Friday, May 17, 2019

Visiting the Munich Documentation Centre for the History of National Socialism: A Reflection

"National Socialism means: Enmity with neighboring nations, tyranny internally, civil war, world war, lies, hatred, fratricide and boundless want." - Dr.  Carl Albert Fritz Michael Gerlich, Der gerade Weg, 31 July 1932

Entrance to the Munich Documentation Centre for the History of National Socialism
This year marks 80 years since the outbreak of World War 2, and during a visit to Munich happened to find markers and plaques across the German city highlighting the rise of the National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, NSDAP; Nazi Party) , their criminal regime, and the continuing crimes by Nazis following the end of the Second World War.

For example outside of the Old City Hall in the historic heart of Munich the above plaque was prominently displayed along with an English translation that read:



Walking further came across an ominous marker that indicated that Nazi crimes did not end in 1945. The marker recognized in both German and English that "[t]heir unheeded suffering admonishes us to care. The deeds of right-wing extremists call for vigilance. Munich remembers the victims of the Oktoberfest Bomb Attack on 26 September 1980 and all those affected by it." Through a quick Google search learned that the marker had been placed there on September 4, 2018 and that 13 people had been killed and 219 wounded in the bombing.

The day before had toured the Alte Pinakothek, the old art museum, saw the old masters, and returned the following day to see impressionist painters at the newer museum, the Neue Pinakothek, which is just across the street and complements the old art museum, but found it was closed for reservations from December 31, 2018 until some time in 2020.

Walking back I happened upon the the Munich Documentation Centre for the History of National Socialism. This museum opened on May 1, 2015 with the objective of "education and remembrance documenting and addressing the crimes of the Nazi dictatorship and their origins, manifestations and consequences right up to the present day." 

Site in Munich were Nazis had their headquarters
It is one of those things that is known, but that one does not connect with an area best known for Oktoberfest, and the great culture and civilization of Bavaria. The Nazis first came into power in Munich, and had their main headquarters there.

Spent about four hours going through the different multi-media presentations beginning just after WWI all the way through to the present. It documents the violence, criminality and horror of the NAZI's and their skillful use of propaganda that dehumanized the other, especially Jewish people. 

Because it has a Munich focus it addresses the gathering there of Hitler, Italy's Mussolini, Britain's Chamberlain, and France's Daladier in 1938 and the agreement they all signed that met all of the German Fuhrer's demands and sealed the fate of  Czechoslovakia, but did not deter the oncoming war. 

However there was no mention of the 1939 Nazi-Soviet Pact that spurred on the war with the division of Poland in secret protocols between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia or the resistance of housewives in Berlin, who in 1943 went on strike and got their Jewish husbands back with a coordinated non-violent action.

Student Resistance: The White Rose
However many acts of resistance in Munich were featured including, The White Rose, a student resistance to the Nazis.  In the picture above three members of the movement are gathered: Hans Scholl, Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst on July 23, 1942. All three would be executed by the Nazis. Resistance to the Nazis began early.  Conservative journalist Dr.  Carl Albert Fritz Michael Gerlich campaigned against the Nazis early on (see his quote at the top of the page) was taken to the Dachau concentration camp in 1933 and murdered by the the Nazis in 1934.

The case of Johann Georg Elser is also highlighted in the museum. Elser was a 36-year-old carpenter from a small town in southern Germany who came close to assassinating Adolf Hitler on November 8, 1939. The carpenter's objective was to kill Hitler, Goering, and Goebbels. He planted a bomb with a timer where the three men would be while Hitler was making his annual speech at a Munich beer hall. Hitler and his delegation left earlier than planned. The bomb went off 13 minutes after the high-ranking Nazis left and eight were killed and 63 injured.

By Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-H25087 / Unknown / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de
Nearly five years later on July 20, 1944 the failure of another bomb to kill Hitler brought to an end a high level plot by civilian and military officials. The bomb went off and injured, but did not kill Hitler at the Wolf's Lair, a command post near Rastenburg, East Prussia (present-day Poland). The conspiracy was code named Operation Valkyrie. In the end 7,000 people were arrested, and 4,980 executed for their role in the plot.

However, what remains disturbing is that the man who broke up the conspiracy Otto-Ernst Remer (18 August 1912 – 4 October 1997) would go on to play a big role in post-Nazi Germany. Captured by the United States, he remained a prisoner of war until 1947. Following his release, he obtained funding from the Soviet Union and established the Socialist Reich Party in 1950 that worked with the Communist Party of Germany.  Campaign themes of the Socialist Reich Party included that the Holocaust was an allied propaganda invention, it accused the United States of building fake gas chambers and producing fake news-film footage about concentration camps, that the politics of the Allied-powers created West German state were merely a front for American domination, and that West Germany's puppet status of the United States should be opposed. 

(SRP) leaders; Chair Dr. Fritz Dorls, Otto Ernst Remer, 2nd Chair Fmr SS / Hitler Youth leader Count von Westarp.
The Socialist Reich Party was banned in 1952 and Otto-Ernst Remer fled to Egypt. He served as an advisor to Gamal Abdel Nasser, and worked with other Germans assisting Arab states with the development of their armed forces. He often met with Johannes von Leers. It is worth providing some background on von Leers.

Johannes von Leers had been Waffen SS in Nazi Germany, was also a professor known for his anti-Jewish polemics, and was an important ideologue of the Third Reich, serving as a high-ranking propaganda ministry official. He would offer these services to Nasser at the Egyptian Information Department and serve the Egyptian leader as an advisor. He also provided publishing services in Peron's Argentina. Johannes von Leers converted to Islam, took the name Omar Amin, and died in Egypt at age 63 in 1965. 

In the early 1960s Otto-Ernst Remer had contacts with and assisted Fidel Castro in Cuba with the purchase of weapons.

Otto-Ernst Remer returned to West Germany in the 1980s, and set up an organization entitled the "German Freedom Movement" (G.F.M.), which advocated the reunification of East and West Germany, and the removal of NATO military forces from West German soil. The G.F.M. was an umbrella organization for multiple underground Neo-Nazi splinter-groups, and Remer used it to influence a new generation of post-war born Germans. Until the end of his days he continued to engage in Holocaust denial, was an unrepentant Nazi and continued to promote and organize underground Neo-Nazi movements that continue to engage in acts of terror and murder to the present day.

It is also disturbing that Communist Russia allied with Nazi Germany in 1939 to start World War Two, and covertly promoted Nazi elements again in post-war Germany after 1945 in order to undermine West German democracy. Is Vladimir Putin carrying on today where Josef Stalin left off? How much of a role did and does Nazism play in exacerbating anti-Jewish sentiment in the Muslim world?

Visiting the Munich Documentation Centre for the History of National Socialism led me to take a closer look at Nazism past and present and its enablers. 

The words of Primo Levi from the The Drowned and the Saved in 1986 should cause us to be ever vigilant: "It happened, therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say. It can happen, and it can happen everywhere." 

Monday, May 13, 2019

Sins of the Republic: The M.S. St. Louis leaves Germany for Cuba on May 13, 1939

"God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever.” – Thomas Jefferson

SS St. Louis Havana Harbor May-June 1939

The M.S. St. Louis left Hamburg 80 years ago on May 13, 1939 with more than 900 Jewish passengers fleeing Nazi Germany only to be rejected entry by Cuba, the United States, and Canada. 

May 27 - June 6, 1939 spanned the period 80 years ago when corrupt Cuban officials extorted desperate Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany and then thanks to popular anti-immigrant fervor refused to grant them safe harbor leading the ship to try its luck with the United States, and Canada only to be denied and forced to return to Europe where many of the passengers would later perish in gas chambers of the holocaust.
Passengers on the MS St. Louis. - USHMM, courtesy of Dr. Liane Reif-Lehrer
Looking over the literature on this black spot in Cuban history there are a number of lessons to be learned that can be applied even today, and there is a need to apologize for a great wrong committed by the Cuban people against these 938 passengers aboard the M.S. St. Louis. Political corruption, envy, and the manipulation of public sentiment by agents of a totalitarian regime led to a voyage of refugees seeking freedom into what became known as a voyage of the damned.

As usual in Cuban history there are those who try to blame the United States for the actions of the Cuban officials, but as time passes and new documents are released that charge is without a serious basis. The U.S. State Department was trying to pressure the Cuban government to take the Jewish refugees so that the United States would not be placed in the position of having to accept the refugees.
Fulgencio Batista and President Federico Laredo Brú (1938)

The Strongman, The President, and the Director of Immigration
The Cuban Republic founded in 1902 suffered political instability that led to an elected President Gerardo Machado changing the Constitution to be able to run for re-election and in effect become a dictator which led to the revolution of 1933. The revolution of 1933 had placed Fulgencio Batista in the position as strong man with Presidents in office that he essentially had impeachment power over.

For example, Dr. Federico Laredo Brú had been elected Vice President in 1936 on the same ticket as President Miguel Mariano Gomez, son of former president José Miguel Gómez who won the presidential election, but when he vetoed a bill to create rural schools under army control that Fulgencio Batista had wanted passed the strong man, engineered his impeachment in December of1936 and Laredo Brú would serve out Gomez’s term. He was the nominal president controlled by strongman Batista when the M.S. St. Louis arrived in Cuba on May 27, 1939.

The Great Depression and the economic downturn created an anti-immigrant environment around the world. In Cuba this manifested itself in early 1939 with the passage of Decree 55 which drew a distinction between refugees and tourists. “The Decree stated that each refugee needed a visa and was required to pay a $500 bond to guarantee that they would not become wards of Cuba. But the Decree also said that tourists were still welcome and did not need visas.

