Schindler’s List, as Told by a Jewish Name in the List

Leopold Page, aka Poldek Pfefferberg, is the real-life person behind the hustler character in Schindler’s List, the best and most clearly drawn in the movie: the guy who is always a step ahead of the Nazis. The guy who, caught during the Krakow ghetto clearing, stands up to attention and tells amused Nazi officers that he’s been ordered to clean up the street:

Page was the main force behind Schindler’s List, the book, as he convinced Thomas Keneally to write it on the basis of his (Page’s) extensive archives about Oskar Schindler, and then the movie, as he (Page) chased Steven Spielberg until he (Page) got the director interested in a film version.

Page told his life story in a long interview before he died. It’s, of course, an amazing story: I would have never suspected this resourceful guy was… a high school teacher. He was also a Polish army officer during the short but hard-fought Nazi invasion of the country, and he has great anecdotes, including the one about being caught in the ghetto, standing to attention.

A clear mind, a good storyteller with a quaint Slavic accent and an obsession to provide the wartime exchange rate between the Polish zloty and the U.S. dollar every five minutes, he passed away in 2001.

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Diarios de Guerra de Manuel Azaña (3)

(Viene de la primera y segunda parte)

Leyendo los Diarios de Guerra, uno siente pena por el pobre presidente de la República con mucha frecuencia. Aquí sigue peleando con Largo, ya en la parte final de su presidencia, y tratando con uno de los gerifaltes comunistas, el fascinante José Díaz, cuyo conveniente suicidio en la Unión Soviética, en 1942, le dio la secretaría general del PCE a La Pasionaria. Díaz habla como un auténtico proletario, anota Azaña, con expresiones como “asín” y “presona” que parecerían exageradas en un cómico.

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Las peleas con la Generalitat son una constante. Aquí, 10 meses después del comienzo de la guerra, Azaña expresa su voluntad de hacer una limpia total de lo que considera el eslabón más débil de la República:

IMG_20180801_175146.jpgInteresante detalle, que Azaña reconoce abierto y que no recuerdo haber leído en ningún libro sobre la Guerra Civil: la FAI, aparte de ser la rama más salvaje, violenta y descontrolada de la ya de por sí desbarrada CNT, era separatista catalana. Una vez más, tanta amistad entre los pueblos y tanto amor por la humanidad, junto con tanto apego por la estelada.

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Pasamos de los catalanes a los vascos: otra obsesión recurrente, aunque en este caso de menos duración, dado el rápido colapso del gobierno de medio pelo y el ejército de un cuarto de pelo que montó el PNV. Semanas antes de que los Nacionales tomen Bilbao, Azaña anticipa lo que va a ocurrir, haciendo chascarrillos sobre las fantasías jeltzales de reconquistar Euskal Herria, etc. Y luego le pone un lazo de erudición.

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El “Cinturón de Bilbao” siempre fue presa fácil para el cachondeo de Azaña, y el de muchos otros en las décadas subsiguientes. Una vez más, Azaña predice lo que ocurrirá con tremenda exactitud:

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(Continuará)

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The European Union’s Very Strange Father

Behold, Richard Nikolaus Eijiro, Count of Coudenhove-Kalergi (November 16, 1894 – July 27, 1972), an Austrian-Japanese politician, philosopher, and Count of Coudenhove-Kalergi. The main pioneer of European integration, he served for 49 years as the founding president of the Paneuropean Union,the basis and ideological foundation of the European Union. He proposed the EU’s anthem and symbols, the adoption of a single currency and most of the EU’s main policy lines, including the ideal of turning it into a “United States of Europe.”

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This may sound incredible but, in 45 years a European-born citizen of a European Union country, correspondent in Europe (including stints in Brussels, the EU capital) for a large American newspaper, never in my life I heard of this man until I did, by sheer chance, a few weeks ago.

I suspect many people who think they know a lot about the EU don’t know anything, or at least very much, about the EU’s father. That is just weird, because this was a truly fascinating man, so much more interesting than, say, Jean Monnet or other grey bureaucrats who are often celebrated for their later and smaller contributions to the EU project.

