Kindness backfires: Sufferance, by Charles Palliser, reviewed

Charles Palliser’s Sufferance tells us what happens to one family in an occupied country during wartime. What sets it apart is that all the characters are unnamed. The country, region and historical period also remain unspecified. This indeterminacy lends the novel enormous power. The father of the family decides to take in a young girl from a minority ethnic group who has become separated from her own family. ‘I felt for her as if she was my own child,’ he says. Yet his motives are not entirely altruistic, since he believes he will be financially rewarded for looking after the girl. He is a lowly accountant working in the public

How can anyone resist The Piano?

One challenge facing any novel, drama or film about the Holocaust is to restore its sheer unimaginability. In Thomas Keneally’s Schindler’s Ark – filmed, of course, as Schindler’s List – when news reaches Krakow of what’s happening in Auschwitz, Keneally pauses for some editorialising. ‘To write these things now,’ he says, ‘is to state the commonplaces of history. But to find them out in 1942… was to suffer a fundamental shock, a derangement in that area of the brain in which stable ideas about humankind and its possibilities are kept.’ The Piano shamelessly seeks to move us – and shamelessly succeeds In The Tattooist of Auschwitz, the same fundamental shock

Wartime Budapest was a haven, then a hell, for Europe’s Jews

One day in May 1944, in the Nagyvárad ghetto, Sándor Leitner saw an elderly man struggling to walk towards him. His face was swollen from beatings and he was barely able to stand. It was his father, returning from his interrogation by the Gendarmes. The Nagyvárad ghetto (now Oradea in Romania) was the largest in Hungary. Around 27,000 Jews were incarcerated there before being deported to Auschwitz. Leitner, a senior community leader, escaped to Budapest and survived the Holocaust. His post-war account of the fate of his fellow Jews is one of the most detailed eyewitness accounts of the savagery of the ghettoisation and deportations. When the traumatised newcomers arrived

An endurance test that I constantly failed: Occupied City reviewed

Occupied City is Steve McQueen’s meditative essay on Amsterdam during Nazi occupation, with a running time of four hours and 22 minutes. There is no archive footage. There are no witness testimonies. It’s not The Sorrow and the Pity. It is not half-a-Shoah. Instead, this visits 130 addresses and details what happened there between 1940 and 1945 while showing the building or space as it is today. It should have its own power – what ghosts reside here? What was life like for the Jews who were deported from this square and perished at Auschwitz? – but I watched it from home via a link, as I had Covid, and

It’ll make you cry despite being very ordinary: One Life reviewed

One Life is the story of Nicholas Winton (Anthony Hopkins), the British stockbroker who arranged the Kindertransport that saved hundreds of children from almost certain death in the Holocaust and be warned: you will need one tissue, if not two – maybe 12. Which isn’t to say it’s a great film. It’s fine, in its workmanlike way. But the story is so inherently powerful and moving and there is so much goodness and decency at work it will set you off. Take a whole box of tissues if you want to play it safe and would rather not deploy your sleeve. Hopkins’s performance is quiet, patient, masterly and as understated

A Radio 3 doc that contains some of the best insults I’ve ever heard

A recent Sunday Feature on Radio 3 contained some of the best insults I have ever heard. Contributors to the programme on the early music revolution were discussing the backlash they experienced in the 1970s while reviving period-style instruments and techniques. Soprano Dame Emma Kirkby remembered one critic complaining that listening to her performance was ‘as about as interesting as eating an entire meal of plain yoghurt’. Another critic, writing in Gramophone, pronounced the strings of the new ensembles ‘as beautiful as period dentistry’. Those strings were mostly made of animal guts. There was, as one of the musicians interviewed recalled, ‘a DIY atmosphere’ to the movement, which developed alongside

Has VR finally come of age?

A heavily made-up Iranian woman in bra and knickers is dancing seductively before me. We’re in some vast warehouse, and she’s swaying barefoot. But then I look around. All the other men here are in military uniforms and leaning against walls or sitting at desks, smoking and looking at her impassively. I slowly realise we are in a torture chamber and this lithe, writhing woman is dancing, quite possibly, for her life. Me? I have become one of her tormentors. You can immerse yourself in war-ruined Ukraine, go on the run from the Holocaust, become a mushroom Welcome to The Fury, a bravura attempt by Iranian artist Shirin Neshat to

Like attending a joyous religious service: We Will Rock You, at the Coliseum, reviewed

One of the earliest jukebox musicals has returned to the West End. When the show opened in 2002 the author, Ben Elton, plugged his production on TV chat shows with a wisecracking slogan: ‘We Will Rock You isn’t just a title… it’s a promise.’ The easy-listening storyline draws inspiration from the Old Testament and from Mad Max. We’re in a dystopian future world ruled by faceless corporations that sell mass-produced garbage to zombified youngsters addicted to their mobile phones. A tribe of exiles, the Bohemians, roam the underworld in search of the relics of a vanished culture known as ‘rock’n’roll’. The Bohemians meet a visionary outcast, Galileo, who recites song

The Westminster Holocaust memorial ignores Jewish suffering

It’s groundhog day all over again for the long-planned Holocaust memorial and learning centre in Westminster’s Victoria Tower Gardens. This huge, Brutalist construction would destroy a quiet green oasis valued by local residents. Last July, the Court of Appeal upheld a ruling that the structure was prohibited by a 1900 Act of Parliament, passed to protect the park from such developments. Yet now the government – which previously overrode Westminster council’s objections – has declared it will legislate to cancel out that 1900 law. It will thus ride roughshod over a historic legal protection for the local community. Is this really a desirable context for a project supposedly devoted to

Why do young people fall for Holocaust conspiracies?

Millennials and Generation Z pride themselves on being ‘anti-racist’. We might, then, expect that remembering the Holocaust properly would be important to them – it was the largest act of racial hatred in modern history. The truth is very different and more troubling. New research commissioned by the Claims Conference finds Dutch millennials and Gen Z are more likely than the rest of the public to be ignorant of the Holocaust, deny the facts, oppose acknowledging the Netherlands’s role, and be sympathetic to contemporary Nazism. While 12 per cent of Dutch adults believe ‘the Holocaust is a myth’ or ‘the number of Jews who died has been greatly exaggerated’, that jumps to

Katja Hoyer

How can we keep the memory of the Holocaust alive?

‘If people like me do not proclaim their experiences for others to hear, then future generations will not learn the lessons of these, perhaps the darkest, moments of our history,’ said Freda Wineman, who survived Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps and dedicated much of her life after the second world war to sharing her story. Her death earlier this month at the age of 98 meant not only the loss of a warm and much-admired individual but also that of a powerful witness to the horrors unleashed by Nazi Germany. As the Holocaust fades from living memory into history, Wineman’s story has lost nothing of its relevance, but new

The painful question we must ask about the Holocaust

How should we remember the Holocaust? In the next decade or so, many of the last living Holocaust survivors will pass away. It will then fall to us later generations to confront what Hannah Arendt called ‘the abyss that opened up before us’ by telling their stories. In doing so, we aim to guard against the spectre of Holocaust denial. But when we vow to ‘never forget’ the terrible crimes of Nazism, what exactly is it that we seek to remember? What is sometimes forgotten is that the way we remember the Holocaust is as much a historical process as the event itself. Though the term ‘holocaust’ was used already

A masterpiece: Rose, at Park Theatre, reviewed

Look at this line. ‘I’m 80 years old. I find that unforgivable.’ Could an actor get a laugh on ‘unforgivable’? Maureen Lipman does just that in Rose, by Martin Sherman, a monologue spoken by a Ukrainian Jew who lived through the horrors of the 20th century. In the opening sections, Lipman plays it like a professional comic and she fills the theatre with warm, loving laughter. Rose’s dad is a hypochondriac who spends all day in bed. ‘He never stopped dying but as far as we could tell there was nothing wrong with him.’ Eventually he loses his life when a wardrobe stuffed with pills topples on to him. ‘He

The invisible man: The Glass Pearls, by Emeric Pressburger, reviewed

Not all Germans were swayed by Hitler, but the majority were. Karl Braun, the fugitive Nazi doctor at the heart of Emeric Pressburger’s 1966 novel The Glass Pearls, was devoted to the furtherance of so-called ‘science’ under the Führer. In the interests of research he cut up the brains of a number of concentration camp inmates. His chosen victims – Jews and other ‘useless mouths’ – were crematorium fodder. Yet Braun sees himself as a decent, God-fearing family man. Undoubtedly he had to carry out unpleasant work, but does that mean he has no conscience? Pressburger, a Hungarian-born Jewish émigré, had reason to dislike the Germans: his mother and other

How should we honour the ‘angels’ of the Holocaust when they’re gone?

Yom HaShoa is Israel and the Jewish people’s day of remembrance for the Shoa, or Holocaust. It falls this year on 8th April. Its official Hebrew name means ‘Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day’, emphasising how we should remember not only the six million Jews who were killed by the Nazis, but also the heroes like those who rose up against their persecution in the Warsaw Ghetto. There is also another group of heroes we should remember. Their actions provide a model of human decency we should all seek to emulate. An apparently disparate group from varied backgrounds, they are known as the ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ – special people who

Why teaching the Holocaust still matters

Pretzsch is a normal small town on the River Elbe, 35 miles north east of Leipzig, with little or nothing to suggest its dark past. Eighty years ago, in the spring of 1941, it became a mustering point for a cadre of men who would perform ‘special tasks’ during the forthcoming Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. Over the spring and early summer months, around 3,000 men arrived in Pretzsch. Quartered in SS accommodation, the men eventually learnt they would be part of four Einsatzgruppen — special task forces — who were to move behind the German front line. Their task was framed as maintaining security and eliminating resistance. By the

How 20th-century artists rescued the Crucifixion

Two millennia ago, in the outer reaches of the empire, the Romans performed a routine execution of a Galilean rebel. Tortured and publicly humiliated in front of family and friends, Jesus of Nazareth was slowly asphyxiated over six hours. The Crucifixion is the centrepiece of Christianity. But artists have long adapted the devotional image of the Cross for their own purposes. As far back as the early 5th century, woodcarvers working on a door for the Basilica of Santa Sabina in Rome crafted a Christ whose palms are impaled with nails, but who is not hung on a cross. A devotional statue in Panama dating from the 17th century made

Remembering the Holocaust after the survivors are gone

When Ziggy Shipper was 13, the Nazis forced him onto a train in the Lodz Jewish Ghetto bound for Auschwitz-Birkenau. In hideously camped, cold, dehydrated conditions, Ziggy’s journey was made even more uncomfortable by a fully grown man who was crushing him. Only when the train stopped did Ziggy become aware that it was a corpse. His first emotion, however, when the body was thrown off the train, was not one of horror that the man had died, but of relief – of joy, even – that he could breathe again. It was an experience that has haunted Ziggy ever since: incredulity and horror at how his own humanity had

Should you take your children to visit Auschwitz?

Is the Auschwitz museum suitable for children? I pondered that question on a visit accompanied by a plane load of secondary school teachers, organised by The Holocaust Educational Trust. The Holocaust was first included on the UK’s National Curriculum in 1991 and the Trust charters aeroplanes for a professional development course for UK teachers, taking them to Auschwitz and back within a day. It aims to increase their understanding of the atrocity so that they can teach it more effectively.  That it’s possible to fly from London to Krakow in Poland and back with budget carriers and then take a cheap bus ride or short rental car drive to Auschwitz all within 24 hours makes the idea

History shouldn’t be used against us

Can you feel the fascism yet? You ought to by now, more than a week after Britain leaving the EU. So many people warned us of this moment. There was the former journalist Paul Mason, who claimed to see crowds of fascists thronging the streets of London. The former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell became so disturbed by our national turn that at one stage he dressed up in a sort of regimental uniform and sang a song about Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings. And then there was the cruelly titled Lord Adonis. The once-sensible former Blairite schools minister spent recent years so apparently worried about the dangers of Brexit