Speaker 0 00:00:00 Hello everyone, and welcome to the 134th episode of the Atlas Society asks, my name is Jennifer Anju Grossman. My friends call me Jag. I am the c e o of the Atlas Society. We are the leading nonprofit organization, introducing young people to the ideas of Ein Rand, including, uh, fun, creative ways such as our animated videos and graphic novels. Today we are joined by Michael Berenbaum. Before I even introduce our guests, I wanna remind all of you who are watching us on Zoom, on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, or YouTube. Please go ahead, uh, get in the queue, use the comment section to type in your questions. We'll get to as many of them as we can. Our guest today, Michael Berenbaum, is an American scholar, professor, rabbi, writer, and filmmaker, specializing in the study of the Holocaust. At a young age, he served as Deputy director to President Carter's commission on the Holocaust, which led to his being appointed project director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, dc.
Speaker 0 00:01:19 He is the director of the SiGe Zeig Institute, exploring, uh, ethical and religious implications of the Holocaust, and a Professor of Jewish studies at the American Jewish University. Berenbaum is also the author of over 20 books, including this magnificent book, the World Must Know, which is the History of the Holocaust, as told in the United States, uh, Holocaust, Memorial Museum, scores of articles, and hundreds of journalistic pieces. He's also been a producer, an advisor to, uh, more than a dozen films and documentaries about the Holocaust. We met at the Reagan Library, which will soon be hosting the Auschwitz exhibit, which he has curated. Michael, thank you for joining us.
Speaker 1 00:02:16 Thank you for the invitation.
Speaker 0 00:02:18 So, I'm so curious about the path that took you on such, uh, an extraordinary career. So perhaps you could tell us a little bit about your background, how you went from being born in the US at the end of World War II, to playing such a prominent role in helping Americans understand the Holocaust more deeply.
Speaker 1 00:02:41 I'll tell it to you briefly, but it's an interest. It's an interesting journey. I grew up going to Jewish day schools in the United States, in New York, and they were Hebrew speaking Jewish day schools, which meant that my teachers were either survivors or refugees, but we didn't hear the term, and we didn't know we spoke a magnificent Shakespearean Hebrew. So the first time I came to Israel, I said, uh, asking for directions. I said, uh, if your heart and Kle in my direction, would you kindly indicate to me by humble servant, what is the proper path that one should take to reach his anointed destination? Obviously, the Israelis laughed at me, but they got, there was acquaintance to it. We heard words. The words we heard were death, children and camps. Um, we also were implicitly told that we were the generation of ice cream and whipped cream that had a make for a generation that was lost.
Speaker 1 00:03:49 I also went to a very peculiar synagogue in New York, which was comprised and founded essentially by, um, German and Belgium. Jewish refugees would escaped in 19 38, 39, and 40. And because they were in the diamond business, they could escape with portable wealth. So they were trying to recreate in New York a world that was lost. But we never heard the words. We never heard the term. I became interested in a, uh, a historical theological question, why did the Jews not go out of business after defeat? And if you think back, we are Jews are one of the very few ancient people that have had continuity after multiple defeats and have rebuild transformed and changed in the aftermath defeat. I'm working on this, and a fellow says, you know, Michael, you're not asking an ancient question. You're asking the modern question. The Holocaust was the enormous defeat of the Jewish people.
Speaker 1 00:05:02 Millions were killed. An entire world of European jury, which had been the center of Jewish life, was destroyed, and you're living through the rebuilding and the like. So I said, look, I'm not interested in modern history. I'm interested in ancient history. I've learned these crazy languages. Leave me be. He said, why don't you start reading? I started reading and I realized that I had been subliminally asking the modern question. Um, and, uh, that led to by fortune and good luck, and that's a different story, led to me to do two things in, um, the early part of my career. One was to tell the story that could not be told to me, to the American people in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in an Im that they could understand. And then after we had done that, I left to, um, work for Steven Spielberg, survivor of the Shaw Visual History Foundation, which gave the survivors the opportunity to tell the story to the world and leave this incredible historical record, um, and to tell their story to the American people, a story they could not tell to me as a child. And, um, it became, um, this only makes sense retrospectively. I never thought of it going forward, but in retrospect, the unspoken, the unsaid, the unarticulated, the not yet capable of being articulated, gave me, uh, the direction for my professional career.
Speaker 0 00:06:55 Let's rewind even a little earlier than the museum. Uh, maybe you could share a bit about how President Carter appointed you at such a young age to serve on the commission on
Speaker 1 00:07:09 How well that that's an interesting story itself. Um, think of it, we're about to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the state of Israel. And Jimmy Carter, uh, had Manhan bein coming to the White House in May of 1978 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the state of Israel. Carter had been in some political trouble with the Jews because he had mentioned Palestinian, uh, rights. And, um, he didn't particularly like manna bein in part, uh, I think because they were very much alike, um, deeply, um, uh, uh, religious men who saw themselves in historical terms and, um, had a certain sense of stubbornness, uh, to them. Uh, and I don't, uh, I don't mean that judgmentally. I mean that descriptively. Um, he asked a question and, and this was the month after the docudrama. The Holocaust had appeared on television. Dr. Drama appeared on television. All of a sudden, people were interested in hearing the story of survivors.
Speaker 1 00:08:21 So, uh, some staffers, and you've been a Stafford in, in, in a political, um, white House. Some staffers approached him with the idea, maybe we should create a memorial to the Holocaust. He bought the idea, and, uh, he said, I'd like to, uh, he charged a said he was gonna create a, he invited a thousand rabbis to the White House, God help him. Uh, and, um, he said he was gonna create a President's commission on the Holocaust to recommend an appropriate national memorial to the Holocaust if it was the Holocaust. He, um, first approached Arthur Goldberg. Arthur Goldberg said it had to beel.
Speaker 1 00:09:05 He appoint chairman and wanted a man by a major Jewish thinker by the name Greenberg to be chairman, uh, to be director. And, uh, I was a young scholar at Wesleyan University. I knew y Greenberg well. I had written a book on Brazil's thought, and they looked for a young man who could do the job, moved down to Washington and spent full-time on it. So I got the appointment through the recommendation of Ali b Brazil, and, uh, fellow by the name of Rabbi, professor Yz Greenberg. Irving Greenberg and I came down to Washington, and we recom, we made three of actually four basic recommendations. Number one, we said we would create something in Washington, not in New York. So we said, essentially that we could take the memories of the Holocaust and bring them to the center of American national life, and they would have something to say to the American people, not just to the American Jewish community.
Speaker 1 00:10:08 Secondly, we wanted a living memorial. A living memorial means a museum to tell the story of the Holocaust, an academic center, an educational center, as well as a memorial itself. Jimmy Carter probably expected that we would create a statue of some sort, but we felt very strongly that a memorial works for the first generation that knows the story. But afterwards, it joins the number of statues in Washington, with the exception of Lincoln and Washington and Vietnam. Um, and we'll have to see what Vietnam means another 20 years from now when the generation of Vietnam is gone, with the exception of that name, the other Washington, Washington monuments. And who knows who Ulysses s Grant was or something like that. Obviously you do, and I do, because we're deeply ingraining the history, but most people just pass by. It's another statue, a man on horse or whatever have you.
Speaker 1 00:11:16 So we, uh, recommended the creation of a living memorial in Washington Museum Education Center, academic Center, and Days of Remembrance, which was an observant in churches and synagogues and civic settings of the Holocaust as a commemoration. And lo and behold, it took us 14 years, and we got land donated by the American people. Uh, but the funds for the Creation Museum were donated by private funds. We built a museum, which was controversial until it opened. And then we had, um, uh, a wonderful problem, which is we had an abundance of attendance, and we said, we want you all, but please don't all come at once. And, um, I ironically, um, um, left the Mui, left the President's Commission, uh, for a time, came back in after Ellie Bazel resigned as chairman, uh, because they needed a, a scholar who could, um, articulate and shape the memory of the Holocaust for the American people, preserving what was distinct and unique about it. And I had this wonderful opportunity in my, uh, thirties to create on a scale never I had never imagined. And it was the rare privilege of my life.
Speaker 0 00:12:47 And since then, I understand you've, uh, advised and been involved with, um, quite a number of other Holocaust museums.
Speaker 1 00:12:57 Well, I had, I, I had a, um, an existential problem, which is what do you do after you've done everything you wanted to do? So I'd been geared up for 14 years thinking in terms of the museum. We opened it, it was a smashing success. I'm in my, um, early forties, I'm too poor and too young to retire. And the question, it becomes, what do I next want to do? I then got this tremendous opportunity to develop the survivors of the show, our Visual History Foundation. Take the testimony of 50,000 Holocaust survivors. We took 52,000 testimonies in, uh, 57 countries in 32 languages, and we amassed the largest historical record of visual testimonies ever in the largest historical record of oral testimonies. E ever think of it this way, that there are 36 oral histories of, um, people who were slaves in the United States. And we have, um, by now about 80,000 testimonies of Holocaust survivors all in video format.
Speaker 1 00:14:15 Now, I want your audience to conceive of what that represents. First of all, it's a difference between an elite history and in every person's history. Normally, historians work with elites. They work with people who wrote letters with people who compiled documents, who wrote diaries, who did historical events. But we have everybody from the most historically I important people who survived to, uh, Joe the Baker and, and, and, and, uh, and, um, seamstress and, and, uh, uh, everybody in between. So we have an ordinary thing, uh, an ordinary historical record. Now, these are ordinary people who live through some of the most extraordinary events imaginable. And what we have also, which is fascinating and will be worked on in future generations, is we have their testimony when they're in their fifties, and now we have their testimony when they were in their seventies, and now we have their testimony when they're in their nineties.