The son of an Austro-Hungarian Count and a Japanese lady of means, Count Richard was a freemason and an ardent philosemite at a time of growing anti-semitism in Europe. He was also for mass racial mixing, even though he had any known biological children of his own. In his 1925 book “Praktischer Idealismus,” he wrote that he wanted the indigenous people of Europe to disappear slowly by interbreeding them with African, Asian and Middle Eastern immigrants who would be encouraged to arrive in Europe in vast numbers.

As the father of two beautiful Eurasian children, I feel strange writing this stuff about mandatory interbreeding (I can assure you, reader, that in my case the interbreeding wasn’t mandatory), but it appears, to the best of my knowledge, to be Count Richard’s blueprint for the future of an unified Europe. And it gets weirder.

Strangely, the Count’s plan didn’t involve Jews, as they (given their intellectual superiority, Count Richard argued) would be allowed a separate status as a sort of natural nobility towering over the newly-minted brown masses from their capital city at Jerusalem (in 1925, an Arab-majority city in a British mandate). This is how he puts it in the aforementioned book, one of many he published:

“The man of the far future will be of mixed race. Today’s races and castes will fall victim to the increasing overcoming of space, time, and prejudice. The Eurasian-Negroid future race, outwardly similar to the ancient Egyptians, will replace the diversity of peoples with a diversity of individuals… Instead of destroying European Jewry, Europe, against its own will, refined and educated this people into a future leader-nation through this artificial selection process. No wonder that this people, that escaped Ghetto-Prison, developed into a spiritual nobility of Europe. Therefore a gracious Providence provided Europe with a new race of nobility by the Grace of Spirit. This happened at the moment when Europe’s feudal aristocracy became dilapidated, and thanks to Jewish emancipation.”

This is what he wrote. You may find it weird, shocking, an excellent plan or whatever. I don’t know what to tell you. Let’s continue:

According to the Count’s autobiography, at the beginning of 1924 his friend Baron Louis de Rothschild introduced him to Max Warburg, a German-Jewish banker (*) who offered to finance his movement for the next three years by giving him 60,000 gold marks. Warburg remained sincerely interested in the movement for the remainder of his life and served as an intermediate for Coudenhove-Kalergi with influential Americans such as banker Paul Warburg, a relative of Max, and financier Bernard Baruch.

It must be said that this American support is not coincidental: Pan-Americanism is an even older movement than Pan-Europeanism, starting with a conference in 1889, extending all the way to its latest meeting in 2001, including a moment of peak attention during World War I when people such as U.S. Secretary of State Robert Lansing were on board. For example, the “Pan-American Scientific Congress” held several meetings (**).

Some have suggested that Pan-Americanism was always an obvious U.S. ploy to secure greater control over its neighboring American states, and ensure no external power would meddle with them. That view appears to have been shared by the U.S. Latin American neighbors.

In Europe, in April 1924 Coudenhove-Kalergi founded the journal Paneuropa (1924–1938) of which he was editor and principal author, on the basis of ideas first published in his 1923 book Pan-Europa. The next year he started publishing his main work, the Kampf um Paneuropa (The fight for Paneuropa, 1925–1928, three volumes).

The Count then launched the Pan-Europa movement, which held its first Congress in 1926 in Vienna, as the first popular movement for a united Europe. In an interview during that congress with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Count Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi expressed the support of Jews by the Pan-European movement and the benefits to Jews with the elimination of racial hatred and economic rivalry that would be brought by a United States of Europe.

In 1927, French politician Aristide Briand was elected honorary president of the Pan-Europa movement. Public figures who attended Pan-Europa congresses over the next few years included Albert Einstein, Thomas Mann and Sigmund Freud. The Count was a hot ticket, despite the Nazis’ strong distaste for his movement.

How hot? OK, let’s put it this way. Staying one step ahead of the Nazis during the World War II, he continued his call for the unification of Europe along the Paris-London axis. His wartime politics and adventures served as the real life basis for fictional Resistance hero Victor Laszlo, the character in Casablanca who is married to Ingrid Bergman’s character, Stephen Dorril wrote in his 2000 book “MI6: Inside the Covert World of Her Majesty’s Secret Intelligence Service.” (***)

The Count published his work Crusade for Paneurope in 1944. His appeal for the unification of Europe enjoyed some support from Winston Churchill, Allen Dulles, and “Wild Bill” Donovan, as he was firmly in the VIPs radar. In the winter of 1945, Harry S. Truman read an article in the December issue of Collier’s magazine that Coudenhove-Kalergi posted about the integration of Europe, according to the Japanese academic Hidenori Tozawa, author of a 2013 book on the Count.

This article impressed Truman, and it was adopted to the United States’ official policy. Winston Churchill’s celebrated speech of 19 September 1946 to the Academic Youth in Zurich, which was perfectly in line with such policy, commended “the exertions of the Pan-European Union which owes so much to Count Coudenhove-Kalergi and which commanded the services of the famous French patriot and statesman Aristide Briand,” wrote Walter Lipgens and Wilfried Loth in their exhausting 1988 compilation “Documents on the History of European Integration, Volume 3: The Struggle for European Union by Political Parties and Pressure Groups in Western European Countries 1945–1950.”

In November 1946 and the spring of 1947, Coudenhove-Kalergi circulated an enquiry addressed to members of European parliaments. This enquiry resulted in the founding of the European Parliamentary Union, a nominally private organization that held its preliminary conference on 4–5 July at Gstaad, Switzerland, and followed it with its first full conference from 8 to 12 September. Speaking at the first EPU conference, Coudenhove-Kalergi argued that the constitution of a wide market with a stable currency was the vehicle for Europe to reconstruct its potential and take the place it deserves within the concert of Nations. On less guarded occasions he was heard to advocate a revival of Charlemagne’s empire, added Lipgens and Loth.

The 1972–1973 academic year at the College of Europe was named in his honour. Coudenhove-Kalergi proposed Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” as the music for the European Anthem. He also proposed a Europe Day, a single currency, European postage stamp and many artefacts for the movement including badges and pennants. This very strange man, a great admirer of Trotsky and the Soviet Union, received the first Charlemagne Prize (also won by Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and Henry Kissinger) in 1950, and probably killed himself.

(* Warburg is (in)famous as he remained as member of the German central bank’s board for two years after Hitler’s takeover)

(** Lansing gave a keynote to the 1915 meeting, which stated: ‘Pan-Americanism is an expression of the idea of internationalism. America has become the guardian of that idea, which will in the end rule the world. Pan-Americanism is the most advanced as well as the most practical form of that idea. It has been made possible because of our geographical isolation, of our similar political institutions, and of our common conception of human rights. Since the European war began other factors have strengthened this natural bond and given impulse to the movement. Never before have our people so fully realized the significance of the words, “Peace” and “Fraternity.” Never have the need and benefit of international cooperation in every form of human activity been so evident as they are to-day.’)

(***I know what you’re thinking: what about the Hungarian count in The English Patient, the movie and the novel? Apparently, our count has nothing to do with that character, which is loosely based on László Almásy, a well-known desert explorer in 1930s Egypt, who helped the German side in World War II.)

 

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Diarios de Guerra de Manuel Azaña (2)

(Viene de la primera parte)

Los Sucesos de Mayo de 1937 fueron muy complejos y están magistralmente retratados, además de por Azaña, en el “Homenaje a Cataluña” de George Orwell, quien concide casi punto por punto con la visión de Azaña, por cierto.

Para Azaña, todo fue en resumen una espantosa tragicomedia:

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Los desencuentros con Companys, una de las constantes de los diarios, aparecen aquí con claridad y crudeza. La vida del presidente de la República estuvo, literalmente, en peligro en Barcelona durante los sucesos, en parte por la incapacidad de la Generalitat para ofrecerle una mínima protección.

 

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En la Generalitat todo lo describen como una “riña entre catalanes”, escribe Azaña con, me imagino sin dificultad, dientes chirriantes. Luego está la conversación entre el General Martínez Monje y el General Pozas, en la que el primero le informa al segundo, alegremente, de que le ofrecieron la dirección militar de la insurrección anarquista. “Te habría fusilado”, responde Pozas.

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Por cierto, Azaña insiste en escribir “Generalidad”. Aquí describe los intentos de ayuda, apaciguamiento y mediación llegados desde Valencia para poner algo de orden en el caos barcelonés. Hay un acuerdo, y un tal Sesé de la UGT atraviesa muy ufano una barricada: tras pasar, es asesinado junto a su escolta de policía. La CNT, mientras, aprovecha para enviar soldados del frente de Aragón a la bulla en Barcelona.

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Un tal coronel Arrando es ascendido en medio de todo. Azaña aprovecha para describirle: “Llega un peluquín pegado al cráneo, y las cejas pintadas. Su aspecto es horrendo”. Arrando le devuelve la simpatía, negándose a mover un dedo para facilitar la seguridad del presidente de la República.

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El todavía presidente del Gobierno, Largo Caballero, es una bete noir de Azaña. Cuando finalmente logra volver a Valencia, se encuentra a Largo decidido a destituir al General Miaja, por entonces con halo heroico por la defensa de Madrid, por filocomunista. Todo este episodio arroja mucha luz sobre las muy graves tensiones entre los comunistas y sus compañeros de viaje, por un lado, y el PSOE tradicional por otro. Esto desembocaría en el golpe anticomunista del Teniente Coronel Segismundo Casado al final de la guerra, en 1939.

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Entre las muchas manías de Largo, estaba la de organizar una rebelión antifranquista en el Protectorado, basándose en unos cuantos aprendices de espía con maletines y la esperanza de usar a las esposas de los soldados moros de Franco para animarles a cambiar de bando.

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(Continúa)

 

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May You Not Live in Interesting Times

One may think it really is too easy if life gives you all this material, as the New York Review of Books notes:

One of the finest poems by Czesław Miłosz is the four-part sequence A Treatise on Poetry, a kind of elegy for pre-war Poland, which he wrote in France in the mid-1950s. Its first part, “Beautiful Times,” describes the glamorous society life in Kraków before World War I, and concludes with these lines: “The laughter in cafes/Echoes about a hero’s grave”; its second part, “The Capital,” ends with this little scene in Warsaw the night before the German invasion on September 1, 1939:

On Tamka Street a girl’s heels click.
She calls in a half whisper. They go together
To an empty lot overgrown with weeds.
A watchman on duty, hidden in the shadows,
Hears their soft voices in the bedding dark.
I do not know how to bear my pity….

Later I would ask myself more than once
What became of them in the coming years and ages.

Miłosz, the Polish poet, writer, diplomat, exile, and Nobel laureate, was a figure whose own life seemed to embody the turmoil of the twentieth century. He lived through both world wars and the Russian Revolution, experienced fascism, communism, and democracy, lived in Eastern and Western Europe and, later, the United States, and he returned again and again to these events in his writing. “To me Miłosz is one of those authors whose personal life dictates his work…. Except for his poems, all of his writing is tied to his…personal history or to the history of his times,” Witold Gombrowicz, the other great Polish writer in exile, said of him. I agree, but would not exclude Miłosz’s poems and don’t believe he would either, since he regarded his highest achievement as a poet to be his ability to fuse history and his personal experience.

When asked about his home, Miłosz said that he came from another planet, another time, another epoch. He was born in 1911 in Lithuania—then part of the Russian Empire—in one of those regions of Eastern Europe of which even Western Europeans have only a vague idea, where millions of people were killed and displaced by both world wars and where the ones who survived almost without exception had an astonishing life story to tell.

