Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Falling over een reminiscence: Poor San Francisco

Jerry was a Vietnam veteran and suffering from what is now called PTSD. He was living in Sally’s house on Eddy Street in San Francisco.
I met him when we stayed there in 1977.

When we arrived in San Francisco in our pickup we went to the American Express to check for mail. 
Our friends, Jan and Sietske, were also driving up the west coast from Mexico in a pickup.
There was a letter from Sietske. She wrote that Jan had been admitted to San Francisco General hospital.
We did not know where that was.

A middle-aged woman dressed in green was talking to a young man with red hair who was sitting on a motorbike.
We thought she was someone official and asked her the way to San Francisco General.
She told us she was Sally, a social worker from Montana. The young man with red hair was her son, Red.
They told us the way to the hospital and invited us back to their house for coffee afterwards.

Jan was very ill. They only found out later he had some kind of rare genetic disease. This had been triggered by the loss of his toenails after walking down and up the Grand Canyon in new shoes.

After the hospital we went to Sally's for coffee.
She lived in an old Victorian house that she was slowly renovating with a small group of miscellaneous people who were staying with her.
Sally offered us a room, which we accepted. We stayed there for three weeks.

Jerry said, do you know why Europeans smoke Stuyvesant and Pall Mall?
I replied, no.
He said, because when the Americans liberated Europe they gave all the shitty cigarettes to the population there. They kept the good ones, the Camels and Lucky Strikes, for themselves.

I used to smoke Camel plain. I rolled the pack up in my t-shirt sleeve.

I passed my driving test in San Francisco in a Ford F100 pickup.
The theory was easy.
A lady gave me the test paper and told me to fill it in and come back.
I went out to the pickup and copied the answers from a book. Then I returned to the nice lady and gave her the test paper back.
Congratulations, she exclaimed. You got 100%, the first one today.

Jerry gave me his hand-embroidered jeans jacket as a present.
Then it was too big for me. Now it is too small.

Poor San Francisco, it has changed. Nowadays it is not like the song any more. 

Sunday, 23 December 2018

Mary Berg's Diary: The children's home in the Warsaw Ghetto

Mary Berg lived in the Warsaw Ghetto, but her situation was unusual. Though she was born in Poland, her mother was an American. 
Jews with American citizenship could possibly be exchanged for German prisoners of war and were imprisoned, not deported to death camps. 
Mary was imprisoned in the Pawiak prison near to the centre of the ghetto.  

Mary survived. She was nineteen in March 1944, when she stepped off a prisoner-of-war exchange ship from Lisbon in New York. 

During the years she lived in the ghetto, she kept a diary. 
A compelling document.
This is an excerpt from her diary.

"Dr. Janusz Korczak’s children’s home is empty now.
A few days ago we all stood at the window and watched the Germans surround the houses. 
Rows of children, holding each other by their little hands, began to walk out of the doorway. There were tiny tots of two or three years among them, while the oldest ones were perhaps thirteen.
Each child carried a little bundle in his hand. All of them wore white aprons.
They walked in ranks of two, calm, and even smiling. They had not the slightest foreboding of their fate.

At the end of the procession marched Dr. Korczak, who saw to it that the children did not walk on the sidewalk. Now and then, with fatherly solicitude, he stroked a child on the head or arm, and straightened out the ranks.
He wore high boots, with his trousers stuck in them, an alpaca coat, and a navy blue cap, the so-called Maciejowka cap. He walked with a firm step, and was accompanied by one of the doctors of the children’s home, who wore his white smock.
This sad procession vanished at the corner of Dzielimy and Smocza Streets. They went in the direction of Gesia Street, to the cemetery.

At the cemetery all the children were shot.
We were also told by our informants that Dr. Korczak was forced to witness the executions, and that he himself was shot afterward.

Thus died one of the purest and noblest men who ever lived.
He was the pride of the ghetto. His children’s home gave us courage, and all of us gladly gave part of our own scanty means to support the model home organized by this great idealist.
He devoted all his life, all his creative work as an educator and writer, to the poor children of Warsaw.
Even at the last moment he refused to be separated from them.

The house is empty now, except for the guards who are still cleaning up the rooms of the murdered children."

August, 1942

Monday, 17 December 2018

A culture without culture

Eight years ago Yael Stone and Geoffrey Rush were appearing together in a theatrical adaptation of the Gogol story, “Diary of a Madman”. They shared a dressing room.
According to Stone, Rush began to send her text messages that gradually became more sexual in nature.
Was she upset by these messages, then?
No, according to her own words, she “enthusiastically and willingly” responded to the texts.

There was one situation that she did object to. They had a shower cubicle in their shared dressing room. Once she noticed that Rush was trying to watch her take a shower through a mirror.
She told him to “bugger off”, though she later also said, ““I believe that it was meant with a playful intention...”.

Now she is upset by the eight year old messages. It is now sexual harassment. She is on the warpath against Rush.
But how can it be sexual harassment if you enthusiastically and willingly take part in the sexual “games”?
How can it be sexual harassment if you say yes not no? 

Yael Stone explained this in an article full of platitudes she wrote for the Guardian a year ago.
According to Stone, it is a “culture” problem.
We live in a patriarchal society where the “abuse of power” (by men) manifests itself “in sexual aggression” towards women.
In other words: men are oppressors and women are their victims. According to Stone, women have been culturally conditioned to accept this.
Therefore, she as a woman is not (never) to blame, because she was culturally conditioned to enthusiastically and willingly take part in her own “sexual harassment”.
As women are always the victims of men, they are not accountable and victims do not have any individual responsibility for their choices and actions.

Why do I care?
I have not seen Yael Stone in anything. I have read that she has some merit as an actress.
Geoffrey Rush, on the other hand, is a great actor. Because of her accusations, he may never work again.

I care because Stone and her friends are dragging western culture into a culture without culture.

Monday, 19 November 2018

Bring Back Dayan's Mad Dog

In a war people get killed. That is why we do not like wars.
In the past, the western countries were not as civilized as today. They accepted these deaths.

Nowadays, the civilized western world does not accept body bags any more.
Diplomacy, give and take, understanding and finding the “real” reasons for conflicts have become the new paradigms.
Clausewitz with his "War is the continuation of politics by other means", is definitely not done.
Singing “Give Peace a Chance” around the campfire whilst holding hands is the new vogue.
The goals and values of “mothers” have replaced the primitive, macho behaviour of male savages.

It helps that no country is attacking the western world. And if the west does decide to go to war, it uses others to do the fighting, like the Kurds in Syria and Iraq.

In Israel it is different. The country is surrounded by enemies who want to destroy it.
Hamas, the enemy in the Gaza Strip, even calls for the slaughter of the entire world’s Jews in language reminiscent of the Nazis.
Israel’s enemies do not mind body bags. In fact their willingness to be killed is their strongest weapon.

Years ago, Moshe Dayan said that “Israel must be seen as a mad dog, too dangerous to bother.”
Times have changed. Israel may be in the Middle East, but in values it is part of the civilized western world.

Israel is no longer too dangerous to bother.
It constantly warns Hamas, but Hamas keeps on attacking with rockets and flaming balloons and kites. When Hamas decides to stop, it calls for a ceasefire and Israel agrees.
This civilized response is what the western world expects from Israel.
When Hamas has replenished its stock of rockets it will attack again. The success of Hamas also emboldens Hezbollah and Iran.

Is this civilized Israeli policy, appeasement or “Realpolitik”?  We will find out in the future.
My personal opinion?
Bring back Dayan’s mad dog.

Friday, 26 October 2018

Falling over a reminiscence: a whimsical smile

Before I made Aliyah, I had lived a sheltered life; never met many foreigners.

Kibbutz Magen, where I lived for six years, was like a Jewish United Nations.
The founders of the kibbutz were young Romanian Holocaust survivors. In the 1950s an Israeli youth group joined the kibbutz and in the early 1960s my group came: young Jews from Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland, Italy and I.

Then there were the miscellaneous: a group of young people my age from Eastern Europe who were brought up on the kibbutz because their parents, who lived in Israel, were not able to support them, and a small group of young French Jews.

It is a few months before the Six Day War.
I am out of paratrooper training and allowed to go back to my border kibbutz in the Negev more often.
I have my room back which is next to my best friend Tzvi, who originated from Austria. My other good friend is Avraham who came from Poland.

During my roomless period when I was doing paratrooper training, I used to sometimes sleep on a stretcher in Gad’s room.
Gad came originally from Romania and was a bit older than me.

Miriam was from France. We were as different as chalk and cheese. We hardly spoke to each other.
She lived next door to Gad.

On one Friday night I ended up in Miriam’s room. Cannot blame it on alcohol, because there was no booze on the kibbutz.

I had forgotten something.
I had a New Zealand cousin who lived with his wife and two young daughters on nearby kibbutz Nirim. My cousin and his wife liked to pamper me.
He was coming the next day to pick me up for lunch on an old Egyptian motorbike with sidecar.

My cousin turned up and went to my room. Kibbutz rooms are never locked. He walked in and saw that my bed had not been slept in.
He went next door to ask Tzvi where I was. Tzvi did not know.

Then the two of them went to Avraham’s room to see if he knew where I was. He did not know.
There are now three of them looking for me.
They went round to Gad’s. He did not know where I was either.

The four of them are now standing together trying to figure out where I am. They are standing right outside Miriam’s window.
I got dressed and walked out of Miriam’s room.
The look of surprise on their faces was wonderful.

Avraham died a few years later from a wound he received in the Six Day War. My cousin died of cancer. I do not know if the other people in my story are alive or dead.

When writing about people from my past I see them again; usually as silhouettes. That is a bitter, sweet experience.
I remember them with a whimsical smile, but I am also sad because it is the past.

Thursday, 18 October 2018

The Anne Frank just for Jews

The two major Anne Frank organizations in Europe are situated in Amsterdam and in Basel.

In Amsterdam, the "Anne Frank Stichting" only has authority over the house where she was hidden, and has little connection to the Jewish community.
It is an NGO that markets Anne Frank and the Holocaust as a general warning against discrimination, racism and bigotry in modern society.
They spend their profit on projects against discrimination.

The "Anne Frank Fonds" in Basel has the intellectual copyright for her diary. It was set up by Otto Frank and is run by Jews.
They spend their profit on left-wing Jewish things.
The two Anne Frank organizations do not get on well with each other.

The Basel Anne Frank sees all Jews as the “descendants” of Anne Frank, because she was Jewish.
The Amsterdam Anne Frank is not so categorical, as it emphasizes the story of Anne Frank as a warning against all forms of prejudice and discrimination today.
This goes some way to supporting the new left-wing misappropriation of the legacy of Anne Frank and the Holocaust.

The left-wing misappropriation does not deny the Holocaust.
Far from it, it emphasizes that the Jews who were killed were the victims of a terrible slaughter caused by discrimination, racism and bigotry.
Essential is the emphasis placed on Jews being victims in the past.
According to the misappropriation, today’s live Jews, the Zionists, are not victims. They are the oppressors; perpetrators of indiscriminate killing of innocents. The modern equivalent of the Nazis.
Therefore, the victims of today's live Jews are the real descendants of Anne Frank and the Jews killed in the Holocaust.
For these people, Palestinians like Ahed Tamimi are modern-day Anne Franks.

Wait a minute, you may say, many of these "modern-day" Anne Franks have the same hatred of Jews as the Nazis who killed the original Anne Frank.
The misappropriation will reply that this is the fault of the live Jews themselves. If they had not oppressed the Muslims, the Muslims would not want to slaughter them.
This is similar to the viewpoint of Nazi apologists of the Holocaust. They maintain that if the Jews had not tried to control the world, Hitler would not have had to kill them.

There are some variations on the position of live Jews in the misappropriation.
When fascists attack Jews, the Jews are victims.
When Muslims attack Jews, the Muslims are the oppressed rising up against the oppressors, the Jews.

Is there no Anne Frank left just for us live Jews?
Yes there is, the Anne Frank after the diary, in Bergen-Belsen; covered in lice, cold, starving, little more than a skeleton and dying from typhus.

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

My guys, Shakespeare and Pope

A culture is the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society.
Many British people see the rules, habits and interference of the EU as an attack on their culture and national identity. 
I could probably fill a book with examples.

I have been an expat for 50 years. Not so long ago, I switched back to talking and writing in English.
I did not comment on Brexit because it does not affect me and I do not completely understand it as an economic phenomenon.
I can understand Brexit as a cultural phenomenon. As a reaction to the “unheimlich” feeling that outsiders are chipping away at your ideas, customs and social behavior.
It is not only the EU, but the EU is a concrete enemy.

I had two good school friends. One was Welsh the other was from Malta. We were inclusive. We read (British) Shakespeare and recited (British) Pope together. The Battle of Hastings was part of our history.

If there is a cultural war going on, I am on the side of Shakespeare and Pope.