Art Review: Walk Through This Exhibition With Dread. You Know Where It Leads.


A showcase of portraits also mingles paintings by artists deemed “degenerate” with those by artists in line with the new regime. Stylistically, the two can be hard to distinguish. A 1929 portrait of a printer by Dix, whose art would be purged from German museums, sits uncomfortably close to a society portrait by Herbert von Reyl-Hanisch, who would go on to paint idealized Aryans to promote the 1936 Olympics. Photographic portraits by August Sander from his epochal series “People of the Twentieth Century” include both Nazis in uniform and Jewish men and woman preparing to leave the country. (Also on view are Sander’s images of those he called “the last people”: disabled men and children whom the Nazis would soon deem unfit to live.)

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“Portrait of Johann Edwin Wolfensberger” (1929), by Otto Dix, whose art would later be purged from German museums.

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2018 Otto Dix/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York — VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, via Neue Galerie New York and Private Collection

Such was the reality of German and Austrian art, and German and Austrian society, in the initial years of Nazi rule: the awkward coexistence of fascists, democrats and Communists, who heard the rhetoric, who witnessed the hatred, but who still could not see how much horror lay ahead. One of the high points of “Before the Fall” is a suite of woodcuts by Wilhelm Traeger, whose street scenes of Vienna in 1932 seem like an X-ray of a society on the edge. In these thickly inked, brashly contoured prints, made when Traeger was just 25, a hunchback shuffles past a brick wall plastered with a call to “Vote Red,” while a skeletal veteran on crutches begs for change as women in furs strut past. Newspaper salesmen, taxi drivers, chain smokers in the coffee house: All are living on the brink.

Was it even possible for painters who opposed the Nazis, but who did not follow Beckmann and other “degenerate” artists into exile or dissidence, to make meaningful art in Germany in the late 1930s? “Before the Fall” answers this question equivocally — but it comes closest with the art of a Jewish painter who, it goes without saying, could not treat that question academically. That artist, Felix Nussbaum, was in Rome in 1933, having been awarded Germany’s most prestigious art scholarship to study there, when Hitler took power in Berlin. His scholarship was quickly withdrawn, and he lived and painted in exile — in Italy, Paris, Ostend, Brussels — before the Nazis arrested him and sent him to an internment camp in southern France in 1940.

Nussbaum escaped, and later that year, he painted “Self-Portrait in the Camp”: a harsh, indelible artwork that puts all the other portraits in this show in their full, brutal context. Nussbaum appears in three-quarter profile, his left eye in shadow, his right eye sunken but locked upon us. He has grown a goatee, and his drab brown uniform has a frayed collar and a hasty patch on its right shoulder. Behind him, past scavenging and defecating prisoners, is a fence of barbed wire, and beyond it, a sky of ferrous gray. Nussbaum appears wearied. But his gaze is defiant, asserting an individuality that serves as proof of a continuing, unspeakable crime.

Nussbaum, hiding in Brussels, continued to paint for several years after completing “Self-Portrait in the Camp,” but soon the Nazis came again. This time his destination was Auschwitz, where he was murdered in 1944. There were six million more.

We know that history can’t be fathomed while it’s still being lived. We know that not all art made in the first years of the Reich can be easily classified into approved and “degenerate.” We want, therefore, to face these paintings and photographs as things that are never free of their circumstances, but still more than mere evidence of barbarity. We want to be reassured, we comfortable museumgoing types, that people who compromise, people who lack absolute moral courage, are not wholly lost to humanity.

But in the face of Nussbaum’s “Self-Portrait in the Camp,” that stance rings hollow. That is the central lesson of “Before the Fall” and the other recent 1930s shows: There are no individual pardons for collective guilt.

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Anti-Semitism Accusations Taint Labour Party, Once Home to U.K.’s Jews


Other Labour lawmakers seemed worried, too.

The crisis deepened with news on Thursday of the resignation of Christine Shawcroft, the chair of Labour’s internal disputes panel, after the leak of an email suggesting that she had lent support to a council candidate suspended after accusations of anti-Semitism.

Coming after criticism of Mr. Corbyn’s reluctance to blame Moscow for the poisoning attack on a Russian former spy and his daughter in Salisbury, England, the issue has recharged a bitter argument about his leadership. That, in turn, has led Mr. Corbyn’s supporters to complain of a politically motivated plot to destabilize his position because of his left-wing politics.