Speaker 1 00:15:37 And somebody's gonna think about, um, how do you transmit memory when you are young and future oriented? And when you reach your nineties, you finally may come to the conclusion that you have more yesterday's than tomorrows. And also, what do you wanna leave as your legacy if this is the last that one hears of you? And the other part of this testimony, which is incredible, is you and I hopefully only go through life or death situation once or twice in our life, and maybe not at all. They lived in a life and death situation almost on a daily basis. I used the word hungry. It means I missed lunch. They ate in 41. They ate again in 45. Sometimes when they ate in 45, they literally could not digest it, and it killed some. So I use cold. It means that today's, uh, a wonderful day.
Speaker 1 00:16:45 It's raining in California means I should put on a raincoat. If I didn't put on a raincoat, I'd get wet. They worked in, um, uh, pajama like uniforms in the dead of a Polish winter, uh, when it's 10 degrees out of 15 degrees below zero. And I used the word cold. It means I need a sweater. They use a vocabulary. So they experienced something extraordinary. And then to complete my career, after I did that, I asked, uh, well, I guess you know, something. And by then, I knew something about, um, museums. I knew something about, um, filmmaking, and I want to remain a working scholar, a working stiff. So I said, I gotta sha I should shape my life around the three node noted skills I have. And that's what I've been doing for the last 22 years, and have had fabulous opportunities. And, um, people think that I know something <laugh>. And I've now reached the stage where, um, not only will people seek my advice that they, but they actually may listen.
Speaker 0 00:18:00 So perhaps the only book that I have read as many times as Atlas Shrugged by I Rand is, uh, Victor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning. And I find it's a book that I turn to when I'm facing, you know, not necessarily a life or death situation, but a challenging situation. And it's interesting because it's, uh, in part the story of this very, uh, accomplished psychia psychiatrist, um, who loses everything, loses his wife, loses his children, uh, loses his manuscripts and almost loses his life in, um, concentration camps. And yet he manages to still hold onto his humanity and, um, his belief in humanity. And, and, uh, the line that, uh, always stayed with me was that, uh, man is the same person who built and ordered people into the gas chambers, and also the, the person who went into them with his head held tie Ishma Israel on his lips. So, I, I guess my question is to you, you have been immersed with so many of these heartbreaking, uh, stories. How do you manage, uh, do you ever get overwhelmed? Do you ever find it depressing? And how do you do, do you take something away that, um, that keeps you going?
Speaker 1 00:19:50 Well, let me answer the third question first. Um, I have found the material compelling, and however much I know, I realize how little I know. And consequently, as an academic and scholar, there is more to learn, and I learn it all the time, which is what keeps me going. Um, there's a danger with this material. And the danger is that, um, you can really despair of humanity and experience the depth of inhumanity imaginable. I had a, um, wonderful privilege, uh, as a young scholar, um, disturbing my wife enormously, which is I would be working in archives and reading all day, and I would come home and I had little kids, and I would wake them up and play on the floor because I needed to touch vital life and not be surrounded by death. I also developed something which psychologists call in internment, which is, you put your professional life in a tomb and you try to make sure you keep it there, and it doesn't break out into the rest of your life.
Speaker 1 00:21:16 It's this type of thing that physicians have who deal with life and death all the time. And I gradually had to make sure that, um, my limitation on feeling that happened when I put it in a tomb didn't affect the rest of my life, where feeling was quite, not only expected, but was absolutely necessary. Uh, you know, uh, and if you have young kids, you need to be about hope and future and, and vitality and all of that. If you're married, you can't say, I, you know, I don't, I cover my feelings like this, and, and, you know, nothing can get to me. So you have to balance that. And the other thing that I have to balance, um, uh, creating in this field is to understand how the audience is gonna respond or audiences are going to respond, um, in a way that I don't respond because I'm familiar with this material. So I have to put myself into the shoes of the audiences in order to be able to predict what they, what they, um, how they will respond to it, and make sure that, um, uh, you, you have to, in one sense, do you describe and depict and portray dehumanization without re dehumanizing the audience and without rehumanizing the victim? Um, and let me give you a, a a very peculiar example. Um, one can create an erotic movie without, um, revealing an incredible amount.