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Diarios de Guerra de Manuel Azaña (1)

Los Diarios de Guerra de Manuel Azaña son probablemente la obra más importante escrita durante la Guerra Civil española. Están llenos a rebosar de detalles interesantes que pueden habérsele escapado a muchos especialistas y representan un punto de vista notablemente ecuánime sobre el conflicto, sobre todo teniendo en cuenta que fueron escritos por uno de los máximos líderes de uno de los bandos, el propio Presidente de la República.

Yo había leído varios extractos pero no tuve una copia completa en mis manos hasta este verano, y la verdad y que no me han decepcionado en absoluto. En las próximas semanas voy a publicar varias entradas en este blog, con extractos de los diarios y comentarios breves que realmente son como un resumen de subrayados, de los que suelo hacer en libros electrónicos pero no puedo hacer en una obra que, aparantemente e increíblemente, nunca ha sido publicada en formato electrónico.

En un breve comentario sobre los Diarios de Azaña de antes de la Guerra, ya indiqué mi sorpresa ante la forma en que se han tratado en España estas obras absolutamente fundamentales para entender nuestra historia durante el siglo XX. Es del todo vergonzoso que mi edición de Diarios de Guerra (Planeta DeAgostini, 2005), una de las más recientes, carezca de aparato crítico y de un índice, dada la ingente cantidad de personas, incidentes, escándalos y decisiones que se describen en sus páginas.

Lo mismo ocurre con mi edición de los diarios de antes de la guerra; la mención frecuente a personas de las que no se da el nombre de pila, y hechos muy poco conocidos, convierte esas ausencias en una fuente constante de frustración y de mosqueo con la industria editorial española, que es capaz de llenar de notas a pie de página las novelas más irrelevantes de Juan Goytisolo. A ver si algún historiador se anima a darle el trato que merece a la obra cumbre de uno de los grandes líderes políticos de la historia española.

Puede ser que la peripecia que sufrieron los diarios de Azaña hasta ser publicados al completo explique por qué no son incluso más conocidos y citados de lo que lo son, y la forma en que se presentan al lector.

También hay otras posibilidades, más, por así decirlo, oscuras, que podrían incluir una cierta incomodidad por lo que Azaña escribe, especialmente entre los que deberían ser sus partidarios: todos aquellos, y Dios sabe que son muchos, que promueven el cuento absurdo de que la Guerra Civil Española fue una lucha entre el Bien y el Mal, entre los Angeles del Progreso y los Monstruos del Fascismo. Sé con certeza que muchos que se llenan la boca con defensas entusiastas de la República no tienen ni la menor idea de cómo funcionaba, de lo que hacían ni de lo que decían sus líderes. Gracias a Azaña, su ignorancia no puede tener excusa.

Estas notas irán de forma cronólogica, así que empezamos con Febrero de 1936. El Frente Popular, liderado por el propio Azaña (que no era ni socialista ni comunista, sino un republicano de izquierdas) acaba de apuntarse la victoria en unas elecciones extraordinariamente dramáticas. Pido de antemano perdón por la mala calidad de algunas de las capturas de página, que he hecho con mi móvil y en condiciones variables.

En esta primera página, me llama la atención la forma en que Azaña se deja querer: “la gente quiere que gobierne yo”. En las páginas de Febrero de 1936 (las únicas de antes de la guerra en el diario, que luego tiene un hiato hasta Mayo de 1937), Azaña no da la menor impresión de prever lo que vendría después. Desde su punto de vista, la derecha ha perdido porque merecía perder, y será aplastada porque merece ser aplastada. No hay búsqueda, no hay “gobernaré todos los españoles”, tan típico de nuestros tiempos. Aquí sólo hay gente que va a ganar, y gente que va a perder.

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Seguimos en Febrero de 1936, cinco meses antes del comienzo de la guerra. El presidente del Gobierno saliente le entrega a Azaña la jefatura del gabinete “como si me entregase las llaves de un piso desalquilado”. Hay que tener en cuenta que Azaña fue brevemente jefe del Gobierno, antes de que el Frente Popular echara al jefe de Estado, el Presidente de la República Niceto Alcalá-Zamora, para sustituirle por el propio Azaña.