But there is little doubt that the atmosphere in the Labour Party has changed. A veteran of left-wing struggles, Mr. Corbyn learned his politics fighting apartheid in South Africa and campaigning against what he saw as Western militarism and neo-imperialism. While many of those battles have been won, the plight of the Palestinians remains a sore point on the left, one deepened by the hard-line policies of the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

At the same time, the Labour Party’s membership has grown bigger and more diverse, while Momentum, a campaign that promotes Mr. Corbyn’s radical brand of politics, has emerged as a powerful force, tilting the political balance further to the left.

This is not the first time that Mr. Corbyn’s party has faced allegations of anti-Semitism. In 2016, one lawmaker, Naz Shah, was temporarily suspended for sharing a graphic showing an outline of Israel superimposed on a map of the United States, suggesting the relocation of Israel to North America.

When the former mayor of London, Ken Livingstone — a longstanding ally of Mr. Corbyn — tried to defend Ms. Shah, he instead poured gasoline on the flames by arguing that, in 1932, Adolf Hitler “was supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.”

After that crisis, Mr. Corbyn commissioned an inquiry, led by Shami Chakrabarti, a leading human rights campaigner, which concluded that Labour was not overrun by anti-Semitism but acknowledged that there was an “occasionally toxic atmosphere” in the party.

The mere fact that the party was having such a discussion would have been all but unthinkable in days past.

“Labour has a very strong tradition of support for Zionism and Israel,” said June Edmunds, a lecturer in sociology at the University of Sussex. That, she added, was “based on the formative impact of the genocide of the Jews on the postwar generation as well as the view that Jewish nationalism represented a form of anti-colonialism.”

Opinion began shifting after the Arab-Israeli War in 1967, though it was the Sabra and Shatila massacre in 1982 that generated sharper criticism of Israel alongside growing sympathy for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Ms. Edmunds said. Events in Gaza and Israeli settlement policy have only added to those feelings.

Criticism of Israeli policy is, of course, not the same thing as anti-Semitism, though, as Ms. Edmunds put it, “there can be overlaps — within Labour and other parties — between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.”

And anti-Semitism in wider society has deep roots, as the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, acknowledged in evidence to a parliamentary select committee inquiry into the issue.

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The leader of the opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, has written to Jewish organizations to assure them that he opposes anti-Semitism.

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Phil Noble/Reuters

“We had a shameful record until very recently, in historical terms,” he said, “England was the first European country to expel Jewish people, in 1290, with their exile lasting for 350 years.”

Nowadays, the insidious anti-Semitism of the British establishment has given way to something more overt. Reported anti-Semitic incidents in Britain have increased, the select committee report noted, accelerated by social media. Ms. Berger has released a snapshot of some of the abuse she has received, including Twitter posts likening her to a pig and calling for her head to be put on a spike. One read, “waking up and remembering you’re a Jew must be a horrid start to one’s day.”

Nevertheless, the majority of anti-Semitic abuse and crime “has historically been, and continues to be, committed by individuals associated with (or motivated by) far right-wing parties and political activity,” the report said.

The Labour Party’s problems with anti-Semitism have become intertwined with the personality and leadership of Mr. Corbyn, who spent three decades on the fringes of politics, opposing NATO and Western foreign policy, while championing anti-imperialist and anti-Zionist causes.

In 2015, when he was elected leader, concerns were raised about Mr. Corbyn’s earlier reference to Hamas and Hezbollah as his “friends.”

“As a maverick backbencher, it wasn’t a problem to welcome Hamas or Hezbollah,” said Mark Wickham-Jones, a professor of political science at the University of Bristol. “But as leader, he’s supposed to have a more multilayered series of relationships, and the past comes back to haunt him.”

Donald Macintyre, a political commentator and author of “Gaza, Preparing for Dawn,” said that, by failing to deal with the anti-Semitism issue, Mr. Corbyn “weakens the credibility of wholly legitimate criticisms of Israeli occupation and settlements.”

Social media posts from the days when fewer people took notice of what Mr. Corbyn thought have resurfaced showing him to have been a member of several Facebook groups in which members had shared anti-Semitic comments and images.

