Tag Archives: antisemitism

News from Retardistan (5): The silence of the lambs

Honestly, I cannot understand why most Bulgarian intellectuals don’t say a word about the fact that many of the places where they are usually buying their books are being more and more turned into locations where Nazi publishers are selling pamphlets that are advertising an inhumane ideology, racial hatred and mass murder. No wonder that in this climate, anti-Semitism shows its ugly face also outside the bookstores as this excerpt from the excellent book A Guide to Jewish Bulgaria shows.

It seems to be normal for most Bulgarian intellectuals to see Hitler’s My Struggle, Henry Ford’s The International Jew, and other extremely revolting books that either advertise mass murder, deny the Holocaust, or are apologies of war criminals being prominently advertised and promoted literally almost everywhere, or what is the reason for the silence of most of the Bulgarian intellectual elite in this case?

Do they think that the widespread promotion of such books in their country doesn’t concern them? Do they think someone might be offended when they raise their voice to confront those people who help to distribute extermination manuals? Are they afraid to be physically threatened if they speak out against right-wing extremism and Nazism? (I have to admit that this is unfortunately a very real threat as I learned during my public argument with a revisionist and anti-Semitic so-called “historian” – the “fan mail” by his friends gave me a very interesting insight in the moral scruffiness and deprivation of this part of the extreme right wing of the intellectual lumpenproletariat in Bulgaria; it contrasted rather typically and unfavourably with the almost complete lack of public support for my position by most of my intellectual friends – but do not worry, I have an extremely high frustration tolerance.)

Do they think it is a sign of democracy and freedom of expression when those who either deny the holocaust or who would like to commit mass murder, erect concentration camps, and sterilize by force certain groups of the Bulgarian population if they could are not only allowed to propagate their inhumane ideology without limits, but are even supported by a coalition of silent intellectuals and a public that seems to be completely uninformed about history and uninterested in what is going on in their country, in which revisionists, fascists and openly Nazi groups are taking more and more over the public discourse on certain topics? What kind of “democrats” would have the idea to promote a law that bans the use of certain communist symbols under threat of a prison sentence, but who seem to be fine with the promotion of mass murder under the banner of revisionism, fascism, and Nazism?

Hate speech against minorities is not the exception, but the rule in Bulgaria, and very few people seem to care. A real democracy and pluralist society requires that people raise their voice and set limits to this domination of the public sphere by revisionist, fascist and Nazi propaganda; intellectuals have a particular responsibility to speak out when it comes to these issues. Unfortunately, the vast majority of Bulgarian intellectuals seems to be sound asleep – this intellectual indolence, laziness and cowardice when it comes to confront this pest in Bulgaria is something very sad, disappointing, and depressing. 

Fortunately a few bookstores are consciously not following this trend and a few intellectuals voice their concern. A few bookstores and a few intellectuals, yes. But a real public discussion on a large scale about this problem doesn’t take place, nor seem many people who should know it better even to be aware at all of the issue. As long as it is like this, the enemies of democracy and a pluralist society have a field day in Bulgaria.

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The above mentioned book is highly recommended to anyone with an interest in Jewish and/or Bulgarian history:

Dimana Trankova, Anthony Georgieff: A Guide to Jewish Bulgaria, Vagabond Media, Sofia 2011

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-6. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

News from Retardistan (4)

A bookstore in Sofia – the same about which I reported recently, the one which advertised Hitler’s My Struggle as “Hit” and put it in such a tasteful manner on a table beside á book of holocaust survivor Primo Levi:

To my surprise, Hitler’s book has finally disappeared from the prominently placed table (Primo Levi too). Has someone read my posting and realized that a book that is advertising the extermination of the Jews, published by a Nazi publishing house and with a portrait of Hitler on the cover that was an official portrait supposed to glorify him and that is obviously targeting an audience of raging anti-Semites and Nazis should not be sold in an establishment that is selling books? Unfortunately not!

My Struggle has not disappeared, but has moved to an even more prominent place: now you see this vile rag of a book in several copies almost jumping in your face when you enter this bookstore, placed on a display rack which every person that enters must notice.

And it goes without saying that the place previously occupied by My Struggle has found a “worthy” placeholder: Henry Ford’s The International Jew in Bulgarian edition, one of the main “inspirations” of Hitler and not much less radical regarding the “solution” of the “Jewish problem” as My Struggle.

Let me guess: when I visit this “establishment” (I avoid the word bookshop) next time, I will probably see Ford replaced by the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion“? Or Celine’s “Bagatelles pour un massacre“? Or the “Leuchter Report“? And in the children’s section maybe an edition of pornographic/anti-Semitic pictures from Julius Streicher’s “Der Stürmer”, labeled as usually with “Hit” and maybe in this case with the additional tasteful sticker “great educational value!”, preferably placed beside the The Diary of Anne Frank?.

Retardistan is a place where nice books that spread certain “values” even in the last household are held in great esteem, a place where people of a certain “culture” have it very easy to find what is arousing their interest and honestly, isn’t it great to find books that promote mass murder, systematic extermination of people and extreme racial hatred without any effort? Hail Retardistan! 

(Irony button “off”)


Roumanian Journey

It always amazes me how little we “Westerners” usually know about the culture and the history of South-Eastern Europe. And I am saying this even after sixteen years of Balkan experience.

