Category Archives: Archives and Historical Memory

American Library Association (ALA) Candidates Speak on Cuban Library Issue

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I received this press release from the Friends of Cuban Libraries:

ALA Candidates Speak on Cuban Library Issue

Sara Kelly Johns and Molly Raphael, candidates for ALA president, spoke on March 8 at the office of New York City’s METRO library organization.

Both candidates affirmed their respect for intellectual freedom as a core value of the ALA, but a specific question from the audience about the Cuban independent library issue identified their contrasting views on intellectual freedom as a matter of policy.

Critics of current ALA policy say that past ALA investigations and panel discussions on Cuba have overlooked or ignored the repression of Cuba’s independent library movement, founded in 1998 to oppose censorship. According to journalists and human rights organizations, Cuba’s independent library workers have been subjected to police raids, arrests, 20-year prison terms and the court-ordered burning of confiscated book collections. Amnesty International has named Cuba’s jailed independent librarians as prisoners of conscience and is calling for their release.

In the only opinion poll of ALA members on the Cuba issue, conducted by AL Direct, 76% of respondents voted for the ALA to condemn the repression Cuba’s independent library movement.

During the question period at the March 8 presidential candidates event in New York, a member of the Friends of Cuban Libraries complained that several ALA investigations and panel discussions of this issue had allowed only one side of the controversy to be fairly heard. The questioner asked Sara Kelly Johns and Molly Raphael to guarantee that, under their leadership, diverse views on the Cuban library controversy would be fairly represented in future ALA considerations of this issue.

Sara Kelly Johns responded to the question by noting that she has paid close attention to the Cuban library issue. She gave assurances that, under her leadership, diverse views on controversies would be heard within the ALA and that the Cuban library issue would not be permitted to “go under the table.”
If brought to Council by a Council committee, the issue would be discussed.

In contrast, Molly Raphael said that the ALA has already established its Cuba policy on several occasions, and she stated it is not the role of the ALA president to challenge settled policies. With regard to the ongoing controversy over Cuba’s independent libraries, she stated it is not a “yes or no question.”

In contrast, the Friends of Cuban Libraries believe book burning is very much a “yes or no question.”

Also see:

fREADdom: How do you catalogue a burned book?

Samuel Kassow: Who Will Write Our History?

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Trinity College History Professor Samuel Kassow discusses his recent work, Who Will Write Our History?: Rediscovering a Hidden Archive from the Warsaw Ghetto on C-SPAN 2′s “Book TV” program.

Click here to watch the video.

From the Book TV website:

Samuel Kassow recounts the efforts by Polish historian Emanuel Ringelblum and a group of amateur and professional historians, the Oyneg Shabes, who worked secretly from 1940 to 1943 to record Jewish suffering and subsequently hid thousands of records prior to the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto. This event was hosted by the Tenement Museum in New York City.

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Milan Kundera, Communist Informant?

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Was anti-authoritarian novelist Milan Kundera a communist informant? Did he rat out Miroslav Dvoracek, a Czech spy for the West? The Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes claims a team of historians and researchers discovered a document written by the Czech Communist police, identifying Kundera as the individual who informed on Mr. Dvoracek. Dvoracek was subsequently imprisoned for 14 years. Kundera denies the allegations.

Read more at:

The Contentious Centrist: here and here

The Economist

NYT

Sign and Sight

Were the Jewish Partisans Stalinist Dupes?

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[H/t to A.L. for bringing this to my attention. Above image of Jewish Partisans from Vilnius is from the Holocaust Research Project]

Nazi hunter: Lithuania hunts ex-partisans, lets war criminals roam free

By Yossi Melman

A few months ago, Lithuanian policemen and agents from the security service knocked on Rachel Margolis’ door in Vilna. Fortunately she was not home, and was thus saved the humiliation of an interrogation. Margolis, almost 90, was a Jewish partisan during World War II, and is finding it difficult to recover from the trauma even now, when she is living in her daughter’s home in Rehovot.

“My sin in the eyes of the nationalists and the anti-Semites in the Lithuanian government,” she says, “was that I was a partisan and fought against the Nazis and their collaborators.”

The Lithuanian policemen and agents wanted to interrogate her about her memoir, in which she told about her partisan colleagues who in January 1944 attacked the village of Koniuchy (or in Lithuanian, Kaniukai).

