A New Novel about the Warsaw Ghetto Falls Prey to “Blinding Sentimentality”

Jan. 19 2022

In his debut novel, A Play for the End of the World, Jai Chakrabarti weaves together plotlines set in New York and India during the 1970s and Warsaw during World War II. Michal Leibowitz explains the premise, and the real events it is based on, in her review:

Four days before the beginning of the great deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto, on July 18, 1942, the inhabitants of its orphanage staged a play. Dak Ghar (The Post Office), written by the Bengali poet-philosopher Rabindranath Tagore, was chosen for the children by Janusz Korczak, the orphanage’s famous director. It tells the story of a dying orphan boy who is shut away from the world due to serious illness and must learn to live instead through his imagination. Korczak reportedly hoped the play would help the children learn to face death with equanimity.

No children survived the liquidation of Korczak’s orphanage. Almost 200, along with about ten of their caretakers and Korczak himself, were deported to Treblinka. . . . A Play for the End of the World, follows a fictional survivor of Korczak’s orphanage who travels to rural India in 1972 to help a group of refugees stage the same Tagore play and rescue their village from destruction.

Despite this grim historical backdrop—as well as a parallel plotline involving a bloody Maoist uprising in India—Chakrabarti exhibits what Leibowitz terms “blinding sentimentalities.”

[The] Warsaw chapters often skim over the surface of the orphanage’s harsher realities. They depict an idealized [Korczak], largely devoid of personality and entirely of vice (the historical Korczak, though saintly, was still a man, and he had a taste for vodka and sometimes displayed a temper). And they eschew the most horrible truths about life in the Warsaw Ghetto orphanage, such as the occasional banishment of uncontrollable children and the fact that little beyond Korczak himself prevented those he watched over from joining the emaciated boys and girls who lay frozen to death in the ghetto’s gutters just outside the building’s walls.

Even the children’s orphanage diaries are sanitized in Chakrabarti’s version. . . . The real concerns of children in the orphanage . . . were both far darker and more practical than those of Chakrabarti’s imagined orphan child, who confronts death through the mortality of a dog, as if he is not a boy surrounded by it.

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Holocaust, India, Warsaw Ghetto

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy