Fair is foul

Fair is foul, and foul is fair;

Hover through the fog and filthy air.

– Macbeth, Act I, Scene 1

Christine Fair

Warning: X-rated language, and then some.

Back to Christine Fair, a professor at Georgetown University who makes a habit of harassing ideological opponents and calling them Nazis. On Tuesday we revisited two incidents from last year that showed her in her characteristic attack mode. Here’s #3: this past January, at Frankfurt International Airport on her way to India, security officers refused to let her take a Speed Stick deoderant onboard because they classified it as a liquid, she argued with them, accused them of sexism, became “increasingly uncooperative,” and ultimately referred to them as “fucking bastards” and “fucking German Nazi police.” Eventually she was arrested for defamation and fined $260.

Brett Kavanaugh

Which brings us to her latest brush with fame. Tweeting about the Senate hearings on Brett Kavanaugh, she described the GOP senators as a “chorus of entitled white men,” identified Kavanaugh as a “serial rapist,” and wrote that they all “deserve miserable deaths while feminists laugh as they take their last gasps. Bonus: we castrate their corpses and feed them to swine? Yes.”

Abigail Marone

When Abigail Marone of Campus Reform wrote to Fair to ask her to elaborate on the tweet – and especially on the apparent call for violence – Fair replied by accusing her of harassment and, addressing her (for some reason) as “Aunt Lydia,” added:

I will not be silenced. I will continue to Tweet things that make you uncomfortable and I will do this by choice. I will select words and phrases that will make you and your fellow-travelers furious.

My choice of words is intended to make you uncomfortable. Because I—and tens of millions of women in this country—are uncomfortable with the ongoing war on our lives, our bodies, our fundamental freedoms, and our access to social and economic justice. Women—whether we are white, women of color, rich or poor—are potential victims of this war. And some of us have been victimized repeatedly….

And you, Aunt Lydia, are a potential victim of this war as well even though you shill for those persons and institutions who sustain it and seek to perpetuate it. Do you think your potential assailant will care that you enable the patriarchal structures that devalue our lives and the work we do and construct legal structures that privilege the attacker? Do you think complicit women and lousy men will be less likely to slut shame you because you are one of their paid-keyboards? No, Aunt Lydia.

As it happens, Professor Fair posted this e-mail in toto on her personal blog, which is called (we’re not kidding) “Tenacious Hellpussy: A Nasty Woman Posting from the Frontlines of Fuckery.” Let’s just say that the blog fully lives up to its name. To browse through it is to experience the repellent, hateful workings of a deeply disturbed mind. For example, in a recent entry entitled “On the Politics of Language and Women’s Rage and Why My Profanity is Sacred,” Fair dismissed media criticism of her notorious “castrate their corpses” tweet as an attempt “to scare, intimidate, and ultimately shut up those of us who see through conservative lies, ruses, and efforts to disenfranchise women, people of color, LGBTQI, non-Christians and anyone else who destabilizes their infantile Leave It To Beaver fantasy.” Noting that a colleague had suggested she “demur from using naughty words in expressing my rage over this administration’s unending assault upon our lives,” she declared that only obscene words could properly capture her fury over the fact that

[w]e [women] are less likely to be hired, promoted or compensated because of our god-damned tits and snatches. These conservative jackasses want to treat our cunts like a public good, yet we pay tens of thousands of dollars to maintain and sustain our civilization-giving pussies and civilization-nurturing wombs and civilization-feeding breasts.

Yet these motherfuckers have the temerity to deny us health care coverage. They have the audacity to force us to carry children….

And you want me to circumlocute my furor in floridity?

Fuck that.

Oh, one last thing: as of 2018-19, annual undergraduate tuition and fees at Georgetown University come to $54,104.

Georgetown’s not-so-fair lady

Brett Kavanaugh

Everyone in the United States of America, it seemed, had a take on the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings. One observer’s comment was more memorable than most. Referring to the Republican senators on the Justice Committee who were expressing support for President Trump’s nominee, this observer tweeted: “Look at this chorus of entitled white men justifying a serial rapist’s arrogated entitlement. All of them deserve miserable deaths while feminists laugh as they take their last gasps. Bonus: we castrate their corpses and feed them to swine? Yes.”

Christine Fair

Who was this observer? None other than Christine Fair, an associate professor of Security Studies Program at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service.

We might say that Professor Fair has gotten her fifteen minutes of fame, except that it turns out this isn’t the first time she’s made headlines. In January of last year, the Washington Post published an op-ed by journalist Asra Q. Nomani entitled “I’m a Muslim, a woman and an immigrant. I voted for Trump.” Nomani explained her vote: for one thing, she couldn’t afford Obamacare; for another, she – a self-identified “liberal Muslim” – had “experienced, firsthand, Islamic extremism in this world,” and thus opposed President Obama’s tendency to “tap dance around the ‘Islam’ in Islamic State.”

Asra Q. Romani

This was too much for Fair, who tweeted that Nomani’s vote for Trump had “helped normalize Nazis in D.C.,” and called her a “clueless dolt,” a “fraud,” a “fame-mongering clown show,” and more. Nomani, in response to this barrage of insults, complained to Georgetown University, where she, too, had once been on the faculty. After Nomani made her complaint, Fair doubled down on the insults, adding a few obscenities and accusing Nomani of trying to strip her of her First Amendment rights. Nomani denied this charge. “I honor the First Amendment, I believe in the First Amendment,” Nomani said. “With all rights come serious responsibilities. Civil discourse is one of those responsibilities, especially for educators. We are models.”

Richard Spencer

That was episode #1. Four months later came #2. Fair was working out at a gym in Washington, D.C., when she noticed Richard Spencer, head of the National Policy Institute, exercising in the same room. Walking over to him, she asked if he was Richard Spencer. He said he wasn’t. (He later explained that he had denied his identity in an effort to avoid conflict.) “Of course you are,” she replied, “so not only are you a Nazi – you are a cowardly Nazi.” She added: “I just want to say to you, I’m sick of your crap….As a woman, I find your statements to be particularly odious; moreover, I find your presence in this gym to be unacceptable, your presence in this town to be unacceptable.”

She went on in that vein, until Spencer, according to the Washington Post, “asked for a trainer – a black woman – to help get him out of the confrontation.” A fellow gym member also stepped in to help him, managing to earn her own share of Fair’s wrath: “Right now you’re being ignorant,” Fair instructed her, “and you’re actually enabling a real-life Nazi.” Eventually, the gym’s general manager got involved, chiding Fair for creating a “hostile environment,” in response to which Fair accused Spencer of creating a “hostile environment” for women and blacks.

The upshot of the incident? Spencer got his gym membership revoked.

Think what you wish of Richard Spencer. But this isn’t about him. It’s about Fair. He didn’t start that fracas in the gym – she did. And she didn’t just provoke him – she insulted an innocent bystander who, not knowing who either of them was, intervened for a purely admirable reason. It would be one thing for Fair to argue with Spencer at a public debate; but when she told him that his views made his presence in a gym – and even in the city of Washington, D.C. – “unacceptable” to her, it was she, not he, who sounded like a Nazi.

We haven’t gotten around yet to Professor Fair’s tweet about killing and castrating senators. Tune in again on Thursday.

Catching up with Stalin apologist Ben Norton

In July of last year, we spent a week covering the oeuvre of Ben Norton, who after only three years as a professional scribe had already compiled an extensive body of work – and made a name for himself as a high-profile fan of socialism and Islam and enemy of the U.S. and Israel.

Ben Norton

To say he’s a fan of socialism, to be sure, is to soft-pedal his ideological allegiances. In fact he’s a full-throated defender of Communism, as witnessed by a piece he published at AlterNet on November 22. In it, he accused the Trump administration and others, including the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, of marking the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution by “demoniz[ing] communism.”

Singling out a Post article in which Marc Thiessen pointed out that “Communist regimes killed some 100 million people — roughly four times the number killed by the Nazis — making communism the most murderous ideology in human history,” Norton called the piece a “diatribe” and denounced Thiessen for “whitewashing the Nazi regime’s uniquely murderous crimes.” Because, you see, if you dare to tell the whole truth about the destructive evil of Communism, and acknowledge that Communism, in its century-long history, has indeed claimed more lives than Nazism did during its decade or so in power, you must be a Nazi sympathizer.

Marc Thiessen

In his screed, Norton played the same kind of numbers game in which Holocaust deniers like to indulge. Rejecting the claim that Communist regimes had killed 100 million people, he complained that that figure included Russians killed during the Nazi invasion of the USSR. He also criticized Thiessen and others for relying on statistics from The Black Book of Communism, a solid reference work that Norton dismissed as a “propagandistic tract” – “a collection of right-wing essays published in France in 1997” – and charged with “trivializing the Holocaust.”

Josef Stalin

Of course, it’s possible to tell the whole truth about Communism without being a fan of Nazism. Evil is evil. Totalitarianism is totalitarianism. Surely the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal don’t think Hitler was peachy keen. Norton’s whole line of argument here is disingenuous – in fact, he’s the one who greatly prefers one kind of totalitarianism to the other, and who is determined not to see them placed anywhere near on the same level. He claims that The Black Book of Communism had been used “to diminish the crimes of fascism and portray it as a lesser evil compared to communism.” That admirers of one brand of tyranny can use the facts about another brand of tyranny to suit their own purposes does not mean that those facts aren’t facts.

Noam Chomsky

Norton goes further: borrowing from Noam Chomsky, he serves up the suggestion that the logic of The Black Book of Communism could be used to blame capitalism for the death of tens of millions of people in India alone. He also tries to sell the notion that, because “the Soviet Union’s meticulously kept archives” show that “799,455 people were executed under the rule of Joseph Stalin between 1921 and 1953,” this number should be accepted as the sum total of lives lost as a result of Communism during the Stalin era. Forget, then, the Gulag and the Holodomor.

Mao Zedong

Norton also tries to drastically slash the number of people who died as a consequence of Mao’s tyranny, arguing that millions of them were, rather, victims of famine, and pointing out that deadly famines have been a regular part of Chinese history for centuries. In short, in addition to dropping the Gulag and Holodomor down the memory hole, Norton also deep-sixes the depredations of the so-called Cultural Revolution.

But that’s not all. Norton implies that instead of demonizing Communism, we should celebrate it – after all, it was the Soviets who experienced most of the battlefront casualties in “the fight against fascism.” Fine – the problem is that, again, they were fighting one form of totalitarianism in the name of another form of totalitarianism. He describes the USSR as having “liberated Auschwitz and Berlin.” But how can you speak of “liberation” when the people “liberated” ended up living under a fiercely illiberal dictatorship?

The Red Cross and the Nazis: a dark chapter

Gerald Steinacher

Sometimes the people who end up being useful stooges can be those who have – or who think they have – the noblest of intentions. A new book by University of Nebraska historian Gerald Steinacher, Humanitarians at War, draws attention to the lamentable conduct of the International Committee of the Red Cross during World War II. Founded in 1863, the ICRC was responsible for the conference that first formulated the Geneva Conventions, and during the wars that followed was permitted by all belligerents to operate behind their lines and take care of wounded soldiers and prisoners of war. The Red Cross, it must be said, was a remarkably modern and humanitarian conception.

Carl Jacob Burckhardt

But the execution has not always matched the conception. The ICRC’s record is not spotless, and the worst chapter in its entire history undoubtedly came during the Holocaust, when the ICRC was under the de facto leadership of its official second-in-command, Carl Jacob Burckhardt (its president, Max Huber, was largely out of commission during that period), a Swiss diplomat and anti-Semite. As Samuel Moyn, a professor of law and history at Yale, notes in a recent review of Steinacher’s book for the Wall Street Journal, Burckhardt’s fear of Communism caused him to view Nazism “as a bulwark of civilization and a necessary evil.” Although the ICRC, since 1933, had been receiving letters from German concentration camps making it clear just how horrible the treatment of inmates was, Burckhardt was determined to keep a lid on it all, praising the commandant of Dachau, for example, “for his discipline and decency.”

That was just the beginning. Not long after the January 1942 Wannsee Conference, at which Nazi leaders agreed on the objective of exterminating the Jews of Europe, the ICRC became aware of this resolution. But it said nothing about it and did nothing about it.

Samuel Moyn

To be sure, it could be argued that there was little or nothing the ICRC could have done to prevent the execution of Hitler’s Final Solution. But Burckhardt’s problematic attitude persisted after the war. Silent on the Holocaust, he spoke up against the Nuremberg trials, calling them “Jewish revenge.” “Red Cross officials,” writes Moyn, “attempted to whitewash the record of Nuremberg defendant and high-ranking Nazi diplomat Ernst von Weizsäcker. After the Holocaust, the ICRC—by then helmed by Burckhardt—even abetted the flight of Nazis such as Adolf Eichmann and Josef Mengele by providing them with travel papers.”

Adolf Eichmann

It has been known for a long time that the ICRC helped Nazis escape Europe; at first, the ICRC’s excuse was that a relatively small number of Nazis had successfully misrepresented themselves as innocent refugees and taken advantage of an overburdened Red Cross bureaucracy to evade justice. But Steinacher’s research on the subject, published in his 2011 book Nazis on the Run, showed that the numbers of Nazis helped in this fashion by the ICRC – as well as by the Vatican – were “much higher than thought.” Thanks to the ICRC, in fact, no fewer than “90% of ex-Nazis fled via Italy, mostly to Spain, and North and South America – notably Argentina.” As Steinacher has documented, individual ICRC officials and local ICRC delegations in Europe knowingly held out a helping hand to Hitler’s former henchmen. Their motives varied: some were acting “out of sympathy for individuals”; others had sympathy for the Nazi cause. Whatever the case, the Nazi chapter of the ICRC’s history is a profoundly tainted one, serving as a salutary reminder that even the most pristine of images can be seriously deceptive.

“I must take children”: Chaim Rumkowski’s final solution

Jews being deported from the Lodz ghetto

The date was September 4, 1942. The day before, the Nazis had ordered Chaim Rumkowski, the Jewish head of the Lodz ghetto, to hand over all of the residents of the ghetto who were sick, under the age of ten, or over the age of sixty-five. Rumkowski, knowing that these pdeople – 20,000 in all – would be sent to their deaths, gathered together the residents of the ghetto and delivered a now-notorious speech. Entitled “Give Me Your Children,” it read, in part, as follows:

Rumkowski with his Nazi superior, Hans Biebow

A grievous blow has struck the ghetto. They are asking us to give up the best we possess – the children and the elderly….Yesterday afternoon, they gave me the order to send more than 20,000 Jews out of the ghetto, and if not – “We will do it!” So, the question became: “Should we take it upon ourselves, do it ourselves, or leave it for others to do?” And, we reached the conclusion that…I must perform this difficult and bloody operation – I must cut off limbs in order to save the body itself! I must take children because, if not, others may be taken as well.

The residents of the ghetto wept and wailed. But over the next few days, the round-up was carried out by the Nazis with brutal efficiency. Every home was searched and emptied of its young and old and sick, with over 500 ghetto residents being killed in the process. The archives of the U.S. Holocaust Museum contain several eyewitness testimonies to this round-up, including the following by a sixteen-year-old girl:

I saw two wagons full of little children drive past the open gate. Many of the children were dressed in their holiday best, the little girls with colored ribbons in their hair. In spite of the soldiers in their midst, the children were shrieking at the top of their lungs. They were calling out for their mothers.

Rumkowski with Heinrich Himmler and several other Nazi officers

What happened to those children, elderly, and infirm Jews is described as follows on the museum’s website:

The deportation trains traveled 37 miles northwest to the Chelmno killing center. Arriving Jews were greeted by the camp’s German staff, who spoke of work, better food, and a shower. After leaving their clothes behind for disinfection, the Jews crowded into trucks to ride to the baths. Chelmno’s trucks, however, were engineered so that deadly engine exhaust filled the cargo compartments. German guards sealed the airtight doors, and the driver started the engine. After 5 to 10 minutes, the screams from the suffocating prisoners stopped. The bodies were dumped in mass graves.

Beginning in spring 1942, the gassed victims’ bodies were destroyed in one of two crematoria built two miles from the camp’s headquarters. The ashes of Chelmno’s dead, including the Lodz ghetto children, were buried in the nearby fields.

Primo Levi

Rumkowski’s argument that he had to allow the children to be taken lest others be taken too proved to be meaningless, of course, for in the weeks and months that followed, others were taken. Less than two years later, in August 1944, Rumkowski and his family were among them. He had managed to get the Nazis to save them for the end – they were on the very last transport to Auschwitz. When he got there, Rumkowski was killed instantly – not by the Nazis whom he had assiduously served, but by Jewish inmates who could not forgive him for being such a loyal toady to the murderers of their people. As for Rumkowski’s Nazi overlord, Hans Biebow, he was tried after the war in a Polish court and executed in 1947.

“Had [Rumkowski] survived his own tragedy,” the distinguished author and Holocaust survivor Primo Levi would later write, “no tribunal would have absolved him, nor, certainly, can we absolve him on the moral plane.”

The Nazis’ most loyal Jew: Chaim Rumkowski

Chaim Rumkowski tasting soup

During the last few days we’ve been examining the supremely sobering topic of the Jewish ghettos in Poland during the Nazi occupation. We’ve seen how Chaim Rumkowski, installed by the Nazis as head of the ghetto in Lodz, pursued a policy of wholehearted collaboration. One survivor of the ghetto later recalled that Rumkowski, in his dealings with Jews, “was an incomparable tyrant who behaved just like a Führer and cast deathly terror to anyone who dared to oppose his lowly ways.” But with the Nazis, “he was as tender as a lamb and there was no limit to his base submission to all their demands, even if their purpose was to wipe us out totally.” Rumkowski would presumably have argued that by responding to the invaders with docility – and by building up a vibrant local industry that supplied many of the material needs of the Wehrmacht – he would keep his people safe.

Jews entering the Lodz ghetto after being evicted from their homes

Yet Rumkowski’s assumption that a productive ghetto would remain a protected ghetto proved to be false. Eventually the Nazis began sending the Jews of Lodz to the death camps. And it was Rumkowski who personally made up the lists of names. He took the opportunity to consign to their deaths people he considered enemies. And he brooked no resistance. If anyone tried to escape deportation, Rumkowski made sure he or she ended up in Nazi hands. Even as the Nazis began draining the ghetto of Jews (the first large-scale deportation occurred in December 1941), Rumkowski continued to believe that his exceedingly meek and accommodating approach to the Nazis was the correct one.

Rumkowski officiating at a wedding

So much was he hated by the residents of the ghetto that they organized several strikes and public protests against him over a period of several months. In response, Rumkowski ordered the Jewish police to shut the protesters down violently. Sometimes he even brought in Nazi muscle to enforce his autocratic discipline. In time, the protesters gave up. Rumkowski, secure in his power, bragged that the ghetto, in three years’ time, would be “working like a clock.” While most members of the Lodz ghetto were compelled to work long hours and to eke by on meager rations, Rumkowski lived high on the hog, socializing with his Nazi handler, Hans Biebow, and the other Nazis whose orders he not only followed but prided himself on anticipating. Some historians describe Rumkowski as having “identified so closely with his Nazi masters that [he] became their Jewish counterpart — a Machiavellian fascist bent on separating ‘useless eaters’ from productive workers, all the while stoking his own cult of personality.”

A footbridge connecting the two parts of the Lodz ghetto

Ultimately, Rumkowski was confronted with the same challenge that Adam Czerniaków, his counterpart in Warsaw, had faced: the deportation of children. But Rumkowski took a different route than Czerniaków did. Whereas Czerniaków, as we have seen, responded to his failure to save the Warsaw ghetto’s orphans by taking his own life, Rumkowski helped arrange for the removal from the ghetto of 15,000 children under the age of 14 between January and May 1942. Later that year, when ordered by his Nazi superior, Hans Biebow, to round up another batch of children, Rumkowski gathered his ghetto’s residents together and delivered a now-infamous speech.

We’ll get to that speech, and finish up with this solemn topic, tomorrow.

 

“Jew against Jew”: the legacy of Chaim Rumkowski

Chaim Rumkowski and other ghetto leaders

Yesterday we started exploring the unsavory story of Chaim Rumkowski, the Jewish businessman who was appointed by the Nazis after their invasion of Poland to run the Jewish ghetto in the city of Lodz. As we’ve seen, Rumkowski was a man who enjoyed his power. He’s been described as “an obsessive…egomaniac” who set “Jew against Jew.” Although he ruled over a minuscule realm – one and a half square miles, inhabited by 160,000 people – he comported himself in the manner of a small-time emperor, traveling around the ghetto in a fancy carriage and with his own armed guards and official retinue. Every time his birthday rolled around, according to one source, “the ghetto’s various committees and workshops hastened to prepare annual birthday tributes for the leader, including lavish commemorative albums.” Rumkowski also oversaw the production of propaganda in which he was depicted as a messiah, the savior of the Jews of Lodz.

“In a typical propaganda poster,” according to one source,

Rumkowski is surrounded by grateful ghetto inhabitants raising their arms to hail him. In the background, the chairman’s realm is depicted not as a dilapidated ghetto, but as a leafy, productive commune. The streets are devoid of beggars, and only the fecal workers hauling away people’s waste are out roaming. Between the hovering Rumkowski and his idyllic domain, hospital workers transport a stretcher-bound woman, all while the chairman observes his handiwork.

Maia Mari-Sutnik

In real life, the people of the Lodz ghetto lived several to a room in dilapidated old wooden structures, most of them without plumbing. Everything was scarce. The sanitary conditions were perilous. Illness and malnutrition abounded. His motto was “work is the way”: if you didn’t work, you didn’t eat. In a catalogue for a recent exhibition of photographs of the Lodz ghetto, curator Maia-Mari Sutnik states that Rumkowski “essentially transformed the ghetto into a slave labor camp, exploiting Jewish workers to carry out his ‘survival of the fittest’ plan in an abysmally crumbling ghetto.”

Richard Rubinstein

The ghetto’s work was done in twelve- to fourteen-hour shifts, and the food consisted mostly of bread and watery soup. Under Rumkowski’s supervision, moreover, the ghetto’s Jewish police were as fearsome as the Gestapo itself. In the prisons Rumkowski ran, “torture was inflicted on all Jews who evaded his laws or failed to execute his commands, chief of which was the command to work.” The concepts of Jewish brotherhood and Jewish mercy were alien to Rumkowski. “Save for his favorites,” Holocaust historian Richard Rubinstein has written, Rumkowski had “concern only for that remnant of the group likely to survive the ordeal of the war….He had no concern for the individual. To an extent apparently unsurpassed by any other Nazi-appointed Jewish leader, he was the Fuhrer of his tiny kingdom.” (Indeed, a 2011 novel about Rumkowski by Steve Sem-Sandberg was entitled The Emperor of Lies.)

More tomorrow.

The notorious Chaim Rumkowski

Chaim Rumkowski

Yesterday we took a brief look at the Jewish ghetto in Nazi-occupied Warsaw and at Adam Czerniaków, the Jewish politician appointed by the Nazis to run it. If the ghetto in Warsaw was the largest one to be established by the Nazis in Poland, the very first such ghetto was the one in Lodz. Surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards, it had a population of about 230,000, and the man whom the Nazis put in charge of the Judenrat, the ghetto’s ruling council, was Chaim Rumkowski, a Jewish businessman who had previously been the director of an orphanage.  

Like Czerniaków, Rumkowski chose the path of collaboration, working closely with his immediate superior, Hans Biebow, a German businessman turned Nazi officer. But in his efforts to please his Nazi masters, Rumkowski went even further than his counterpart in Warsaw. A stern taskmaster, he turned the Lodz ghetto into an industrial hub. Over a hundred “inmate workshops” churned out textiles, books, building supplies — “everything from children’s toys to military equipment.” In 1942 alone, the ghetto earned the Third Reich a profit of ten million marks. It is no exaggeration to say that the Lodz ghetto became a highly productive part of the Nazi war machine. And this was precisely Rumkowski’s intention. His assumption was that as long as the Jews of Lodz continued to be of such immense service to the Nazis, providing them with valuable wartime commodities, they would stay safe. What kind of an occupying power, after all, would want to harm people who were so useful to them? Little did he realize, at the start, that, as the regional governor, Friedrich Übelhör put it in December 1939, the Lodz ghetto, like all the other ghettos, was “only a transitional measure,” the ultimate objective being to “cleanse” Lodz of the “pestilential boil.” known as the Jews.

Entrance to the Lodz ghetto

But Rumkowski was not exclusively, or even principally, perhaps, interested in saving the lives of his people. He was interested in power. Put in charge of the ghetto on October 13, 1939, he personally named the members of his own Judenrat, only to denounce all of them three weeks later to the Nazis for failing to be sufficiently subservient to him. The Nazis are known to have executed most of them forthwith; it is not clear what happened to the rest. Rumkowski then picked another Judenrat, which stayed in line, allowing Rumkowski to rule the ghetto like a king.

Rumkowski on a postage stamp

And a king he was, arrogant and tyrannical. In fact he was referred to as “King Chaim.” He confiscated private property. He personally controlled food distribution and the allocation of housing. He put his own picture on the stamps. He arranged in detail all cultural events. He even officiated at weddings (the Nazis had put the kibosh on the rabbinate) and changed the ancient Jewish marriage laws. Jews who incurred his wrath could end up with a brutal beating. Several women and young girls endured sexual molestation at his hands.

But that was just the start of Rumkowski’s infamy. We’ll get to the worst of it tomorrow and later this week.

Collaborating in Warsaw

German soldiers marching in Warsaw shortly after the start of the Nazi occupation

When the Nazis rolled into Poland in September 1939, starting World War II, they quickly crushed the Polish Army, occupied the cities, subdued the population, and eliminated politicians and intellectuals. Soon enough, of course, their attention soon turned to the Jews. There were many Jews in Poland, but the Nazi death machine had yet to be fully set into motion. As a temporary measure, therefore, in one Polish city after another, the Nazis evicted Jews from their homes and relocated them to neighborhoods that were then surrounded by high walls and vigilantly guarded. No one could leave, and no one could enter. These were the Jewish ghettos.

Ruins in the Warsaw ghetto, 1943

In each of the ghettos, the Nazis appointed prominent local Jews to serve as a council, or Ältestenrat – a.k.a. Judenrat – that was responsible for the ghetto’s internal administration and that was responsible for negotiations and other communications between the Jews and the Nazis. Each of these councils, in turn, was led by an individual who was given the title of Judenälteste. The men placed in these positions, needless to say, faced a formidable moral challenge. Aware of the vicious anti-Semitism at the heart of Nazi ideology, but perhaps not entirely aware – at first, anyway – of the form that Hitler’s Final Solution would take, the ghetto leaders were compelled to ask themselves how they could best serve the interests of their people. Should they try to find some way to openly resist the Nazis? Should they negotiate with them aggressively? Or should they be docile collaborators, going along and getting along in hopes that the Third Reich would eventually be defeated and their people freed?

Adam Czerniaków in his office in the Warsaw ghetto

Most of the ghetto leaders chose the path of collaboration. In the largest of the ghettos, the one in Warsaw, the Älteste was Adam Czerniaków, a former Polish Senator. He proved to be an obedient servant of the Nazis, believing this was the only realistic approach under the circumstances. Appointed in October 1939, he reliably followed Nazi orders for the next two years and nine months. Then, in July 1942, the Warsaw Judenrat was ordered to prepare for the “resettlement” of almost all of the ghetto’s inhabitants in some unidentified place or places to the east. Knowing these people were being sent to their deaths, Czerniaków negotiated. He won some small victories, with the Nazis agreeing to exempt certain categories of people from the deportation. But although he begged them to spare the ghetto’s orphans, they refused. Czerniaków then went back to his office, wrote notes to his wife and a fellow Judenrat member, and committed suicide by taking a cyanide capsule. “They demand me to kill children of my nation with my own hands,” he wrote to his wife. “I have nothing to do but to die.”

SS officers herding Jews during the crackdown on the Warsaw ghetto uprising

The deportations began – and so did an underground resistance movement inside the ghetto. On January 18, 1943, hundreds of Warsaw Jews rose up against the Nazis and managed to retain control of the ghetto for over three months before the Nazis finally put down the rebellion.

Czerniaków’s conduct has been the subject of much debate in the decades since World War II. Was he a useful stooge or just an honest man – and, ultimately, perhaps, a tragic hero – who sought to do his best in an impossible situation? Less debatable, however, was the conduct of Chaim Rumkowski, the notorious leader of the Judenrat in the Lodz ghetto. We’ll look at him tomorrow.

Von Karajan and other musical Nazis

Not long ago, with reference to Jonathan Petropoulos’s recent book Artists under Hitler: Collaboration and Survival in Nazi Germany, we looked at the lives of a few painters, writers, filmmakers, and composers who, faced with the prospect of working under the Nazi regime, chose either to flee the country or to stay and pursue various degrees of collaboration – some of them accepting Nazi oversight with shame and reluctance, others becoming ardent followers of the Führer.

Fritz Trümpi

Our coverage of these Nazi-era artists, of course, wasn’t comprehensive. Another new book, The Political Orchestra by Austrian scholar Fritz Trümpi, provides a highly illuminating pendant to Petropoulos’s. Trümpi’s subject, as stated in his subtitle, is “The Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics During the Third Reich.” As Terry Teachout put it in a review of Trümpi’s book for the June issue of Commentary, “The story of European classical music under the Third Reich is one of the most squalid chapters in the annals of Western culture, a chronicle of collective complaisance that all but beggars belief.” Teachout makes a crucial point:

Terry Teachout

Without exception, all of the well-known musicians who left Germany and Austria in protest when Hitler came to power in 1933 were either Jewish or, like the violinist Adolf Busch, Rudolf Serkin’s father-in-law, had close family ties to Jews. Moreover, most of the small number of non-Jewish musicians who emigrated later on, such as Paul Hindemith and Lotte Lehmann, are now known to have done so not out of principle but because they were unable to make satisfactory accommodations with the Nazis. Everyone else—including Karl Böhm, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Walter Gieseking, Herbert von Karajan, and Richard Strauss—stayed behind and served the Reich.

Wilhelm Fürtwangler

Both orchestras were equally prepared to compromise with the Nazis, firing Jewish musicians and removing compositions by Jews from their repertoires. Nor did either orchestra undergo any major postwar denazification: Helmut Wobisch, executive director of the Vienna Philharmonic from 1953 to 1968, was known to have been in both the SS and Gestapo; Herbert von Karajan – who, as musical director of the Berlin Philharmonic from 1956 to 1989, was one of the preeminent names in classical during the second half of the twentieth centuries – had also had Nazi ties. At least in the early decades after the war, neither institution was terribly open about its tarnished history, but the folks in Vienna were even worse than the ones in Berlin, keeping a lid on their archives until Trümpi finally managed to pry it off in 2008; both orchestras now have substantial sections on their websites fessing up to their wartime collaborationist zeal.

Herbert von Karajan

When Hitler came along, as Teachout notes, the Berlin and Vienna ensembles were considered the two greatest symphony orchestras on the planet; they still are. Each had its own distinct “sound.” But they shared, in Teachout’s words, “a nationalistic ethos, a belief in the superiority of Austro-German musical culture that approached triumphalism.” This was a conviction they shared with Hitler himself. One consequence of this attitude was that even before Hitler came to power, both orchestras weren’t eager to employ Jews. In 1933, Berlin had four Jewish players; in 1938, when the Nazis marched into Austria, Vienna had 11, all hired before 1920 (seven of them ended up directly or indirectly dead at the hands of the Nazis). Despite the institutional anti-Semitism, the famous Jewish conductors Otto Klemperer and Bruno Walter were able to work in Vienna for some time after the Anschluss.

Leonard Bernstein

We’ve spent some time on this website revisiting Leonard Bernstein’s enthusiasm for the Black Panthers and other radical-left phenomena. He figures significantly in Trümpi’s account, too. Despite the known Nazi histories of both the Berlin and Vienna philharmonics, Bernstein not only chose not to boycott them (a position in which he was far from alone) but, as Teachout puts it, “went so far as to affect a flippant attitude toward the morally equivocal conduct of the Austro-German artists whom he encountered in Europe after the war.” Writing to his wife from Vienna, Bernstein told her he’d befriended von Karajan, “whom you would (and will) adore. My first Nazi.” Writing to his parents, he acknowledged: “you never know if the public that is screaming bravo for you might contain someone who 25 years ago might have shot me dead. But it’s better to forgive, and if possible, forget.”