A Polish Novel of Jewish Gangsters in Old Warsaw

Published in Polish in 2017 to much acclaim, and now available in English translation, Szczepan Twardoch’s The King of Warsaw is set in 1937 and has as its protagonist a Jewish gangster-cum-professional boxer. Such a setup—especially given Poland’s continued, tortured relationship with its bygone Jews—could be a recipe for anti-Semitism or, at the very least, the perpetuation of ugly stereotypes. But Eddy Portnoy finds instead an impressive work of literary fiction:

[W]hat are we to make of Twardoch, a non-Jewish Pole who has written a crime novel featuring a volatile Jewish gangster who, among many, many brutal and nefarious acts, slices and dices a fellow Jew? Will there be complaints from the cultural-appropriations department of the Jewish communal trust? Perhaps. Though if Jews are to take their history and literature seriously, then they should be able to accept Jews of all kinds in historical and literary works, from the best to the worst. Moreover, if the product is good, it shouldn’t matter who’s writing.

If anything, Twardoch should be thanked for delving into the lower depths of Jewish gangland because he has made aspects of interwar Jewish Warsaw come brilliantly alive. The last time a Jewish crime story reached the heights of Polish bestseller lists was in 1933, when Urke Nachalnik, the nom de guerre of the yeshiva-boy-turned-gangster Yitzkhok Farberovitsh, published his jailhouse memoir. The book was so popular it won him early release from prison.

These are details [in the book] only a historian would notice, but Twardoch’s research has paid off. He manages to create a truly believable simulacrum of interwar Warsaw, its streets, its clattering markets, its whorehouses, its upscale restaurants, and its denizens—Jews and Poles of all persuasions—all of which sucks the reader into an atmosphere in which Jewish and Polish Warsaw abutted one another, were intertwined, and yet were also completely separate. He doesn’t shy away from depicting harsh Polish anti-Semitism but does avoid the tangled thicket of religious culture because this story is one of secular Jews, though they are certainly not entirely denuded of tradition.

Moreover, Twardoch is completely dedicated to his characters. He is never done with exploring their personalities—at least not until he kills them off.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Crime, Polish Jewry

While Israel Is Distracted on Two Fronts, Iran Is on the Verge of Building Nuclear Weapons

Iran recently announced its plans to install over 1,000 new advanced centrifuges at its Fordow nuclear facility. Once they are up and running, the Institute for Science and International Security assesses, Fordow will be able to produce enough highly enriched uranium for three nuclear bombs in a mere ten days. The U.S. has remained indifferent. Jacob Nagel writes:

For more than two decades, Iran has continued its efforts to enhance its nuclear-weapons capability—mainly by enriching uranium—causing Israel and the world to concentrate on the fissile material. The International Atomic Energy Agency recently confirmed that Iran has a huge stockpile of uranium enriched to 60 percent, as well as more enriched to 20 percent, and the IAEA board of governors adopted the E3 (France, Germany, UK) proposed resolution to censure Iran for the violations and lack of cooperation with the agency. The Biden administration tried to block it, but joined the resolution when it understood its efforts to block it had failed.

To clarify, enrichment of uranium above 20 percent is unnecessary for most civilian purposes, and transforming 20-percent-enriched uranium to the 90-percent-enriched product necessary for producing weapons is a relatively small step. Washington’s reluctance even to express concern about this development appears to stem from an unwillingness to acknowledge the failures of President Obama’s nuclear policy. Worse, writes Nagel, it is turning a blind eye to efforts at weaponization. But Israel has no such luxury:

Israel must adopt a totally new approach, concentrating mainly on two main efforts: [halting] Iran’s weaponization actions and weakening the regime hoping it will lead to its replacement. Israel should continue the fight against Iran’s enrichment facilities (especially against the new deep underground facility being built near Natanz) and uranium stockpiles, but it should not be the only goal, and for sure not the priority.

The biggest danger threatening Israel’s existence remains the nuclear program. It would be better to confront this threat with Washington, but Israel also must be fully prepared to do it alone.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy