No end to the Final Solution

David Cesarani, Research Professor of History at Royal Holloway University of London, died at the age of 58 on 25 October 2015. The book now appears without its author, a kind of huge mausoleum for an astonishing enterprise. Cesarani wants to change our view of the Holocaust and to close the yawning gap between popular understanding of this history and current scholarship on the subject… to challenge the traditional concepts and periodisations … the term itself. He substitutes the ‘Final Solution’ for the Holocaust, but that Nazi term has become an alternative name for the Holocaust, which remains after 900 pages entirely unchallenged. The first 235 pages take the persecution

Sins of the fathers | 19 November 2015

This is a documentary in which three men travel across Europe together, but they’re not pleasurably interrailing, even though there are often times they probably wished they were. For two of them, Niklas and Horst, the journey is about confronting their fathers, who were high-ranking Nazi officials responsible for the deaths of millions of Jews, while for the third, the eminent British human-rights lawyer Philippe Sands, it means visiting the place where his grandfather’s family was exterminated. This place, Galicia, which straddles the modern-day border between Poland and Ukraine, is the exact place my own grandmother’s family were murdered. Her father lost every one of his seven siblings. She lost

The continent in crisis

Sir Ian Kershaw won his knight’s spurs as a historian with his much acclaimed two-volume biography of Hitler, Hubris and Nemesis. He is now attempting to repeat the feat with a two-volume history of modern Europe, of which this is the opening shot.Inevitably, the figure of the Führer once again marches across Kershaw’s pages as they chronicle the years dominated by Germany’s malign master. First the Great War that gave Hitler his chance to escape obscurity, and then the greater one he launched himself. Opening with the continent’s catastrophic slide into generalised conflict in 1914, Kershaw apportions blame or the disaster more or less equally to all the combatant nations.

The brutal mask of anarchy

In September 1939 Britain went to war against Germany, ostensibly in defence of Poland. One big secret that the British government didn’t know at the time — and not until much later — was that while the Anglo-Polish alliance treaty was being negotiated during the previous months, the Poles had been actively training and arming terrorists to kill British troops in the Middle East. I don’t normally believe in convoluted conspiracy theories, but this one happens to be true. In the 1930s the anti-Semitic government in Warsaw wanted rid of 3.5 million Polish Jews. Initially they tried to pack them off to Madagascar. But then the Poles hit on the

Behind the Black Flag curtain

So you’ve just popped out of town for the day on an errand. And when you get back, everyone has gone. Your wife, your kids, your nephews and nieces, your friends, your customers: they’ve all been kidnapped and dragged off to a place so barbarically horrible that really they’d be better off dead. Your daughter, for example. If she’s nine or over then she’s considered fair game. She’ll be sold as a slave in the market to the highest bidder — as ever, there’s a premium for blonde hair or blue eyes— after which her new owner can use her as she wishes. The very least she can expect is

‘It’s always wrong to starve’

‘My mother and father named me Aron, but my father said they should have named me What Have You Done, and my uncle told everyone they should have called me What Were You Thinking.’ So begins, with bitter Jewish humour, this involving book set largely in the Warsaw ghetto. There is a hint of unnerving pastiche in this, but it is a sentence that finds an echo in the compassionate words of Jim Shepard’s hero, Janusz Korczak, in the final sentence of the book. Korczak was a real figure, a paediatrician who ran an orphanage in Warsaw, moved with it into the ghetto and, despite being offered several chances of

The BBC’s latest Churchill documentary is an outrageous hatchet job

Churchill: When Britain Said No BBC2 The 50th anniversary earlier this year of the death of Winston Churchill produced an international wave of commemoration. Churchill remains among the most widely admired – and most regularly quoted – political figures of the past century, especially in America. While Churchill’s role in history will be legitimately analyzed for centuries, there is a class of Churchill-bashers (‘revisionists’) for whom the adulation of the last few months (and decades) cannot pass without a spirited answer. And where better to do this than on Britain’s state-owned broadcaster. The revisionists’ first salvo was Jeremy Paxman’s programme (‘all the dockworkers hated Churchill’) on the January 1965 state

