The Lion King
while reading in Haaretz weekend edition, today
about Rudolf Verba, the Jew who escaped Auscwitz The Hebrew title of the same article in Haaretz is :"Your Kastners State" while in English the title has been changed.
In Walt Disney’s children feature: The Lion King, a mythical dynamic of a “family secret” is played out, and illustrates the effects of this theme on the entire tribe. A brief reminder, to all the “hostage audiences” of parents to toddlers - the plot of this movie is as follows; The embittered brother of the king sets a trap and assassinates the king while creating guilt in his son’s mind as to his responsibility to the father-king’s death. The son escapes and remains in exile, until he is called back, and finds out that his uncle took over the “tribe” and turned it into a horrible terror-State. The uncle’s power is rooted in the “myth” he spread among the subjects, as if it was the King’s son, little Simba, who killed his own father and then died. Simba hesitates at first, but then returns to the scene of the crime, to partake in the struggle on the formation of the collective memory. He is then forced to fight until his uncle confesses to the killing of the King, expelling and usurping the legitimate heir. As a result of the outbreak of truth, a rebellion is set into motion, which then restores the original dynasty to power.
Recollections of this movie came to my mind while I read Ruth Linn’s description of Rudolf Vrba’s struggles, after escaping Auschwitz, and failing to withstand the pressures of the Zionist establishment. Indeed, the struggle to form national memory and the myth of the Holocaust is still ongoing, as the process of canonization is a serious and lengthy matter, involving primal instincts. I often think about this affair, Hungarian Jewry, the Holocaust, the implication of the Zionist leadership, the relentless suspicions with regards to the integrity of the Jewish leadership; and finally, the relocation of the drama from Europe to Jerusalem, with the famous Kastner trial (and the mysterious murder), and naturally, the Eichmann trial that made a strong impression on our consciousness and on the Israeli legal system, to date. This matter reappears periodically, through academic papers, a play, the long overdue translation of Hannah Arendt’s monumental account on Eichmann in Jerusalem, and now – through Ruth Linn, and her poignant questions related to us from her reading of Rudolf Vrba, who lives in Canada. Her brilliant paper in Theory and Critic provided the “missing piece” for me, when it applied the term “family secret” to this entire affair. I cannot assess Linn’s proficiency in history, but undoubtedly she captured the gist and the essence of the entire story, when she classified it under this category.
The struggle to shape memory and to blow up “family secrets” is thus pivotal to the nature of any regime in a tribe. Does the “family secret” of the Kastner-Eichman affairs qualify as one which resolution and unknotting may bring healing and fresh air to the Israeli society? I believe it does. And indeed, the importance of the secrecy to the “establishment” is evident from the force of the censorship applied in these matters, and its denial. The “double bind” of denying the denial is characteristic of family secrets.
I was not yet born when the Kastner affair created havoc among Israelis, and in fact he was even murdered before I was born. However, I became acquainted with the written materials about this affair, the legal decisions, the book written soon thereafter (I am still looking for this old book, the title of which was “The Attorney General V. Greenwald”, I believe. I will appreciate any help in finding this book), and later Pnina Lahav’s papers, Shlomo Aharonson’s publication, the play, the newspapers articles and conversations with people who had first hand knowledge. These materials lead to the conclusion that this affair acquired “mythical” dimensions, and brings to focus the most important sentiments with regards to the shaping of national memory and holocaust. Eichman, on the other hand, was brought to Israel when I was born, and his trial was conducted in the first years of my life. I was informed about his affair, as most of my generation, from stories, media and school bibliography.
Eichman’s “contribution” to the development of Israeli traditions can be evaluated from several perspectives. Generally, I tend to agree and sympathize with most of Hannah Arendt’s conclusions, especially, the stupidity of this whole “operation”. However, as an Israel I am also aware of the fact that oftentimes, what appears to be one thing, in fact hides a totally different agenda. Hannah Arendt analyzed the trial as if its only goal has been the capture of a senior Nazi and the production of an educational and nationalistic Drama. However, it is worth reminding that Eichman was also among the few senior Nazis who established a fairly intimate relationship with Jewish and Zionist leaders. To the best of my limited knowledge, he is also the only one who developed a rather bizarre interest in Zionism as the preferred “final solution”. Thus, his ability to lure the victim to betray its own people required a special treatment. In addition, and on a more cynical level, the elimination of Eichman might have been required by other considerations, such as his knowledge of “embarrassing” facts, to both Israel and the United Stated of America.
Psychologically speaking, obviously, the “new” Jewish body – the State of Israel – that emerged from the ruins of the Holocaust, was required to reject and eliminate the telltales of his self betrayal, namely, Kastner and his partner – Eichman. The cleansing ritual was supposed to produce a new and healthy body, without “viruses”, but the Eichman trial, as well as the series of ugly partisan conflicts surrounding the Kastner trials and his mysterious murder, did not bring about the long awaited cleansing, rather it aggravated the conflict. And this conflict emerged from the entanglement in power struggles with the perpetrator and the need to “eliminate it”, leading the victim to an eternal perpetuation of the horror. Only now, after the year 2000, the Israeli public appears to be almost ready to accept Arendt’s book and Rudolf Verba’s message, through Ruth Lynn.
The “voice” of Arendt and Verba, which for the purposes of this discussion I join together, is the voice of sanity in the face of an insane tragedy. A voice that represents a sane vision of reality as it is, without the mystification of evil, without attributing anything more than an “accident” to this tragedy, a very horrible accident, but a human accident after all, both on physical and metaphysical dimensions. This message, which requires some distance from the pain, also requires the victim to openly assess her own mistakes, without assigning blame. Within this matrix, Verba is a true hero. Firstly, of course the circumstances of his escape from Auschwitz are sheer heroism and courage, he escaped to rescue a community from danger, and succeeded in this mission impossible. His success demystifies the “otherworldliness” of the Auschwitz “planet”. He is also a hero, and more so, because he chose to respect his action and refuse to obscure is, in favor of the Zionist collective myth, and the Israeli manipulation through the education system. After resettling in Canada, he continued to bear his message, despite the hostility he raised in Israel, the “safe haven” created for Auschwitz refugees like he. He chose life over the continued dialogue with evil, and this specific heroism continues to draw fire and animosity from the Zionist establishment. When I visited Canada more than a year ago, I first heard of this man, from non-Jewish acquaintances. Still, ignorant of the events in Israel regarding this issue, I felt a sort of relief, a wind of fresh air, by the mere existence of this man who says the truth, loud and clear, about the sacrifice of humaneness, by and in Israel, for the “myth” of Zionism. His message included reference to the disgraceful treatment of holocaust survivors by the State of Israel, while at the same time exploiting fully their plights, for diplomatic and financial projects.
And nevertheless, the State of Israel, as a national unit, chose to pursue the dialogue with perpetrator, risking the internalization of destructiveness. What does that mean?
If we symbolically analyze the legal heritage, for instance, of the Eichman rulings, and it influence to date, we are facing an interesting display. The Eichman precedent, beyond the issues arising from the Law of Adjudicating Nazi crimes, laid down another important rule, namely, the international jurisdiction of the State of Israel to try an accused, despite the fact of his criminal abduction, by the State. Not only does this act of abduction violate the human rights of the accused, but it violates the rule of sovereignty and integrity of other countries, and constitutes a violent crime of smuggling, abuse of air traffic, and obviously a whole array of other violent crimes, assault, battery, unlawful imprisonment etc. The Israeli high court took a long look at Eichman’s assertions, by his attorney, against the procedural jurisdiction, under circumstances of kidnap as an “Act of State”. In fact, the high court was unwittingly caught in a classic “ambush” laid down to him by the executive branch, ex post facto. While no one asked the court’s opinion before the act, the court had little choice but to yield to public sentiment, incited by the publicity and the nature of the charges. The court had no choice but to perform the inevitable task, and create a chronic distortion of the law, which was bound to infect the body of law, for ever, especially with regards to the delicate checks and balances between the judiciary and the executive branches (specifically the departments of the executive branch, which are fond of kidnapping and national rituals.)
The students of first year law school are introduced to this part of the ruling when they study the rules of territorial jurisdiction in the criminal and international law. The high court’s acrobatics is covered by senseless reasoning, diverting the mind from the truth of the matter, the fact that this is a bad ruling in a unique situation. The list of the “kidnapped” cases is much longer, and still continues, after the original precedent. Several Palestinians who had to raise the same objection, and then quite a sizable list of Israeli, perfectly kosher Jewish citizens, who were kidnapped under the “Eichman ruling” in order to be tried here. Their cases are far from Nazi crimes, rather at times various bizarre charges, mostly, retaliatory measures taken by the security establishment against its very own employees. The “suitcase” rulings are a source of jokes for the students, but in light of the growing numbers of anonymous John Doe’s and Roes, ending as being buried in “X cell” – the matter loses its humorous traits. A peak re-appearance of “Eichman ruling” took place in the notorious and publicized case of Mordechai Vanunu. In this case, too, the issue of the kidnap was in some ways more important than the trial. And, we are reminded of the growing numbers of less publicized cases of kidnappings performed thereafter by the same organizations. The interpretation of the Eichman ruling was since then loosely extended to any familiar or diplomatic embarrassment abroad. The relevant operational bodies had since then also improved the methods of kidnapping, extensively.
