Józef Wittlin, Forgotten Chronicler of L’viv

June 21 2017

Although he considered himself a Christian writer, the Polish poet, novelist, essayist, and translator Józef Wittlin (1896–1976) was born to Jewish parents and wrote extensively on Jewish subjects during the 1930s and 40s. The city of Lwów (now L’viv, Ukraine), where he lived from his childhood until World War II, plays a major role in his writings, and a collection of his essays on the city has recently been published in English. Comparing Wittlin’s Lwów to the Odessa of the Russian-Jewish author Isaac Babel, Uilleam Blacker writes:

The NKVD, [precursor to the KGB], brought plain old nastiness [to both cities]—though it had existed before, in the pogroms, as described in Babel’s “A Story of My Dovecote.” The startling and bloody fate of the Jewish boy’s pigeons in this tale is surely one of the most shocking scenes in literary history. This kind of cruelty occurred in early 20th-century Europe wherever there was a combustible ethnic mix, which in prewar Eastern Europe was almost everywhere. L’viv was no exception. In 1918, after the Poles had defeated the Ukrainians in the fight for the city, there was a horrific pogrom, carried out largely by Polish soldiers in a sort of grotesque victory celebration.

In 1941, when the Soviets, who had occupied the city for two years, retreated before the advancing Germans, hundreds of dead bodies, executed in Soviet prisons, were dragged into the streets. The Jews were blamed for this, and another, much larger-scale pogrom ensued, this time carried out largely by local Ukrainians. As Wittlin notes with bitter irony, drawing a comparison with the pogroms inspired by the Ukrainian Cossack leader Bogdan Chmielnicki in the 17th century: “the cause of all wars and every kind of evil in the world did not change from Chmielnicki to Hitler.”

Knowledge of the fate of the Jewish inhabitants of these great cities of L’viv and Odessa casts a shadow over our readings of both authors. Wittlin doesn’t dwell on the matter, but neither does he shun it—it is always there, throbbing, like a hidden wound, underneath the superficial lightness of the text.

Read more at Los Angeles Review of Books

More about: Anti-Semitism, Arts & Culture, Isaac Babel, Literature, Odessa, Polish Jewry, Soviet Union

In the Aftermath of a Deadly Attack, President Sisi Should Visit Israel

On June 3, an Egyptian policeman crossed the border into Israel and killed three soldiers. Jonathan Schanzer and Natalie Ecanow urge President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to respond by visiting the Jewish state as a show of goodwill:

Such a dramatic gesture is not without precedent: in 1997, a Jordanian soldier opened fire on a group of Israeli schoolgirls visiting the “Isle of Peace,” a parcel of farmland previously under Israeli jurisdiction that Jordan leased back to Israel as part of the Oslo peace process. In a remarkable display of humanity, King Hussein of Jordan, who had only three years earlier signed a peace agreement with Israel, traveled to the Jewish state to mourn with the families of the seven girls who died in the massacre.

That massacre unfolded as a diplomatic cold front descended on Jerusalem and Amman. . . . Yet a week later, Hussein flipped the script. “I feel as if I have lost a child of my own,” Hussein lamented. He told the parents of one of the victims that the tragedy “affects us all as members of one family.”

While security cooperation [between Cairo and Jerusalem] remains strong, the bilateral relationship is still rather frosty outside the military domain. True normalization between the two nations is elusive. A survey in 2021 found that only 8 percent of Egyptians support “business or sports contacts” with Israel. With a visit to Israel, Sisi can move beyond the cold pragmatism that largely defines Egyptian-Israeli relations and recast himself as a world figure ready to embrace his diplomatic partners as human beings. At a personal level, the Egyptian leader can win international acclaim for such a move rather than criticism for his country’s poor human-rights record.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: General Sisi, Israeli Security, Jordan