It is therefore always a pleasure to read well-written travel accounts by authors that have the necessary curiosity, education and ability to transfer their knowledge to us readers. A good example is Roumanian Journey by Sacheverell Sitwell (the younger brother of Edith Sitwell, and an early member in Sir Oswald Mosley’s New Party before Mosley turned it into a fascist movement.).

The court ceremonial that Sitwell is describing is truly strange:

„As late as 1818, there is an account by an English traveller of an audience with the reigning prince, at Bucharest, in which he is described as being carried into the room, in the old traditional manner, supported by the arm of a servant under each of his shoulders, as though he were too important a personage to walk. These were the manners and customs of the old Turkish court, or even of the Court of Pekin. It was remarked, too, that the Phanariot princes had no standing army. This was not allowed them. Their state consisted in a multiplicity of servants, and in a few heyducks or Albanians gorgeously arrayed. I am even told, by Prince Matila Ghyka, that a Phanariot Prince, of the Mavrojeni family, made his official entry into Bucharest riding in a sledge drawn by a pair of stags with gilded antlers.”

A classical book – the first edition appeared in 1938 – that belongs in each library of anyone with an interest in South-East European history and culture; and for readers of travel books as well. The edition I read has a foreword by Patrick Leigh Fermor, another expert on Romania. Travel literature at its best, until about ten pages to the end when the author is revealing his anti-Semitism.

If it was not for the more than doubtful remarks about the “Jewish problem” that made me cringe, this book would be one of the very best in this genre. As it is, it is still a great read – with the mentioned restriction.

Sacheverell Sitwell: Roumanian Journey, with an introduction by Patrick Leigh Fermor, Oxford University Press, Oxford New York 1992 

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-6. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

News from Retardistan (3)

A bookstore in Sofia, at the table with the best and most-interesting newly arrived books. And what do I see? Hitler’s My Struggle, marked as a “Hit” – and just beside it a book by Primo Levi, a survivor of Auschwitz.

I am speechless.

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-6. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A case of revisionism, or How interested circles in Bulgaria try to turn the main responsible for the killing of 11,363 Jews into someone that is “more than a Bulgarian Schindler”

The events about which I am talking here took place more than 70 years ago and are extremely well documented. But until today there are two competing narratives regarding the interpretation of these events and a recent interview of the former Bulgarian Czar and later Prime Minister Simeon Sakskoburggotski (Simeon von Sachsen-Coburg-Gotha) brought them to the surface again and created a quite heated discussion in the public sphere in Bulgaria.

The facts: Bulgaria, whose government at that time had since long very close ties to Nazi Germany, joined the Axis officially on March 1, 1941. Bulgaria had lost territories in the Balkan Wars and WWI that it considered to be rightfully part of Bulgaria, and Nazi Germany supported these territorial claims to Macedonia, a part of Kosovo, the Dobrudzha, and the Greek part of Thrace. Part of the deal to join the Axis was on the other hand to actively support the extermination of the Jews – it was later agreed that Bulgaria will “deliver” as a starter 20,000 Jews to the Nazis. So, in the end of the day it was a deal “territory against handing out the Jews for extermination”.

Even before joining the Axis, the Bulgarian government started to support actively the anti-Semitic policy of the Nazis. Bulgaria issued laws that deprived Bulgarian Jews of most of their rights; the laws were inspired by the anti-Semitic laws in Nazi Germany that in a way prepared the population to accept the fact the Jews were no citizens, and actually not even human beings in the ideology of the Nazis and their willing helpers.

In spring 1943, the Bulgarian parliament issued a supportive vote to deport for now 20,000 Jews from the territory of Bulgaria (including those territories that were to be annexed by Bulgaria) to Poland. 11,363 Jews from Bulgarian-occupied Macedonia and Western Thrace were rounded up by Bulgarian police and military, put in trains guarded by Bulgarians and sent mainly to Treblinka. There was literally only a handful of survivors.

When in March 1943 the Bulgarian authorities started to announce their intention to round up also the Jews from the “Old” Bulgarian territory, i.e. Bulgaria in the borders before 1941, courageous Bulgarian citizens, a few politicians with a conscious (such as Dimitar Peshev), and some of the leaders of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church (Metropolit Kiril and Metropolit Stefan), organized public resistance in Kyustendil, Sofia, Plovdiv, and other places. A demonstration of the illegal Communist party in Sofia resulted in the arrest of more than 400 participants.

Bulgaria was a country where antisemitism was not a mass phenomenon, most Bulgarians traditionally held good relationships with their Jewish neighbors and felt that they were Bulgarian citizens just like everybody else. It became obvious to the government and to the powerful Czar Boris III that they had underestimated the supportive reaction of the Bulgarian population for the Jews; at a time when it was already clear that Nazi Germany will lose the war (this happened after the capitulation of Stalingrad), the Czar and the government decided to “play on time”.

In order to avoid a serious crisis and threat to their power by a possibly very strong reaction of a considerable part of the Bulgarian population if they would deport the remaining Jews to Poland, they found all kind of excuses to delay the deportation – much to the anger of Dannecker, the highest Nazi representative in Bulgaria who was dealing with the organisation of the endlösung, and of Hitler personally. But knowing fully well that he was on the losing side, Boris (who died a few days after he visited Hitler in Germany) tried to gain some leverage for the time after the war. And to be considered the “savior” of the Bulgarian Jews would be possibly part of that leverage, so he hoped.