Speaker 1 00:23:10 The first attraction, the first embrace, the first kiss, the first, um, sense that the relationship is going somewhere, uh, depicting the, uh, outpouring of love the morning after, and leave the rest to the imagination, which becomes, ironically, an erotic imagination. One can also, um, engage in pornography, which leaves nothing to the imagination, and which ultimately becomes boring. So we have to, when we create with this, we have to present violence and dehumanization and degradation and destruction in such a way that we don't redo it and make it just one earned, you know, overwhelming sense of it, uh, and leave some to the imagination of the audience. And also, we have to present the multiple narratives of the Holocaust, because some, like a Vitor Frankl may have maintained their humanity, and others, um, may have, um, lost them. I mean, I, I just read a memoir in which, uh, the fellow said My best friend was Ernest. I depended on him, and I loved him, and I'm happy that the, that my life was not that desperate that I stole his shoes.
Speaker 1 00:24:46 Now, you have to maintain both senses. I loved him. He sustained my humanity, and if I had reached rock bottom, I might have even stolen his shoes. Now, once you understand that, you understand an awful, uh, an awful lot about what happened in this, in this circumstances. So you have to maintain a certain balance. And as I tell you, you also have to understand that there are three levels of audiences. And you know, you know this phrase, because I've used it in conversation with you, there are skimmers, swimmers, and deep divers. So when we create a museum, we try to create on three levels, so that if you want to get the point that hits you, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. If you really wanna understand it, we offer more and even more so that, uh, somebody can spend an hour in a museum and somebody can spend six hours in a museum and learn something in a very deep and profound way. Um, it's different, for example, than when I teach a class. If I teach a graduate class, I'm only interested in the deep divers. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, if you're, if you're a, a skimmer, don't take a graduate course. If you're a swimmer, you're not gonna do well in a graduate course. It's only the deep diver. And the deep diver in a graduate course is somebody who reached the footnotes.
Speaker 0 00:26:19 Yeah, no, I, I love that phrase because it helped me to articulate something that, uh, I had been sort of instinctually doing with our work here at the Atlas Society, uh, but without the words to be able to explain it in that there are people at different stages, different temperaments, different of interests, people who've never heard of Ayn Rand, people that have never heard of, of the Holocaust. And then, of course, on the other end of the spectrum, there are, uh, people who are deeply interested, erudite, and, um, accomplished objectives. And so, and then
Speaker 1 00:27:03 There, and then there are different ways that people learn,
Speaker 0 00:27:06 Right?
Speaker 1 00:27:07 Some people, some people learn by seeing, some people learn by touching. Some people learn by hearing. Uh, and you know, you, you have to, and, and, you know, we have in, in, in Washington, uh, people always remember, um, a display of shoes. We have 5,000 pairs of shoes. And what people don't realize is that one of the powers of that exhibition is the fact the shoes are deteriorating, may deteriorate over a hundred years or 50 years, or whatever have you, and they give off a smell. And, um, you don't sanitize the smell. You smell it. And if you think of it, one of your most acute senses is your sense of smell. It protects us as human beings from all sorts of things. The reason we don't eat spoiled food, um, it's the reason that that, that we engage in certain elementary elements of sanitation.
Speaker 1 00:28:14 So people learn by different ways. Um, and the, like, one thing we can't do in a museum really is to taste, which obviously is. And, and if you think back to, um, we just finished the holidays. Now, the holidays for many people are about smells and taste. You, you come in, you come into a home and you smell the meal that's about to happen, and then you eat that meal, and it's about smell and taste and visual and all of that. Uh, we also had a, um, a very interesting thing in testimony. Greek Jews did not have a common language with the rest of the victims.
Speaker 1 00:29:03 Most central Europeans, um, could understand either German or Yiddish or combination thereof. And some central Europeans spoke sex or seven languages as they got up in the morning. You know, uh, uh, we have a survivor who said, look, I, I lived in five countries and I never moved out of my home. We don't, we in the United States imagined borders from, you know, the Atlantic to the Pacific, right? In certain areas of, of, of, uh, Czechoslovakia, Romania, they changed hands four or five different times, uh, without moving, without moving whatsoever. So the Greek Jews will always give you a visual description of what was happening, because they didn't pick up cues by hearing. And consequently, their depictions are enormously visible, a visual. And when you listen to that, um, uh, you can almost draw what they're seeing in a way that, that, that you, that you don't with other victims, because they had more multiple senses by which to describe what they were experiencing.
Speaker 0 00:30:25 All right, we're halfway through, and I definitely, uh, want to talk about the Auschwitz exhibit and, um, what people can expect and what the reception has been. But I'm gonna take a break and get to some of the, the questions that are coming in, because there are quite a few, uh, including David Faru on Facebook asking, is it becoming harder to impress onto new generations the significance of the Holocaust as more survivors grow old and disappear? So really just, you know, the, how your mission,
Speaker 1 00:31:04 That's,
Speaker 1 00:31:06 That's a profound question. And the pro profundity of the question is that we're in a transition. We're going from living history to historical memory, and we're also going where the recipients of historical memory are more institutional than personal in words, museums, um, scholar memorial in university's scholarship, education, et cetera. But the authority of someone who was there is a very different authority. That's the bad news. The good news is that no generation has left behind a greater historical memory, and we will be able to create with this material for the foreseeable future. And I can tell you, um, without bragging that I have won two Emmy awards by learning how to get out of the way. And that is that we did two films of survivor testimony, which took no talent on my part, but only the recognition of talent on the part of the survivor in learning that you shouldn't interfere between them and the camera, and merely suggest a couple of things all the way through, because they, they were just tremendous storytellers, and you had to get out of, you had to get out of the way.
