Opera about Holocaust in New York City


This video from the USA is called Houston Grand Opera’s “The Passenger“.

The Passenger [Photo ©Stephanie Berger/Lincoln Center Festival]

By Fred Mazelis in the USA:

The Passenger depicts the Holocaust and its aftermath in opera form

25 July 2014

Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s 1968 opera The Passenger recently had its New York premiere as part of the annual Lincoln Center Festival. The performances showed that this challenging work, dealing with the Holocaust and its aftermath, deserves a permanent place in the operatic repertoire.

Weinberg, born in Warsaw in 1919, narrowly escaped the Nazi invasion of Poland, arriving in the Soviet Union before his 20th birthday. His parents and younger sister were sent to the Lodz Ghetto and later perished in a concentration camp. Weinberg, who lived the remaining 56 years of his life in the USSR, was a prolific composer of symphonies, string quartets, operas and film music. Among his film scores was that for the award-winning The Cranes Are Flying.

Mieczyslaw Weinberg

(Interestingly, one of Weinberg’s cousins, following the Russian Revolution, was the secretary of the Military Revolutionary Committee of the Baku Soviet commune and was executed by counterrevolutionary forces in September 1918 along with the other 26 Baku commissars.)

In eight scenes over two acts, The Passenger tells the story of a prosperous German couple in the early 1960s, Liese and Walter, who have embarked on an ocean voyage to Brazil, where the husband, a West German diplomat, is to take up a new post.

The Passenger [Photo ©Stephanie Berger/Lincoln Center Festival]

In the midst of what should be a time of satisfaction and happy anticipation, however, Liese observes a mysterious passenger onboard, and becomes convinced that this is in fact Marta, who as a young Polish woman was an inmate of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Liese was an Auschwitz guard, something she has tried to leave behind and suppress psychologically, and has never even spoken about to her husband.

The opera, with a libretto by Alexander Medvedev and music by Weinberg, then compellingly develops the theme of the Holocaust and its aftermath. The action takes place on two levels, both in its staging and in its time frame. The upper level is the ship itself, including Liese and Walter’s private cabin. Stairs lead to a lower level, the concentration camp barracks and the railroad tracks leading to the camp. The scenes alternate, forcefully depicting the memories that increasingly haunt Liese as the story progresses.

We are soon introduced to Marta as a young concentration camp inmate. Her fellow prisoners include Tadeusz, Marta’s beloved, whom she finds after a separation of two years. Liese is the only character that appears on both levels of the opera, with the events of nearly 20 years earlier clearly seared into her memory. In her role as a camp guard, she threatens and taunts the prisoners, and in particular tries to take advantage of Marta and Tadeusz’s relationship for her own purposes.

The work explores the issue of the aftermath of the Holocaust, for both victims and perpetrators. The Passenger is set in the early 1960s, in the midst of the postwar economic boom in Germany, and also in the shadow of the Eichmann trial in Israel, which brought the issue of the Holocaust and its architects before a new generation of Germans as well as to a global audience. A generation of young people in Germany, as elsewhere, were radicalized by the war in Vietnam in particular as the 1960s unfolded and attempted to come to terms as well with their own traumatic national history. This was the period that saw the publication of some of the best-known novels of German writers such as Günter Grass and Heinrich Böll, as well as the first films of Rainer Maria Fassbinder, Volker Schlöndorff and others.

The Passenger [Photo ©Stephanie Berger/Lincoln Center Festival]

The historical issues are deliberately not spelled out in The Passenger. The story is presented without even settling the issue of whether the mysterious woman is in fact Marta, or perhaps only the vivid reflection of Liese’s guilty conscience.

The opera also does not portray Liese as a kind of stand-in for Germany as a whole, a symbol of collective guilt. It does, however, show the impossibility of ignoring the past. It raises the inevitable issues of the causes of the descent into barbarism. The portrayal of both the younger and middle-aged Liese suggests the self-satisfied layer of the middle class that finds itself, under definite social and political conditions, capable of the most monstrous crimes.

The opera is based on a novel by a Polish concentration camp survivor, Zofia Posmysz. Posmysz, alive and well at the age of 90, has been involved in the belated production of the opera, and appeared at the New York premiere.

Arrested as a young girl because of an association with an anti-Nazi group, Posmysz spent three years as a prisoner. Some years later, as a journalist on assignment in Paris, she thought she saw someone who had been a guard at Auschwitz. This episode led first to a radio play, which was later turned into a novel, in which the relationship is reversed, with a conscience-stricken former guard believing she has glimpsed a former inmate.

