Monday, March 25, 2019

The Spy Who Captured Eichmann

Rafi Eitan

When I was 12 years old, I knew as much about Adolf Eichmann as I did about Marilyn Monroe.  

Eichmann was on trial in 1961 for designing the Nazi plans to deport and exterminate Jewish people. 

At our house in Boulder, Colorado, the Rocky Mountain News and the Boulder Camera arrived daily with details on his crimes during the Holocaust. 

I probably never heard the name of the Israeli spy who captured Eichmann in Argentina and smuggled him to Israel to face trial.  It was Rafi Eitan, who died on March 23 at the age of 92. 

Hooray for the work Eitan did!

Read this fascinating obituary in the New York Times by Joseph Berger.

Elizabeth Peratrovich, pioneer for native rights

Elizabeth Peratrovich
from the Alaska State Archives

What was the first anti-discrimination act in the US?  

When did it pass, where, and who pushed for it?  Why? And how?

Find the answers to these basic questions of journalism--who, what, when where, why, and how--by reading the obituary of Elizabeth Peratrovich, published in the New York Times today, sixty plus years after she died.  

The NYT has a great new feature, Overlooked, publishing obits of people who were not well known enough to rate one when they died. Many of these unsung heroes are women.

Elizabeth and her husband Roy were each the child of a Tlingit mother and a Caucasian father.  

In 1941 in Douglas, Alaska Territory, they saw a sign on a hotel reading "No Natives Allowed."

They wrote a letter to Governor Ernest Gruening and began activism to get an anti-discrimination bill through the Territorial Legislature.  

The bill met great opposition.

"Who are these people, barely out of savagery, who want to associate with us whites with 5,000 years of recorded civilization behind us?" asked Senator Alan Shattuck in 1945.

But the bill passed, largely because of an impassioned defense by Elizabeth Peratrovich, who cited injustices that she and her family had experienced.

Nearly twenty years would pass before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would be passed in the lower 48.

Her biography, Fighter in Velvet Gloves, was published this year by her son, Roy Peratrovich Jr.

If you see a new $1 coin in 2020 with her likeness on it, now you will know why.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Fighting the Nazis by Recording Life and Death

What was it like to be forced from your home into a ghetto for Jews during World War II?  

And then to realize that the Germans were planning a systematic extermination of the 400,000 people in your ghetto?

The new documentary Who Will Tell Our History? provides a graphic view of Jewish culture in Warsaw from 1939 to 1945, particularly the way these confined and starving people carried on with schools, theater, music, and the writing of their own history.

The film tells the story from the point of view of a survivor--Rachel Auerbach, a writer and theater critic who was recruited to interview people in the ghetto and record living history.  She became one of sixty journalists and researchers organized to preserve the experience of ghetto life and German atrocity.  The group's founder, Emanuel Ringelblum, gave this secret effort the code name of Sabbath Joy--Oyneg Shabes.  All but three of the sixty were killed.

Roberta Grossman, writer/producer/director, and Nancy Spielberg, exec producer

"Why does one person survive while another dies?" muses Rachel in the opening scene.  "What are the factors?"   Sitting on a train, she takes out a notebook and begins writing and reflecting.  

Soon we are seeing life in the ghetto: meetings of the Oyneg Shabes team, Rachel serving food in a soup kitchen, Nazi soldiers shooting people, children begging, and people starving.  

Two women sitting next to me left at this point.  Fortunately, they did not see camera footage of bodies being picked up from the street, stacked on a cart, and dumped in a shed.  Many had been stripped of their clothing, exposing stiff and painfully skinny limbs.  

I sat there stunned, saying to myself, "But media don't show dead bodies, do they?"

In the Q & A afterward, the film's writer, producer, and director Roberta Grossman explained that the film has three components: photos and film taken by the Nazis, words and dialogue taken from the Oyneg Shabes archives, and actors who dramatize scenes from the ghetto while speaking lines taken from the archives.  

She based the film on the book by the same name written by Samuel D. Kassow (Indiana Univ. Press, 2018) and well as on other historical materials such as the books written by Rachel Auerbach.

I was disturbed to realize that these Polish Jews were mostly speaking German, the language of the people killing them.  But then I realized they were speaking Yiddish, which is mainly German with some Hebrew words mixed in.

To my great relief, a rabbi who is writing in his daily journal (part of the required work) switches from Yiddish to Hebrew after his wife and child are killed.  He can't use the language of the murderers to record this event or express his grief.  

Executive director Nancy Spielberg described how the documentary is being released.  

  • First it was shown at selected film festivals (and continues to be screened at others).    
  • Then on January 27. Holocaust Remembrance Day, there was a global showing in 55 countries on 355 screens.
  • It opened at selected theaters in New York and Los Angeles in February and continues to San Francisco and other cities now.
  • On January 27, 2020, there will be another global showing, as well as on Yom HaShoah.
  • Then it will be distributed to schools and colleges.