As a result, all Jews within the pre-1941 territory of Bulgaria survived (unless they perished as part of the partisan movement); almost all Jews in the annexed territories were killed.      

In his recent interview with CNN, the son of Czar Boris III, the former Czar Simeon II, and later Prime Minister of Bulgaria, mentioned his hopes that his father will be declared one of the Righteous Among the Nations, a title awarded by Yad Vashem to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.

The basic criteria to be awarded the title of Righteous Among the Nations, according to the official website of the Yad Vashem Memorial are as follows:

  1. Active involvement of the rescuer in saving one or several Jews from the threat of death or deportation to death camps;
  2. Risk to the rescuer’s life, liberty or position;
  3. The initial motivation being the intention to help persecuted Jews: i.e. not for payment or any other reward such as religious conversion of the saved person, adoption of a child, etc.;
  4. The existence of testimony of those who were helped or at least unequivocal documentation establishing the nature of the rescue and its circumstances.

It is obvious that Czar Boris III is not fulfilling a single one of these criteria.

I would not have mentioned the attempt of a son to whitewash his father from his responsibility of the death of more than 11,000 people, if it would be a private matter only. But Simeon is not a private person only. He came back to Bulgaria after decades of exile to become Prime Minister, making the promise that after 800 days the Bulgarians would live better under his rule (he and his sister live indeed much better now – one of the first laws he issued was about the restitution of the private property of the family of the Czar, and now he and his sister own land and properties that were never theirs, and which make them the by far biggest landowners in Bulgaria).

The reason why I am writing about this topic is another one. What we can witness in Bulgaria is the attempt of interested circles to whitewash history, to deny historical responsibility for the deeds of the past, or even for serious crimes that were committed in the past. That is not limited to Bulgaria of course, and it is not limited to the role of the Czar in the survival of the Bulgarian Jews living on the pre-1941 Bulgarian territory. Revisionism is in my opinion a very serious threat for Bulgaria. Only when you know who you are and what you did in the past and for what you are responsible, you have a chance to learn from history.

An article written by Manol Glishev, a poet and intellectual, shows clearly the very ugly side of this kind of revisionism. I was really shocked and aghast when I read it.

After an introduction which he is using to insult everyone who dares to be critical regarding Boris’ role and Simeon’s objective lies about that part of history (see below), saying that “negativism transferred from father to son or from son to father is a totalitarian practice”(!!!), we “learn” in his article how Boris III was working hard for years to preserve the life of every Bulgarian – but “unfortunately” the Jews in the occupied and annexed territories were not Bulgarians, so there was nothing he could do. (This is ignoring the fact that it was Boris III and his government that “made” all inhabitants of the occupied and annexed territories into Bulgarians – except for the Jews, for which he had already other plans.)

In one of the paragraphs that is dealing with the fate of the Macedonian and Thracian Jews, Glishev is writing that Macedonia was not part of Bulgaria at the time of the deportation and that the Czar made “big efforts” to save the Macedonian and Thracian Jews. Both is simply a fabrication. I would recommend Mr Glishev to read a bit about the historical facts. As a start I could recommend him the excellent book by Rumen Avramov: “Salvation” and fall: Microeconomics of the state antisemitism in Bulgaria 1940-1944, which shows among other things the very strong involvement of the Bulgarian state, its government and its ruler, Czar Boris III in the deportation and killing of the Jews in the annexed territories. That the Bulgarian state and Boris himself bear the responsibility for the extermination of the Jews in Macedonia and Western Thrace is also evident from the documents published recently by Avramov and Nadia Danova from the archives of Alexander Belev, the “Kommissar für Judenfragen” in Bulgaria, the organizer of the activities against the Jews. Mr Glishev could also inform himself by reading the Dimitar Peshev biography by Gabriele Nissim. Or Arno Lustiger’s excellent book Rettungswiderstand, in which the author describes clearly and with plenty of documentary support that the main responsibility for the extermination of the Jews in Macedonia and Western Thrace was with the Bulgarian government and Boris III.

When Mr Glishev even writes that “Boris is more than a Bulgarian Schindler” (headline of his article), I feel really that I am running out of words. To read a headline like this from an intellectual and poet is sickening. His intervention on behalf of an opportunistic ruler who sided with the Nazis because it suited his policy to increase the Bulgarian territory (and let – if possible – others do the dirty job for him), someone who didn’t have the slightest problem to turn the Bulgarian Jews into slaves that were deprived of almost any human rights, someone who ordered his policemen and military to round up the Jews in Macedonia and Western Thrace and send them to Treblinka, is not a worthy cause by any means.

According to the logic applied by Mr Glishev, Joseph Goebbels should be given the title of a Righteous Among the Nations too. It was Goebbels, who ordered the release of about 2,000 Jews in Berlin in 1943, after a group of women demonstrated in the Rosenstrasse in Berlin, after the arrest of their Jewish husbands and fathers. As a result of these unexpected demonstrations, and after a major bombing raid, Goebbels decided not to fuel possible protests and to release these people – for the time being. Does that make Goebbels a “savior of the Jews of Berlin”? The answer is obvious, and I feel ashamed that some people, among them even intellectuals and writers have the chutzpah to make a “savior of the Jews” out of an opportunist and bootlicker of the Nazis, who partnered in their crimes whenever it was favorable for him.

In an emotional, but factually correct response, the writer and survivor Lea Cohen answered to Glishev’s unsupportable article and Simeon’s interview.

Contrary to what Simeon said in the interview, Bulgaria was not an occupied country; Macedonia and Western Thrace were occupied by Bulgarian troops; to say that Boris “was hiding the Jews in labor camps” is so ridiculous and outrageous as to say Stalin was “hiding the opposition in labor camps”; it was not Simeon’s mother, but the Spanish ambassador that issued passports to the Bulgarian Jews; it was not the Nazi administration, but the Bulgarian administration that sent the Jews from Macedonia and Western Thrace to Treblinka; Boris III name was removed by the Jewish National Fund from all commemorative signs after a committee headed by an Israeli High Court judge came to the result that he in no way was responsible for saving the Bulgarian Jews – Simeon is just outright lying in this interview.

It makes me angry to see a person spreading so much obvious revisionist lies as Simeon does; it is sickening to see some intellectual and writer running to his help for his outrageous lies, trying to manipulate the public opinion in Bulgaria in accordance with Simeon’s revisionist agenda.

That the Jews in the pre-1941 Bulgarian territory were saved, is and will always be an honorable act by the part of the Bulgarian population responsible for it and by those people who voiced their resistance to the planned deportation; Boris III doesn’t belong to that group of honorable people, and revisionist campaigns like the one his son, with the support of interested circles, is running now, will hopefully have no success. This is not only a question of the interpretation of historical events; it is also a question of morals and ethics.

It is high time to admit that also Bulgaria had its share of responsibility in the Holocaust, and that the saving of a part of the Jews is just a (convenient) part of the whole story. It is also important to remember who was responsible from the Bulgarian side for this participation in the Holocaust: the Bulgarian government at that time, and the monarch Czar Boris III. That may be painful for some people who still prefer a made-up version of history to the truth – but it is indispensable for the country’s future. Only a Bulgaria that acknowledges its past – and not a revisionist parody of it – will be able to build a future free of the ghosts of antisemitism, racism and fascism.

kniga_roumen_1

Румен Аврамов: „Спасение“ и падение, Университетско издателство „Св.
Климент Охридски“, 2012 (Rumen Avramov: “Salvation” and fall: Microeconomics of the state antisemitism in Bulgaria, 1940-1944), Sofia 2012

Румен Аврамов и Надя Данова: Депортирането на евреите от Вардарска Македония, Беломорска Тракия и Пирот, март 1943 г./ Т. I-II (Rumen Avramov and Nadya Danova, eds.: The deportation of the Jews from Vardar Macedonia, Aegean Thrakia and Pirot, March 1943, 2 vol.), Sofia 2013

Arno Lustiger: Rettungswiderstand. Über die Judenretter in Europa während der NS-Zeit. Wallstein, Göttingen 2011

Gabriele Nissim: The Man who stopped Hitler, I. Borouchoff, 2002

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-5. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Kraus Project

glm_iv1

This review is part of the German Literature Month, hosted by Lizzie (Lizzies Literary Life) and Caroline (Beauty is a Sleeping Cat)

The Kraus Project by Jonathan Franzen is a hybrid book.

It contains on the upper part of each page on the left side the original German text of four essays and a poem by the Austrian author Karl Kraus, mirrored by the English translation of the respective text on the opposite right page.

On the lower part of each page are numerous footnotes that are sometimes longer than Kraus’ text itself.  The footnotes are partly by Jonathan Franzen, partly by the Kraus scholar Paul Reitter, partly by the German-Austrian novelist Daniel Kehlmann, like Franzen an admirer of Kraus. Franzen is also the translator of Kraus’ texts.

Since Karl Kraus is almost unknown in the English-speaking world, the publisher obviously thought it a good idea to bring this book on the market with Jonathan Franzen as author on the title page. But again, this book is a translated and annotated collection of some of Kraus’ texts.

A few words about Karl Kraus:

coming from a wealthy assimilated Jewish family, Kraus grew up in Vienna at the end of the 19th century. Vienna was at that time a melting pot of people and ideas. Literature and theater (two lifelong passions of Kraus) were at its height, Sigmund Freud developed psychoanalysis that revolutionized later many aspects of our lives, Mahler and Schönberg revolutionized music, Adolf Loos, Kraus closest friend revolutionized architecture, the Vienna school of economists revolutionized economics, the Vienna Circle and Ludwig Wittgenstein revolutionized philosophy. All kind of modern ideologies came to light in that period in Vienna, including the “modern” racial Antisemitism and its natural reaction, Zionism, whose main propagandist was the journalist Theodor Herzl, a former colleague of Kraus who would become one of his most hated targets.

“Vienna’s streets are paved with culture; the streets of other capitals are paved with asphalt”,

is a popular aphorism by Kraus.

In this hotbed of culture and ideologies the typical Kaffeehauskultur developed where each faction of intellectuals had their favorite coffeehouses where they met and engaged in group and cartel building, gossiping, writing and reading. Kraus was part of this culture, but never belonged to any group. One of his most remarkable features is that he successfully obtained his absolute independence during all his intellectual life.

Kraus’ main “work” are the roughly 40,000 pages of his journal Die Fackel (The Torch), which he published between 1899 and 1936. In the first years, he admitted every now and then guest authors but from 1912 on, he wrote the journal exclusively by himself.

Die Fackel had a blog-like feel: Kraus’ was publishing whenever he had something to say and about whatever he felt he needed something to say. Although literature and theater were always prominent topics in Die Fackel, Kraus was an avid reader of the Austrian and foreign press – and from here he took most of his inspirations.

Kraus was writing about foreign and local policy, about the situation of workers in the factories, about women’s rights, he was an early advocate of equal rights of homosexuals, and he was an everyday observer of the journalism in Austria, which was in an extremely bad shape according to Kraus.

This opposition to the frequently badly written journalism made Kraus many enemies, especially since he combined it with irony and sarcasm, but also with undeniable truths. His lawyer was for sure a very busy man and it is said that Kraus won almost all his court cases. He knew the rules and acted within these rules very efficiently to expose corruption, nepotism, stupidity and wrong use of language.

He did all this in a unique style, frequently playing with words and creating a richness of aphorisms that may be rivaled only by Lichtenberg. He was also a stage persona: he gave more than 700 performances reading, singing, acting alone on a stage – his audience consisted mainly of addicted Kraus fans; Elias Canetti for example said in his autobiography that he visited more than 300 of Kraus’ unique performances. Kraus must have been a magnetic personality that had many people under his spell.

The two main pieces in The Kraus Project are Kraus’ most famous essays on the German-Jewish poet Heinrich Heine and on the Austrian playwright Johann Nestroy.

Heine is for Kraus on the one hand a great and extremely popular poet. Many of his poems were turned into popular songs and are part of the folk poetry. But Heine’s followers turn his spirit into something superficial. And this is not by accident, it is because of specific virtues in Heine’s works. In Kraus’ times there was a firm belief of many intellectuals that there was a deep difference between Romance and German culture. As Kraus put it:

Two strains of intellectual vulgarity: defenselessness against content and defenselessness against form. The one experiences only the material side of art. It is of German origin. The other experiences even the rawest of materials artistically. It is of Romance origin. To the one, art is an instrument; to the other, life is an ornament. In which hell would the artist prefer to fry? He’d surely still rather live among the Germans. For although they’ve strapped art into the Procrustean Folding Bed of their commerce, they’ve also made life sober, and this is a blessing: fantasy thrives, and every man can put his own light in the barren window frames. Just spare me the pretty ribbons!…”

Austria, although linguistically part of German culture, is for Kraus deeply affected by the “French” poet Heine. Even the biggest Anti-semites “forgave” Heine his Jewish origin, just because his verses appeal so much to the tendency of most of the Vienna literati to gloss over everything with patches of jokes and irony. (I owe The Kraus Project the information that young Adolf Hitler in his Vienna years supported an initiative to build a monument for Heine – Heine’s poems were later not removed from the school books in Nazi Germany, just his name; it was all supposed to be “folk poetry” then).

While the Heine essay is very acerbic in it’s evaluation of the poems of this great German writer, the big hater Kraus shows in the other main essay that he can be also a great admirer and lover: he re-discovers the Austrian actor, singer, playwright Johann Nestroy, a popular performer of the first part of the 19th century who fell into oblivion soon after his death.

That Nestroy is nowadays considered to be one of the greatest authors for theater in German  is almost exclusively a result of the decades of Kraus’ efforts to make him again popular. I love Nestroy’s plays, and there is hardly anything (with the exception of Shakespeare, and the obscure play Datterich by Ernst Elias Niebergall, written in Darmstadt dialect) that I enjoy more on a stage than his plays. To me, the Nestroy essay is Kraus’s best essay – the Heine piece, although very interesting, shows also a side of Kraus that is not very appealing: the text is not free from Anti-semitic slurs.

Franzen’s translation is a heroic and brave effort and mostly very decent in my opinion. Kraus is extremely difficult to translate and that he tackled this task deserves a lot of respect.

The footnotes are frequently related directly to the text. Paul Reitter adds a lot of his knowledge about Kraus, much to the profit of the reader. Also many of Franzen’s and Kehlmann’s footnotes are interesting. The one thing that surprised me was that Franzen is dragging the reader a lot into his personal life during the time he lived in Germany and Austria as a student. We learn many details about the person Jonathan Franzen, including the story of his failed first marriage, and a short bout of mental illness when he was in Germany. If you like Jonathan Franzen as an author (I do), you might as well enjoy this part of the annotations, but if not you will have to skip some of them. I am still wondering if it wouldn’t have been better to split the book in two: a translation of Kraus only, and a longer essay with Franzen’s view of Kraus.

Kraus was a larger-than-life author. His play Die letzten Tage der Menschheit (The Last Days of Mankind) is about 800 pages long. The Kraus Project gives some insight in part of his work, but those who would like to discover the full Kraus and also the Vienna of his times (because most of his work can be only understood from the context) should maybe read in parallel also Carl Schorske’s excellent book Fin-de-siècle Vienna: Politics and Culture.

