How Two British Opera Buffs Spent the War Years Rescuing Jews from the Nazis

The sisters Ida and Louise Cook worked for most of their lives as typists for the English government, although Ida also became a successful author of romance novels. Unmarried, the Cooks shared an apartment as well as tremendous enthusiasm for opera. It was that passion that would lead to their remarkable wartime exploits, which are the subject of a recent book by Isabel Vincent. Phyllis Chesler writes in her review:

I would retitle Vincent’s excellent book: Overture of Hope: Two Sisters’ Daring Plan That Saved Opera’s Jewish Stars from the Third Reich. While the Cook sisters, frugal, modest civil servants, neither worldly nor political, did save Jewish stars from Hitler—the great majority of these refugees were not great opera stars, but simply civilians.

The man who started the Cooks on their rescue work was someone who, at war’s end, was branded a Nazi traitor—their good friend, the Austrian conductor Clemens Krauss. He was condemned as a Nazi and punished accordingly. But Vincent compellingly demonstrates how Krauss actually used his position and his influence within Hitler’s inner circle to help save Jews. Krauss and his wife, [Viorica] Ursuleac, helped the Cooks save Jewish music teachers, Jewish music students, their families, as well as an important Jewish conductor and operatic coach (Georg Maliniak) with whom Krauss had worked.

Krauss would inform the Cooks when he was conducting an opera. They left England for the weekend via plane and train in order to attend Krauss’ performances. Cook writes: “Krauss never let us down once, and we always got our opera performances, but we also dealt with our case or cases under cover of our hobby.” These trips were also a perfect opportunity for them to conduct secret interviews with terrified, endangered, starving Jews.

The Cook sisters hid in plain sight. They forged documents, lied (just a little), cornered diplomats, and painstakingly “organized” small financial contributions from many Brits in order to “guarantee” room and board for their escapees. They also came up with some ingenious schemes [and] repeatedly risked great danger with aplomb.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Holocaust, Holocaust rescue, Music, Righteous Among the Nations

Iran, America, and the Future of Democracy in the Middle East

Nov. 23 2022

Sixty-two days after the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of the Islamic Republic’s police, the regime has failed to quash the protest movement. But it is impossible to know if the tide will turn, and what the outcome of the government’s collapse might be. Reuel Marc Gerecht considers the very real possibility that a democratic Iran will emerge, and considers the aftershocks that might follow. (Free registration required.)

American political and intellectual elites remain uneasy with democracy promotion everywhere primarily because it has failed so far in the Middle East, the epicenter of our attention the last twenty years. (Iraq’s democracy isn’t dead, but it didn’t meet American expectations.) Might our dictatorial exception for Middle Eastern Muslims change if Iran were to set in motion insurrections elsewhere in the Islamic world, in much the same way that America’s response to 9/11 probably helped to produce the rebellions against dictatorship that started in Tunisia in 2010? The failure of the so-called Arab Spring to establish one functioning democracy, the retreat of secular democracy in Turkey, and the implosion of large parts of the Arab world have left many wondering whether Middle Eastern Muslims can sustain representative government.

In 1979 the Islamic revolution shook the Middle East, putting religious militancy into overdrive and tempting Saddam Hussein to unleash his bloodiest war. The collapse of Iran’s theocracy might be similarly seismic. Washington’s dictatorial preference could fade as the contradictions between Arab tyranny and Persian democracy grow.

Washington isn’t yet invested in democracy in Iran. Yet, as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has often noted, American hostility toward the Islamic Republic has been damaging. If the theocracy falls, Iranians will surely give America credit—vastly more credit that they will give to the European political class, who have been trying to make nice, and make money, with the clerical regime since the early 1990s—for this lasting enmity. We may well get more credit than we deserve. Both Democrats and Republicans who have dismissed the possibilities of democratic revolutions among the Muslim peoples of the Middle East will still, surely, claim it eagerly.

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Read more at Dispatch

More about: Arab democracy, Democracy, Iran, Middle East, U.S. Foreign policy