Jerome A. Chanes |
Special To The Jewish Week
Who was Yehuda Halevi? Generations of Jewish schoolchildren here and in the Palestine Yishuv grew up with his classic poetic line, “Libi ba-mizrach, v’anochi b’sof ma’arav” — “My heart is in the East (the Land of Israel), but I, my body, is in the furthest reaches of the West.” Living and working in the 11th and 12th centuries in Spain, he was one of the giants of Hebrew poetry. That he was a significant figure in the history of Jewish thought is unquestioned.
If you were Jewish and lived in the 1940s, to say that Arthur Koestler was on your side was no small thing. Then at the height of his renown, Koestler, born in Budapest in 1905, had become one of Western literature’s most revered figures. His anti-Stalinist novel “Darkness at Noon,” published in 1940 and still his most famous, made him one of the first liberals to come out against Communism. The book would partly inspire George Orwell, an author whose reputation today far eclipses Koestler’s.
Though Michael Haneke’s recently released film “The White Ribbon,” which won the prestigious Palme d’Or prize at the Cannes Film Festival, focuses on one small German village, in 1914, the director has made it clear that the issues it raises are much larger. “Why do people follow an ideology?” the director asks in the film’s official press release. “German fascism is the best-known example of ideological delusion,” he adds, and while his film is not an explanation of German fascism per se, he certainly encourages viewers to ponder the relationship. In the opening scene, the narrator even says that he hopes the story about to unfold might “clarify things that happened later in our country.”
Every few years a poll comes out showing how little the general public knows about the Holocaust: in 2005, a poll found that only 40 percent of Canadians could correctly identify the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust, while one in six thought the number was less than a million. A BBC poll that year revealed that half of Britons had never even heard of Auschwitz.
In Calcutta four years ago on a visit to one of the festering slums he calls a “hell on earth,” best-selling journalist-turned-altruist Dominique Lapierre was speaking with another writer, who knew of the Frenchman’s interest in heroic figures.
“Do you want to meet a South African Mother Teresa?” the writer asked.
Lapierre, who knew the renowned Saint of the Slums, winner of a Nobel Peace Prize, learned that day about Helen Lieberman.