Speaker 1 00:32:40 And these are one of them even won an Academy Award, but precisely not because of our talent, but because of all recognition of somebody else's talent, uh, and, and, and the like. So they have the capacity tell the story. I'm worried about something very different. I'm less worried about Holocaust denial today in the hardcore sense of denial than I am about Holocaust trivialization, um, um, trivialization Vulgarization and, um, um, falsification and also, um, um, tri, the, the, the sense of, of demeaning it. Um, uh, and, and we see that from the right. We see that from the left. We see that in all sorts of com, all sorts of misuse of it. And one of the achievements of last generation was the Holocaust became in, in my words, although I, I, I'm not in my words, the negative absolute in a world of relativism. Interesting.
Speaker 1 00:33:53 We don't know what's good. We don't know what's bad. But the one thing everybody can agree upon is that most people can agree upon Nazim was bad. Auschwitz was, and this is where we come to the exhibition, Auschwitz was the capital of evil. It was the embodiment of evil in our world of 20th century humanity, of modern civilization and the like. And therefore, it becomes not only of implications to Jews and Germans, but of implications to all human beings. And notice the title of our exhibition, Auschwitz, not long ago, not far Away. Now, that title is a scandal.
Speaker 1 00:34:40 Unfortunately, it's accurate. What should we want of Auschwitz? We should want Auschwitz to be longer go and far away, but we have echoes of Auschwitz in our world today. But the echoes of Auschwitz have to be serious echoes of Auschwitz, not the trivial echo echoes of Auschwitz, right? So, for example, um, uh, let, let's take an example from the left, an example from the right. So will be, um, will be, uh, equally critical on both sides. Uh, it takes somebody like Whoopy Goldberg who said, and, and I, I, I don't wanna, I don't need to engage in whether her intentions were pure or not pure. I'm describing the thing. So what be Goldberg, uh, said that, um, the Nazi, uh, attacked against the Jews was not racism. She saw racism in the American context as black and white, when anybody who knows something about the Holocaust understands that 1935, the German, uh, Rado passed what was called the Nuremberg Laws, which defined Jews at biologically based on the religion of their grandparents, not by the identity they affirmed, not by the religion they practiced, not by the traditions they embraced and led to the bizarre situation where, but by the religion of their grandparents, which led to the bizarre situation that, um, Roman Catholic priests, Roman Catholic nuns, uh, including a a, a Saint Edith Stein, uh, and pass Protestant pastors were all defined as Jews, even though the church tried to defend them as Christians.
Speaker 1 00:36:32 Why? Because the definition of Jew was blood by blood. And you had the sense of mongrels of pure blood Jews. And then mixed breeds or mongrels called Michelin nazim was all about race. It was a hierarchical race with the Jews being the lowest form of race, meaning the race that had to be eliminated because they were regarded as cancerous. So again, somebody who says it's not about racism, doesn't understand how integral race was. 28 institutions of higher learning had racial science trying to prove the supremacy of the Arian race. And it was a combination of, of, of, uh, eugenics and euthanasia that were personified. Let's take the, the, the opposite. However you feel about mass masks were not yellow stars. Yellow stars defined yellow stars existed. And by the way, in Poland, they were white arm bands. So we shouldn't only say yellow stars, but yellow stars existed because you can't tell Jewish identity from the outside.
Speaker 1 00:37:48 It's not either the color of your skin or the nature of your eyes, uh, and, and, and the likes. So consequently, they mark Jews, and they ultimately mark them for extermination, first ex, first exclusion. Then, um, then, um, uh, ultimately extermination, which we would call annihilation. So trivializing, it makes it, uh, you know, anybody who says that is talking about their own foolishness, whether like masks or not, nobody was being identified to be murdered because they were or were not wearing a mask, right? Uh, this was a way of targeting people for ultimately for annihilation. So I can use a thousand examples of trivialization and, and, and vulgarization, and I'm much more worried about that because what it does is to reduce the moral capacity of the Holocaust to shock and to engender a certain measure of responsibility. And therefore, it ends up in trivialization and, and, and, and vulgarization. So that's, that's my concern every day.
Speaker 0 00:39:07 I have, uh, an, an example of that, probably have a few, not as many as as you can muster, but, uh, I remember working with a former chief of staff to President Obama, who had heard of me, but hadn't, uh, yet met me. And when he met me, he said, oh, here's the leader of the Hitler Youth Brigade, knowing that I was active in Republican politics. And, uh, to his credit, when I reminded him that I was Jewish, he was very embarrassed and apologized profusely. But what bothered me was not so much this awkward application of this label to someone who's Jewish, but precisely this trivialization, this, um, cavalier use of, of Hitler analogies, uh, to, to a stranger that you don't know anything about. So,
Speaker 1 00:40:06 That's right. It's, and again, and, and it's, when that happens, it's things, and it also reflects on the person who doesn't under quite understand, uh, what the impact is. Look, I can disagree with you, but to call you, um, and, and why do you call somebody a Nazi? It's a way of screaming. It's just, it, it, it's become a way of screaming, uh, in the same way that, that, that, um, um, let, let's take, uh, uh, an interesting example. It's clear that the, um, the Russians are committing war crimes attacks against civilians. It's not quite as clear that they're committing genocide. I can, I can, I can give you multiple evidence. I know the legal definition terminology, mm-hmm. <affirmative>, but war crime, war crimes are clear to destroy the infrastructure, uh, uh, stuff like the electrical supply and the water supply, especially during the winter, is, is essentially, uh, a war crime, uh, of a certain, uh, magnitude to attack civilians on that basis, et cetera. That's not quite genocide different than, for example, what's happening in China. But again, you don't wanna lose the moral import of that. Hitler was Hitler. Uh, however much you, what Putin is doing, Putin has not, Hitler, Putin is Putin. Now, you, you and I, when we went to school, learned to compare and contrast and compare and contrast is not to equate
Speaker 0 00:41:52 Interesting and all right, well, the, the question of war crimes, um, versus genocide actually ties into another question we have here from Facebook. Candace Marinna asking an America learning about the Holocaust has become an integral part of everyone's upbringing, it seems. Well, I'm not sure, but
Speaker 1 00:42:11 What the, what did it were the case, yes,
Speaker 0 00:42:14 I wish that w were the case. Uh, but she wants to know why do you think that the Ukrainian hoor or other genocides, such as Armenia and Rwanda are not as widely known?
Speaker 1 00:42:29 I think it has to do with a co with a couple of things. Uh, let me just explain the audience, um, what the hello de more was. The halo de more was the deliberate starvation of Ukraine of, uh, people in the Ukraine by Stalin, and as henchman, uh, in order to essentially, um, change the way in which food was grown in the Ukraine. The secret of the Ukraine is the Ukraine was the bread basket of Europe. It's the reason precisely that in the 1950, uh, in 1930s, Stalin wanted to control, and it's the reason why Hitler wanted to control the Ukraine in the 1940s. And we've seen the implications in the current war, uh, of what happens when you attack the Ukraine, and you don't give it the capacity to export grain that would've led if we did not have an agreement would've led to massive starvation in Africa, because the Ukraine's soil is the equivalent of the soil of, uh, our Midwest of Iowa and the like.
Speaker 1 00:43:37 And, and, you know, we can, uh, this type of soil can feed the world. If what if the products of that soil, the, the food grown on that soil can, can get out. Um, there are a couple of reasons why it's not quite as well known. The first is that, um, the Holocaust occurred over 12 years and 23 different countries. It, IM, it impacted two of the great monotheistic religions in the world in a minor way, the Islamic world. But Christianity and Judaism, it occurred in the most scientifically advanced. And, um, with the greatest musical, philosophical and, um, and, and intellectual tradition as a 20th century phenomenon, it occurred in the open, it occurred when film existed, and it occurred with two people who were deeply committed to documentation and memory.
Speaker 1 00:44:45 Ben Ferez, who was the, um, lead attorney at the murder, the largest mass murder trial in the world at Nurnberg, the Enzo group in, uh, trial essentially closed, um, the, uh, prosecution in two days. He asked one question, is this your signature? And, um, as he compiled it, he had, among the people on trial, he essentially had, uh, the equivalent of about one signatures for about the murder of 1.8 million. Um, uh, Jews, uh, some Soviet commissars and some, uh, romance, Cynthia known as, as gypsies, two days, one question. They were convicted by what? Their own documentation, because they, what they were in a very deep sense, proud of what they were doing. The best example of that is Heiner Hemler in October, 1943, gave a speech to the Ss in which he, in which he said, this is chapter of German history, never to be written, never to be told.
Speaker 1 00:46:00 Now, Jennifer, you can ask me the question, if it's never to be written, never to be told, why is it that I know about it? Because Himler in the back of the room was so proud of what they had achieved, that he had it recorded, but he didn't have it recorded the way you and I record things now on a little phone that we can put what in our pocket? He had it on a machine that was this large, and that created essentially the equivalent of a record, because he wanted to make sure that it was documented. So we have his notes, we have his recording, and we have the response because they wanted to brag about it. Jews are fascinated by history. And the single example of that also is that there was, um, a group in Warsaw called, um, the only Chaves, the, uh, joy of Sabbath, a group that documented everything, that compiled the historical record.
