Sunday, May 6, 2012

Berlin Ghetto: The book that took 28 years to finish

Jacket cover for Berlin Ghetto, which will be published in August of 2012.

This true story takes place over twenty-eight years and involves a novice writer, Holocaust survivors, the Stalinist leader of East Germany, a Nobel Prize Laureate, a private school on Manhattan's Upper East Side, the head of a German-Jewish institute in London, and an internet discussion group devoted to Nazi Germany.

It is not every day that a writer has his first book published. Especially one that was twenty-eight years in the making. That's right. Twenty-eight years.

It was in 1983 that I started research on a project that took me from Soho and later Riverdale in the Bronx, New York, to New Jersey, Baltimore, Florida and eventually East Berlin barely a year before the Berlin wall was opened up in 1989. My goal was to contact and meet survivors (or relatives or friends) of the Herbert Baum group, a resistance group in Nazi Berlin composed mostly, but not exclusively, of German Jews. I had no idea whether or not I would find any but I was going to do my best.

The first issue of Aufbau, a German-Jewish newspaper that I contacted.

I contacted Aufbau, a German-Jewish newspaper, as well as the Leo Baeck Institute, which is devoted to research German-Jewish history, both of which were located in New York City. Hermann Pichler, the associate editor of Aufbau at the time, was kind enough to write a few articles and a query about me and my search for survivors of the Baum group. Shortly thereafter I began to receive letters (this was before email) from survivors, friends, and relatives of the Baum group. It was Dr. Sybil Milton, chief archivist, as well as librarian Diane Spielmann, who were very helpful to me at the Leo Baeck Institute. The entire staff there were wonderful and became 'colleagues' during my time working at the Institute.

To my surprise I met survivors of the group, among them the late Alfred Eisenstadter of New York, who fled Berlin in early 1941, as well as the late Ellen Compart of Boca Raton, Florida, who survived underground in Berlin until liberation. Most of the Baum group survivors that I met had emigrated before 1939 and returned to East Berlin.

I wanted to get to Berlin to do research so I wrote to the leaders of the two Germanys: Helmult Kohl (West) and Erich Honecker (East) requesting sponsorship. A representative of Kohl's politely rejected my request for assistance, but I was contacted by the press and culture head of the East German embassy in Washington, D.C., who arranged to meet me in Manhattan at a Chinese restaurant. My letter and articles to Erich Honecker were translated and he wanted to help me. The East German leader personally arranged for a visa for me through the head of the German Democratic Republic Anti-fascist Committee to visit East Berlin and meet survivors and do research. A little over a year later, there was a revolution in East Germany and Honecker was swept from power.

Erich Honecker, the East German leader who personally arranged my GDR visa.

At the time I finished my first draft of the book, 1989, I was teaching history at the Lenox School on East 70th Street in Manhattan, New York. I hand-wrote most of the manuscript and typed it on a Commodore 64 computer with a dot-matrix font. I wanted to get feedback and begin developing some kind of buzz about my book, which at the time was called, Red Flags and Yellow Stars. I began to reach out to people who had some influence within the Holocaust research field. Therefore I contacted Michael Berenbaum, who at the time was the director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. I sent him the manuscript of my book. He replied that he would be happy to write an introduction for Red Flags and Yellow Stars. Through a contact, I got an address for Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor and writer, and wrote to him. He wanted to read my book so I mailed it off to him.

Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, with whom I met to discuss my manuscript on the Baum Group.

Some time later I received an invitation to meet with Mr. Wiesel at his apartment in Manhattan. It was an honor to sit down with him for an hour or so to discuss my work. This was during the early 1990s, so I only remember snippets of our conversation. He offered to write an introduction to my book. Now I had two experts willing to put their reputations on the line for my work! Publication could not be that far off. Or so I thought.

Armed with letters from Elie Wiesel and Michael Berenbaum, I brought my thick manuscript to a copy shop and had ten or twelve sets of Red Flags and Yellow Stars ran off. I sent them off to combination of university, major, and small publishers. Little by little the letters began to arrive. All of them, however, were rejection letters. By the time I was done submitting my manuscript, I had a nice, neat pile of around 35 rejection letters. I was not happy. In fact, I was considering setting my work to the match. Instead I stuffed it into a top shelf of a closet to gather dust.

I contributed an article on Herbert Baum to the book of the exhibition "Juden im Widerstand."

