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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

 

Why Cutting U.S. Funding for Palestinian “Refugees” Is the Right Move

Jan. 22 2018

Last week the Trump administration announced that it is withholding some of America’s annual contribution to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the organization tasked with providing humanitarian aid to Palestinian refugees and their descendants. To explain why this decision was correct, Elliott Abrams compares UNRWA with the agency run by the UN high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR), which provides humanitarian aid to refugees who are not Palestinian:

One of [UNHCR’s] core missions is “ending statelessness.” [By contrast, UNRWA’s] mission appears to be “never ending statelessness.” A phrase such as “ending statelessness” would be anathema and is found nowhere on its website. Since 1950, UNHCR has tried to place refugees in permanent new situations, while since 1950 UNRWA has with its staff of 30,000 “helped” over 5 million Palestinian “refugees” to remain “refugees.” . . . UNRWA has three times as large a staff as UNHCR—but helps far fewer people than the 17 million refugees UNHCR tries to assist. . . .

The argument for cutting funding to UNRWA is not primarily financial. The United States is an enormously generous donor to UNHCR, providing just under 40 percent of its budget. I hope we maintain that level of funding. . . . The argument for cutting funding to UNRWA instead rests on two pillars. The first is that UNRWA’s activities repeatedly give rise to concern that it has too many connections to Hamas and to rejectionist ideology. . . .

But even if those flaws were corrected, this would not solve the second and more fundamental problem with UNRWA—which is that it will perpetuate the Palestinian “refugee” problem forever rather than helping to solve it. . . . [T]hat the sole group of refugees whom the UN keeps enlarging is Palestinian, and that the only way to remedy this under UN definitions would be to eliminate the state of Israel or have 5 million Palestinian “refugees” move there should simply be unacceptable. . . .

Perpetuating and enlarging the Palestinian “refugee” crisis has harmed Israel and it has certainly harmed Palestinians. Keeping their grievances alive may have served anti-Israel political ends, but it has brought peace no closer and it has helped prevent generations of Palestinians from leading normal lives. That archipelago of displaced-persons and refugee camps that once dotted Europe [in the aftermath of World War II] is long gone now, and the descendants of those who tragically lived in those camps now lead productive and fruitful lives in many countries. One can only wish such a fate for Palestinian refugee camps and for Palestinians. More money for UNRWA won’t solve anything.

Read more at Pressure Points

More about: Israel & Zionism, Palestinians, Refugees, U.S. Foreign policy, UNRWA