The novel became enormously popular in Poland. This was a time of political ferment following the working class protests in Poznan in 1956. The book was turned into a film— Passenger (1963)—by the talented young Polish director Andrzej Munk (Man on the Tracks, 1956), completed by colleagues after Munk’s untimely death in an auto accident in 1961. Somewhat later, Weinberg’s close friend and colleague Dmitri Shostakovich urged him to consider a project based on the novel.

Weinberg’s music is impressive, as we have had occasion to note in the past. It reflects his lifelong association with Shostakovich, whom he first met in 1943, when he was only 23 years old and Shostakovich himself was 13 years older. Highly dissonant at times, the score remains tonal and emotionally involving. The composer is especially effective in combining and alternating several styles while still adhering to a distinctive musical language.

The influence of Shostakovich is clear, but the music is not derivative. Weinberg depicts the growing apprehension and panic of Liese, the concern of her husband for his career prospects, and above all the suffering and heroism of the prisoners. The music is at times anguished, jazz-influenced in its depiction of some of the shipboard activities, and briefly but strongly lyrical in the reunion of Marta and Tadeusz.

If there is one major weakness, it is in the vocal writing itself. In an opera, this is of course an issue that can’t be overlooked. There were times, especially in the opera’s first act, when an emphasis on orchestral writing, and an imbalance between the orchestra and performers, tended to detract from the dramatic action. The second act was more affecting, especially the exchanges between Marta, Tadeusz and Liese.

Both Marta and Tadeusz resist Liese’s attempts to enlist their cooperation, even though it will mean their deaths. A high point of this act, and the climax of the entire opera, comes when Tadeusz, a violinist, is commanded to play the camp commandant’s favorite waltz, and instead defiantly performs the famous Bach Chaconne from the Second Partita for Violin, before being led off to his death.

Weinberg’s orchestration is masterful. Strings and winds are joined by powerful writing for the brass section, and above all, a percussion section that includes almost every imaginable instrument, including timpani, triangle, tambourine, whip, cymbals, bass drum, tam-tam, marimba, vibraphone, xylophone, bells and glockenspiel.

The Houston Grand Opera production was also striking. Director David Pountney was responsible for the English translation of the libretto. The opera, originally presented in Austria in 2010, was staged in Houston last winter, and it is the Houston production, including the orchestra under Patrick Summers, that was brought to New York for three performances. The opera was first presented in Moscow in concert version in 2006, nearly 40 years after it was written.

The New York performances took place in the historic Park Avenue Armory, in a building dating to 1880 and for decades the headquarters of the 7th New York Militia Regiment, which had fought in the Civil War. The huge vaulted space of the Drill Hall, at the center of this building, is a music venue unlike any other in New York. The size of the space made some amplification of the voices necessary, a rare occurrence in the opera world. In this case it was carried off in so understated and effective a fashion that some listeners would not even have been aware of it. Although the opera was sung in English, the use of supertitles was also effective, as was the unusual placement of the orchestra, to the side of the two-tiered set.

The singers were uniformly excellent, particularly soprano Melody Moore as Marta. Tadeusz was sung by Morgan Smith, Katya by Kelly Kaduce, Liese by mezzo soprano Michelle Breedt and Walter by tenor Joseph Kaiser.

Mieczyslaw Weinberg is one of the “lost composers” of the twentieth century. Strictly speaking, he is not of the generation that came of age musically between the imperialist world wars, or whose career was interrupted by the rise of fascism during those decades, including some promising composers who perished in the Holocaust. Although Weinberg was younger and had a full musical career, the environment in which he worked was shaped by the tragedies of this era.

In connection with the belated appearance of The Passenger, little has been said about why it languished in obscurity for decades. Shostakovich was enormously taken by the work, but for reasons that were not spelled out, it was not staged, although many other works of Weinberg were regularly performed in the Soviet Union.

The Stalinist regime, which still used a heavy hand in cultural matters in this period, may have decided that an opera that focused on concentration camps and dealt with Polish victims did not mesh with its own continuous efforts to build up nationalist feelings. The authorities decreed that emphasis had always to be placed on the Russian and Soviet toll in the war, which of course was massive, to the exclusion of others. It was for this reason that Shostakovich encountered such official opposition to his 13th Symphony, subtitled “Babi Yar,” dedicated to the Jewish victims of Nazi extermination at this site in Kiev.

Weinberg’s life was shaped in no small part by horrific Nazi barbarism on the one hand, and the Stalinist degeneration of the Russian Revolution on the other. While he and many others found refuge in the Soviet Union, they also confronted the regime of the counterrevolutionary bureaucracy, which used anti-Semitism for its own purposes.

Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the USA


This video is called Footage of Saudi military convoy entering Bahrain.

From the Belfast Telegraph in Ireland:

All religions are suffering in the Middle East mess

By Eamonn McCann – 23 July 2014

In March 2011, Saudi Arabian tanks rolled into Bahrain to put down a pro-democracy movement demanding fair elections, freedom of speech and an end to imprisonment without trial.

The Saudis made short work of unarmed demonstrators gathered at the Pearl Roundabout in the centre of the capital, Manama. An unknown number was killed. Hundreds of injured were ferried to hospitals. Reporters described heavily-armed masked men controlling the entrances and dragging away people arriving by car or ambulance.

Twenty doctors were arrested for “felonies”, including treating the injured, and “treasonous activities”, including giving interviews criticising the crackdown. In September 2012, nine doctors were sentenced by a military tribunal to terms of up to five years.

More than 1,000 workers were sacked and many jailed for trying to form trade unions.

Protests were mounted outside Saudi and Bahraini embassies in many capital cities. A delegation from the International Federation of Journalists tried to hand in a petition to the Bahrain embassy in Brussels protesting against the imprisonment of Bahraini journalists, only to have the door literally slammed in their faces.

A rally at Marble Arch in London marking the second anniversary of the Manama massacre was addressed by exiled members of the Bahraini opposition and spokespersons for the Stop the War Coalition and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. There was no representation from those who have been choking social media, complaining that opponents of the ethnic cleansing and slaughter of Palestinians do not apply the same standards to Muslim countries which deny democracy as are applied to Israel.

Most of the repressive Muslim-majority States – the Saudis, the Jordanians, the Egyptians, etc – are in the pro-Western, pro-Israeli camp.

‘Pro-Israeli’ is an ambiguous word here. These repressive governments may often have policies compatible with those of the government of Israel (and the USA, and other NATO countries).

Meanwhile, they are often ‘anti-Israel’: not in the sense of legitimately criticizing Israeli government actions, but in promoting anti-Semitism: hatred of all Jews, not only in Israel but all over the world, pro-Israeli government, anti-Israeli government or undecided.

When a Dutch journalist arrived at his hotel room in the ‘moderate’ ‘pro-western’ Kingdom of Jordan, he found next to his bed on the nightstand a copy of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This is an infamous nineteenth century anti-Semitic forgery, not against the government of Israel which did not exist, not against Zionism, but against all Jews. Among its promoters were the government of Czarist Russia, United States cars millionaire Henry Ford, and nazi Germany.

In pro-Western Saudi Arabia, the royal government promotes the Protocols.

So did another pro-Western monarch, the late Shah of Iran. During his reign, an Iranian translation of the Protocols was published. In an interview, the Shah expressed his belief in a ‘Jewish conspiracy’.

Throughout the Bahrain events, neither the US nor any of its allies did anything more than mumble. The reason is plain: Bahrain is an oil-rich state, it houses the headquarters of the US Fifth Fleet which patrols the Gulf on 24-hour alert for any indication of challenge to US client states, and is an increasingly important hub for global finance.

In November 1990, President George HW Bush and his wife, Barbara, travelled to Saudi Arabia with a clutch of Congressional leaders to celebrate Thanksgiving with the 400,000 US troops then stationed in the country. When the Saudi authorities learned that the president intended to say grace before the Thanksgiving dinner, they told him there’d be none of that Christian nonsense here.

Bahrain punishes pro-democracy group for meeting with US representatives: here.

Anti-Semitic violence in Belfast condemned


This video is called Belfast Synagogue.

From the Sinn Fein site in Ireland:

Kelly condemns synagogue attacks

21 July, 2014 – by Gerry Kelly

Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly has condemned outright an attack on a synagogue in north Belfast.

Speaking after windows at the synagogue on Somerton Road were smashed at the weekend, the North Belfast MLA said:

“I condemn outright this attack on the synagogue on Somerton Road.

“There can be no place for attacks on any place of worship, regardless of the religion or denomination.

“The local Jewish community makes a valuable contribution to our society and there is no justification for hate crimes.

“If anyone has any information on these attacks then they should contact the PSNI.”

Hitler’s ‘most beautiful Aryan baby’ was Jewish


This video is called Jewish Survivor Hessy Taft on being the “Aryan poster child.”

