Filmmaker Pierre Sauvage in NYC

On Sunday, I had the opportunity to attend an extraordinary “double-feature” at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. Here’s how the two films–both from acclaimed filmmaker Pierre Sauvage–were billed:

And Crown Thy Good: Varian Fry in Marseille (USA, forthcoming in 2011, digital video)

Sauvage presents a preview of his documentary about the most successful private American rescue effort during the Nazi era. The mission led by a New York intellectual Varian Fry helped some 2,000 people escape from France, including many scholars and artists.

Not Idly By: Peter Bergson, America and the Holocaust (USA, 2009, digital video, 40 minutes)

Post-screening discussion with Pierre Sauvage interviewed by author and Vanity Fair writer-at-large Marie Brenner.

This film presents the challenging testimony of a militant Palestinian Jew who spent the war years in the U.S. leading a group that struggled to make saving the Jews of Europe an American objective. The controversial Peter Bergson is given his posthumous say as he castigates American Jewish leaders at the time for failing to pressure the American government to save European Jews.

I’ve been a fan of Pierre Sauvage’s work since I saw Weapons of the Spirit at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts 20 years ago. (A paper I wrote about that film and Louis Malle’s Au revoir les enfants helped convince an esteemed professor to take me on as an undergraduate thesis advisee; I am proud to still count that professor as one of my dearest friends.) And having the chance to see Marie Brenner interview him was an additional lure (and kept me going to the Museum of Jewish Heritage even when the NYC subway system seemed determined to stop me).

The Varian Fry film is not yet complete. Fry’s story, with which I became familiar in my doctoral research on Franco-American relations during the WWII era, is one that should certainly be better known. The excerpt we saw on Sunday was great; I look forward to seeing the completed film.

The Peter Bergson film is, in Brenner’s words, “shocking.” Yes, it can be difficult (and unfair) to judge others’ actions when separated by decades. And, as with so much else related to the war years, one is ill-advised to make categorical statements. But after seeing this film, it’s hard not to think that American Jews–particularly American Jews in high places–could have done more to save their coreligionists in Europe. Peter Bergson’s story is deeply disturbing. Screenings will continue this spring at various film festivals (Los Angeles, Toronto, Warsaw, Zagreb are currently listed). Try to see it.

Jewish Literary Events Galore

So many events coming up! Here’s a sampling:

March 21, in NYC: Park Avenue Synagogue presents the book launch of The Prophet’s Wife, the unfinished novel of Milton Steinberg. Includes a symposium on March 21. See also details about Anita Diamant’s lecture on “Reimagining the Bible: Fiction, Women, and the Power of Untold Stories,” on Friday evening, March 20.

April 9, in NYC: “New Perspectives on Jewish Writing with Gary Shteyngart and Amy Sohn,” a discussion moderated by Joshua Lambert and followed by a Shabbat dinner.

May 23-25, in Honesdale, Pa.: This exciting workshop on Writing Jewish-Themed Children’s Books is, I hear, sold out. But you never know! If you’re interested, maybe there’s a waitlist. Even if you can’t attend, we’ll have a follow-up guest post here on My Machberet from workshop leader Barbara Krasner to give you the post-conference scoop.

Ending June 15, in Tel Aviv: This Ha’aretz article introduces an exhibition at the Eretz Israel Museum on poet, playwright, and translator Nathan Alterman.

NYC Event Tomorrow: Writers on View: 4th Annual Writers Read

From the Yeshiva University Museum:

“Join host Linda Shires and writers and poets Gabriel Brownstein, Jennifer Michael Hecht, Dara Horn, Henry Israeli and Sima Rabinowitz for original poems and stories in dialgoue with the exhilarating exhibition In the Beginning: Artists Respond to Genesis currently on view. Free.”

At the museum, Wednesday, February 2, 2010, 6 p.m.

Susan Suleiman to Speak on "Irene Nemirovsky and the ‘Jewish Question’ in Interwar France"

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has announced that the 2010 J.B. and Maurice C. Shapiro Annual Lecture will feature Professor Susan Rubin Suleiman, speaking on on “Irène Némirovsky and the ‘Jewish Question’ in Interwar France.” The lecture is scheduled for Thursday evening, February 4, 2010, in Washington.

Susan Rubin Suleiman (with whom I have had the privilege of studying) is the C. Douglas Dillon Professor of the Civilization of France and Professor of Comparative Literature at Harvard University. In her lecture, she will discuss the life and work of French writer Irène Némirovsky in relation to questions of Jewish identity in France before, during, and after the Holocaust.

A reception will follow the lecture. Reservations are requested.

Next Sunday in NYC: Imagination and Catastrophe: Art and the Aftermath of Genocide

Next Sunday (January 10, 2010) in New York City, the Center for Jewish History presents a symposium titled ““Imagination and Catastrophe: Art and the Aftermath of Genocide”:

Join filmmakers, writers, and musicians to discuss the complexity of creating art that deals with genocide and its aftermath. These artists and critics will discuss how the imagination wrestles with historically catastrophic events. The program will include segments of films, readings of fiction and poetry and a musical presentation, “The Golden Peacock” by Hugo Weisgall. In the creation of art out of catastrophe, genocide can be understood in more complex ways.

“There can be no poetry after Auschwitz.” – Theodore Adorno

Join Atom Egoyan, director, writer, producer, Academy Award nominee; Peter Balakian award winning poet; Emily Duncan-Brown, soprano; Donna-Lee Frieze scholar of genocide, philosophy and film studies, Marcie Hershman novelist; Laura Leon, pianist, and R. Clifton Spargo, writer to discuss:

–Is the artist obligated to tell the truth about history?

–What is the ethical impact of fictionalizing genocide?

–How does the artist use his or her medium to depict the horrors of history without sentimentality?

Admission: $20 general, $15 CJH members

Tenement Saga: Early Jewish American Literature (NYC Event, January 7)

Coming up at the Tenement Museum in Manhattan on Thursday, January 7: “Tenement Saga: Early Jewish American Literature,” a free event (RSVP requested). “Annie Polland, Sandford Sternlicht and Suzanne Wasserman discuss early 20th century literature of the Jewish LES including The Rise and Fall of David Levinsky and Bread Givers. Wasserman previews a clip of her documentary about Anzia Yezerska.” This program is part of an “evening series of lectures, readings, panel discussions and programming that provides perspective on New York City’s rich culture.”