The Director-General of the Cuban immigration office, Manuel Benitez Gonzalez, realized that Decree 55 did not define a tourist or a refugee. He decided that he would take advantage of this loophole and make money by selling landing permits which would allow refugees to land in Cuba by calling them tourists. He sold these permits to anyone who would pay $150. According to U.S. estimates, Benitez Gonzalez had amassed a personal fortune of $500,000 to $1,000,000.Though only allowing someone to land as a tourist; these permits looked authentic, were even individually signed by Benitez Gonzalez, and generally were made to look like visas. His small fortune created resentment and envy in the bureaucracy that would eventually force him to resign.

Manuel Benitez Gonzalez was also a protégé of Cuban strongman Fulgencio Batista, and was most likely providing the strongman a kickback. On May 5, Decree 937 was passed which closed the loophole Benitez Gonzalez had exploited. Without knowing it, almost every passenger on the M.S. St. Louis had purchased a landing permit for an inflated rate but by the time they arrived in Cuba those permits had already been nullified by Decree 937.

The argument has been made that pro-Franco sentiment explains the rejection of the Jewish refugees and anti-semitic demonstrations. This requires ignoring that under Franco's brutal dictatorship, during the entire Second World War especially after 1942, Spanish borders were kept open for Jewish refugees from Vichy France and Nazi-occupied territories in Europe. Furthermore that Franco's diplomats extended their diplomatic protection over Sephardic Jews in Hungary, Slovakia and the Balkans. Spain was a safe haven for all Jewish refugees and antisemitism was not official policy under the Franco regime. What happened in Cuba?

According to the Jewish Virtual Library: "Goebbels had decided to use the M.S. St. Louis and her passengers in a master propaganda plan. Having sent agents to Havana to stir up anti-Semitism, Nazi propaganda fabricated and hyped the passengers' criminal nature - making them seem even more undesirable. The agents within Cuba stirred anti-Semitism and organized protests. Soon, an additional 1,000 Jewish refugees entering Cuba was seen as a threat."

This is pure speculation, but a combination of factors: the opposition to Fulgencio Batista sought to expose corrupt practices and exploit the anti-immigrant sentiment generated by the economic downturn combined with Nazi agents, less inept than Heinz Lüning, seeking to exploit and heighten the anti-semitism created a perfect political alignment that led to a mass demonstration on May 8, 1939 and Primitivo Rodriguez, a spokesman for opposition figure Ramon Grau San Martin, urging Cubans to "fight the Jews until the last one is driven out." The demonstration drew 40,000 spectators. Thousands more listened on the radio.

The Cuban government admitted 28 passengers with proper identification. 22 of them were Jewish and had valid U.S. visas; the remaining six-four Spanish citizens and two Cuban nationals--had valid entry documents. One further passenger, after attempting to commit suicide, was evacuated to a hospital in Havana. The remaining 908 passengers were denied entry. In the end according to the Jewish Virtual Library it was about money. The Cuban government wanted $500 per refugee (approximately $500,000 in total). The same amount as required for any refugee to obtain a visa to Cuba. Several men claiming affiliation with the Cuban government, one identified himself as having powers to negotiate bestowed by President Brú. These men insisted that $400,000 to $500,000 were needed to ensure the St. Louis passengers' return to Cuba. The negotiators for the passengers believed that these men just wanted a cut in the profit by negotiating a higher price.

Around noon on Tuesday, June 6, President Brú closed negotiations. Through a misunderstanding, the money allotment had not been agreed upon and the negotiators had missed a 48 hour deadline that they didn't know existed. One day later, the negotiators offered to pay President Brú’s every demand but the President said it was too late. The option of landing in Cuba was officially closed. The refugees would go on to be rejected entry by the United States, Canada and return to Europe. 254 of the passengers would subsequently perish in the Nazi Holocaust. Worse yet the Nazis took the example of the rejection of the Jewish refugees as a sign first that forced emigration of their Jewish population as a solution was off the table and that the world would not care if they were

Over the years books and movies have been written and produced documenting and dramatizing this crime and tragedy. In 1976 the Voyage of the Damned recreated the entire episode and in 2009 it was referred to in the back story of one of the characters in the film Rosa and the Executioner of the Fiend directed by Ivan Acosta.

On April 25, 2000 at 7:30pm at the height of the Elian controversry, approximately 1,500 Cubans marched from Ocean Drive and 10th Street on South Beach to the Holocaust Memorial in a silent march to ask for forgiveness for a great crime. If one believes as Martin Luther King Jr. did that “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice,” then praying for mercy and asking for forgiveness for a great wrong is a necessity. Although the participants in the march knew what the purpose was the press preferred to focus on the Elian controversy and not the act of contrition.

There was what may have well been a final opportunity to remember the victims and ask for forgiveness of those who survived this ordeal nearly 10 years ago on Sunday, December 13, 2009 at the Eden Roc on Miami Beach were the survivors gathered to remember the 70th anniversary of the ill fated voyage. The testimony and experiences related were powerful and disturbing.

Representatives from both Israel and Germany were present and spoke. Many of the survivors said that they had forgiven what had been done to them but that they would never forget. A profound injustice was committed against these Jewish refugees by the Cuban government at the time, and lamentably, although a new political order arrived in Cuba in 1959 it doubled down on Anti-Jewish rhetoric and actions.

The government in Havana has carried on the worse of this legacy and compounded it in its non-stop propaganda attacks over the past half century against Israel. One of the low points under the current regime was during the Yom Kippur War were Fidel Castrp in 1973 dispatched 500 Cuban tank commanders to try and destroy Israel not to mention the Cuban government's training and supplying of Arab terrorists.
Survivors of the 1939 SS St. Louis voyage gathered in Miami Beach in 2009

To shamefully forget the dead is a desecration. Greatness is rooted in truth and truth is virtue. – José Martí

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Castro regime agents beat down and arrest Gay activists at Pride Parade in Havana

“Gay” “rights” in Cuba are like all the other “rights”: nonexistent. - Ambassador Roger Noriega, over Twitter on May 11, 2019

On Saturday, May 11, 2019 the Castro regime's efforts at Pinkwashing its totalitarian edifice came crashing down as gay rights activists were beaten down, arrested and taken away for carrying out a Gay Pride march in Havana.

It is important to recall that there is a deep-seated homophobia at the heart of communist ideology that viewed it as a symptom of bourgeois or capitalist contamination. This resulted in the systematic repression of homosexuals in Communist China and the Soviet Union. In the Soviet Union homosexuality was criminalized in 1933, "punishable by prison and hard labor, and Stalinist anti-gay policies persisted throughout the 1960s and 1970s." In 1949 upon taking power in Mainland China the communists declared homosexuality a symptom of "bourgeois decadence" and set out to eliminate it.

On March 13, 1963 Fidel Castro gave a speech were he openly attacked “long-haired layabouts, the children of bourgeois families,” roaming the streets wearing “trousers that are too tight,” carrying guitars to look like Elvis Presley, who took “their licentious behavior to the extreme” of organizing “effeminate shows” in public places. The Cuban dictator warned: “They should not confuse the Revolution’s serenity and tranquility with weaknesses in the Revolution. Our society cannot accept these degeneracies.”

Fidel Castro went further in 1965 declaring: “We would never come to believe that a homosexual could embody the conditions and requirements of conduct that would enable us to consider him a true revolutionary, a true communist militant.” ... A deviation of that nature clashes with the concept we have of what a militant communist should be.

In 1964 the Castro regime began rounding up Gays and sending them to Military Units to Aid Production or UMAPs (Unidades Militares de Ayuda a la Producción). These forced labor camps were for those suspected of or found guilty of "improper conduct."  Persons with effeminate mannerisms: what the Cuban government called "extravagant behavior" were taken to these camps.  

Taken away by secret police in Cuba for marching for Gay rights.
April 11th marked the 35th anniversary of the release of Improper Conduct, the film that exposed communist intolerance to Gays and Lesbians in Cuba, and documents what happened during the first 30 years of the Castro regime.  One month later and the relevance of this film was seen in the streets of Havana, Cuba.

Mariela Castro, General Raul Castro's daughter, has led efforts to Pinkwash the Castro dictatorship. Saul Landau, a Castro apologist who passed away in 2013, worked on a project that highlighted her efforts, Mariela Castro's March: Cuba's LGBT Revolution. In light of what happened this past Saturday, the documentary screened by HBO in 2016 has aged badly.
Reports emerged on May 7, 2019 that the state-run Center for Sex Education, headed by Mariela Castro, said in a Facebook post that the Conga Against Homophobia scheduled for an unspecified date in May had been canceled on orders of the Ministry of Health.

Gay rights activists condemned the cancellation and then organized their own demonstration. On Saturday, more than 100 demonstrators took to the streets of Havana. After setting out on Havana's Paseo del Prado, the marchers came up against a large number of police and state security forces. Beatings, detentions and several arrests ensued.

This would be a good time to invite friends that do not know the Castro regime's history on Gays to see Improper Conduct.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Project Varela: Looking back at the nonviolent campaign 17 years later

The nonviolent campaign that shook up the dictatorship in Cuba, changed the Cuban Communist Constitution and continues to haunt the Castro regime.

Oswaldo Payá, Tony Diaz Sanchez, and Regis Iglesias 17 years ago.
17 years ago today, carrying 11,020 signed petitions in support of the Varela Project, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, Antonio Diaz Sanchez, and  Regis Iglesias Ramírez walked with the bulky card board boxes labeled Project Varela turning them into the Cuban National Assembly. 

Over Twitter today Rosa María Payá, the daughter of Oswaldo Payá, recalled this important day stating: "17 years after the first installment of Project Varela. It's time to finish the feat and obtain the rights. We owe it to those who are no longer here and those who will come.

The New York Times reported on this historic event at the time:

"Two days before a historic visit to Cuba by the former President Jimmy Carter, human rights activists today delivered an extraordinary challenge to the Communist government of President Fidel Castro in the form of petitions signed by more than 11,000 people seeking greater freedom. The petition drive, known as the Varela Project, calls for a referendum under the terms of the Cuban Constitution on whether there should be more freedom of expression, an amnesty for political prisoners and a chance for ordinary citizens to own small businesses. The signed petitions were delivered this morning to the National Assembly, after supporters painstakingly verified each signature, in the most significant peaceful effort to bring reform to Cuba in four decades. ''All of these Cubans, who with great courage and sacrifice have signed Project Varela, are the social vanguard for peaceful change in Cuba,'' said Oswaldo Paya, who led the drive. He said changes in the rights of Cubans could only be achieved peacefully.
The three activists, members of the Christian Liberation Movement, would pay a high price, along with dozens of others, for advocating human rights reforms within the existing legal frame work in Cuba. In March of 2003 both Antonio Diaz Sanchez, and Regis Iglesias were arrested and subjected to political show trials and sentenced to long prison sentences. They would spend years in prison followed by forced exile. Oswaldo Payá was killed, together with Harold Cepero, on July 22, 2012 under circumstances that point to a state security orchestrated extrajudicial execution.

Tony Diaz Sanchez and Regis Iglesias, two of the three in the photograph when the signatures were turned in, reflected last year on the significance of what took place seventeen years ago.

Regis Iglesias on the 16th anniversary of turning in 11,020 signatures for a democratic change reflected on the importance of the Varela Project in AlgoritmoMag.
It was the first time that Cubans voted or demanded to do so after almost half a century of dictatorship that May 10, 2002, when Oswaldo Paya, Tony Diaz and I crossed the threshold of the offices of the National Assembly of People's Power and presented their officials the signatures that legitimized our demand for a referendum.Eleven thousand twenty Cubans with the right to vote, protected by among other articles 1, 3, and fundamentally 88, paragraph g of the draconian socialist constitution in force, took the step and with their personal data supported the demand for a referendum on the Varela Project, so that the law will guarantee the right to "political freedom", "popular sovereignty", the freedom of political prisoners and the economic freedoms of Cubans.More than a civic and legal exercise the initiative of the Christian Liberation Movement and its founder Oswaldo Paya, finally found a methodology to create the minimum social base in the middle of a totalitarian and repressive state in which the opposition is not recognized and dissidence is considered treason. 
Father Felix Varela
 Regis concludes his essay observing that the work is unfinished. 
Sixteen years later we continue with many Cubans demanding these rights, only when they are recognized and guaranteed can we rest, then we can kneel faceing the tombs of Orlando Zapata, Oswaldo Paya, Harold Cepero, Arturo Pérez de Alejo and many of our brothers who are no longer and tell them, "Friends, we've made it!"
The good news now is that the Eduardo Cardet Concepción, the national coordinator of the Christian Liberation Movement, is reunited with his family, and although on conditional release and a prisoner of conscience, still in strong spirits and committed to a free Cuba.

Eduardo Cardet with his family.
A couple of days before the signatures were turned over on May 8, 2002 Oswaldo Payá, coordinator of referendum petition was video recorded by the Associated Press:
"Nobody speaks any longer for the Cubans. The Cuban people should be consulted via a referendum and be given a voice because now we want our rights and the Varela Project is not just a test, or an intellectual exercise. It is not a rehearsal to gain experience. It is an initial step in our determination to acquire these rights. Because four decades is enough and a new generation is being born that has been born without rights".

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Reflection on history as truth seeking and truth telling

Is history written by the victors?

Allegory on writing history by Jacob de Wit (1754).
Spent some time today walking around what had once been a cemetery and a synagogue that were supposed to be disappeared by failed millenerial totalitarians who sought to rewrite history, but not before killing millions. Rejecting indoctrination, ideologies, and narratives in service of political power requires curiosity, persistence, integrity and discipline.

Developing history as an academic discipline means that there is an attempt to reach an objective truth and understanding. This means that historians are driven by understanding and writing down what happened, and that it is not history written by the victors. However, that is often not the case and thankfully it is not that simple.

On March 7, 2006 historian John Lukacs gave the George Herbert Walker, Jr. Lecture at Yale University titled "Popular Tides and the Ship of State" and thankfully his full presentation is available online. However for the purpose of this essay will focus on how he introduced "the main character of his thinking" as follows:
"Contrary to all dominant views or versions of materialism or determinism ...  The fundamental basis of history is what people think and what they believe.  And that the entire material organization of the world is the superstructure of that.  Now at the same time my anti-materialism is also contrary of that of most idealist philosophers because it is my conviction also that ideas as such do not matter. What matters is why, and when and how people choose them. We do not have ideas. We choose them."
Recovering history
In Germany, the National Socialists in the 1930s sought to erase centuries of  Jewish participation in the national life of what would become the nation-state of Germany in 1871. In Frankfurt, the Nazis destroyed synagogues, and Jewish cemeteries. Consider that the Jewish Cemetery on Battonnstrasse dated back to the year 1272 A.D. and that by 1828 the cemetery had to be closed because it was filled with nearly 7,000 graves. 114 years later in 1942 it was destroyed by Nazis.

