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!”

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Read more at Tablet

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

 

Will America Invite Israel to Join Its Multinational Coalitions?

From the Korean War onward, the U.S. has rarely fought wars alone, but has instead led coalitions of various allied states. Israel stands out in that it has close military and diplomatic relations with Washington yet its forces have never been part of these coalitions—even in the 1991 Gulf War, when Iraqi missiles were raining down on its cities. The primary reason for its exclusion was the sensitivity of participating Arab and Muslim nations. But now that Jerusalem has diplomatic relations with several Arab countries and indeed regularly participates alongside them in U.S.-led joint military exercises, David Levy believes it may someday soon be asked to contribute to an American expedition.

It is unlikely that Israel would be expected by the U.S. to deploy the Golani [infantry] brigade or any other major army unit. Instead, Washington will likely solicit areas of IDF niche expertise. These include missile defense and special forces, two areas in which Israel is a world leader. The IDF has capabilities that it can share by providing trainers and observers. Naval and air support would also be expected as these assets are inherently deployable. Israel can also provide allies in foreign wars with intelligence and cyber-warfare support, much of which can be accomplished without the physical deployment of troops.

Jerusalem’s previous reasons for abstention from coalitions were legitimate. Since its independence, Israel has faced existential threats. Conventional Arab armies sought to eliminate the nascent state in 1948-49, 1967, and again in 1973. This danger remained ever-present until the 1978 signing of the Camp David Accords, which established peace between Egypt and Israel. Post-Camp David, the threats to Israel remain serious but are no longer existential. If Iran were to become a nuclear power, this would pose a new existential threat. Until then, Israel is relatively well secured.

Jerusalem’s new Arab allies would welcome its aid. Western capitals, especially Washington, should be expected to pursue Israel’s military assistance, and Jerusalem will have little choice but to acquiesce to the expeditionary expectation.

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Read more at BESA Center

More about: IDF, U.S. military, U.S.-Israel relationship