In 1992 I received a letter from someone in Berlin named Michael Kreutzer. He had read two essays that I had written on the Herbert Baum group and wanted me to come to Berlin to collaborate with on a historical exhibition called "Juden im Widerstand" (Jews in the Resistance). I had written pieces for The Leo Baeck Institute Year Book of London, which was edited by Dr. Arnold Paucker, who became a friend and mentor on this project, as well as the Jewish Quarterly (also in London). I visited Berlin three times during 1992 and 1993 to work on the exhibition with Kretuzer and attend the official opening. It was a thrilling time. I was able to go to Berlin because the good people that I worked for at the Birch Wathen Lenox School allowed me the time to travel during the school year. I shall always remember that.

Dr. Arnold Paucker, my former mentor and the erstwhile director of the London Leo Baeck Institute.

It was when I worked on "Juden im Widerstand" that, for the first time in my life, a had a little bit of clout. I arranged for two people to become involved in the project due to my insistence. They were Dr. Margot Pikarski, an East German communist writer, who wrote the first complete book on the Baum group, and Dr. Arnold Paucker, who published my first essay on the Baum group in the Leo Baeck Institute Year Book in 1987. Both of these people were experts on the Baum group and I wanted them involved.

I had always enjoyed my time with Dr. Arnold Paucker. A Berliner who did pioneer research on German-Jewish anti-fascist resistance, he took me under his wing. Publishing my first essay, he championed my work in his own writing. So after a few years of mounting frustration about my unpublished manuscript, I wrote to him in 1997. I told him that I was going to prepare the manuscript for publication and asked if he would review and critique it. He agreed. To this day I regret that.

I contacted a publisher in Europe who agreed to publish my work. The problem was that they would not provide an editor and would not pay me any money. I added big chunks to my book, which were supposed to be background and context for the story of the Baum group. To make a long story short, I wrote some quite idiotic chapters that Dr. Paucker ripped apart for good reason. At the time, however, I was quite upset with him. I felt completely lost. My mentor hated my work and my publisher was not providing an editor; I withdrew it from publication and stuffed it into a file cabinet. I never contacted Dr. Paucker again and never intended to submit my manuscript for publication again. That was 1998.

Thirteen years later I signed up for an internet discussion group on World War II called the Axis History Forum. I looked at the topics on the forum and saw one labeled 'Resistance.' I wrote two brief sentences saying that I had written a manuscript on the Herbert Baum group of Berlin. Within a day or two, I began getting messages from Jay Slater, the commissioning editor of The History Press in the U.K. He wanted to read my manuscript! No editor ever wanted to read it before; they just rejected it! At first I could not find it. Then I found a floppy disc covered with dust in my garage. I blew the dust off and read 'Baum group book' on the disc. I spent most of 2011 preparing it for publication. Now it is a few months away from publication. That is the story of how Berlin Ghetto: Herbert Baum and the Anti-fascist Resistance took twenty-eight years to finish.

Copyright (C) Eric Brothers 2012. All rights reserved.









Monday, January 16, 2012

Shane: George Stevens' Classic Western Film

Alan Ladd as "Shane" (1953).

Alan Ladd starred in the classic western "Shane" (1953). Filmmaker Woody Allen and critic Roger Ebert share their thoughts on this George Stevens' film.

A mysterious drifter rides into a small farming community, accepts a job helping out Joe Starrett and his family. It turns out that the stranger knows how to handle a gun. Starrett's young son idolizes him and his wife, Marian, is attracted to him. There's a conflict between the homesteaders and a big-time cattle rancher, Ryker, who wants the homesteaders gone so he can run his cattle through the entire valley unimpeded. Ryker hires a gunslinger, Jack Wilson, to help him get rid of the homesteaders.

The above, in a nutshell, is the storyline of Shane, the western film based on the novel of the same name by Jack Shaefer. The film is considered a classic by many, and is one of the few westerns to be officially listed in the U.S. Library of Congress National Film Registry.

Shane is among Woody Allen's favorite films

The filmmaker Woody Allen chose to watch Shane with New York Times reporter Rick Lyman for an article dated August 3, 2001, calling it, "...a great movie [that] can hold its own with any film, whether it's a western or not." Alan Ladd starred as the lead character of Shane and his performance is considered the finest of his career. Due to Hollywood politics, however, he was not nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award for Shane. The actor had left Paramount before its release and the studio wanted to punish him for leaving.

Paramount bought screen rights to the book

When Paramount purchased the rights to the Jack Shaefer novel in 1949, the two actors being considered for the leading role were Alan Ladd and Ray Milland. The role of homesteader Joe Starrett was originally given to William Holden, who was not replaced by Van Heflin until shortly before production was to start. Jean Arthur was cast as Starrett's wife, Marian; Shane was the final film of her long career.

Woody Allen saw Shane when it was first released in 1953. He enjoyed it then and his appreciation if it has grown over the years. Allen has seen it "many, many times...more than 20. I've also taken people to see it, people who tell me that they can't stand westerns. Because it's more than a western. It's a fine movie."

Woody Allen considers Shane to be "poetry"

The filmmaker describes Shane as "a lovely film, or a beautiful one and praises it for its poetry and elegant flow, words not normally associated with westerns," writes the New York Times. Allen compared Shane to High Noon, another classic western: "I would say that Shane achieves a certain poetry that High Noon doesn't....probably because [director George] Stevens himself had some of the poet in him." Allen calls Shane "a fine piece of poetry."

Allen discusses the town in Shane, calling it, "...one of the great images in American film." It is "in the middle of nowhere" and consists of only a general store, a bar and a livery stable. "You have a sense that this is what those western towns really looked like," said the filmmaker.

Roger Ebert on Shane

On his website, the well-known film critic Roger Ebert takes a psychological approach in his review of Shane: "There are intriguing mysteries in Shane, puzzles and challenges, not least in the title character and the way he is played by Alan Ladd."

Ebert also focuses on the use of conversation in the film, "The people in the valley...struggle with ideas about their actions. Ryker (Emile Meyer) twice tries to convince Joe [Starrett] to go to work for him and once tries to hire Shane." Woody Allen hits on a similar vein, "...the bad guys are handled in a great way...The first word out of Ryker's mouth is that he doesn't want any trouble....Ryker tries to be reasonable. So it's not just a bunch of bullies. it's more complex than that."

Jack Palance is Wilson, the "personification of evil"

The character of Wilson (Jack Palance) is the antithesis of Shane. Decked-out in black, his spurs jangle loudly as he walks into the bar for the first time. Allen says that Wilson is the "personification of evil...he's so poetically evil," while Ebert writes that he "exists primarily as a foreboding presence." Yes, as Allen says, Wilson is "just bad news" and "[s]erpentine."

"one of the saddest shooting deaths in any western"

The character of Torrey (Elisha Cook, Jr.) is a stubborn Southern hothead. He walks to the bar and Wilson appears, smiling. The gunslinger lures Torrey into a gunfight. It unfolds slowly, "then there's the ritual of it, with [Wilson] putting on that glove," Allen tells the New York Times. "It's just his eccentricity...a part of his artistic process, in a sense." Ebert calls the scene "chilling." He describes how Stevens "orchestrated it with hard-edged reserve, staying almost entirely in long shot," and calls it, "one of the saddest shooting deaths in any western." Allen says that there's "never been a shootout in a cowboy movie to equal it, in terms of evil against innocence."

From that point onward, the whole movie "builds to the inescapable fact that Shane must eventually face Wilson."

The climax of Shane

Starrett arranged a meeting with Ryker at the bar. Shane discovers that it is a trap. Wearing his gunfighter clothes and gun, Shane announces that he, not Starrett, will meet Ryker. The two men fight and Shane knocks out his friend with the handle of his gun. Shane rides off into town.

He walks into the bar and confronts Wilson. Shane dispatches him with two shots. The others try to kill Shane, but he shoots them all dead. One of them, however, has wounded Shane.

Ebert writes of Shane that there "is a little of the samurai in him, and the medieval knight." Woody Allen says, "I keep referring to Shane as the artist. You see, that's what he is. Shane is the guy who has brought this gunfighting to the level of art."

Shane says "goodbye" to Joey

Outside the bar, Shane and Joey, who had run after him, talk. Shane tells the boy, "Joey, there's no living with, with a killing. There's no going back from it....Now you run on home to your mother and tell her, tell her everything's alright, and there aren't any more guns in the valley....You go home to your mother and your father. And grow up to be strong and straight. And Joey, take care of them, both of them."

Shane rides off into the sunset, and Joey, who was the first to see him arrive, is the only one to see him go. He calls after him: "Shane. Shane! Come back!"

COPYRIGHT (C) ERIC BROTHERS 2012

Sources:

Lyman, Rick. "Watching Movies with Woody Allen: Coming back to 'Shane,' " The New York Times, August 3, 2001.

Shane. rogerebert.com Great Movies

filmsite: Shane (1953)

Turner Classic Movies (TCM) Notes on Shane (1953)


Saturday, January 14, 2012

Mass Murderer Stalin: International Advertising Spokesman

Stalin is in advertising for a Greek rock music radio station.

According to an Associated Press report,"Stalin 'pay your bills' billboard removed," dated March 26, 2007, "Authorities in an eastern Ukrainian city took down billboards and ended television advertisements on Monday featuring Soviet dictator Josef Stalin exhorting residents to pay their utility bills on time after protests from rights groups and nationalists."

Stalin: "Those who don't pay for their heat should be punished!"

The AP report also stated, "One billboard shows Stalin holding a piece of paper and saying 'Comrades! This isn't a film! This is life!' In the television ad, Stalin is shown in grainy black-and-white footage being applauded by hundreds of party members as a dubbed-over voice says: 'Those who don't pay for their heat should be punished!' "

"Irina Taran, a spokeswoman for the governing council in Donetsk," continues the AP report, "said dozens of billboards featuring Stalin appeared in the city last week; television advertisements featuring old film clips of the Soviet leader also appeared. Ukrainian media reported that the mayor's office initiated the move, but then backed down in the face of protests."

According to the AP report, "Donetsk mayoral officials could not be reached for comment, but one utility official told Russia's NTV television that the company was struggling with a serious backlog of unpaid bills."

"Stalin is used here not as a historical personality, but more as a symbol of inevitable punishment. Failure to pay for one's (utility) services is a serious wrongdoing," said Alexander Semchenko, deputy chief of the Donetsk City Heating Network Company, who was quoted in the AP report.

The history of Ukraine includes the 1930s famine instigated by Stalin that caused the deaths of over three million Ukrainians.

Stalin: "I bless America for Rock 'n Roll"


The Inspiration Room
, in an article dated March 14, 2007, reports that a Greek radio station has employed Stalin as spokesman for its "All music, no dogma" advertising campaign. The Great Leader, with a puffy Elvis Presley hairdo and sideburns, says, "I bless America for Rock 'n Roll." The radio station also used the services of Adolf Hitler, who, sporting an "afro" hair style, says, "Black people are the future of music." The "All music, no dogma" campaign would not be complete without the services of Mao Zedung, who tells us, “Hard Rock is the Real Cultural Revolution."

Stalin "wrote romantic poetry"

The Russian government’s English-language overseas news network, Russia Today, wants you to make them your preferred source for cable and satellite news, according to FISHBOWLNY. To that end, they recruited a new celebrity for their advertising: Josef Stalin. In a series of ads promoting the network, Russia Today tells us, "STALIN WROTE ROMANTIC POETRY. Did you know this?"

Between the extermination of the kulaks, the genocide of the Ukranians, the exile of an entire generation of intellectuals to labor camps, the brutal invasion of the Baltics, the planned genocide of Russia’s Jews, his iron-fisted rule of Eastern Europe and the massive deportations to Central Asia, Russia Today would like to let you know that in his free time, he was tip-toeing through the tulips, smelling flowers, and sitting under a tree penning romantic poetry.

Getting "intimate" with Stalin

Two beautiful young women are smiling and kissing an older man with a moustache wearing a smoking jacket. Yes, it's Stalin. The Golden Drum reports that he is promoting the "Museum of Communism" in Prague, Czech Republic. And this is a polished job done by an international ad agency: Young & Rubicam Praha (Prague). The slogan "Get Intimate with History, Museum of Communism" is in a Soviet-style pin with a golden wreath and a red flag. The other two famous communists in the campaign are V. Lenin and Karl Marx.

Stalin is "like Coca-Cola"

"He's like a brand. It's like Coca-Cola," said Alexander Lyubimov, executive director of Russia's Rossiya TV station, as he discussed former Soviet dictator/mass murderer Josef Stalin. He was the early leader in an internet poll to name Russia's greatest hero. This was in a report by Paula Zargaj-Reynolds in Advertising is Good for You.

Sources:

Golden Drum. Stalin advertising Museum of Communism, Prague, Czech Rep. 2008.

"Stalin 'pay your bills billboards removed" Associated Press, March 26, 2007.

"Galaxy 92FM Enlist Stalin, Hitler and Mao Tse Tung for Dogma Campaign." The Inspiration Room. March 14, 2007.

Neal, "Russia State TV's New Stalin Adverts." FISHBOWLNY. November 20, 2007.