Monday, March 5, 2012
New Fresco Tortillas III/Chinese Restaurant, 63 Reade Street, is an example of what I wrote about on May 5, 2011, the cross-pollination of cuisines in New York, specifically Mexican-Chinese. See also http://www.nytimes.com/1997/02/02/nyregion/where-east-meets-tex-mex.html. The menu gives about equal space to each. I ordered Chinese, of necessity, chicken with black bean sauce ($4.99), which came with white rice. The place is dreary, a square room with a handful of tables, most orders for take-out. The food was prepared to order, with pea pods, celery and mushrooms with thin pieces of white meat chicken in a bland sauce. This food should be served near a high school. I’ll return, but only to try the Mexican. By the way, as with the other Mexican-Chinese restaurants, all the help are Chinese.
Tuesday, March 6, 2012
This evening, at the Skirball Center for Adult Jewish Learning, Professor Deborah Lipstadt spoke thoughtfully on the role of the United States government and US Jewish leadership in (not) saving the Jews of Europe before and during WWII. She criticized the positions of both those who insist that millions of Jews could have been saved/rescued by relatively slight efforts by the US government and American Jewish leadership, and those, mostly Franklin D. Roosevelt hagiographers, such as Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., who claim that all was done that could have been done.
I do not see this as one seamless issue. After all, it covers 12 years, several continents, dozens of countries and regimes, and millions of people. Instead, I suggest that it breaks down into three time periods, containing both discrete and common elements: I - 1933 to 1939, the rise of Naziism; II - 1939-1944, the height of Naziism; 1944 - 1945, the fall of Naziism. The opportunities and possibilities of saving European Jews were dramatically different in each period. Please forgive the staccato fashion in which I present my thoughts.
I - The rise of Naziism was greeted with disbelief in much of Europe and the US. Hitler’s behavior and ideas were seen as too bizarre to really succeed in such an advanced, civilized country as Germany. Until 1939, only Germany and Austria were under Nazi rule and their Jews were probably the most assimilated, cultured and educated jews in Europe, and, thus, while repelled and victimized by state-sponsored anti-Semitism, they usually felt strong ties to their nation, making it unlikely for them to move away. Eastern European Jews, from Russia, Poland, the Ukraine and the Baltic area, were generally less cosmopolitan, more tribal, and less educated than German/Austrian Jews, as well as those from France and the Low Countries. Many Eastern European Jews held strong traditional ties to their rabbis who did not perceive a threat or dismissed it. European Jews, long exposed to anti-Semitism, may have not recognized Naziism as a greater threat than that which preceded it.
The US long harbored xenophobic attitudes, but apparently in response to the mass immigration of Eastern European Jews in the first decades of the Twentieth Century, anti-Semitism strongly increased. Even if ethnic prejudice were absent, many Americans were not ready to accept an inflow of foreigners while unemployment plagued the decade. Henry Ford published the Dearborn Independent from 1920 to 1927, constantly promoting anti-Semitism along with anti-labor, anti-liquor and anti-immigrant views. Father Charles Coughlin, a Roman Catholic priest based in Royal Oaks, Michigan, had a weekly national radio broadcast, with an estimated audience of 30 million or more, during the 1930s. In 1934, after beginning as a supporter of Roosevelt and the New Deal, Coughlin espoused a pseudo-populist program that became overtly anti-Semitic. As late as 1938, his broadcasts were being carried by WMCA (later home to Barry Gray, Murray the K, Scott Muni and the “Good Guys”) and WINS in New York City. When Father Coughlin rationalized Kristallnacht as “Jewish persecution only followed after Christians first were persecuted [in the Soviet Union],” he fell into decline, but he continued broadcasting until September 1940 and publishing his newspaper Social Justice until May 1942.
Jewish immigrants, even fleeing Naziism, were not provided an open door to the US. Cf. the voyage of the St. Louis, a German transatlantic liner that sailed from Hamburg on May 13, 1939, with 937 passengers, almost all Jews from Germany and Austria. After the Jewish passengers were denied entry into Cuba and the US, in spite of pending US visa applications, it eventually returned them to Antwerp on June 6, 1939. At one point, the ship reputedly sailed close enough to the Florida coastline that passengers could see the lights of Miami. 288 Jewish passengers were fortunate enough to be allowed to enter Great Britain, and all but one, killed in an air raid, survived the war. Of the 640 passengers who returned to the European continent, 87 left before Germany invaded; 254 died in the Holocaust, almost exactly divided among France, Belgium and Holland; and 278 survived.