Speaker 1 00:47:04 And when the ghetto was being destroyed, they buried it in milk cans and in, um, metal boxes, understanding that they would not live, but the Jewish history would continue to exist. And they wanted their story to be told, not from the perspective of the killers, but from the perspective of the victims. And therefore, the commitment to memory and documentation is unequal. Um, you makes sense. You have records in 30 different countries of what happened. You have massive amount of documentation, and there was a commitment from the various very early on period of time to tell the story. And that's why it has a larger memory. The Armenian community has slightly caught up with that. Um, mass communication was not as strong in the 19, uh, teens as it, it was in the 1930s and forties. The same thing in the hello more and Halo more had, um, uh, a longer period of suppression, plus even the Americans made a deliberate effort to record it.
Speaker 1 00:48:30 Um, the, the, the best example is that Eisenhower invited the moguls of Hollywood and the, um, uh, all the newspaper, uh, publishers to, in invited as a polite word, he insisted that they get their rear ends over to the camps and Sea. Joseph Pulitzer said, um, when I was reading this, I thought it was an overstatement, and now I recognize that it was an understatement. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you had the great, you had the greatest of the filmmakers, George Stevens, Frank Capra of that generation who joined the Army in the Army Signal Court, and the Army Signal Co. And the Army's Signal Corps, uh, recorded everything. And by the way, um, since we were talking about the President Reagan Library, president Reagan, um, when he was a young actor, this is in the 1940s, um, was present when they developed this film, the Army Signal Call film. And he made a psychological mistake, which he later corrected because he said I was there.
Speaker 1 00:49:51 Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. But that's the power of the film of what he saw. And he truly believed, in one sense, he was there because he was there when we were seeing it for the first, when Americans were seeing it for the first time. And it was broadcast in our theaters. Now, what is the difference between now and then, which is incredible, is now everybody's broadcasting. In other words, I now have the power to communicate to the entire world what I'm seeing and put it out there. I don't need a film crew, I don't need a camera crew. I don't need everything. That's why, in one sense, we're sometimes oversaturated with information that is taking place, and we lose the power of story, which is context and pro and, and whatever have you. Uh, I'll give you a funny example of, uh, uh, which is to say funny is when I was a kid, I was 16 years old. I was, um, involved as a victim in a holdup.
Speaker 1 00:51:06 And that is, I was in a store where people came in with guns and held us up. And, um, it made no sense to me because I'm used to a plot from a holdup. When I see a holdup on television, I'm used to the change in the drama of the music. I'm used to the pre story, I'm used to the post story. And it took me, I don't know whether it was one minute or 10 seconds to realize this is real, but had no context, no plot, no narrative, no story. And consequently, I was unprepared to see what I experienced as a, a, as being the victim, a holdup. And it's only after police interrogation. And I was in being interrogating, not, not as, as a perpetrator, but as a victim. Only after police interpretation did I begin to understand that I was giving them a narrative, which is the way in which we experience it, but thoroughly unreal when it could have cost me my life.
Speaker 0 00:52:18 Wow. Yeah. That, that is an interesting analogy. Now we have eight minutes left, and so I'm going to just give a blanket apology to all of the people who asked, uh, really great questions this time, um, that we're just not going to have enough time to get to because there are two things. One, I I definitely wanna hear about, um, the exhibit. And, and maybe we'll close with that, but first, we haven't talked that much about your film career and your involvement with, uh, all of these projects over the years. So, um, would love to hear a little bit about maybe some of your favorite projects, some of the most memorable projects, future projects, and even perhaps, um, you know, other fictional, cuz I know you've done d documentaries and, um, uh, movies that in many cases were, were based on real people, but, um, some, some fictional, uh, treatments in literature, let's say of, of the Holocaust. That,
Speaker 1 00:53:24 So let, let's do that briefly. I, I am speaking of Leon URIs in particular. I, I'm much more directly involved in, um, documentaries, meaning that I'm, I'm usually the producer and the academic advisor for documentaries, and I have all the raw material. And I've probably created, if you think of museums, which sometimes have 40 and 50 films, I've probably created hundreds of short films on the Holocaust, and probably about 20 or 25, uh, longer documentaries in which I've been heavily involved. I'm normally consulted on fictional, uh, elements to advise, um, them on what to do, and more importantly, to advise them what not to do. Uh, tell you a funny story. My, um, wife came to our marriage with a handyman, and one day the handyman said to, uh, my wife, do me a favor and call me before your husband starts to fix something.