Roberta Grossman, Nancy Spielberg, and Michael Berenbaum, AJU president
And yes, Nancy is the sister of Steven Spielberg, who directed Schindler's List in 1993 and then started the Shoah Foundation to videotape the personal histories of Holocaust survivors. Nancy and Steven's father lost 16-20 family members in the Shoah. 

Emanuel Ringelblum collected humor from the ghetto as well as grim documentation.  Here's one joke:

Adult to child:  "What would you like most if you were Hitler's son?"

Child: "To be an orphan." 

Thank you to my friend Tovah for telling me to see this film, and thank you to the American Jewish University just off Mulholland in Los Angeles for tonight's screening with the director/writer/producer and the executive producer.  

Friday, March 15, 2019

Dems Likely to Impeach

YES! We're finally at the point where impeachment is likely.  

It has been a long two years, four months, and seven days since November 8, 2016.  

Thank you, Time Magazine, for this cover story by Molly Ball and the associated articles by David French and Philip Bobbitt.  I take hope. 

Time with this cover story arrived in my mail box on the Ides of March, the day Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 B.C.E.  I devoured the three articles on impeachment of the man occupying the White House.  

Beware the Ides of March!  

Before Caesar died, March 15 was already "notable for the Romans as a deadline for settling debts," says Wikipedia.

May today be the beginning of dt settling the debts he owes to:

  • the American people, 
  • Muslims in every country, 
  • asylum seekers, 
  • children separated from their parents,
  • Heather Heier and others in Charlottesville VA, 
  • people already affected by climate change,
  • and many others on this planet.

Impeach now, you members of the US House of Representatives! And may the Senate convict.  

Monday, March 11, 2019

Pete takes on Pence

Pete Buttigieg, Mayor of Fort Wayne IN

Friends from various odd corners of my world are talking with excitement about Pete Buttigieg's recent announcement as a candidate for president in 2020.

Sharon from Sacramento emailed me.

Dana in Orange County called my husband to talk about him.

Andrea Mitchell reported about him on MSNBC this morning--I count her as a friend.

Buttigieg is a Christian and church-goer.  

When asked about Pence, he said he doesn't understand how Pence can claim to be a Christian yet support "a porn-star presidency."

He said his own understanding of Scripture is "protecting the prisoner... the stranger...the poor person" and giving "welcome."    That matches my own understanding.

He noted that sexuality seems to be the main concern of Pence's Christianity.

See this interview on CNN:

He also wants to expand the Supreme Court and get rid of the Electoral College.  The key is to reframe the debate so that fundamental change can be understood as pragmatic.

And he's not taking corporate money!  Radical, indeed.

Could he win some millennial votes from Bernie Sanders?  At any rate, it's important to get him enough separate donors to qualify for a part in the primary debates.

On January 24, the New York Times ran a review of his memoir, Shortest Way Home: One Mayor's Challenge and a Model for America's Future.

The reviewer, Adam Nagourney, puzzled over why a guy 37 years old would write a memoir: "this does seem a little early."  

He compared it to Barack Obama writing a memoir in 1995, nine years before he burst onto the national scene.  Then he suggested that a memoir might be "the modern equivalent of an early outing to New Hampshire."

When one considers that in 1995 no one thought Obama might become president, "...the notion that Buttigieg might be the nation's first openly gay president doesn't feel quite as far-fetched," Nagourney concludes.  

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Sunday, March 10, 2019

A Posthumous Memoir

I've been working on a memoir for twenty years, and I hope it won't be published posthumously.

But then I don't have cystic fibrosis, the illness that caused Mallory Smith to die at just age 25.

She had been keeping a journal for ten years, including her early memories of running to hide to avoid treatments for her illness.

Thank you to Robin Abcarian of the Los Angeles Times for interviewing Mallory's mother and writing about the memoir that her mother put together from Mallory's journals.  It's called Salt in My Soul: An Unfinished Life.

One of the most powerful quotations from the book:

“I have a strong urge,” Mallory wrote, “to write something that will change people. I want to create a piece so moving that people are in disbelief. And I want it to be like handing people a pair of glasses, giving them a way of seeing something they didn’t even realize they weren’t seeing.”

The good news is that the last course of treatment seemed to have been working.  Doctors injected her lungs with a virus known as a phage (eater) that seemed to have been helping.  Since her death, two patients have been helped by this drug.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Women & Spinning

When Adam delved and Eve span,
Who was then the gentleman?

This little poem and political commentary goes back to the Peasants' Revolt in England in 1381.

The words reflect the typical division of labor then and also from an even earlier time in history: men dug in the fields and women spun thread from wool, flax, or cotton.  Of course, further back in time, everyone foraged for food and tried to catch small animals. Then both men and women tilled the soil and kept domestic animals; in some cultures today, women do the farming.

But historically and in literature and art, spinning loose wool or flax or cotton into thread was associated with women.  

For me, a day honoring or remembering women has to go back into history, remembering common women as well as women with special achievements.  Today is International Women's Day, so let's look at how so many women spent their time.