Even where anti-Semitism did not guide our immigration policies, the quota restrictions in the Immigration Bill of 1924, which limited immigration to 2% of the number of people from that country who were already living in the US in 1890, kept out Jews and most others without ancestors in or around the British Isles. When a bill was introduced in Congress in 1939 to allow 20,000 German Jewish children into the US, outside the established quotas, it died in committee. An oft-repeated anecdote about the bill concerns Mrs. James Houghteling, wife of the commissioner of immigration and Roosevelt’s cousin. She was reputedly heard to say, at a cocktail party, “that 20,000 [Jewish] children would all too soon grow up into 20,000 ugly adults.” At the same time, Great Britain conducted the Kindertransport program, which brought 10,000 German Jewish children into the country.
In sum, psychology, ideology, prejudice, law and inertia kept Europe's Jews generally in harm's way. As the period proceeded and Nazi anti-Semitism turned increasingly violent, US law and prejudice translated into a failure of will that trapped German and Austrian Jews, even as the peril became fully exposed.
II - During the height of Naziism, Germany occupied or controlled almost all of Western Europe and a large portion of Eastern Europe, deep into Russia. The Wannsee Conference in January 1942 set the official policy of deporting Jews from Western Europe to Eastern Europe, using the fit ones for harsh labor. The minutes never mentioned killing Jews, but Reinhard Heydrich, newly-appointed as chief executor of the Final Solution to the Jewish Question, spoke of the fate of the “possible final remnant [which] will, since it will undoubtedly consist of the most resistant portion, have to be treated accordingly, because it is the product of natural selection and would, if released, act as the seed of a new Jewish revival.”
Gas chambers in concentration camps became fully operational in January 1942. Until then, machine-gunning was the typical method for wholesale killing of Jews in Eastern Europe which they densely populated, although mobile gas vans were used in Poland in late 1941 on Gypsies as well as Jews. On June 30, 1942, the New York Times, repeating information from a London newspaper, reported that over 1 million Jews had already been killed by the Nazis.
The numbers grew, of course, as the Nazis expanded their control and domination over Europe. The Red Army was always situated in Europe, but it was pushed far back to Moscow as the Germans advanced over 1,000 miles eastward from home. By late 1943, Russia stopped the advance of the Nazis and began pushing back. US and British troops did not set foot on the continent until September 3, 1943 when they invaded the toe of Italy. They arrived in Rome on June 4, 1944, only two days before the massive invasion at Normandy. These successes were too late for most European Jews. Der Stürmer, the Nazi propaganda paper, wrote on November 4, 1943: “It is actually true that the Jews have, so to speak, disappeared from Europe and that the Jewish ‘Reservoir of the East’ from which the Jewish pestilence has for centuries beset the peoples of Europe has ceased to exist.” With the exception of Hungary, this was undoubtedly true.
To make it simple, let’s suppose that Hitler announced on January 1, 1942, when most European Jews remained alive, that they were free to leave; German troops and police would not interfere or impede their free movement for ________________(pick a time period). Where would they go and how would they get there? With the exception of the generous Swedes who accepted about 7,200 Danish Jews fleeing by boat in October 1943, there was not an inch of benign territory in Europe. What would it take to move millions of Jews to coast lines where they could depart for where? How about the Moon? Great Britain, in spite of a long history of anti-Semitism, was far more welcoming to Jews than the US before the start of the war. It accepted about 90,000 Jews until 1938, when it halted such immigration, and 10,000 Jewish children in the Kindertransport program after Kristallnacht. However, it literally fought to keep Jews out of Palestine from 1939 to 1948. Additionally, at the start of the war, the British interned 74,000 German, Austrian and Italian citizens, many Jewish and mostly refugees from Naziism and Fascism, as enemy aliens. Fortunately, most were released within six months.
Where was hope? I believe that, as the Roosevelt champions insist, the only hope for European Jews during the height of Nazi power was an Allied victory over the Nazis which would bring the slaughter to an end. Civilian thoughts, deeds, words and prayers (in any language) were useless, although one voice that might have made a difference remained silent in the Vatican.
III – What I’ve always found remarkable about the closing days of the war in Europe is how, even as Soviet troops moved westward and US-led troops moved eastward into Germany, the Nazis willingly committed so much human and material resources to the destruction of the Jews. By D-Day, June 6, 1944, most of Eastern European Jewry was gone. Western European Jewish communities were fragmented, some heavily decimated, others starved, impoverished, displaced. Only Hungarian Jews, estimated at about 750,000, including those in nearby Hungarian-ruled areas, remained as a viable community as a result of the détente between Hitler and Admiral Horthy, the right-wing regent of Hungary. When the Germans invaded Hungary on March 19, 1944, the repression and hardships of the anti-Semitic Horthy regime was replaced by the sadistic cruelty of the Nazis.
Deportations from Hungary began in May 1944, originally from outlying areas. According to Martin Gilbert, the prolific British historian, more than 250,000 Hungarian Jews were deported to Auschwitz by June 2, 1944. About the same time, authoritative information about the character and operation of Auschwitz was received, or finally acknowledged by US policymakers. Rescue of the hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews in, on the way to or soon to be sent to Auschwitz was impossible, for the same logistical reasons that controlled the previous historic period when Naziism reached its peak. However, many of these Jews might have been saved from immediate extermination had the camp, or at least the rail lines leading to it, been destroyed, even at the cost of lives by the bombing. Auschwitz, actually a large complex of three camps, was bordered by important industrial facilities including oil refineries, positioned to take advantage of slave labor. Bombing of these facilities began as early as April 1944 by British and American air forces, but the nature of the adjacent camps was apparently unknown to military planners that early.
However, in June 1944, American Jewish leaders, certain of the character of Auschwitz, unsuccessfully appealed to the US War Department to bomb the rail lines. Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy, later a fixture in American foreign policy-making, killed the request, harkening back to a decision by the US Air Force earlier in the year not to bomb anything for the purposes of rescuing victims of enemy oppression, but to concentrate on military targets. Gilbert maintains that Winston Churchill was an active proponent of bombing Auschwitz, only to see his enthusiasm vitiated by British civil servants. When persistent Jewish voices continued to call for bombing Auschwitz over the next several months, McCloy and members of the British Foreign Office deflected the idea. There was ambiguity among world Jewish leaders, as well. The Jewish Agency, the precursor of the government of Israel, chaired by David Ben Gurion, decided on June 11, 1944 to not ask the Allies to bomb places where there were Jews, specifically referencing Auschwitz. But, one month later, it called for such bombing because it would refute Nazi propaganda that the Allies did not object to the murder of Jews, it would recognize the fact of mass extermination, it would raise the threat of reprisals against Nazi murderers, and it might arouse internal pressure against continuing the killing of Jews.
In the end, most sources agree that about 450,000 Hungarian Jews were killed, a majority probably by the end of the Summer of 1944 at Auschwitz. By then, Allied bombers were crossing the skies of Poland regularly on bombing runs to a variety of military targets, some at or near Auschwitz. However, the camp or its feeder rail lines were never deemed a worthy target, although that would have disrupted the Nazis' killing routine and kept some Jews alive until the arrival of Soviet troops who got to the suburbs of Budapest in early November 1944. Auschwitz itself was liberated by the Red Army on January 27, 1945. In anticipation of the fall of Auschwitz, the Nazis marched nearly 60,000 mostly Jewish prisoners away to the west. The cold weather, starvation, exposure and shootings are estimated to have killed more than 15,000 of these prisoners. Enough was never enough, it seems, to the Nazis where Jews were concerned.
Anti-Semitism among some key American and British policymakers, a paucity of information for others, combined with some inconsistency by leading Jewish figures probably cost tens of thousands of lives at this late stage of the war, the last chance to save Jews in any number. Logistics were not the primary obstacle to safety for these remaining Jews, as they had been for the Jews of 1939-1944. These Hungarian Jews merely needed to be left alone, kept out of the concentration camps. With the progress of the Red Army to the East, the American and British forces into France and Italy, every day staying alive accelerated the prospect of surviving the war. In Gilbert's book Auschwitz and the Allies, he quotes several former Jewish concentration camp prisoners' willingness to die by Allied bombings because of the likelihood that Nazi war efforts would also suffer as Jewish lives were lost.
Wednesday, March 7, 2012
On August 11, 2010, I went to Shanghai Asian Manor, 21 Mott Street, and found that the “scallion pancake was near-perfect.” The price has gone up 25¢ to $2.50, but it is still wonderful today.
Thursday, March 8, 2012
I have eaten in Pakistan Tea House, 176 Church Street, more often than any other restaurant in the last 10 years even though I haven’t been in there for over two years. While I was working in the small courthouse at 71Thomas Street for more than seven years, I ate at Pakistan Tea House almost weekly. Until now, though, I’ve kept it off my list. Today, I ventured to across town and ate lunch there. I had what was my usual choice, chicken biryani with a naan, Diet Pepsi chaser ($11). I think this is a one dollar increase. The portion was enormous, which only served to highlight the scarcity of chicken in the dish, five small pieces, two mostly bone. It all tasted good, however, and I received a friendly greeting from one woman behind the counter who knows that I am not a nuclear weapons inspector.