Remnants of Jewish cemetery in Frankfurt
There was an attempt to erase Jewish life in Germany in the present through the Holocaust, but also erase it in the past and replace it with a narrative prepared by the Nazis in what would've have been their Museum of Extinct Races. According to Bram Presser in Lit Hub:
The Nazis, it is said, had planned a grand display of Jewish life in all its degeneracy so that, for generations to come, visitors could come and offer thanks to Hitler for ridding Europe of its vermin. In a perverse twist, the museum was to be housed across the disused synagogues of Prague
This would have been an example of the victors rewriting history in the service of their ideology.  The reality is that Jewish life has been present in Frankfurt since at least 1150 AD and Jewish residents were herded into a ghetto, the Judengasse, for the first time there in 1562.

Börneplatz synagogue
Things would get better for the Jewish community over the next three centuries in Germany. In Frankfurt the Börneplatz synagogue was built on the southern edge of the ghetto and consecrated in 1882. The square was named after Ludwig Börne, a Jewish publicist and champion of democracy who was born in Frankfurt’s Judengasse in 1786. All of this progress was swept away with the arrival of the Nazis to power. In 1938, the synagogue was destroyed by gangs of Nazis during the November pogrom. The ruins were removed and a multi-lane road built over it in 1945.

The response of a democratic Germany in Frankfurt to the Nazi efforts to erase and rewrite history was to recover as much of it was possible. The walls of the old cemetery now bear the names of thousands of Jewish residents of Frankfurt deported and killed by the Nazis on small memorial stones. Nearby there is a plaque that reads in both German and English: "Here stood the Börneplatz synagogue which was destroyed by Nazi criminals on the 9th day of November 1938." A museum that rescues the history of German Jews in Frankfurt has been built where the old Ghetto was. It is called the Museum Judengasse.

Memorial stones on cemetery wall with names of Jewish residents and year sent to camps
The case can be made that the Nazis lost the war, and that is why they do not control the narrative today, but there is another high profile case that demonstrates how the side that lost was able to have a dramatic impact on the writing of history. Shouldn't service to the facts and the truth be more important than who won?

General Robert E. Lee
The Lost Cause?
The case has been made that in the United States the history of the Civil War or as many Southerner's call it the "War between the States" has been shaped through the prism of the Lost Cause, a perspective given by those who lost.  Slavery was not the sole cause for Southern states seceding from the Union but it was a central motivation. However the Lost Cause narrative seeks to downplay it, and the brutality of slavery. Nevertheless, it played a role in national reconciliation between North and South. The current attempt to demonize Robert E. Lee, in order to justify the demolition of Southern symbols, is driven by ideological motivations. In the Spring of 1861 Robert E. Lee wrote to his sister on his ambivalence with the cause of secession. This quote is taken from an essay by Aaron D. Wolf:
"The whole South is in a state of revolution, into which Virginia, after a long struggle, has been drawn; and though I recognize no necessity for this state of things, and would have forborne and pleaded to the end for redress of grievances, real or supposed, yet, in my own person, I had to meet the question, whether I should take part against my native State.
With all my devotion to the Union, and the feeling of loyalty and duty of an American citizen, I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relatives, my children, my home. I have, therefore, resigned my commission in the army; and save in defence of my native State, with the sincere hope that my poor services may never be needed, I hope I may never be called on to draw my sword."
One of the architects of the Lost Cause was Jubal Anderson Early, a  Confederate General,  who personally never owned slaves and strongly opposed secession, but once the decision had been made, by Virginia to leave, joined together with Robert E. Lee and fought against the Union.

General Lee has been called a traitor for defending his home state against the Union, and under U.S. law that is a legitimate charge. However, it would also have been a legitimate charge against George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and the rest of the American Founders. Consider that they were all subjects of the British Empire. Washington, like Lee during the Mexican-American War, fought for the British and was an officer during the French and Indian Wars. The British considered them traitors and could have had them all hanged if they had been captured.

The complexity around Lee's decision involved the competing obligations and duty to both Virginia and the United States. General Lee should neither be vilified or canonized, but both his strengths and shortcomings recognized.

Frederick Douglass
At the same time one cannot ignore who fought to defend a system based in slavery. Following the death of General Robert E. Lee in 1870 Frederick Douglass spoke plainly on his passing and how it was observed:
We are sometimes asked, in the name of patriotism, to forget the merits of this fearful struggle, and to remember, with equal admiration, those who struck at the nation's life, and those who struck to save it—those who fought for slavery, and those who fought for liberty and justice.