Before there was a spinning wheel, women held a spinner in their right hand and twirled it to wrap the loose fibers into thread.  First a woman wrapped the loose wool or flax around a staff and tied it in place.  Resting the staff in the crook of her left arm, she pulled a little wool out with her left hand and twirled it into thread using the spinner, held by her right hand.  The staff with the wool or flax tied around it was called the distaff,  Sometimes the spinner was suspended from the wrist. Then spinning wheels were invented.

Women made thread in the evenings or in any spare time.  My mother's Finnish grandmother always knitted or mended socks in the evenings, another type of women's work from an early time.  My mother's other grandmother sewed beautifully on her Singer sewing machine.  My father's sisters crocheted. 

Spinning and women were so closely associated that the word distaff came to refer to women, as in "the distaff side of the family" (the mother's side of one's family ancestry).  Also in art and literature there are many references to spinning and the distaff as symbols of women, as in the little poem above. 

I cannot imagine needing to spend hours per day spinning to make thread or yarn.  My sister-in-law enjoys spinning on a modern Louet double-thread spinning wheel and then knitting with her homespun yarn.  I bought a Louet and hope to learn to spin someday, just to know what women's lives were like in days of yore, but there are other demands for my time, even in retirement. Those foremothers didn't have to keep up with their email.

As a child, I was fascinated with the spinning wheel on which Sleeping Beauty pricked her finger.  But I did a search on it today and found out that it's nearly impossible to prick your finger on a spinning wheel or a distaff.  The spindle, however, is much smaller and pricking a finger on it is "a common occurrence," according to Abby Franquemont, who works with fibers.  Abby learned spinning during her early childhood years in Peru, where her hippie parents had moved to learn about the local culture.  

She writes on Quora that there's another theory about how Aurora (aka Rose) pricked her finger:

Some believe she may have had a sliver of vegetable matter or flax pierce her finger, and then handled unclean fibers, from which she may have contracted a disease which rendered her comatose for a time.

Sheesh!  What a theory.  Abby notes that the Sleeping Beauty legend predates spinning wheels; thus a spindle was probably the cause of that prick and Rose's long sleep.

Ten years ago I came across an old spinning wheel in an antique store near Bakersfield, California.  I had to buy this symbol of women and their work.  It turned out that its spindle is fashioned from a corn cob.  Around the spindle is wrapped a lot of white thread, whether spun or not, I don't know.  But the spinning wheel must have belonged to a very poor woman, one who used a corn cob for a spindle.  Perhaps she was one of those who fled Oklahoma for California during the Dust Bowl years (as in The Grapes of Wrath).

I expected to learn to use the spinning wheel, but a spinning wheel repairman in Hesperus, Colorado, assured me that it was too old and broken to bring back into service.  I ended up buying a Louet from him.

Now I should resell the spinning wheel or give it away as I try to reduce my worldly possessions in the last decade or two of my life.  

I loaded it into the back of my car to take to the Salvation Army (who probably don't want it) or an  antique shop in Los Angeles (how to find one? and would the owner even take it?).  

Two days ago, however, I brought it back into the house.  

I love things that bring me face to face with the past, both the life of a poor woman in the 1930s and the ways women lived their lives hundreds of years ago.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Enslaved in Sex Work, Far from Home

For International Women's Day, let's remember women from one nation who are trapped and transported to another nation to service men sexually.

One such woman is described in the opening paragraph of a report by Frances Robles, Patricia Mazzei, and Nicholas Kulish on the front page of last Sunday's New York Times:

She was 49, a recent immigrant and deeply in debt to a loan shark back home in China when she answered an employment ad three years ago that promised thousands of dollars a month, but offered no job description. She realized too late that she had been tricked into working at a massage parlor in Flushing, Queens, where besides kneading backs, she was expected to sexually service up to a dozen men a day.

This woman's story is heart-breaking.  She endures violence, her payment is sometimes taken from her by a client, her passport has been taken from her, and she can't report these things to police because she is considered an illegal immigrant.

She is trapped by her gender, her economic class, her nationality, her race, and her mistake of answering a too-good-to-be-true ad.  Who knows what problems caused her to be alone and in debt in her mid-forties in China?

This is what International Women's Day is all about--women's lives where many factors combine to trap them.  Looking at many factors that affect a woman's life is called intersectional feminism.

Thank you to these reporters and to the NY Times for bringing their plight to our attention.

And let's give credit also to Robert K. Kraft and those who arrested him at an illicit massage parlor in Florida.  

Buddy, your exploitation of these women has now hurt you.  May women be freed as a result, and may you go to jail and lose your silly football team. 

But there's another problem: women who exploit women. Here's the report from the Miami Herald Wednesday as summed up by Deadspin:

Li Yang, the 45-year-old woman who founded the massage parlor where Patriots owner Robert Kraft is alleged to have solicited prostitution, watched this year’s Super Bowl at a party hosted by Donald Trump.

Li Yang, former owner of Orchids of Asia, needs to go to jail too.  And we need to get dt out of the White House and into jail.