Let me close with a poem by Karl Kraus in which he explains why he kept silent for a long time after the Nazis took power in Germany:

Let no one ask what I’ve been doing since I spoke.
I have nothing to say
and won’t say why.
And there’s stillness since the earth broke.
No word was right;
a man speaks only from his sleep at night.
And dreams of a sun that joked.
It passes; and later
it didn’t matter.
The Word went under when that world awoke,

Man frage nicht, was all die Zeit ich machte.
Ich bleibe stumm;
und sage nicht, warum.
Und Stille gibt es, da die Erde krachte.
Kein Wort, das traf;
man spricht nur aus dem Schlaf.
Und träumt von einer Sonne, welche lachte.
Es geht vorbei;
nachher war’s einerlei.
Das Wort entschlief, als jene Welt erwachte.

kraus-project

Jonathan Franzen: The Kraus Project, Fourth Estate, London 2013

Carl Emil Schorske: Fin-de-siècle Vienna: Politics and Culture, Vintage 1980

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A ‘manly’ book by a ‘manly’ author

After a long hiatus, I read these days my first Hemingway book since many years: Fiesta – The Sun Also Rises.

We all know – or we think to know – Ernest Hemingway, even if we had not read any of his books; of all 20th century authors, he was arguably the most successful in creating a worldwide public image of himself, the brand “Hemingway”: a manly man keeping himself busy doing manly things (or things he thought were proof of his manliness). And when he was not busy hunting the biggest game, fishing the biggest fish, fighting the most dangerous bull, reporting from the most dangerous war front lines, downing the biggest amount of booze or courting the most attractive women (all the things you seem to have to do when you want to keep a show of being a manly man), he was hammering in a creative outburst with great energy all these outstanding manly novels and stories written in his trademark manly style into his typewriter, preferably stripped down to the waist and with a hard drink and a photographer at hand to distribute this image of the most manly author on earth and his hairy chest to all his readers and non-readers.

I never quite understood what’s exactly so manly about killing animals just for the fun and show-off, or what’s exactly so manly about being a third-degree alcoholic always on the border of a drunken stupor, or what’s exactly so manly about blowing your own brain out with a shotgun. What I quite understood somehow from the first time I came across Hemingway was that this was an author who had a serious issue with his own manliness (or possibly the lack thereof).

Many authors are a bit weird, or have issues, and some of the most talented writers were outright lunatics. So I am not holding this image and ridiculous and narcissistic show of manliness of the person Hemingway against his writing. A book is very frequently more perfect, even more intelligent than its author. We should never judge a book or any other piece of art based on personal sympathy or antipathy for the creator of this artwork. But in some cases, the defaults and flaws of the author show also in the artwork, and then the personality of the author becomes an issue. Fiesta – The Sun Also Rises is in my opinion such a case.

Some American and British expats, mostly wealthy heirs or people with artistic ambitions, mingle in the Paris of the mid 1920s. Life is pretty cheap after the war and Paris is a permissive city with a famous nightlife that made it so attractive for foreigners with hard currency. Paris was the place to be when you were a young heterosexual writer or journalist or when you were just looking for fun (Babylon Berlin was the obvious choice for the less mainstream-oriented faction).

Jake Barnes, the narrator, is a young journalist. His friend, the writer Robert Cohn, starts a relationship with the attractive and promiscuous heiress Lady Brett (two times divorced and planning another rich marriage) with whom also Barnes is in love.

Barnes, who was a soldier at the Italian front in WWI got seriously wounded and as a result is emasculated. Brett seems to love him nevertheless, but since her appetite cannot be fulfilled by Barnes, she starts a relationship with Cohn, and later in Spain where the group is traveling together with some other friends, Bill Gorton and Brett’s fiance Mike Campell, to watch a bullfight, she is seducing a very young bullfighter, Romero.

During the fiesta, the whole group gets drunk and starts to attack Cohn with anti-Semitic remarks. Cohn, who used to be an amateur boxer in college starts a fistfight and is beating up his opponents. After everyone is sober again, the group is quickly dispersing. Barnes receives a message from Lady Brett to come to Madrid, where she had gone with Romero. He finds her penniless in a cheap hotel. She is informing Jake that she intends to return to her fiance.

A quite interesting scenario I have to admit. The chapters are short. The sentences are very short. The book is a very fast read. In some scenes Hemingway shows that his craftsmanship can be excellent, especially when he describes the fiesta, the bullfight that he loved (and that I detest) so much. The book gives in some good moments a clear idea why Hemingway is such a highly revered author in the opinion of many readers.

And yet, I had more than one moment while I read the book, when I got so angry with Hemingway’s writing that I threw the book in disgust at the wall of my room.

As I mentioned, the book consists mainly of very short, childlike sentences. Subject-predicate-object. Subject-predicate-object. Subject-predicate-object. And so on and on, over pages and pages. I simply don’t like it. It does not have to be always the long and winding sentences of a Thomas Mann novel, but there is a thing called syntax and from time to time it would be just nice if the author would give us some sentences that are not written in this childlike style. “Do you have emotionsStrangle them.” This ironic Saul Bellow word about Hemingway’s style sounds very convincing to me after I read Fiesta.  In short, when I read a book labeled “novel”, I want indeed read a novel and not a text that reads more like a film script most of the time, even when the author is the manly Hemingway.