El propio Alcalá-Zamora, uno de los mayores responsables de la Guerra Civil por su incompetencia y sobrevaloración de su propio intelecto, al que Azaña tenía calado, aparece como muñidor de un partido imposible que buscaba dominar el centro político de la República.

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Febrero de 1936: una queja constante de Azaña es que la izquierda, por sus circunstancias históricas, carece de una gran cantidad de cuadros preparados para cubrir todos los puestos de la administración. Habiendo cubierto como corresponsal varios cambios de gobierno en España, doy fecha de que a principios del siglo XXI el problema sigue siendo similar.

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En la vena anterior, Azaña sigue desdeñoso de la derecha y el consenso en Febrero de 1936: “Tienen un miedo horrible. Ahora quieren pacificar, para que las gentes irritadas se calmen y no los hagan pupa. Si hubiesen ganado las elecciones, no se habrían cuidado de pacificar y, lejos de dar la amnistía, habrían metido a la cárcel a los que aún andan sueltos”.

Y Azaña se permite el chiste, que esconde una amenaza: “Tienen que convencerse — le dije riendo — que la derecha de la república soy yo y ustedes unos aprendices extraviados”. Traguen conmigo, que soy moderado y razonable, o lidien con los radicales a mi izquierda. Estoy al 100% de que su interlocutor no le vio la gracia al chiste.

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En Julio de 1936, Calvo Sotelo es asesinado y Francisco Franco acepta unirse a la conjura que Emilio Mola llevaba preparando durante meses, que fracasa y desemboca en una Guerra Civil. El diario de Azaña, como ya indiqué, no incluye entradas del periodo, que fue muy duro para el presidente de la República según su propio testimonio.

En Mayo de 1937, es otra persona quien retoma la narración: se ha ido para siempre el político republicano agresivo y convencido, y ha llegado para quedarse un observador perplejo de la caótica realidad revolucionaria de la República. Cuando vuelve a coger la pluma, Azaña está aislado en Barcelona, en medio del caos más absoluto, que describe así:

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(Continúa)

 

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A Weak God: Gnosticism for the 20th Century

Ron Rosenbaum wrote in Tablet, 29.9.17:

God in Struggle, a God not all-powerful, but one who needed us, needed our help in his wrestling with evil in the universe and thus silently sat by during the slaughter: This was, Norman Mailer told me once, “the one big idea” behind his fiction and nonfiction as well. He puts it in the mouth of every one of his protagonists from the fictional Sergius O’Shaughnessy to the real-life Gary Gilmore: God is weak and needs our help to hold off the devil. It is the groundwork of the entire literary movement now called “black humor.”

Norman Mailer always struck me as a guy who took to heart this old-ish Jewish saying:

Everyone should have two pockets, each containing a slip of paper. On one should be written: I am but dust and ashes, and on the other: The world was created for me. From time to time we must reach into one pocket, or the other. The secret of living comes from knowing when to reach into each.

Then again, Rosenbaum continues in his Tablet article:

In 2016, Haaretz reported on the finding of an expanded Hebrew version of Eli Wiesel’s Night, in which he expresses profound hatred for European nations, as here, where he describes at length his Christian-Hungarian neighbors, who joyously watched the Jews of his hometown being deported. “All the residents stood at the entrances of their homes, with faces filled with happiness at the misfortune they saw in their friends of yesterday walking and disappearing into the horizon—not for a day or two, but forever. Here I learned the true face of the Hungarian. It is the brutal face of an animal. I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I were to say the Hungarians were more violent toward us than the Germans themselves. The Germans tended to shoot Jews.” When Wiesel, then a journalist in Paris, came to Francois Mauriac, a French catholic, in the late 1950s with his manuscript to ask for recommendations about getting it published, Mauriac seduced him. In effect, he offered what Wiesel might not have realized was a Faustian bargain. “Yes, I’ll translate it and get it published and make sure the world pays attention. But I will denature, defang, diminish it by turning it into a Christian allegory that exalts my version of God. Not the god Wiesel depicted as Hitler but Mauriac’s “god of love.”

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