The lives of others | 14 May 2015

‘I call Zelma Cacik who may be living in London,’ says the announcer, in the clipped RP accent of the BBC in the 1940s. ‘I call her on behalf of her 16-year-old cousin…’ The voice betrays no emotion, no feeling, it’s so matter-of-fact, but the script spares no punches as it tells the cousin’s story in blunt statements of fact. She was born in Poland, separated from her family when she was 12 and made to work in a munitions factory while her parents, her sisters and brother were sent to Treblinka extermination camp. Twelve names in all are called out on the archive radio programme from 1946, one of


I am compiling a list of the best black puddings. It began in Spain when I encountered my first morcilla de Burgos, a rich, spiced black sausage bulked up with rice. I was smitten. No black pudding could compete with this, I thought. But then I moved to Cumbria and in the flat hinterland of the Solway plain I found a butcher who made trays of the black stuff, studded with nuggets of fat the size of a child’s thumb. A portion of this was a veritable slice of heaven. I’ve sampled Stornoway’s, of course, and a black-pudding Scotch egg, but nothing ranked alongside the twin fruits of Burgos and

Marine Le Pen is now willing to sacrifice her father in order to defend French Jews

Marine Le Pen, leader of the French Front National, really is determined to muzzle her father Jean-Marie Le Pen once and for all after his latest refusal to shut up about the Holocaust. On Monday, she won round one after it was revealed that her father would no longer stand in the regional elections. During the departmental election campaign last month, Monsieur Le Pen flouted his daughter’s orders and deployed his usual stock put-downs of the Holocaust as, for example, ‘a detail of history’. Marine was furious with her father, the founder and honorary president of the FN, and ordered him to appear before a party disciplinary committee at which,

All that glitters is not gold

Woman in Gold feels rather like a Jewish version of Philomena as this too is about an older woman seeking justice for what has been stolen from her in the past but, unlike the Jewish version of almost everything, this is not in any way superior, and may even be a dud. It is based on a true story, which is an excellent and fascinating story, but it’s the storytelling that counts, and the storytelling here is not only familiar and pedestrian, but so emotionally manipulative that it doesn’t come with one sentimental ending, but several in quick succession. ‘Oh good, it’s over,’ you will think to yourself, as you

What did Ed Miliband’s new big donor mean about a ‘holocaust’?

Millionaire hippy Dale Vince OBE has written Ed Miliband a cheque for a quarter of a million to counter the struggling Labour leader’s business credentials. Worth some £107 million, Vince, who founded Ecotricity, claims ‘there’s no way to my mind that the Labour Party is anti-business’. And that’s not the only daft thing he has said. Asked by Daisy Green Magazine about whether he was a vegan for environmental or compassionate reasons, Vince replied: ‘It’s for both those reasons and also it’s on health grounds (meat and dairy are bad for us) – and it’s because the idea of treating animals in the way we do, subjecting them and their

If we want to tackle anti-Semitism we must challenge hate speech, not censor it

One month on from the Charlie Hebdo massacre, free speech is still under attack. The outpouring of public revulsion at the bloody silencing of ‘blasphemous’ cartoonists after the attack was inspiring. It was a visceral display of support for the right to speak one’s mind – as crudely, offensively and blasphemously as one chooses – that has been absent for some time. But deep-rooted ambivalences have remained – and now these look to be exploited by policymakers looking to institute blasphemy laws of their own. When it comes to cracking down on aberrant ideas, Europe has long been leading the way. Restrictions on hate speech are in place across Europe.

Tom Stoppard’s The Hard Problem review: too clever by half

Big event. A new play from Sir Tom. And he tackles one of philosophy’s oldest and crunchiest issues, which varsity thinkers call ‘the hard problem’. How is it that a wrinkled three-pound blancmange sitting at the top of the spinal cord can generate abstract thoughts of almost limitless complexity? In real life Sir Tom is said to have such a flair for philosophical chitchat that he can fire off searching observations about Descartes, mind-body dualism, the nature of immateriality, being and non-being, the ‘cogito’ and so on, until those around him have slithered into a coma. Which is not rude of them. It’s perfectly acceptable to pass out during an

Night Will Fall review: the Hitchcock film they didn’t want you to see

At the synagogue where I happened to be singing last Saturday, the rabbi wrapped up her regular notices with a timely exhortation to her congregants to try to watch the André Singer documentary Night Will Fall. In 1945, as the Allied forces fought their way across Europe, in the process uncovering the hideous network of Nazi death and slave-labour camps, film producer Sidney Bernstein was despatched by the Ministry of Information to lead a few dozen army cameramen tasked with documenting the astonishing extent of the German atrocities. The project was intended to serve not merely as a current affairs update for the edification (and/or mortification) of the British public,

Adolf Eichmann hoped his ‘Arab friends’ would continue his battle against the Jews

Over Christmas I finally got around to reading Eichmann Before Jerusalem by Bettina Stangneth.  I cannot recommend this book – newly translated from the German – highly enough.  It challenges and indeed changes nearly all received wisdom about the leading figure behind the genocide of European Jews during World War II. The title of course refers to Hannah Arendt’s omnipresent and over-praised account of Adolf Eichmann’s 1961 trial, Eichmann in Jerusalem: a report on the banality of evil.  I would say that Stangneth’s book not merely surpasses but actually buries Arendt’s account.  Not least in showing how Arendt was fooled by Eichmann’s role-play in the dock in Jerusalem.  For whereas

The siege in a kosher shop in Paris proves why Israel needs to exist

As I write a siege is ongoing in a Kosher shop in Paris.  In France, Belgium and across Europe in recent years, Jews have repeatedly been the targets of Islamist attack.  They always are.  Last year saw the largest upsurge of anti-Semitic hate crime on record even in the UK. But it is the continent that has seen the worst and growing litany of attacks.  In 2012 Mohamed Merah killed three Jewish children and a teacher at a Jewish school in Toulouse.  In May last year three people were shot dead by an Islamist gunman at the Jewish museum in Brussels. During the twentieth century Judaism on the continent of Europe

Germany is shackled in the immigration debate. But Britain isn’t so must lead the way

Today Angela Merkel will meet David Cameron in Downing Street. She will tell him what she can do – and what she cannot do – to help keep Britain in the EU. Yet she might like to begin by telling him what she plans to do to keep her own people behind the EU project, for in Germany the Eurofederalist consensus is being challenged like never before. In Germany, as in Britain, the most emotive issue is immigration. In Germany, as in Britain, people are scared to discuss this issue frankly, for fear of being branded racists. And now a new movement has emerged to fill this vacuum: Patriotische Europaer Gegen

The Nazi origins of the Vienna Phil’s New Year’s Day concert

It may be the last water-cooler moment in world television. On the first morning of the year, at 11.15 Central European Time, in a place that considers itself the epicentre of Europe, a group of men in formal dress mount the Musikvereinssaal stage in Vienna to perform a ritual that passes for culture and tradition. It is, of course, neither. The music is strictly bar-room, written by members of the Strauss family as social foreplay for the soldiery and serving classes in low taverns. Like most forms of dirty dancing, the music rose vertically from barroom to ballroom and was soon performed as encores by symphonic orchestras to dowager purrs

Haunted by the Holocaust: Three novellas by Patrick Modiano

Earlier this year Patrick Modiano won the Nobel Prize in Literature ‘for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the Occupation’. A prolific and celebrated novelist in France, Modiano is not well known in Britain or America, where only a third of his works have been translated and many are out of print. Yale University Press has a coup in these circumstances with Mark Polizzotti’s translation of three of Modiano’s novellas, commissioned before the Nobel announcement. The novellas originally appeared over five years: Remise de peine (Suspended Sentences) 1988; Fleurs de ruine (Flowers of Ruin) 1991; and Chien