I am no minister of malice.  I would not strike the fallen. I would not repel the repentant, but may my right hand forget its cunning, and my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I forget the difference between the parties to that terrible, protracted and bloody conflict.

If we ought to forget a war which has filled our land with widows and orphans, which has made stumps of men of the very flower of our youth, and sent them on the journey of life armless, legless, maimed and mutilated; which has piled up a debt heavier than a mountain of gold - swept uncounted thousands of men into bloody graves - and planted agony at a million hearthstones; I say that, if this war is to be forgotten, I ask, in the name of all things sacred, what shall men remember?
Neither General Lee nor Jefferson Davis were Nazis, and the attempts by some on the Left and some on the Alt-Right to paint them that way does a disservice to American history.  The question is why choose these ideas now from such radically contrasting positions? An even more interesting question is how did the Lost Cause become such a powerful historic narrative for so many decades? How much of it is true? How much of it is false?  This calls for more dialogue, discussion, research and reflection, not censorship or the tearing down of symbols, but better understanding them and their historical context.

Some of the dead buried during the U.S. Civil War
In the painting at the top of the page by Jacob de Wit in 1754, Truth almost naked watches over the historian as a history is being written. Meanwhile the Goddess of Wisdom, Pallas Athena, gives the historian advice.  Truth, wisdom and sound judgement are needed to gain a deeper understanding of what really happened and how were are informed by it today.

This should not be the realm of power grabbers, totalitarians, propagandists and ideologues, but of informed and competent truth seekers. The stakes are incredibly important.  Spanish thinker George Santayana was right when he said that  "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Requiescat in pace John Adalbert Lukacs: Remembering a great historian who has been called home.

"I am not a survivor. I am a crumbling remnant. A remnant of the very end of the Bourgeois Age and a remnant of the Age of Books. Ave atque vale." - John Lukacs, Surrounded by Books, November 2, 2017
John Adalbert Lukacs: January 31, 1924 - May 6, 2019
He was a happy pessimist who gave his readers decades of great books of and about history.  In other words he was a Christian man of letters, who was a practicing Catholic and of Jewish ancestry.  The Times of Israel, in his obituary, quoted from his memoir: "Because of the goodness of God,” he concluded in his memoir, “I have had a happy unhappy life, which is preferable to an unhappy happy one."

On March 7, 2006 John Lukacs gave the George Herbert Walker, Jr. Lecture at Yale University and thankfully his presentation is available online.

Below are a selection of some of his many quotes and ideas that had an impact on my thinking over the years. The first is taken from a series of quotations selected by the Acton Institute.

Patriotism and racism are incompatible:     
"Populism is folkish, patriotism is not. One can be a patriot and a cosmopolitan. But a populist is inevitably a nationalist of sorts. Patriotism, too, is less racist than is populism. A patriot will not exclude a person of another nationality from the community where they have lived side by side and whom he has known for many years, but a populist will always remain suspicious of someone who does not seem to belong to his tribe."  - Democracy and Populism: Fear and Hatred, 2005.

The second from an extensive essay in Chronicles Magazine on the end of the age of the book.

Blessings of Old Age:
The “Blessings of Old Age”?  Oh, not at all.  How very soon I shall be dead.  In a year?  In a few months?  In a few weeks?  I hope that I will not be constrained to move from here to a communal nursing home.  I hope; but I cannot know.  What I know is that, after my death, this library, this house, will instantly be changed.  - Surrounded by Books, 2009

The third is taken from The New York Review of Books and is a review of  The Devils’ Alliance: Hitler’s Pact with Stalin, 1939–1941 by Roger Moorhouse.

Hitler - Stalin Pact:
In the vast literature about Stalin and Hitler during World War II, little is said about their being allies for twenty-two months. That is more than an odd chapter in the history of that war, and its meaning deserves more attention than it has received. - Monsters Together, 2015

In 1982, in the midst of the Cold War, the challenge of Poland to the Soviet Empire was examined on Firing Line with William F. Buckely  Jr. , Dr. Lukacs, and Thomas Molnar.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Amnesty International: Tomorrow, May 7th. Twitter Hackathon

Ars Gratia Artis

According to the Danish NGO Free Muse in their 2019 report, Cuba was second in the world, after Turkey, with 19 artists detained over the course of 2018. On May 7th durng the Biennale Art Festival in Havana a Twitter Hackathon will be taking place. Let us remember Cuban artists such as Maykel Castillo Pérez, jailed for protesting Decree 349 and Cuban American artists such as  Coco Fusco, denied entry to Cuba to attend the Biennale because of her criticism of censorship of the arts in Cuba.

Cuba – AI Twitter Hackathon Tuesday 7th May 2019

Attached are some examples of images to tweet, but you can create your own with your own face or another in the picture.

What the Twitter Hackathon is all about
On Tuesday, 7th May 2019, during the Havana Biennale Art Festival, we are asking you to take part in a Twitter Hackathon, to raise awareness of a new law in Cuba which stands to censor artistic freedom.