By Scott Kaufman in the USA:

Winner of Nazi 1935 ‘most beautiful Aryan baby’ contest revealed to be Jewish

Wednesday, July 2, 2014 9:40 EDT

The winner of a contest in Nazi Germany to find the most beautiful Aryan baby was recently revealed to have been Jewish, the Telegraph reported today.

Last weekend, Hessy Taft presented the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Israel with copies of the Nazi family magazine Sonne ins Hause that featured an image of her as an infant on the cover.

The image was allegedly selected by Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels himself, after it had been submitted by a well-known Berlin photographer, Hans Ballin.

Taft said that her parents, Jacob and Pauline Levinsons, had ordered the portrait in 1935, as anti-Semitic tensions in the city rose. Her father had been an opera singer, but had to work as a traveling salesman after the Nazis came to power.

Her mother was terrified when she discovered her daughter’s face on the cover of the Nazi family magazine. When she approached Ballin, the photographer told her that he knew the family was Jewish, and that he had submitted the photograph because of that fact.

“I wanted to make the Nazis ridiculous,” the photographer told Taft’s mother.

The photograph appeared not only on the cover of Sonne ins Hause, but on postcards used throughout the Third Reich as well. The Nazis never discovered the true identity of their poster child, but they did arrest Taft’s father in 1938.

With the help of a friend, he was released shortly thereafter, then embarked on a path out of Nazi Germany that eventually landed the family in the United States in 1949.

When she presented the portrait to Yad Vashem, Taft acknowledged that “I feel a little revenge — something like satisfaction.”

Greek anti-Semite vandalizes Holocaust monument


Desecration of the Holocaust memorial in Athens, June 2014. Photo credit: Monis Halegoua

From Against antisemitism blog in Greece:

Desecration of the Holocaust Memorial in Athens

29/06/2014 / DiKra

A vandal desecrated the Holocaust Memorial in Athens last Friday (27/06). The vandal quoted the antisemitic book “The Talmud unmasked”. Specifically, the passage reads: “The Talmud article Hilkhoth Akum (2,X) [sic] says: Baptized Jews are to be put to death”. A peculiar threat against the synagogue follows but its meaning is rather obscure. The text seems to have been signed by a well-known convicted murderer, Mattheos Monselas, who lives as homeless in the surrounding area. The desecration has not been reported until now in any Greek media.

Berlin: Antisemitism in Greece: Past and Present Trajectories Conference July 7th/8th: here.

Greek Golden Dawn MP appears in court as more photos of party No. 2 emerge: here.

Greek bigot becomes government minster


This video is called Golden Dawn‘s overt antisemitism: Greek Far Right party aims slurs at AJC’s David Harris.

From the Jerusalem Post in Israel:

Greek Jews criticize selection of ‘xenophobic’ politician as minister

By SAM SOKOL

06/16/2014 02:41

MP Makis Voridis has a history of membership in ultra-nationalist parties.

The Greek Jewish community expressed “strong resentment” at the appointment of MP Makis Voridis as health minister last week, implying the move was indicative of the government’s failure to act against anti-Semitism. Greece was ranked the most anti-Semitic country outside of the Middle East and North Africa by a recent Anti-Defamation League (ADL) global survey.

Voridis has a history of membership in ultra-nationalist parties. He was one of several members of the populist, nationalistic Popular Orthodox Rally faction who joined the ruling New Democracy party two years ago. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras was criticized for welcoming the nationalists and was accused of pandering to the far right in a bid to stem the loss of votes to the allegedly neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, which emerged as the third-largest party in Greece.

Samaras maintains that those who joined New Democracy have committed to abide by party policy, which condemns anti-Semitism and racism.

Voridis has since written to the Jewish community, expressing his opposition to Holocaust denial and his commitment to “putting an end to anti-Semitic, racist prejudice which is an outright violation of human dignity.”

In a statement on its website, the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece castigated Voridis as someone who had “expressed xenophobic and intolerant views in the past and – until a couple of years ago – had been an executive member of a party that had repeatedly endorsed racist and extreme anti-Semitic views.”

“It is our firm belief that participation in the government should not be used to obliterate the political course of a politician whose attitude and ideology have afflicted democracy,” the group asserted. “The goal should be to send a strong message of brave and determined attitude, leaving no space for misinterpretations and short-term political expediency, to build a solid, firm and effective front against racism, intolerance, anti-Semitism, and the followers of Nazism.”

“Given the alarming results of the recent elections in Greece, which indicate that the policy and efforts undertaken so far by the government to combat these phenomena have proved insufficient, we express the hope that such efforts will be significantly enhanced.”