Mr. Corbyn’s defense in 2012 of the mural by the Los Angeles-based street artist Mear One, whose real name is Kalen Ockerman, was first reported in 2015 by the London-based publication Jewish Chronicle, which failed to get any response from the Labour leader’s office, according to the paper’s editor, Stephen Pollard. Though the story went nowhere, it was remembered by the Jewish community, Mr. Pollard said, adding that “Corbyn’s first statement about freedom of speech genuinely shocked people.”

Other Corbyn controversies have often involved Israeli policy, on which there are different opinions in the Jewish community. But, Mr. Pollard said, “This mural was classic old fashioned anti-Semitism, nothing to do with Israel at all.”

Mr. Pollard said he thought that Mr. Corbyn was indifferent to anti-Semitism, and “doesn’t see it as ‘proper racism’ because most Jews are ‘part of the ruling elite.’ ”

But Sue Lukes, a member of the pro-Corbyn Jewish Voice for Labour group, said that she knows the Labour leader from their activities in North London politics and that she could vouch for him. “Do I think he’s an anti-Semite? Absolutely not,” she said, describing his Facebook comment on the mural as a “genuine mistake he was happy to admit to.”

Ms. Lukes and other Corbyn supporters say they detect a plot by internal enemies to undermine a charismatic, left-wing leader.

“The timing is not coincidental; there has been a lot of talk about what the people who oppose Jeremy Corbyn are likely to do next,” she said, adding that they “may be thinking that it is quite a neat way to stir things up a bit.”

Ms. Luke, whose grandparents died at Auschwitz, said she believed that Labour needed to deal better with complaints of anti-Semitism, adding that the digital era had brought new people into political activism, some of whom were susceptible to internet conspiracy theories.

But she said she still saw the protest against Mr. Corbyn as politically motivated. “Faith and community leaders should not be interfering to unseat the leader of a political party, or skew the outcome of the elections,” she said, suggesting an intention to damage Labour’s standing in coming local elections and to increase pressure on Mr. Corbyn’s leadership.

Stewart Wood, a member of the House of Lords and former aide to the previous Labour leader, Ed Miliband, agreed that Mr. Corbyn was not anti-Semitic — indeed, for such a committed anti-racist it is “a horrific accusation,” he said — but he acknowledged that “a few elements inside the left of our party have drifted into it in the past few years.”

Under the Labour former prime minister, Tony Blair, Mr. Corbyn and his allies felt themselves outcasts in the party, and “the culture of the tribe of outsiders is to support each other, instinctively,” Mr. Wood said.

“But,” Mr. Wood added, “now that he is leader, the admirable instinct to support people who were with him in the tough times as an outsider can sometimes end up hurting his leadership by giving the impression that he is prepared to tolerate the intolerable.”

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Mireille Knoll, Murdered Holocaust Survivor, Is Honored in Paris


Thousands gathered in Paris on Wednesday to honor Ms. Knoll, marching from the Place de la Nation, on the eastern side of the capital, to her apartment building, a nondescript housing block where mourners had placed candles and flowers on the railings.

Many marched in silence, waving French flags or wearing badges with a picture of Ms. Knoll. Samuel Cohen, 74, who was at the march with his wife, Léa, 70, was one of several who carried a sign that read, “In France, we kill grandmothers because they’re Jewish.”

“It would be a little exaggerated to say that we are not safe in France today,” Mr. Cohen said. “Yet it’s true that we are worried, that it’s become hard to practice one’s faith in some areas, and that we’ve reached a new degree of anti-Semitism with this murder.”

Government officials attended the march, as did representatives of France’s main political parties, including the head of the far-right National Front, Marine Le Pen. She has been trying to shed her party’s racist and anti-Semitic past, but was booed at the march.

In 2015, she kicked Jean-Marie Le Pen — her father, and a founder of the National Front — out of the party for reiterating comments he had made previously that dismissed the Nazi gas chambers as a “detail of World War II history.”

The Representative Council of Jewish Institutions of France, one of the largest Jewish advocacy groups here, known by its French initials C.R.I.F., said ahead of the march that neither the far-left nor the far-right was welcome to join, arguing that anti-Semites were “overrepresented” on both extremes of the political spectrum.

But Daniel Knoll, one of Ms. Knoll’s two sons, said on Wednesday that everyone could come.

“The C.R.I.F. is playing politics, and I am opening my heart,” Mr. Knoll said on the French news channel BFM TV. “I open my heart to everybody, everyone who has a mother — which means everybody.”

