europe through the port of Marseilles.

An anguished Zweig speaks with Friderike about the desperate letters friends and acquaintances trapped in Europe send him, begging him to get them out. He has spent much of his money already on guarantees, and he feels hopeless and powerless as he is unable to help everyone, and also suspects that many are already dead.

Although Zweig’s American publisher shows up with good news about Zweig’s books and offers Zweig and Lotte a place to stay and work in New Haven, Connecticut, the couple is not long for the US Northeast.

Indeed, the film’s fifth episode brings them back to Brazil, this time to Petropolis in November 1941. It is the writer’s 60th birthday. His depression is evident even as he bumps into an old friend, a Jewish German newspaper editor who has also ended up in this city two hours from Rio.

The film’s epilogue presents Zweig and Lotte’s friends, neighbors and servants gathered in their home after the couple has been found dead in their bed, after killing themselves by ingesting poison.

Zweig left a suicide note, in which he wrote: “I send greetings to all of my friends: May they live to see the dawn after this long night. I, who am most impatient, go before them.” (The suicide note is now held by Israel’s national library.)

Criticism has been leveled at Zweig not only for refusing to speak out against fascist nationalism, but also for killing himself.

“Other German-speaking writers and artists — Thomas Mann, Hannah Arendt and Bertolt Brecht are three well-known, contrasting examples — turned survival into a form of resistance. They were determined, in the face of moral and political catastrophe, to press ahead into the world of tomorrow. Zweig…saw himself, at 60, as someone who belonged irrevocably to the past,” A.O. Scott wrote.

Schrader, however, told The Times of Israel she was sympathetic to her subject. She understood the loneliness he felt among other writers and intellectuals.

“This was a case of a man of words holding back his words because there was no way for him to articulate what he wanted to say in a differentiated, nuanced way. Zweig was a radical pacifist and therefore wouldn’t use language as a means of combat,” Schrader said.

She recognized that some perceived Zweig’s suicide as an act of cowardice, but she preferred to see it as a pacifist’s ultimate act of resistance.

“He was torn between two worlds. He was physically in a new place, but he couldn’t distance his mind from thoughts of what was happening in Europe and the pain of others. His talent for fantasy became a curse the minute he became an exile,” Schrader explained.

The director suggested the world today should take a page from Zweig’s book.

“Today, you just need to click and say, ‘I am for this’ or ‘I am against this,’ but it doesn’t mean anything,” Schrader said.

“LIke Zweig, we need more words. We need to see the whole picture, to see developments on a larger scale — not just from today to tomorrow. If we simplify things too much, we are in danger of answering radicalism with radicalism.”


German organizers of Kristallnacht memorial sought to ban Israeli flag

Students were allowed to wear Palestinian keffiyeh scarfs at the Holocaust event.

showimage-2Organizers from the “Walk of Remembrance” to commemorate the persecution of Jews in the northern German city of Oldenburg attempted on Thursday to ban the Israeli flag from the ceremony.

“I wanted to participate in the march with my Israeli flag as a sign of solidarity with Israel – the state of survivors of the Holocaust. No sooner that I rolled out the flag, a teacher came to me and demanded that I roll back the flag,” Rolf Woltersdorf, a member of the German- Israel Friendship Society (DIG) in Oldenburg, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

The Holocaust remembrance event is a yearly memorial march in remembrance of the deportation of Oldenburg Jews to concentration camps and the destruction of the synagogue in 1938. Pupils from local schools contribute to the content of the event.

Woltersdorf said one organizer “wanted to remove me with physical violence” because of his Israeli flag. He added that some of the marchers supported his solidarity with Israel.

Woltersdorf said as he continued to march, an active member of the DIG urged him to remove the flag.

Cordula Behrens, an educator with the society, draped herself in an Israeli flag. A teacher confronted Behrens and said the flag has nothing to do with the memory of dead Jews.

Efraim Zuroff, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s chief Nazi-hunter and the head of its Jerusalem office, told the Post on Thursday: “This is part of a new trend to use the Holocaust to besmirch and delegitimize Israel. The only good Jew is a dead Jew for these people. It is a very dangerous thing because they are ostensibly trying to remember the Holocaust but these are distorted lessons of the Holocaust. It is the ultimate insult.”

Manfred Klöpper, the former head of the German trade union association in the city of Wilhelmshaven and a member of the Left Party, confronted Woltersdorf and Behrens, asking why on this commemoration day the “national symbol” from Israel is displayed. Woltersdorf told Klöpper the Oldenburg Rabbi Alina Treiger is praying right now for the “nation of Israel.” Klöpper responded: “That does not interest me at all.”

Klöpper told the Post on Tuesday: “I asked why the flag was displayed.” When asked if the Israeli flag should be shown, he said “yes.”

Some Oldenburg Jews, including the de Beer family, managed to flee to Israel during the Holocaust.

“That the State of Israel saved many Oldenburg and European Jews from German death sentences apparently did not interest the teachers and the former trade union official,” Woltersdorf said.

The commemoration event organizers allowed the Palestinian keffiyeh (checkered black and white scarf) to be worn. A number of the students sported the keffiyeh, a popular scarf among Germans over the decades.

The Oldenburg public school IGS Flötenteich is engulfed in an antisemitism scandal because the public school teacher, Christoph Glanz, who participated in the march, advocates a total boycott of the Jewish state.

Glanz accused Israel of “crimes against humanity” and “ethnic cleansing.” He also said Israel is engaged in genocidal activities and “Israel’s government is a racist freak show.”

On Tuesday, Christian Democratic Union (CDU) politician Karin Bertholdes-Sandrock filed a questionnaire about Glanz’s anti-Israel activities.

She asked the administration of Governor Stephan Weil what resulted from the state’s investigation of Glanz.

Bertholdes-Sandrock further asked if the government shares the view of the Green Party MP Volker Beck that the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement is antisemitic. She questioned what actions the state government plans to take in response to Glanz’s activities.

School authorities launched an inquiry into Glanz for alleged misconduct and antisemitism.

His critics accuse him of glorifying Palestinian violence on his Facebook page, belittling the Holocaust, and calling for the destruction of the Jewish state.

Anna Anding, a spokeswoman for the CDU, told the Post that the state government will respond by November 25 to Bertholdes- Sandrock’s questions.

Woltersdorf slammed Glanz’s participation in the commemoration event because he campaigns to “defame and demonize Israel as an ‘apartheid state,’ which he wants to abolish, and this is apparently acceptable.”

Dr. Elvira Grözinger, a member of the German branch of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, told the Post: “Mr. Glanz seems to be fond of dead Jews more than if the living ones as he refers to the victims of the Holocaust. Unfortunately, he follows the pattern of those Germans who prefer to see the Israelis as perpetrators, thus relativizing the German atrocities toward the Jews.” Post emails to the “Walk of Remembrance” were not returned.