Speaking with Greek newspaper Kathimerini, ADL national director Abraham Foxman said that he was “saddened and concerned by the appointment of Makis Voridis as Health Minister” and that he believed the appointment undermined Samaras’s fight against anti-Semitism.

‘Ef. Syn’ brings to light a series of photographic documents which certify the relation between Golden Dawn members and Nazism. We have had enough of hearing Golden Dawn denying strenuously any relation to Nazism and assuring at all times they are nothing but genuine Greek patriots, simply nationalists: here.

Polish workers at anti-fascist music festival in London


This punk rock music video from England is called Clash – Live at Rock Against Racism, Victoria Park, London – 30 April 1978.

By Luke James in Britain:

Unite Against Fascism organises festival at stabbing site

Saturday 28th June 2014

A COMMUNITY music festival is to be staged today at the site of a racist stabbing in north London amid concerns over reprisals.

Unite Against Fascism (UAF) organised the cultural event at Markfield Park in Tottenham, where a mass brawl was sparked last Saturday when Polish skinheads attacked another free musical event.

But the community is coming together to reclaim the park from the gang, which has used it as a recruiting ground in recent months.

Speaking ahead of the festival, factory worker Jacek Szymanski said the Polish community felt “angry and ashamed” by last week’s violence.

“Ashamed because they are Poles and brought disgrace on the whole Polish community in London,” he told the Star.

“And angry because we are afraid that this case will be used as a pretext for further attacks on the Polish community and the wider eastern European community.”

The attack had seen one man rushed to hospital with stab wounds and two Jewish men also targeted, with one having his kipah cap swept from his head.

Rocks, bottles and a flare were thrown in violent scenes as partygoers repelled the attack by the Zjednoczeni Emigranci (Immigrants Together) group of exiled Polish football thugs.

The group has since plastered the community in far-right stickers that show a crossed out hammer and sickle symbol.

UAF national secretary Weymann Bennett said the police were investigating but added that “the most important thing is that the community deals with it on the ground.”

Mr Szymanski said the fascist group represented a tiny minority and hoped “solidarity will emerge between the different local communities” after today.

He said: “It’s not about division between Poles and British people or Poles and Muslims. The man who was stabbed by the fascists in Markfield Park was a Pole himself.

“So the real division is about fascists and anti-fascists and we need to be united in the common good.”

The festival is being put on after more than 200 local people joined a display of unity organised by UAF at Tottenham Town Hall on Monday.

Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in Britain


This video from England says about itself:

24 June 2014

Racist vandals have devastated a Jewish cemetery in north Manchester – knocking down memorials and painting swastikas on gravestones.

The sickening anti-Semitic attack was discovered at the site on Rochdale Road in Blackley yesterday afternoon.

Police were called to the scene at 3.40pm and found that a number of gravestones had been toppled over and others had been daubed with Nazi symbols and other racist graffiti.

Officers believe the graves were vandalised between 4pm on Sunday and 3.30pm yesterday.

By Peter Lazenby in Britain:

Anti-fascists demand arrests over racist mosque and Jewish cemetery attacks

Wednesday 25th June 2014

ANTI-FASCISTS urged police yesterday to come up with arrests over the increasing attacks by racists on mosques and on Jewish cemeteries.

In one of the most recent attacks nazi swastikas and other anti-semitic graffiti was daubed on gravestones in a Jewish cemetery in Manchester, with some memorials toppled.

Police believe the attack happened between 4pm on Saturday and 3.30pm on Sunday last weekend. The attack is the most recent in a series at the cemetery in Rochdale Road, Blackley in Manchester.

Greater Manchester Police Inspector Mike Reid described the latest attack as “a sickening and cruel act of racism.”

But Gerry Gable, editor of respected anti-fascist magazine Searchlight said: “When are police going to make arrests?”

He warned that neo-nazi activity was continuing particularly through the activities of the British Movement, which was founded by the late Colin Jordan, and the Britain First organisation.

“The British Movement has a youth group. They are using Jordan’s writings to change and brainwash kids,” he said.

“They are clearly encouraged by lack of police activity in dealing with a whole series of very nasty attacks up and down the country.”

He said police in London were provided with video and other evidence of neo-nazi activities by some groups, but “nothing happened.”

Inspector Reid in Manchester said: “Extra patrols will be in the area in the coming days both to act as a visible deterrent and provide a visible presence for any concerned residents, and we will work with our partner agencies to investigate the matter.”

America’s hold overwhelming contempt toward Atheists & Muslims — and here are the biggest haters: here.