Speaker 1 00:54:29 It'll be cheaper and faster. I had a, um, a Jewish fix it. I, I had, I had a peculiar break in that way, and that is that, um, people came to me, I won't mention the film, where they had made all sorts of major mistakes in the film chronologically and visually, and they had to spend the fortune. They, they, for example, had Jews in Poland with yellow stars. When Jews had white arm bands. They had, uh, Jews in occupied Poland, not, you know, they had Jews in pre-invasion Poland with yellow stars, which didn't happen. It only happened after it. And they had to, um, re redo a whole range of things. And I developed a reputation where somebody wants to do something serious, uh, consult him before rather than after. And right now we're working on a very interesting, uh, film. Um, and actually the film is about, um, women who in starvation resisted by creating, um, preserving their recipes.
Speaker 1 00:55:45 And this is an international phenomenon. We'd already done a documentary on it. Um, and that is that ironically, women in starvation do something very intriguing to preserve their dignity, which is they preserve their historical record. What is the historical record of, um, many women, it's cooking. And they remember when they had food, when they had family, when they had kitchens, and the light. And, um, we are going to now be telling the story of one such woman who, um, created a record. And when she died, she insisted that it be given to her daughter who was not there. And it only was given to her about 25 years later.
Speaker 0 00:56:33 Wow.
Speaker 1 00:56:34 With somebody saying, I have a present for you from your mother. What is the present, the present or the recipes of Central European, uh, women with all that that represents, it's another way of saying we preserve our culture. So I'm, I'm, uh, deeply involved with that. I have a, a movie that is gonna be shown this Saturday night called Reckoning, which is, uh, in Miami at the Jewish Film Festival, which is the story of the negotiations between the Jews and Germans at, in 19 50, 51 for the question of restitution and the battle that happened over the question of restitution with Jews desperately needing, uh, funding for the absorption of immigrants by the state of Israel, and also for survivors to get on with their lives and Germany needing, as it were, to restore itself to the family of humanity after the atrocities. But they're being unable to talk to each other because of all that was involved.
Speaker 1 00:57:46 And this was the first formal meetings between, uh, Jews and German that took the great leadership of Conrad Adenauer, uh, and also of, of a combination of David Urian and Goldman, and no less a figure than than Mangan called it absolution. And it turned out that this worked out as reparations, uh, worked out to, um, strengthen survivors, strengthen Israel, and give Germany a way of repentance and, um, restoring and creating a future antithetical to the future that it had under the third life. So it's, I I keep working on these and it's, it's very interesting and I have various roles in that, and lots of people consult me. Really? Wow. Lots of people consult me to make sure they don't make mistakes. And the last point I wanna make is, my first advice to every filmmaker is don't add drama. Merely let the drama speak forth. You screw it up when you add drama, but when you drama, when you let the drama come forth, then you can do it. Right.
Speaker 0 00:59:06 Well, that is a wonderful bit of advice to end on. Um, I want to let everybody know that the Auschwitz Mu, uh, exhibit at the Reagan library is going to be opening on March 24th. And this is, uh, an exhibit that has attracted thousands and thousands of, of visitors. And I, I think it's been Kansas City and, uh, was it in Spain or
Speaker 1 00:59:38 New New York, in Madrid and in Malmo, and now it's coming to California. It has 700 artifacts, and it is, um, at the risk of, of, let me give my colleagues complete credit for doing it, but they are, they deserve the credit because essentially we have told the story of Auschwitz in enormously powerful and complete way. And it's an exhibit that, um, won the, um, international award for Europe. And that drew 600,000 people in Madrid, sold out in Kansas City for eight months, and, um, um, is now in Malmo, which is interestingly enough, the most anti-Semitic city in the European continent. Um, and the mayor brought it there in order to address the anti-Semitism in his city and his country. And it's playing a dramatic and important role. It's an exhibit you don't wanna miss if you're in the California area.
Speaker 0 01:00:44 Beautiful. Well, fantastic. We will stay tuned. Michael, is there, I don't notice big social media presence. I wouldn't necessarily expect one, but what's the best way to keep tabs on you? Maybe set in a Google alert,
Speaker 1 01:01:00 A Google alert. Uh, I'm redoing my website. It'll be up in about another month with all of the different activities that I do.
Speaker 0 01:01:09 Okay, wonderful. And, uh,
Speaker 1 01:01:10 And it's fun.
Speaker 0 01:01:12 Well, thank you so much, uh, not just for this interview, but for your mission and the incredible contribution that, uh, that you've made to America and to the world. So thank you. Thank you. And thanks to all of you who joined. If you enjoyed this video or any of our other materials, please consider making a tax deductible [email protected]
. And make sure to join us next week, uh, when rapper and comic book and perio Eric July will join us on the next episode of the Atlas Society Asks, we'll see you then.