March 12, 2010

Albania: Righteous Among the Nations

In her article on the arson attack on a synagogue on the Greek island of Crete, K.E. Fleming wrote that the fact that the three immediate responders to the fire were two Albanian immigrants and a Moroccan “complicates assumptions” ( “Arson Attack on a Synagogue of Peace,” February 26).

Assumptions aside, it should be noted that the only war-torn nation on the European continent to have more Jews at the end of World War II than it did at its start was Albania.


Not Printing Cartoons Lets Extremists Win

In her February 12 editor’s note “To Print, or Not To Print?” Jane Eisner attempts to explain the Forward’s decision to publish an offensive cartoon of New Israel Fund’s president, Naomi Chazan, while choosing not to publish the Danish “Muhammad cartoons” to accompany a review of Jytte Klausen’s book, “The Cartoons that Shook the World.” Eisner tries to justify the decision by arguing that the New Israel Fund controversy is ours (Jewish), while the cartoon controversy isn’t.

I was by happenstance living in Denmark during the controversy over the Muhammad cartoons and wrote about it for the Forward. Let me propose an alternate explanation to Eisner’s: The New Israel Fund is unlikely to issue a fatwa. By contrast, Flemming Rose, culture editor of the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten, which published the cartoons, received death threats and was forced into seclusion in an unnamed location. Cartoonist Kurt Westergaard was recently the target of a murder attempt by a Somali Muslim.

It is hardly coincidental that Yale University Press, which published Klausen’s book, refused to include the cartoons. The Forward has now followed suit.

The goal of the Islamic fundamentalists who fomented violence was to intimidate the press into self-censorship. It appears they have succeeded.

The writer is a member of the board of the Forward Association.


Setting Things Straight About Celan and Sachs

As a longtime subscriber, I’ve followed Benjamin Ivry’s articles and garnered a lot from them. So I was grateful to see his moving January 15 column “Paul Celan’s Letters,” which opens by citing my literary biography “Paul Celan: Poet, Survivor, Jew.” (Incidentally, 2001 is a misleading date for my book, as that’s the second paperback edition; 1995 is accurate.)

I’m curious, however, as to what Ivry had in mind in calling the 1995 volume of the Celan-Sachs letters “a shoddy presentation” from “an obscure Bronx publisher”? Stanley Moss’s Sheep Meadow Press has been publishing important books since 1977. That collection (to which I contributed the introduction) contains naturally voiced translations; well-reproduced engravings by Celan’s wife, Gisèle; careful notes and a valuable index and chronology; an afterword by one of Germany’s most experienced Celan scholars; a handsome cover, and an appealing format.

And Ivry’s calling Nobel laureate Nelly Sachs “not his close friend,” with regard to Celan? Maybe not as a Paris companion, God knows. But I’d call her an intensely close friend and comrade. Take Celan’s fervor on joining her in Zurich in 1960, when she shrunk at crossing into Germany to receive a major prize. Later she visited him in Paris, and he also went to Stockholm to try and succor her post-Holocaust anxieties. In 1966, trembling with emotion, he read her poetry at a Nobel Prize celebration in Paris. On her deathbed in 1970, hearing of his suicide, she was profoundly shaken and heard to speak of his “going before her.”

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March 12, 2010

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