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

 

Mahmoud Abbas’s Appointment of a New Deputy Chairman Won’t Prevent a Violent Succession Struggle

Feb. 24 2017

Last week, amid ongoing concern over his refusal to choose a successor, the aging president of the Palestinian Authority (PA) elevated two of his associates to important positions within his Fatah party. Mahmoud al-Aloul, a PLO veteran who was close to Yasir Arafat’s inner circle, was named deputy party chairman, and Jibril Rajoub, who served as the head of Arafat’s Preventive Security Force in the West Bank, became the secretary general. The move, writes Yoni Ben Menachem, has calmed some of the internal tensions within Fatah, but only in the short run:

Both . . . Aloul and Rajoub, are unacceptable to the Fatah Central Committee as possible successors to Abbas as PA president or Fatah chairman. As soon as Abbas is in a state of incapacity, a harsh and violent succession struggle will ensue. . . .

Aloul and Rajoub are already making the most of their promotions to try and clear their path to the PA leadership and remove any obstacle in their way. . . . [The two] are themselves keen political rivals. But, although each sees himself as Abbas’s [rightful] successor, they appear to have a common interest in getting rid of [the current PA prime minister, Rami] Hamdallah, as quickly as possible. He does not belong to the Fatah movement and was appointed to the post because of his personal ties with Abbas. . . .

Abbas will have to contend as soon as possible with a pack of Fatah figures who want to succeed him. The pound of flesh he tossed to Aloul and Rajoub in the form of senior positions in the movement’s leadership will only satisfy them for a very short time. They will not stop trying to undermine him—especially Rajoub who is known to be a tireless subversive in Palestinian politics. Also involved in the effort will be [Abbas’s longtime rival Mahmoud] Dahlan and Marwan Barghouti, [the mastermind of the second intifada, who is currently in an Israeli prison], who are likely to join forces, and General Majid Freij, who has already forged ties with the new CIA chief Mike Pompeo.

The current calm in the Fatah leadership is only temporary. Despite Abbas’s new appointments last week, it could collapse at any moment.

Read more at Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

More about: Fatah, Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority, Politics & Current Affairs