Apropos Edward Alexander's article, "The New Yorker's Holocaust Problem" (Midstream, May/June 2001), I believe his pique to be misplaced.
Alexander is justified in his position that Hannah Arendt in her article that The New Yorker published in 1961 may have a "Holocaust problem"; and he may be fair in attributing a similar problem to Ian Buruma in his article in the April 16, 2001 edition of the magazine. However, those opinions do not warrant the allegation that The New Yorker has a Holocaust problem.
The New Yorker has only recently published any letters to its editor -- and the fact that they haven't published any letters on this subject proves nothing.
I cannot resist pointing out that Midstream in its Statement of Purpose claims that ... the publisher and editors [do not] necessarily identify themselves with the views expressed in its pages."
William H. Engelman
Your two-part series "Jew in Rome" (Midstream May/June, July/August 2001) by Richard Ellis of the University of Massachusetts made for interesting thoughts that perhaps can add some amplification to his. Of course the Italian Jews, as the oldest Jewish community outside of Israel still in existence, have a complex history. I have been leading serious tours of Italian Jewish sites for the past several years during my own academic vacation periods, and many of our visits and itineraries connect with his observations. I could suggest that his decision to tour the important Roman ghetto area with a Catholic organization rather than the Jewish groups almost assured he would be hearing special views.
His "Hercules Harry" guide in the Vatican should simply not be giving tours any longer if he continues to recite the story of [the] Jews' responsibility for the death of Christ. Looking back, perhaps Professor Ellis could have noted the man's name and spoken with whoever supervised his work, since all guides are strictly licensed and examined. But be assured he is not alone. In recent trips, I was casually informed by the bus driver who was taking us around the country that Jews did not like to pay for anything they didn't have to (casually said while looking for a parking space near the ruins of the ancient synagogue of Ostia).
This past summer, I attended a rather swanky reception at a leading cultural institute in Florence and engaged an educated young lawyer in conversation on subjects of general interest. When I mentioned my tours through the Roman ghetto neighborhood, she blithely assured me that many smart Romans still prefer to visit shops in the area since Roman Jews control all the economy of the city and have the smartest goods available for themselves. If one is clever enough, she informed me, "we" can also profit from their merchandise. Naturally, it was all said with non-malice and the sense of sharing a commonly held truth.
Holocaust education is very, very scanty in Italy, and the widespread success of the vapid and in fact misleading Lip is Beautiful fair-tale/ "fable" [film] of Roberto Benigni that captured Oscars and all manner of awards internationally is a clear demonstration of how little is known or indeed sought to be known. There is a certain smugness that this is not an Italian problem but yet another example of the peculiarities of Germans and other northerners, whom the Italians often scorn.
Yet Italy is famous for virtually no ingrown antisemitic tradition and for the admirable rate of survival of its Jews in World War II. So how serious are these offhand (offbrain?) remarks that one hears in a country such as Italy? If an official guide is saying them, pretty serious, considering his large audiences.
Mark Bernheim. Dept. of English Miami University of Ohio
I am writing concerning my two-part essay, "A Jew in Rome: Christian Antisemitism and the Holocaust," which was published in the May/June and July/August 2001 issues of Midstream. I would like to clarify one aspect of my Roman adventures that inadvertently I did not make clear in the published essay. Hercules Harry (a pseudonym, of course) was not an official guide working for the Vatican nor was he associated with the Vatican in any way. In fact, he was born in America and owns a private tour company near Rome. The antisemitic statements that he made concerning Jewish responsibility for the death of Christ were entirely his own and were not spoken in any official capacity.
Because of the numerous areas of controversy today between the Catholic church and the Jewish people, more tolerance and understanding are needed on both sides. The more that people know about the history of interactions between the Catholic church and the Jewish people, the better are the chances for real cooperation in the future. I hope that my essay can serve that end.
Richard S. Ellis
In an article written by Abraham Cooper and Harold Brackman ("The Fight Against Holocaust Denial," Midstream, April 2001), and posted online on May 23, 2001, a footnote identifies me as the author of an article titled "Hasidic Jews Kick Ass. Who Knew?" in the February 2001 issue of Esquire. In a letter to Rabbi Cooper, which he then forwarded to Mr. Brackman, I pointed out the following facts: 1) I wrote no such article, under that title or any other. The items in the "Index" section, to which Cooper and Brackman are referring, are written by Esquire's editorial staff, independently of my column "The Screen"; 2) Anyone who takes the trouble to consult page 55 of the February issue of Esquire will see that no item rifled "Hasidic Jews Kick Ass. Who Knew?" appears in that month's "Index" section. The phrase does appear in the issue's table of contents -- lower-cased, incidentally, not capitalized as Cooper and Brackman have it -- but as what is generally known as a "teaser," not a rifle. (If you look at the "Index" section proper, the item's actual title is "Trend of Two.")
In his reply to my letter, Mr. Brackman said that he would "support" printing a correction in Midstream regarding my non-authorship of the article in question, although for reasons best known to himself, he still seems determined to claim that an "Index" item rifled "Hasidic Jews Kick Ass. Who Knew?" did in fact appear in the magazine.
