Thursday 12 October 2017

Ryerson Life Institute Week Three: The Seduction and Responses to Fascism

"Even in the worst of times, there are people who care."
—Ervin Staub The Roots of Goodness and Resistance to Evil

"When you see the suffering it brings, you have to be mad, blind or a coward to resign yourself to the plague."

—Albert Camus The Plague

"We do not believe in the victory of the stronger, but the stronger in spirit."
Sophie Scholl 


 I might recommend a review of the 2014 New York production of Cabaret

 "Cabaret" is … takes place largely in a specific Berlin cabaret, circa 1930, in which decadence and sexual ambiguity were just part of the ambience (like the women mud-wrestlers who appeared between acts). This is no ordinary musical. Part of its success comes because it doesn't fall for the old cliché that musicals have to make you happy. Instead of cheapening the movie version by lightening its load of despair, director Bob Fosse has gone right to the bleak heart of the material and stayed there well enough to win an Academy Award for Best Director."

Roger Ebert, 1972

"Though most Gestapo files were destroyed before war's end, one revealing discovery from intact archives in the town of Wurzburg indicates that the secret police--far from randomly unleashing terror--spent much of its time responding to denunciations by ordinary citizens against their neighbors." Review about The Nazis: A Warning from History  by Laurence Rees 


For my review of a new book, The Cost of Courage and the television series, Un Village Francais
 see the French Resistance

Sophie Scholl: The Final Days
"Filmmaker Marc Rothemund utilizes long-buried historical records to reconstruct the last six days in the life of renowned German anti-Nazi activist Sophie Scholl (Julia Jentsch) in an Academy Award-nominated feature that earned star Julia Jentsch a Best Actress award at both the 2005 Lolas and the 2005 Berlin International Film Festival. The year is 1943 and Adolf Hitler's devastating march across Europe has resulted in the formation of the White Rose, an underground resistance movement born in Munich and dedicated to the fall of the Third Reich. Despite being one of the only female members in the White Rose movement, Sophie Scholl's conviction is strong and her will unbreakable. Eventually arrested by the Gestapo for distributing pamphlets on campus alongside her brother Hans, Sophie boldly maintains her ground by calling for freedom and personal responsibility and never once backing down even in the face of certain, inescapable death." ~ Jason Buchanan

Joachim Fest and his father
I review Not I Memoirs of a German Childhood
by Joachim Fest

A memorial concert reawakens the story of an artistic uprising in the Nazi concentration camp, Terezin, where a chorus of 150 inmates confronts the Nazis face-to-face - and sings to them what they dare not say.

"Defiant Requiem is an incredible story of the Nazi concentration camp at Terezin, wherein many talented Czech artists were imprisoned – and it specifically tells the story of one Czech composer, Raphael Schächter, who's idea it was to lead a performance of Verdi's "Requiem" inside the camp. And it tells the parallel story of music conductor Murry Sidlin who decades later went back to Terezin with the Orchestra of Terezin Remembrance, specifically to perform "Requiem" again, quite beautifully, this time with survivors from the camp. I don't really have the words – let me just say this story was completely new to me and had a profound impact on me, particularly the incredible interviews with the survivors.

When the film was over, the whole crowd stayed still and silent all the way through the final credit, before breaking out in applause. It was such a profound experience to be educated on something completely new relating to the Holocaust, and for the subject matter to be told with such depth and compassion, but also restraint. The story was sensational enough, the filmmakers wisely chose not to be manipulative (which would have been easy in this case) – they just told you and showed you this story with honesty, clarity and genuine beauty….This is what true documentary film making should always be like." A film-goer's review.

I recommend a powerful article by novelist Rachel Seiffert the author of The Dark Room and The Boy in Winter. For one of the interlocking stories of The Dark Room, you might wish to see my review of Lore


This is the true story of one remarkable man who outwitted Hitler and the Nazis to save more Jews from the gas chambers than any other during World War II.

It is the story of Oskar Schindler who surfaced from the chaos of madness, spent millions bribing and paying off the SS and eventually risked his life to rescue the Schindler-Jews. Schindler rose to the highest level of humanity, walked through the bloody mud of the Holocaust without soiling his soul, his compassion, his respect for human life - and gave his Jews a second chance at life. He miraculously managed to do it and pulled it off by using the very same talents that made him a war profiteer - his flair for presentation, bribery, and grand gestures. 

To more than 1200 Jews Schindler was all that stood between them and death at the hands of the Nazis. A man full of flaws like the rest of us - the unlikeliest of all role models who started by earning millions as a war profiteer and ended by spending his last pfennig and risking his life to save his Jews. An ordinary man who even in the worst of circumstances did extraordinary things, matched by no one. He remained true to his Jews, the workers he referred to as my children. In the shadow of Auschwitz he kept the SS out and everyone alive.

Schindler and his wife Emilie Schindler were inspiring evidence of courage and human decency during the Holocaust. Emilie was not only a strong woman working alongside her husband but a heroine in her own right. She worked indefatigably to save the Schindler-Jews - a story to bear witness to goodness, love and compassion.

Today there are more than 7,000 descendants of the Schindler-Jews living in US and Europe, many in Israel. Before the Second World War, the Jewish population of Poland was 3.5 million. Today there are between 3,000 and 4,000 left.

"Rosenstrasse (Margarethe von Trotta, 2003) is the true story, of one of the few attempts by Germans to launch protests against the Nazi dictatorship. When the Nazis arrested Jews, they did not arrest the Gentile (non-Jewish) husbands or wives who might happen to be married to them. Instead, the Gentile spouses were put under huge pressure from the Nazi State to divorce and abandon their spouses. Some did, but others did not. Some of the Gentile wives stuck to their husbands through thick and thin. When the Jewish men were held prisoner in a facility on Rosenstrasse, many of their wives gathered in the street outside and kept vigil. This eventually led to protest.

The scene where the women find their voices, and begin to protest what is going on, is one of the most electrifying in the current cinema. It should serve as a model for us all. We need to raise up our voices, and speak out as loudly as possible, against war, violence, racial prejudice and political imprisonment.
Historians today wonder, what might have happened if more Germans had launched non-violent protests against the Nazi regime. The Nazis were very sensitive to world opinion. They dreaded propaganda embarrassments. Apparently, it was the infamous German propagandist Goebbels himself who directed the Nazis' capitulation to the Rosenstrasse protest, fearing a publicity disaster for the Nazi regime.
Rosenstrasse benefits from a complex story structure. The plot is constructed out of flashbacks, like Citizen Kane. This allows a lot of different perspectives to come to bear on the material. It also constantly reminds us that the Nazis were ultimately defeated." Michael Grost

What is a moral person to do in a time of savage immorality? That question tormented Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German clergyman of great distinction who actively opposed Hitler and the Nazis. His convictions cost him his life. The Nazis hanged him on April 9, 1945, less than a month before the end of the war.

Bonhoeffer’s last years, his participation in the German resistance and his moral struggle are dramatized in this film. More than just a biographical portrait, Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace sheds light on the little-known efforts of the German resistance. It brings to a wide audience the heroic rebellion of Bonhoeffer, a highly regarded Lutheran minister who could have kept his peace and saved his life on several occasions but instead paid the ultimate price for his beliefs.


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