Jake Barnes is not the most endearing narrator. Already on the first two pages he does everything to depict Cohn – who he claims is his friend – in the most disgusting and unsympathetic way.  And even more, Barnes is using the most primitive anti-Semitic stereotype when it comes to paint Cohn in the most negative color. Describing Cohn’s talent for boxing, Barnes tells us (in one of the early passages before Hemingway falls back to his favorite style):

“He was really very fast. He was so good that Spider promptly overmatched him and got his nose permanently flattened. This increased Cohn’s distaste for boxing, but it gave him a certain satisfaction of some strange sort, and it certainly improved his nose.”

Ah yes, Jews have crooked noses, hahaha – maybe in Hemingway’s eyes that was funny, but I find it only revolting. Similarly disgusting, or even worse are the insults that are thrown at Cohn during the fiesta by the others.

The same goes also for the image of women in the book. Lady Brett, although obviously a really attractive woman, is described as a very promiscuous but also cunning and calculating woman. She takes the men she wants, but she is marrying of course only for the money and wealth that it provides. All this talk about love and feelings is just talk, and her attraction to Barnes may be so strong because she knows she can never have him; the curiosity factor, you know. Barnes is a man only in appearance, but contrary to Cohn, Romero, and all the others, he is physically unable to satisfy her. The other women in the book, for example the French girl Georgette, are called poulet (chicken), and they are ready for the men’s consumption – IF you are a real man that is. I think the misogyny of the narrator is beyond question.

This mix of anti-Semitic and misogynistic stereotypes, together with the display of narcissism and self-pity of the narrator got on my nerves. It got on my nerves to an extent that I had to force myself to finish this repelling book.

OK, we should not necessarily identify the views of the narrator with the views of the author. Frequently authors put an unreliable narrator in charge or even one with whose opinions they completely disagree. But considering the autobiographical background of the story, we can dismiss this idea in this case.

Unfortunately this is a book written by a young author in Paris who was wounded in WWI, who drank his time away, got involved in the love triangle he describes in the novel. Hemingway’s affair and the story of the book are (almost) identical – with the important difference that Hemingway was emasculated by his alcohol abuse in later years, and not by a WWI wound.  Hemingway’s main rival was Harold Loeb, a Jewish author and journalist, who was obviously not only the better boxer than Hemingway in real life, but also the better lover. As a reader we can feel, that Hemingway’s and Barnes’ opinions regarding Jews, women, boxing, bullfighting, and a lot of other things are identical. And it is not good when an author writes a book that is “too close to home.”

Spiteful, misogynistic and full of anti-Semitic stereotypes, written in a childlike style. That is Fiesta, by Ernest Hemingway. I know that’s a harsh verdict but I am here to give you my honest opinion for what it’s worth.

I am afraid the next manly Hemingway book has to wait for a long time to be read and reviewed by me.

P.S.: As for stereotypes, I almost forgot it – but it adds to the bleak picture; Hemingway’s characters (much as the author himself, as we know from his letters) have also strong opinions about non-whites. The infamous N word is used exclusively to characterize black people, who in general have no individual name.

Examples: an Afro-American jazz musician is described like this by the narrator:

“The n(…) drummer waved at Brett…. ‘Hahre you?’ ‘Great.’ ‘Thaats good.’ He was all teeth and lips.”

Yes, just like Jews have crooked noses, blacks are “niggers”, cannot speak proper English and have thick lips and shiny teeth in Hemingway’s world. But it gets even worse when the narrator meets a friend who was placing a bet on a black boxer in Vienna:

‘Remember something about a prize-fight. Enormous Vienna prize-fight. Had a n(…) in it. Remember n(…) perfectly.’ ‘Go on.’ ‘Wonderful n(…). Looked like Tiger Flowers, only four times as big. All of a sudden everybody started to throw things. Not me. N(…)’d just knocked local boy down. N(…) put up his glove. Wanted to make a speech. Then the local boy hit him. Then he knocked white boy cold. Then everybody commenced to throw chairs. N(…) went home with us in our car.’

And so on. Fifteen times the N word on less than one page. I don’t want to be politically correct but Hemingway’s characters in this book are without exception extremely racist, shallow and uninteresting people. Why do I have to follow this story of a bunch of drunkards that are described without any depth in a staccato language that makes every dialogue from a soap opera in comparison sound like high literature? Just because his characters share the author’s own unsupportable opinions about race, Jews, drinking, women and bullfighting?

Thanks, but no, thank you.

 

fiesta

 

Ernest Hemingway: Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises, Arrow Books, London 2004

 

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

History of the Great Game of Chess

As an avid reader and also chess player, I think it is fairly obvious that I am also a reader (and collector) of chess literature. Although a lot of the chess books I am reading are way too technical to review them here, I will make an exception today. The book I am reviewing is dealing with a certain aspect of the history of chess that might be interesting for a wider audience.

Nansen Arie, the author of История на великата шахматна игра (History of the Great Game of Chess), is a dilettante – and I mean this expression not in an offensive sense. Arie has so far no record as a chess historian, nor is he a strong player. The author is a cardiologist and a lover of the game of chess since his childhood. Another history of chess I hear a few readers sigh…but this book is different and the subtitle explains us why: the contribution of the Jews to chess (приносът на шахматисти евреи) is the author’s topic.