In any case, I am now writing to demand that you print such a correction. Thanks to you, anyone who looks up references to my work online -- and I would like to think that people occasionally do -- will find me misrepresented as the author of something I never wrote, under a title that never appeared as such, in a context that links me by implication with antisemites and Holocaust deniers. I find this absolutely repugnant, and I want the mistake acknowledged. If the article is still posted online in any form, I also want it either changed or withdrawn.
Harold Brackman responds:
I am pleased that M. Carson finds it "repugnant to be associated ... with either antisemites or Holocaust deniers."
I read in "The Screen" section of the Index to the February issue of Esquire this confusing (at least to me) listing: "by Tom Carson The Index `Hasidic Jews Kick Ass. Who Knew?'"
From this I concluded, erroneously, that Mr. Carson was the author of "the teaser" appearing on the same page as the last page of his article in this issue.
For my error, I apologize, though I think that the anonymous editors of Esquire are more deserving of a kick for their intentional gaucheries and provocations.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The article, "The Fight Against Holocaust Denial" is no longer available on Midstream's website. The lead article of an issue is available only for the month in which it appears in the magazine.
"Invisible Refugees," by Julian Schvindlerman (Midstream, February /March 2001), about Jews from Arab countries, was a welcome departure from the virtual silence that surrounds the subject of the almost total dissolution of the Jewish people's most ancient diaspora and the transfer of the majority of those refugees to Israel. They and their progeny now constitute some 43 percent of the population (excluding Jews from Iran).
Permit me to make one correction to an otherwise excellent piece: My book, The Forgotten Millions: The Modern Jewish Exodus from Arab Lands, to which Mr. Schvindlerman refers, is an edited volume. He quotes from a specific chapter: "Exchanges of Populations Worldwide: The First World War to the 1990's," which I wrote in collaboration with professor Raphael Israeli.
Naturally, an article cannot cover a total subject (difficult even in the space of a book!), leaving some questions unanswered, notably why has the Jewish establishment in the diaspora, particularly in the United States, consistently ignored this topic? Now that there is talk of possible reparations, organizations like the World Jewish Congress have woken up somewhat. But where were they during the 50 or so years that the Arabs were using Palestinian refugees as part of their propaganda campaign, even though the latter resulted from Arab aggression against Israel? As for the government of Israel, especially its ministry for foreign affairs, which is unfortunately responsible for Israel's information policy (if there is one), it has never seriously promoted this subject or hit out at the inhumanity of the Arabs -- with their vast lands and oil wealth -- in retaining their refugees as political pawns for over 50 years (thanks to the kind financial cooperation of the u unknowing -- Western taxpayer, with the United States in the lead).
Why, since the Jewish exodus was preceded by cruel pogroms and the confiscation of billions of dollars worth of private and communal property, have the Muslim Arabs not been held accountable for their crimes against ancient Jewish communities, all of whom had made important contributions to these same Arab lands?
Malka Hillel Shulewitz
A response to Robert Lippman:
I welcome Mr. Robert Lippman's letter in Midstream (February/March 2001) in response to my book review of Theodor Herzl: Visionary of the Jewish State, which appeared in the January 2001 issue. Due to personal matters, I could not reply sooner to the critical observation that Herzl, prior to the Dreyfus trial and unjust conviction, had entertained the idea that by converting to Christianity Jews would no longer suffer from antisemitism. We know, of course, that Herzl withdrew his shortsighted belief after discussing it with his employer, Moriz Benedikt, the editor of Neue Freie Presse of Vienna.
It can be argued, moreover, that Herzl realized the fallacy of his reasoning in view of the experiences of the poet Heinrich Heine, in whom he saw a role model. Heine wrote that before he converted he was disliked by gentiles. After his conversion, he was disliked by gentiles and Jews.
Because of space and rime restrictions, this reviewer is necessarily limited to how much can be said. One is compelled to make difficult choices. Nevertheless, another example may be to the point. In his biography, Das Leben Theodor Herzls (1911; "The Life of Theodor Herzl"), Adolf Friedemann recounts that Herzl rote a review of Femme de Claude, by Dumas, in 1894. In his review, Herzl took issue with the author Dumas because of his creation of Daniel who wishes to lead fellow Jews to their historic homeland. Such a step, Herzl the critic asserted, would be childish, because Jews who have lived in other countries for centuries would not be able to join in such a plan. The biographer Friedemann quotes one M. Paul-Schiff, who, writing in July 1904 in the Frankfurter Zeitung, reports that he confronted the founder of the Zionist organization with the apparent contradiction in his position in the light of his previous review. Herzl replied by reciting a poem by the poet Paul Heyse, about whom he had written one of his journalistic stories. The poem (in my English translation) presented by Theodor Herzl reads like a parable:
Who is today wiser than yesterday And confesses this with good humor, He is going to be slandered by solid citizens, Who claim that he is inconsistent.