Hollywood’s Forgotten Anti-Nazi Dark Comedy

Released in 1942, and set in German-occupied Poland, To Be or Not to Be tells the story of a troupe of actors who use their theatrical talents to foil a Nazi attempt to unravel the Polish resistance. The film’s director, Ernst Lubitsch, was himself a German-born Jew actively involved in raising money to help his coreligionists fleeing Europe to resettle in the U.S. Although the plight of Polish Jewry is secondary to the movie’s plot, it is, according to Thomas Doherty, the subject of one of its most powerful scenes:

Title notwithstanding, the best-remembered soliloquy in the film is not from Hamlet but from The Merchant of Venice. In a plot machination too convoluted to recap, the perennially second-billed Felix Bressart [playing a bit-player from the troupe named Greenberg]—a Jewish character actor and Lubitsch stock-company regular—is given his moment in the spotlight, reciting the anguished monologue from the role he was born to play, Shylock. “Have we not eyes? Have we not hands, organs, senses, dimensions, attachments, passions?” he asks the Nazis, who are mesmerized despite themselves. (The post-Holocaust spectator will be especially spooked by the accusation: “If you poison us, do we not die?”)

Spoken against a backdrop of Nazi uniforms, helmets, and swastikas, Bressart’s performance is transfixing. He seems to know already that wartime Hollywood cinema will never produce a more eloquent plea for religious tolerance than the one written in the 1590s.

Curiously, though, Bressart does not speak the trigger word that in Shakespeare launches the litany of rhetorical questions, [beginning with] “Hath not a Jew eyes?” Still radioactive, the word Jew was seldom heard on the Hollywood screen, even in war-minded scenarios where the topic of anti-Semitism was front and center. In The Mortal Storm (1940), for example, the Jewish professor murdered by the Nazis is never named as such—only called a “non-Aryan” with the letter “J” printed on his concentration-camp uniform. . . .

Fortunately, elsewhere in To Be or Not to Be the Jewish elements are hardly hidden between the lines. Is Hitler “by any chance interested in Mr. Maslowski’s delicatessen?” teases the narrator in the opening vignette. “That’s impossible—he’s a vegetarian!”

Read more at Tablet

More about: Arts & Culture, Film, Hollywood, William Shakespeare, World War II

An American Withdrawal from Iraq Would Hand Another Victory to Iran

Since October 7, the powerful network of Iran-backed militias in Iraq have carried out 120 attacks on U.S. forces stationed in the country. In the previous year, there were dozens of such attacks. The recent escalation has led some in the U.S. to press for the withdrawal of these forces, whose stated purpose in the country is to stamp out the remnants of Islamic State and to prevent the group’s resurgence. William Roberts explains why doing so would be a mistake:

American withdrawal from Iraq would cement Iran’s influence and jeopardize our substantial investment into the stabilization of Iraq and the wider region, threatening U.S. national security. Critics of the U.S. military presence argue that [it] risks a regional escalation in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Iran. However, in the long term, the U.S. military has provided critical assistance to Iraq’s security forces while preventing the escalation of other regional conflicts, such as clashes between Turkey and Kurdish groups in northern Iraq and Syria.

Ultimately, the only path forward to preserve a democratic, pluralistic, and sovereign Iraq is through engagement with the international community, especially the United States. Resisting Iran’s takeover will require the U.S. to draw international attention to the democratic backsliding in the country and to be present and engage continuously with Iraqi civil society in military and non-military matters. Surrendering Iraq to Iran’s agents would not only squander our substantial investment in Iraq’s stability; it would greatly increase Iran’s capability to threaten American interests in the Levant through its influence in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.

Read more at Providence

More about: Iran, Iraq, U.S. Foreign policy