Decree 349 was one of the first laws signed by the new President, Miguel Díaz-Canel. It prohibits artistic expression which the state decides is “obscene”, “vulgar”, or “harmful to ethical and cultural values”. It forces artists, musicians, and performers to have prior approval from the Ministry of Culture, and those working without it can have their materials confiscated or suffer heavy fines. The Cuban authorities have argued that Decree 349 aims to protect Cuban society from “mediocrity” and “banality” in art. In reality, it aims to bring artistic expression in line with the “cultural policy of the state”.

In 2018, president Díaz-Canel and other high-ranking government officers launched Twitter accounts and created the hashtag #SomosContinuidad (“We are continuity”). Using a storm of tweets on May 7th, we expect to “hack” the official hashtag by highlighting what that “continuity” really implies for artists in terms of restrictions on freedom of expression and censorship.

The goal is to achieve trending levels on Twitter using the official hashtag to communicate our messages. Therefore, all our posts must have the #SomosContinuidad hashtag. We aim to have at least 2,500 tweets from our entire movement and allies on the day of the hackathon.


1. On 7th May please tweet the suggested messages which target the President and the Vice-Minister of Culture, Rafael Fernando Rojas G. You can also include the images supplied, of Cuban artists who are speaking out against the decree.

2. Upload a photo of you and/or your colleagues or friends holding a sign with the #SomosContinuidad and #NoToDecree349 hashtags, and use one of the suggested messages in the tweet as well.

Suggested messages:

The leadership of #Cuba might have changed, but censorship of artists and restrictions on artistic expression are still the norm. Is this what the government of @DiazCanelB means by ‘continuity’? #SomosContinuidad #NotoDecree349 #NoAlDecreto349

We show our solidarity with all independent artists in #Cuba standing up for a space in which they can work freely and without fear of reprisals! @DiazCanelB @fernandorojas_6 #SomosContinuidad #NoToDecree349 #NoAlDecreto349

@DiazCanelB @fernandorojas_6 Artists in #Cuba do not need to be protected from “mediocrity” and “banality”. “Continuity” must not = censorship. They need free space to express themselves without fear of reprisals! #SomosContinuidad

Leadership of #Cuba didn't change @DiazCanelB is Raul Castro's puppet but censorship changed, it got worse with #Decree349. #SomosContinuidad #NotoDecree349 #NoAlDecreto349

Examining Artistic Freedom in Cuba: Castro regime jailed the second largest number of artists in the world in 2018

According to Danish NGO Free Muse, Cuba was second in the world with 19 artists detained over the course of 2018.

The Castro regime in Cuba continues to repress and censor artists. ArtNews and Art Forum reported in April of 2019 on how Cuban American artist Coco Fusco was denied entry to Cuba and declared inadmissible. She was barred because she had discussed censorship of the arts in Cuba.

The Danish non-governmental organization, Free Muse, focuses on artistic freedom around the world and has released its 2019 report "The State of Artistic Freedom 2019" revealing that, "[a]t least 157 artists were imprisoned or detained in 29 countries.  Spain, Turkey and Russia jailed the highest number of artists in the Global North, while China, Egypt, Iran and Cuba jailed the highest number of artists  in  the Global South. Free Muse detailed those with highest numbers of arrests. In 2018 there were "97 artists detained in 25 countries, including: 20 in Turkey, 19 in Cuba, 11 in Russia, 9 in Egypt, 6 in China."
Maykel Castillo Pérez: Artist sentenced to 1 year 6 months in prison
The Castro regime further tightened down on the few remaining artistic freedoms in Cuba with Decree 349 in 2018. Censorship had already existed in Cuba since 1959 but now with Decree 349 artists are specifically targeted and radically restricted from their work. Cuban artist Coco Fusco in Frieze magazine outlined the full breadth of this law.
Decree 349, was made public last summer and went into effect on 7 December. It criminalizes independent cultural activity that is not authorized by the state. It entails the creation of a cadre of roving inspectors that will be empowered to shut down activities in private recording studios, home-based galleries and clubs. Sanctions range from stiff fines to confiscation of privately-owned equipment to the seizure of homes. Artists on the island see the law as a return to the repressive cultural policies of the 1970s. Before it became law, Amnesty International called Decree 349 a ‘dystopian prospect’ for Cuba’s artists.
In September of 2018 Cuban rapper Maykel Castillo Pérez, "El Osokbo" protested against Decree 349/2018 during a show in Cuba. Three days after the concert, he was detained by the Cuban secret police, and remained jailed. On March 20, 2019 Maykel was sentenced to one year six months in prison, and learned of his sentence on April 22, 2019.
On May 6, 2019 the General Secretary of the OAS and the US Ambassador to the OAS hosted at the Organization of American States an event which was streamed live in both Spanish and English on the lack of artistic freedom in Cuba with independent journalists and independent artists from the island presenting their testimony.

Hopefully, they will be able to return to Cuba without joining the long list of arbitrarily detained artists.