“It’s unbearable, today in France, to know that someone can die like this, in such an atrocious way,” he said.

Ms. Knoll was stabbed 11 times, and her body was found partly burned after her attackers tried to set her apartment on fire. One suspect was a neighbor who had often been hosted by Ms. Knoll, while the other was a homeless friend of his.

An official close to the investigation, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the case, said that the friend had told investigators that he had heard Ms. Knoll’s neighbor say “God is great” in Arabic during the killing. But the official said the two suspects had given conflicting statements to the police.

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A picture of Ms. Knoll on a fence outside her building.

Credit
Lionel Bonaventure/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The French authorities have suggested that Ms. Knoll might have been the target of a theft that escalated, for reasons that remain unclear.

But they have also characterized the attack as a worrying sign of anti-Semitism in France, which has been shaken by several recent episodes, including the killing last year of another elderly Jewish woman, Sarah Halimi, which the authorities were much slower to characterize as anti-Semitic.

Gérard Collomb, the interior minister, said on Tuesday that one of the suspects in Ms. Knoll’s murder had told the other, “She is a Jew, she must have money.”

“These are the stereotypes that are increasingly common in our society and that we must fight against,” Mr. Collomb told lawmakers in the National Assembly.

Ms. Knoll was a child in Paris when, in the summer of 1942, the French police cooperating with the Germans rounded up thousands of the city’s Jews, most of whom were later murdered at Auschwitz.

Her son Daniel was not immediately reachable on Wednesday, but in interviews with the French news media he described his mother, who had Parkinson’s disease, as a woman of limited means and boundless generosity.

“Everybody came to see her,” Mr. Knoll told Europe 1 radio. ”If she could have, she would have welcomed the entire world into her home.”

One of those frequent guests was one of the suspects, a neighbor who had known Ms. Knoll since he was a boy. “She was nice and naïve,” Mr. Knoll said. “She thought that everybody was good like she was.”

In another interview, Mr. Knoll said that on the day of the murder, his wife had found the neighbor with Ms. Knoll in her apartment, drinking port.

President Emmanuel Macron referred to Ms. Knoll’s killing at a ceremony on Wednesday morning that paid tribute to Lt. Col. Arnaud Beltrame and to the other victims of a terrorist attack in southern France last week.

France “is confronted today with a barbaric obscurantism, with the only goal of eliminating our liberties and our solidarities,” Mr. Macron said, drawing a parallel between the “terrorist in Trèbes” and Ms. Knoll’s killer, “who assassinated an innocent and vulnerable woman because she was Jewish.”

Mr. Macron attended Ms. Knoll’s funeral later on Wednesday, according to the Élysée Palace.

In an interview, Meyer Habib, a Franco-Israeli lawmaker in the National Assembly, said that “in the same day, I have a ceremony for a hero who gave his life to save a hostage, then I attend the funeral of an 85-year-old lady who was killed because she was a Jew, and then I’m going to honor her memory at a march.”

“That’s my schedule today, and I don’t find it normal,” he said.

An Interior Ministry report published last year found that although the number of anti-Semitic threats had decreased in 2017, the number of violent anti-Semitic acts had increased to 97, up from 77 in 2016.

Mr. Macron’s government recently announced plans to fight racism and anti-Semitism in France by focusing on prevention in schools and regulation of social media.

Back at Ms. Knoll’s apartment building, neighbors described her as a “typical Parisian lady” who would wear a hat and white gloves, and who used to get a haircut every two weeks — a “very coquettish, quick-witted lady who liked to gossip about the neighborhood’s life,” according to her hairdresser, Isabelle Sucher.

“She had a lot of style and was so chic, yet so nice,” said Marie-France Sauli, a 63-year-old neighbor who said she hadn’t been able to sleep since the killing. “To attack an old lady who would have never harmed anyone is so cowardly.”

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Nonfiction: How to Be a Jew in the Age of Trump?


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Credit
Tyler Comrie

(((SEMITISM)))
Being Jewish in America in the Age of Trump
By Jonathan Weisman
238 pp. St. Martin’s Press. $25.99.

