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A Paris Museum and France’s Short-Lived Sephardi Aristocracy

Moïse de Camondo, a member of a wealthy clan of Sephardi merchants originating in Istanbul, settled in Paris in the 1870s with other members of his family. After his death in 1935, his home—which he filled with fashionable 18th-century antiques—became a museum that still operates today as an unintended monument to a very particular slice of French-Jewish history. Christina Sztajnkrycer writes:

The [neighborhood where the Comondos settled, known as the] plaine Monceau, is a more recent part of Paris, annexed to the city in 1860. . . . Before annexation, Emile and Isaac Pereire, having “made their fortunes as financiers, railroad-builders, and property magnates, creating colossal developments of hotels and department stores,” purchased the plaine Monceau with the park in the center and started to develop the surrounding area. These two Sephardi brothers from Bordeaux, also creators of the upscale neighborhood surrounding the Opéra Garnier and the Hôtel de la Paix in Paris, dreamed of a luxurious future for this soon-to-be elite neighborhood. . . .

[T]he Pereire brothers were not just savvy investors with a taste for luxury, they also knew how to attract and convince the wealthiest Jews of France, Europe, and the Mediterranean basin to come live in the plaine Monceau along with many other members of Parisian high society. The outcome of the Pereires’ vision was “an unprecedented mixture of nobility of the ancien régime and empire, Jewish aristocracy, high-society Protestants, [and] members of the rich industrial and financial bourgeoisie.”

Read more at Stroum Center for Jewish Studies

More about: French Jewry, History & Ideas, Museums, Paris, Sephardim

 

Hannah Arendt, Adolf Eichmann, and the Jews

Feb. 23 2018

In 1963—a year after Adolf Eichmann’s sentencing by an Israeli court—reports on the trial by the German-born Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt appeared in the New Yorker and were soon published as a book. This “report on the banality of evil,” as the book was subtitled, outraged many Jews, including many of her erstwhile friends and admirers, on account of her manifest contempt for the entire preceding, her disgust for the state of Israel, her accusation that a wide array of European Jewish leaders (if not the majority of the victims) were complicit in their own murder, and her bizarre insistence that Eichmann was “not a monster,” or even an anti-Semite, but a mindless, faceless bureaucrat. While extensive evidence has been brought to light that Arendt was wrong both in her claims of Jewish passivity and her evaluation of Eichmann as the head of the SS’s Jewish section, her book remains widely read and admired. Ruth Wisse comments on its enduring legacy:

When Arendt volunteered to report on the Eichmann trial, it was presumed that she was doing so in her role as a Jew. . . . But Arendt actually traveled to Jerusalem for a deeper purpose—to reclaim Eichmann for German philosophy. She did not exonerate Nazism and in fact excoriated the postwar Adenauer government for not doing enough to punish known Nazi killers, but she rehabilitated the German mind and demonstrated how that could be done by going—not beyond, but around, good and evil. She came to erase Judaism philosophically, to complicate its search for moral clarity, and to unseat a conviction [that, in Saul Bellow’s words], “everybody . . . knows what murder is.”

Arendt was to remain the heroine of postmodernists, deconstructionists, feminists, relativists, and internationalist ideologues who deny the stability of Truth. Not coincidentally, many of them have also disputed the rights of the sovereign Jewish people to its national homeland. Indeed, as anti-Zionism cemented the coalition of leftists, Arabs, and dissident minorities, Arendt herself was conscripted, sometimes unfairly and in ways she might have protested, as an ally in their destabilizing cause. They were enchanted by her “perversity” and were undeterred in their enthusiasm by subsequent revelations, like those of the historian Bernard Wasserstein, who documented Arendt’s scholarly reliance on anti-Semitic sources in her study of totalitarianism, or of revelations about her resumed friendship with Martin Heidegger despite his Nazi associations.

At the same time, however, the Arendt report on the Eichmann trial became one of the catalysts for something no one could have predicted—an intellectual movement that came to be known as neoconservatism. A cohort of writers and thinkers, many of them Jews from immigrant families who had turned to leftism as naturally as calves to their mother’s teats, but who had slowly moved away from the Marxism of their youth during the Stalin years and World War II, now spotted corruption and dishonesty and something antithetical to them in some of their very models of the intellectual life.

They and their Gentile colleagues had constituted the only European-style intelligentsia to flourish in America. Most of them were only one generation removed from Europe, after all, so what could be more natural than for them to serve as the conduit of European intelligence to America? Arendt’s ingenious twist of the Eichmann trial showed them how Jewish and American they actually were—and how morally clear they aspired to be.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Adolf Eichmann, Hannah Arendt, History & Ideas, Holocaust, Neoconservatism, New York Intellectuals