The Lithuanian partisans, who operated under the aegis of the Central Partisan Command of the Soviet Union, had information that there was a German garrison in the village. After the fact, it turned out that the Germans had abandoned the place. In the battle that ensued, 38 villagers were killed, including women and children. In independent Lithuania, with a tendency to rewrite history after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, they describe this attack as a “massacre,” and a special prosecutor opened an investigation.

Margolis says she was not even in Lithuania at the time of the attack, and was active in another partisan unit in White Russia.

“I wrote a book about the war, and in it I mentioned in a few lines that I had heard from partisan friends about the attack,” she says.

In the book she mentions another partisan friend who was among the attackers, Fania Brantsovsky, and another partisan, Sara Ginaite, both of whom are also suspects and wanted for interrogation.

“That’s Lithuanian chutzpah,” says Dr. Efraim Zuroff, director of the Israeli branch of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. “To date, Lithuanian governments have not punished a single Lithuanian war criminal. In spite of our considerable efforts and the large amount of information we have given them, they handled three cases with astonishing slowness. Not one of the three served a single day in prison. On the other hand, they’re not ashamed to persecute and harass Lithuanian partisans who fought the Nazis. What is common to all these cases is that they’re all Jews. Instead of punishing Lithuanian criminals who collaborated with the Nazis and murdered Jews, they’re harassing the partisans, Jewish heroes.”

Perhaps the height of chutzpah was the attempt by Lithuania to investigate Dr. Yitzhak Arad, a Holocaust historian and one-time partisan, a former brigadier general and a chief education officer in the Israel Defense Forces, and the chairman of the board of Yad Vashem.

The Lithuanian claim against Arad was that he served in a Soviet security services, the NKVD, which engaged in murder and looting, and that he was involved in the murder of innocent Lithuanians. In the Lithuanian newspaper, Republika, they even published an article two years ago entitled “The expert with blood on his hands.”

Arad explained that the Lithuanian claims against him were false. The Foreign Ministry and Yad Vashem sharply protested the Lithuanian demand, and refused to cooperate with the request.

However, there are some in Israel who believe that neither the Foreign Ministry nor Yad Vashem are acting with the determination expected of them, and are demonstrating weakness. There are voices who believe that Israel should lower its diplomatic contacts with Lithuania if it continues harassing Jewish and Israeli partisans. One of the critics is Zuroff.

“In the State of Israel, they prefer to let Jewish organizations do the dirty work and fight against the rewriting of history in Lithuania,” Zuroff said. “The State of Israel and those involved in the issue should have made it unequivocally clear to the Lithuanian government that it is crossing all the red lines.”

Another harsh critic of Israeli policy is historian Prof. Dov Levin, an expert on Lithuanian Jewry. Levin chronicles in his books how more than 200,00 Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, mainly by the Lithuanian collaborators who were eager to engage in murder without the German Nazis having to convince them.

Levin, himself a partisan in Lithuania and a member of the Yad Vashem council, was opposed to the decision about 10 years ago by the Foreign Ministry and Yad Vashem to cooperate with Lithuania in the study of the history of World War II. His view was not accepted, and a joint international committee of Israeli, Lithuanian and other historians was established.

The committee, actually two subcommittees, is studying the murder of the Jews in the Holocaust in Lithuania as well as the murder of Lithuanians, during the period of the Soviet occupation of the country from 1940-1941 – as part of the infamous 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact – as well as the Soviet period from 1945 until independence in 1991.

By doing so, the committee is unfortunately helping the Lithuanians equate the two historical developments. Levin believes that Yad Vashem should have severed any connection with the Lithuanian government and ended its activity.

I dissed the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in a previous post (and at numerous comments on other blogs) for being Stalinist dupes rather than principled anti-fascists. I stand by that assertion. But this article in Haaretz regarding Jewish communist partisans displays the complexity of these issues. Were the Jewish partisans dupes as well? If not, why not?

I think not. For one thing, the situation of Jews in Lithuania was not analogous to the situation of the volunteers in the U.S. Lithuania was occupied by the Nazis and Lithuanian civilians participated in the Holocaust. Jews had four options in Lithuania. First, resistance; second, collaboration in the hopes of personal and family survival; third, seeking refuge where that was possible; and fourth, deportation to the camps. In the case of Lithuanian resistance, the communist partisan units were the only option.

Jews had choices in other countries. The Jewish Fighting Organization in Poland (more below) is one example and escapees from the Slovakian Novaky labor camp formed an independent Jewish brigade affiliated with the Zionist Hashomer Hatzair.

Regarding Lithuania, the Jewish Partisan Education Foundation notes:

In 1943, Lithuanian Jewish partisans became unified under the direction of Soviet Lithuanian partisan movement. Admission of Jews to the partisans was limited for political and military reasons as well as because of antisemitism. Even in some of the mixed units Jews experienced discrimination. Yet the partisan movement was their only vehicle to actively fight against the Nazis. In some cases, all-Jewish units were formed within the larger organization of Lithuanian partisans.

Poland was a different situation:

Because of the widespread Nazi hunts for escaped Jews, and centuries old antisemitism among some locals, many Polish Jewish partisans sought affiliation with Polish partisan groups. This was a difficult and dangerous task-a Jewish partisan could be robbed of his weapon, or killed for approaching a partisan unit. However, numerous Polish partisan units welcomed Jews, such as the People’s Guard. In the Generalgouvernement area of Poland (divided into four districts Warsaw, Cracow, Radom, and Lublin), hundreds of Jewish partisans belonged to Polish units of the People’s Guard, to the Home Army (AK), and to other groups. Considerable numbers of these Jewish partisans operated in commando units, and dozens of Jews took leadership roles as commanders.

Jews also fought as partisans in all-Jewish units, such as the ZOB (the Jewish Fighting Organization), which was active throughout occupied Poland. Against incredible odds, thousands of Polish Jewish partisans fought back, and most lost their lives. Many did not expect to survive, as reflected in the motto of one Jewish partisan group: “For those who seek life, we are not the address.”

Here is a map describing Jewish partisan activity in ten countries.

For more information on Jewish partisans, click on the image that says “Resist” on the left column of this blog or click here.

Read more about antisemitism in Lithuania here.

Anarcho-Vandals Vs. Stalinist Shills

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I was going to post something about the anarcho-vandal attack on the International Brigade memorial in San Francisco but Roland and Bob beat me to it. Plenty of comments by yours truly in Roland’s comment thread.

Here is Roland:

This is surely going to make for some interesting fights amongst the various leftist communities in the Bay Area. You have those who deem the Brigade a true expression of international solidarity in the face of totalitarianism, and others who see them as an extension of the Soviet Union that would betray the anarchists in Spain.

I don’t support vandalism, and this case is no exception. I do however think that the ALB has been lionized by some on the left without considering exactly what they fought for and why, and it looks like these “activists” may very well get an exchange on that subject. But who am I kidding! We will have a week long shouting match between the two sides, and then return to the state they have been for the last 100 years.

Bob adds:

My grandparents were CPUSA members. My grandmother was a nurse, and wanted to volunteer to go to Spain. My grandfather ultimately did not want to fight in a war, and they did not go. Many of their friends went; many did not return. Partly because they always felt they should have gone, they continued to idolise the ALB until their deaths.

They left the Party, I am pretty sure, when the Non-Aggression Pact was signed. Like many Jewish CP members, for whom the Party’s absolute “anti-fascism” was its core feature, they just couldn’t stomach it. As Anon says, I am sure some actual vets of the ALB likewise left at this point.

Now that would be an interesting research project, ALB vets who left the CPUSA for its flippant anti-fascism.

Cuban Independent Libraries Need Your Help

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[h/t to Friends of Cuban Libraries]

The 2008 annual conference of the American Library Association (ALA) begins this week in Anaheim, California. Three members of the ALA Council, Barbara Silverman, Shixing Wen and Cristina Ramirez, have introduced a resolution condemning the persecution of Cuba’s independent library movement and calling for the release of imprisoned librarians. The resolution also takes note of the burning of confiscated library books in Cuba and demands that surviving books be returned to their lawful owners.

While support for this resolution should be unanimous among those dedicated to freedom of thought and expression, there is an organized pro-Castro faction within the ALA. This group denies the existence of censorship, library persecution and book burning in Cuba.

As is often the case the majority is in the middle and uninformed about the specifics. ALA Councilors are unaware of Cuba’s grim reality and receive much of their information from biased committees dominated by the pro-Castro faction, with results that could be expected.

But thanks to the new resolution on the ALA Council’s agenda, now is the time to change ALA policy. Ms. Silverman, Mr. Wen and Ms. Ramirez are being attacked for daring to speak the truth about Cuba. We need to let them know how much we appreciate their principled support for intellectual freedom and justice. They need our encouragement in standing up for truth and freedom.

ACTION NEEDED… PLEASE ACT IMMEDIATELY TO SEND MESSAGES OF SUPPORT TO:

Barbara Silverman (kidzread@aol.com)

Shixing Wen (shwen@umich.edu)

Cristina Ramirez (cdramirez@vcu.edu).

You don’t need to be an ALA member, a librarian or a U.S. citizen to make your voice heard on this crucial issue.

Every message counts. Your message can be short or long, but the main thing is that you send a message today! And please express support for the principle of intellectual freedom, avoiding any language that could be regarded as “political.”

Among the points you can make in your messages are:

* The issue of library repression in Cuba is a matter of principle, not politics
* Express thanks for their defense of jailed library workers who cannot defend themselves
* The ALA has a duty to speak out against book burning wherever it takes place

National Archive (U.K.) Opens File on George Orwell

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[h/t A.L.]

You probably read about this a few weeks ago. Yet another news item I intended to blog about but I did not find the time. Maybe next week…

George Orwell (KV 2/2699)

This slim Security Service file on journalist and author Eric Blair, alias George Orwell, shows that while his left-wing views attracted the Service’s attention, no action was taken against him. It is clear, however, that he continued to arouse suspicions, particularly with the police, that he might be a Communist. The file reveals that the Service took action to counter these views.

The file essentially consists of reports of Orwell’s activities between 1929 and his death in 1950. It gives some insight into Orwell’s financial position while in Paris and includes a 1929 MI6 report to the Special Branch on his activities there, and various subsequent Special Branch reports. One of these by police Sergeant Ewing, from January 1942 (serial 7a), asserts that: “This man has advanced Communist views, and several of his Indian friends say that they have often seen him at Communist meetings. He dresses in a bohemian fashion both at his office and in his leisure hours.” A Service officer rang Ewing’s Inspector to challenge this view (minute 9). Wartime enquiries as to Orwell and his wife’s suitability for employment as a journalist and with the Ministry of Food were all approved. It is of some interest to note the part Orwell’s answers to a published Left magazine survey had in convincing the Service that Orwell should not be considered a Communist. The file includes a copy of Orwell’s passport papers and original passport photographs.

[Documents available here]

Fieldtrip to the International Center for Photography

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I took my students to the International Center for Photography in Manhattan this morning to have a look at the Robert Capa exhibition “This is War! Robert Capa at Work.”

With vintage prints, contact sheets, caption sheets, handwritten observations, personal letters and original magazine layouts, the stories are brought to life and give us a look at how Capa worked. The Falling Soldier, 1936; The Battle of Rio Segre, 1938; and Refugees from Barcelona, 1939, trace his reportage of The Spanish Civil War. China, 1938, document his six-month stay during the Sino-Japanese War. D-Day, 1944, and the Liberation of Leipzig, 1945, present his photographs of World War II.

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[American soldier killed by German snipers]

We discussed the Spanish Civil War, including political cleavages in the Republican camp and the internecine rivalries between socialists, anarchists and communists.

Upstairs there are two other exhibitions. One includes some fantastic shots taken by Gerda Taro.

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[Spanish militiawoman by Gerda Taro]

There is also a nice selection of posters and other propaganda.

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Downstairs, in an alcove, one finds the work of Spanish photographer Francesc Torres. Torres documented a dig of a mass grave in Spain in a project titled “Dark is the Room Where we Sleep.”

In 2004, Barcelona-based artist Francesc Torres joined forces with a forensic anthropology team as they uncovered the mass grave. Torres photographed the work of forensics team, as well as the participation of local townspeople who became involved in the project. Torres has created an installation of black-and-white photographs from this documentation that poignantly and forcefully examines the relationships between war, violence, memory, and photography.

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There are photos of the skeletons in the dirt and the artifacts that have not rotted away. One photo focuses on the hands of a dead man, a wedding ring around his boney finger. Other photos displayed the living relatives of the victims, wives, sons, daughters. In the years immediately after Franco’s death, many Spaniards preferred to ignore the painful past in order to move forward. They are slowly beginning to excavate these historical memories and address what happened in the past. As with any civil war, this conflict not only split the country around ideological concerns, it divided cities, towns, villages and families. And these divisions are not relegated to the past. The pope recently beatified close to 500 priests, nuns and monks killed during the conflict (follow the link for a post on this topic by Martin in the Margins).

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While my interest was focused on the Spanish Civil War, my students were visibly more interested in the photos Capa took in China (many of my students are Chinese Americans) while working as part of a crew for the film “The 400 Million.” One the most heartbreaking images is captioned “Young boy killed while trying to protect his chicken and rabbit.” One can’t help but think “why?” when you see this sort of thing.