Come November’s midterm elections, the Republican candidate for the Third Congressional District of Illinois will be a Nazi. There is nothing neo about Arthur Jones. Not just a white supremacist, not merely a foot soldier of the alt-right, Jones is the sort of full-on, unreconstructed, Holocaust-denying (“the blackest lie in history”), Hitler-worshiping, blood-and-soil warrior for whom the Jews are the root of all evil. Don’t panic. He will lose the election in an overwhelmingly Democratic district, but it is precisely that assumed outcome which seemed to have persuaded local Republicans not to bother opposing him in the March 20 primary. Waking up to the result of their indifference they belatedly repudiated Jones. But it might have occurred to them that the mere fact of his appearance on the ballot as the Republican candidate is itself a shocking affront not just to Jews but to all the norms of American political decency. Then again, those norms right now are shifting sand.

The sick joke of Jones’s candidacy doesn’t feature in Jonathan Weisman’s “(((Semitism))),” but every other kind of monstrously reawakened zombie-Nazi madness does, especially those swarming and multiplying in the digital dung heap. His book is largely a report from consternation nation, and its longest chapter chronicles the rise of white supremacist aggression, on and off the web. He has been on the sharp end of trolling storms and knows what it feels like (as do I) to have yourself photoshopped with concentration camp stripes or with your head in an oven. But in the end Weisman is unsure how much of an actual and immediate danger this online abuse represents. For all of the website bile and the tiki-torch marches, “the threat of violence against Jews,” he writes, “has not materialized into actual violence,” especially in comparison with hate crimes committed against African-Americans and Muslims. He quotes the Anti-Defamation League’s Jonathan Greenblatt saying that “the number of Americans that hold anti-Semitic beliefs has decreased dramatically.”

But of course it is the advent of Trumpian politics — its nonstop carnival of paranoia; its scapegoating of Hispanics and African-Americans; its anti-immigrant phobia — that has rung Weisman’s alarm bells, which accounts for his subtitle: “Being Jewish in America in the Age of Trump.” More sinister for him than the foaming lunacies of the neo-Nazis is the alt-right’s embrace of conspiracy theorists; the routine mutation of fantasy into fact; the appetite for seeing secret hands (George Soros for instance) at work in plots to undermine America — all of which have a whiff of late Weimar about them, not to mention the long history of populist anti-Semitism in the United States. Better, Weisman believes, to be fretfully vigilant than torpidly complacent. In one of the 1940s movie-poster homilies he favors (“the world is watching,” “the nation gasped”), he warns that while “unheard thunder” was rumbling, “the Jews slept.”

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But this reduction of “being Jewish” to a state of hair-tearing anxiety about the surge of anti-Semitism means Weisman never quite delivers on his subtitle’s promise. A richly researched and nuanced account of Jewish life in stressed-out, polarized America would be timely, but this isn’t it. Instead, Weisman takes a chapter to complain about what he considers the major distraction preventing American Jews from being fully alert to the perils of the time — but this, a little surprisingly, turns out to be “Israel, Israel, Israel.” It is not clear whether he thinks the AIPAC herd mentality, so elated at gestures like the embassy move to Jerusalem, blinkers Jews to the threat that Trump and Trumpism represent to the liberal culture he champions. Or whether he believes that increasingly abrasive debates dividing the Jewish community about the occupation of the West Bank and the expansion of settlements are the greater problem. Weisman reports with understandable pain his demonization by hard-liners as a self-hating Jewish traitor for daring to point out, in a Times infographic, which opponents of the Iranian nuclear deal were Jewish. But such bitter arguments have gone on for a while and it seems odd to suppose that engagement with the trials and tribulations of Israel somehow precludes engaging with diaspora anti-Semitism, as if Jews of all people have a finite capacity for attentiveness. Anti-Semitism and the existence of Israel are hardly historically disconnected.

The second malaise Weisman identifies as blunting Jewish alertness to the peril of the times is the hollowing out of a Jewish identity that is neither uncritically Zionist nor devoutly religious. “The Jews who are most interested in a liberal, internationalist future, who wish to live progressive, assimilated existences free of threat,” he warns, “are disappearing.” But his sense of the tradition he believes is being lost is romantically wishful. In a hasty drive through Jewish history he nominates Moses Maimonides and Moses Mendelssohn as embodying this outward-looking nontribal Judaism. But the two Moseses were intensely devout and at times darkly pessimistic about the prospects of a Jewish life in a non-Jewish world.

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