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The Jews of “Casablanca”

No small number of Jews, many from Central Europe, had a role in creating the classic film Casablanca. They included the identical twins Philip and Julius Epstein, the original screenwriters; Howard Koch, who replaced them; the director Michael Curtiz (born Mihaly Kertesz in Budapest); and Peter Lorre (born Laszlo Löwenstein in what is now Slovakia) who played the fixer Ugarte. Reviewing a recent book about the movie, titled We’ll Always Have Casablanca, David Mikics writes:

The movie Casablanca is full of Jewish-refugee actors, as the actual Casablanca was full of refugee Jews, stuck in “unoccupied France” after the fall of Paris and trying to escape to the New World via Portugal. But the word “Jew” never appears in the film: America’s war effort depended on Americans not thinking that they were fighting, even in part, on behalf of European Jews. Indeed, in 1943 a substantial number of Americans still blamed the Jews for the war, just as Hitler did.

One of the most colorful of the refugees was Yani “Cuddles” Sakall, who plays Carl the waiter, bumbling and kindhearted, the movie’s equivalent of a Borscht Belt tummler. Sakall was a native of Budapest and a friend of Curtiz from Vienna in the 1920s. On arriving in Los Angeles, he was at first anxious about not knowing English, but to his pleasant surprise he found himself surrounded by fellow Hungarian speakers who had fled from Hitler. A joke was making the rounds: Hungarians would be reminded that “this is Hollywood; here we speak German!”

Another joke was circulating, based on the émigrés’ sometimes-exaggerated claims for themselves: two dachshunds run into each other on Hollywood Boulevard, and one says to the other, “In the old country, I, too, was a St. Bernard.” Lotte Palfi, who appears briefly in Casablanca as a woman desperately trying to sell her diamonds, subtitled her autobiography I Was Never a St. Bernard.

Read more at Tablet

More about: American Jewish History, Arts & Culture, Film, Hollywood, Refugees, World War II

Getting It Right in Afghanistan

Aug. 23 2017

While praising the president’s announcement Monday night that the U.S. will be sending 4,000 more troops to Afghanistan, Thomas Joscelyn and Bill Roggio express their “doubt [that] this will be enough to win the war.” They also warn against the dangers of a complete or partial American withdrawal and offer some strategic recommendations:

Al-Qaeda is still a significant problem in South Asia—a potentially big one. President Obama frequently claimed that al-Qaeda was “decimated” and a “shadow of its former self” in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That wasn’t true. The Obama administration’s counterterrorism campaign dealt significant blows to al-Qaeda’s leadership, disrupting the organization’s chain of command and interrupting its communications. But al-Qaeda took measures to outlast America’s drones and other tactics. The group survived the death of Osama bin Laden and, in many ways, grew. . . .

Al-Qaeda continues to fight under the Taliban’s banner as well. Its newest branch, Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, is deeply embedded in the Taliban-led insurgency. . . . There’s no question that Islamic State remains a serious problem in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but it still doesn’t threaten the Afghan government to the same degree that the Taliban/al-Qaeda axis does. . . .

Iran remains a problem, too. The Iranian government has supported the Taliban’s insurgency since 2001. Although this assistance is not as pronounced as Pakistan’s, it is meaningful. The U.S. government has also repeatedly noted that Iran hosts al-Qaeda’s “core facilitation pipeline,” which moves fighters, funds, and communications to and from South Asia. Any successful strategy for turning the Afghan war around will have to deal with the Iranian government’s nefarious role. The Russians are [also] on the opposite side of the Afghan war.

Read more at Weekly Standard

More about: Afghanistan, Al Qaeda, Iran, Taliban, U.S. Foreign policy