Since the beginning of modern tournament chess in 1851 and until today, a big percentage of the leading players – including the world champions Steinitz, Lasker, Botvinnik, Smyslov, Tal, Spassky, Fischer (who developed mysteriously into an extreme anti-semite), Khalifman, Kasparov but also leading masters like Zukertort, Tarrasch, Charousek, Rubinstein, Bernstein, Nimzovich, Tartakower, Reti, Flohr, Fine, Reshevsky, Szabo, Lilienthal, Najdorf, Boleslavski, Averbach, Geller, Taimanov, Stein, Korchnoi, Speelman, Gelfand, Judit Polgar, Radjabov and many others were or are Jews or of Jewish origin.

Dr. Arie starts his work with an introduction that gives a short overview and that also mentions anti-semitism in chess: the influential chess writer Franz Gutmayer published a number of popular pamphlets in the early 20th century that denounced the playing style of Jewish players as decadent and “sick” – contrary to the “healthy” (Aryan) attacking style of Gutmayer’s disciples. And the world champion Alexander Alekhine published during WWII a series of articles called “„Jüdisches und arisches Schach” (Jewish and Aryan chess) in which he was attacking players like Lasker (whom he publicly admired on many occasions before) in a way that is not worthy of a chess genius. (After the war Alekhine disputed the authorship of these articles.)

In the first chapter, the author gives an overview regarding the main chess events before the establishment of a regular world championship, highlighting the successes of Jewish players and providing very brief biographical notes on them. The second part covers the World Championship matches, the third the Chess Olympiads. Part four covers chess in the USSR, part five the big international tournaments, part six the matches USSR vs. “Rest of the World”, part seven (somehow inconsistently) the “traditional” chess tournaments (like Hastings). A short chapter on Bulgaria would have been interesting and reasonable (the author is Bulgarian and writes primarily for a Bulgarian audience).

Dr. Arie has written a work with the love and industriousness of the amateur. Who wants to learn about the remarkable success of Jewish chess players has in this work all necessary information.

However, I have to admit that this work left me disappointed for various reasons.

The book contains no games at all. A book that wants to explore the successes of Jewish chess players should at least give some remarkable examples of their play and do some effort to explain, why there was such an explosion of Jewish players from 1850 until today, and what the social, historical or psychological reasons behind this development were. Dr. Arie is making no serious attempt to explain this rise of the Jewish element in chess.

A second big disappointment is the lack of a literature list. The author doesn’t mention any sources although it is obvious that he is heavily indebted to the literature on the history of chess. There is no mentioning of Moritz Steinschneider’s classical study “Schach bei den Juden” (1873), no mentioning of Emanuel Lasker’s writings on philosophy or the Jewish question, no mentioning of the Makkabi chess clubs in many countries. Edward Winter’s article “Chess and Jews” on chesshistory.org is also not mentioned, dito Felix Berkovich’s and Nathan Divinsky’s “Jewish Chess Masters on Stamps“, or Meir and Harold Ribalow’s “The Great Jewish Chess Champions“. There is even no mentioning of the sources of the photos in the book. I don’t know if this is the author’s or the publisher’s fault, but it is a lack of diligence and respect for the intellectual efforts of others when these sources are generally repressed and omitted.

This work is written in Bulgarian, but it makes an effort to re-translate many names or expressions into the latin script. Unfortunately the person who did this (very probably not the author) seems to have been not at all familiar with the history of chess. This results in very frequent and rather annoying mistakes like “The Rating of Chess Player” instead of “The Rating of Chessplayers” (title of Prof. Elo’s famous book), “Café de la Regens” instead of “Café de la Regence” , “Ignatz fon Kolish” instead of “Ignaz von Kolisch”, “Vilhelm Cohn” instead of “Wilhelm Cohn”, “Iohann Loewenthal” instead of “Johann Löwenthal”, “Rudolf Spielman” instead of “Rudolf Spielmann”, and so on and on. There is hardly any page in the book without such unnecessary mistakes.

Although I am very sympathetic towards the work of any dilettante (being one myself), I wish this book on an interesting topic would have been written and edited in a better and more diligent way.

Print

Нансен Арие (Nansen Arie): История на великата шахматна игра (History of the Great Game of Chess), Сиела (Siela), Sofia 2014

 

Moritz Steinschneider: Schach bei den Juden, Julius Springer, Berlin 1873

Franz Gutmayer: Der Weg zur Meisterschaft, Veit, Leipzig 1913

Emanuel Lasker: Kampf, Verlag für Berlin-Brandenburg, Berlin 2001 (reprint; originally published in 1906)

Emanuel Lasker: Jude – wohin?, in: Aufbau, New York 01. January 1939

Emanuel Lasker: The Community of the Future, M.J. Bernin, New York 1940

Alexander Aljechin: Jüdisches und arisches Schach, in: Pariser Zeitung, 18.-23. March 1941

Arpad Elo: The Rating of Chessplayers, Arco, New York 1978

Harold U. Ribalow / Meir Z. Ribalow: The Great Jewish Chess Champions, Hippocrene Books, New York 1987

Felix Berkovich / Nathan Divinsky: Jewish Chess masters on Stamps, McFarland & Co., Jefferson 2000

Edmund Bruns: Das Schachspiel als Phänomen der Kulturgeschichte des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts, LIT, Münster 2003

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.