The Vanunu affair in its entirety appears to be a “mirror image” of the Eichman case, and it solidified the balance and relationships between the executive and the judiciary, while the latter serves as another operational unit, disseminating disinformation and propaganda, within the war on national memory and myth. This indeed is a pity, and brings to mind the public ceremony of crucifixion and torture performed against Vanunu, which challenged our hearts and hardened them. On a symbolic level, the Vanunu affair is a continuation of the same mind frame that led to abuse and missed opportunities of the Eichman trial, as analyzed by Arendt. Thus, we witness the self-victimization in favor of false and artificial sense of control. Briefly state, the proceedings were a display of criminal haughtiness, at the expense of voiceless Jews.
The Kastner affair, too, refuses to step down from consciousness. Once the dust of the ugly partisan accusations settled, we witnessed the corruption of the judiciary system as a cheap source of propaganda, and a pathetic compromise. The court of appeals modified and alleviated the famous harsh ruling of the District Court (Kastner sold his soul to the Devil) but the accused had to be executed under mysterious and unresolved circumstances that relieve all the parties involved from responsibility. Years later, the famous televised duco-drama re-enacted the Kastner affair, and together with Pnina Lahav (in her book about Justice Shimon Agranat) provided a postmodern perspective on the events. Both the play and Lahav’s paper, point to larger, national themes, as major players in this drama. Shlomo Ahronson, in a fairly recent paper, uncovers documents from the Nuremberg files, in the US prosecutor’s archives, shedding light – and raising more questions - on Kastner’s role in the larger scheme of events, in post war era. Considering what we now know on the CIA’s “PaperClip” operations and such like institutional cooperation between US government and Nazi fugitives, we can be more focused in the search for answers. OF course, the dynamics of Kastner’s murder were replayed in the murder of Isaac Rabin, another victim of mob hysteria.
Now the ghosts make yet another “come back” into the stage, when Ruth Lynn, and other scholars justifiably demand explanations with regards to the manipulations applied to our national memory of the Holocaust, specifically regarding the death of the Hungarian Jewry. Similar questions and musings are articulated in a movie that was last screened in the Jerusalem Film Festival of 2000; by a Jewish Hungarian play writer (“My Mother’s Courage”). A fairly new film, The Pianist, seals this disturbing issue, and takes a view closer to that of Verba, namely, a humane observation of a tragedy, without the Zionist “spin”.
In both these films, we witness a personal documentation of the Holocaust, without resorting to the temptation of Kitch, national lessons and without taking cover in a defensive and aggressive nationalistic narrative. In “My Mother’s Courage”, the writer sensitively points of all things to the complex family dynamics in his mother’s memory, and her final confrontation with her father, who bribed her with toys and jewelry to keep the secrets of his adultery. In a mysterious way, her inner resolve to stand up to her father, gives her the required courage to stand up to the Nazi officer and avoid the final deportation to Auschwitz. In “The Pianist”, adapted from Vladislav Szpileman’s book – even the symbolic personal soul digging is absent. It is a story of personal survivorship, which ends with a return to the former life and professional vocation, prior to the horrors. Both stories are devoid of big “lessons”. In “The Pianist”, the author does not overlook the shortcomings of the Jewish leadership, the corruption and collaboration that flourished in the Ghettos. He also criticizes the variety of “underground” organizations, with all their human failings and greed: instead of providing food and shelter to their dependent survivors, the steal the money raised for the survivors in festive fundraising events.
Certainly, in looking back and conducting a self examination of these events, one should always bear in mind that even a culture of collaboration with oppression, and the internalization of the perpetrator to the point of self cruelty among the community of the victims, is still part of the damages incurred by the perpetrators of the Holocaust. In a brilliant account of Post War life in North America, Ann-Marie MacDonald uses a metaphorical reality to explain the dynamics of dominance. Schoolgirls who were sexually and sadistically victimized by their teacher, end up recreating the rape and accidentally killing one of them. While the victimized girls technically commit the murder, it can and should be attributed and assigned to the original abuse by their teacher. The rage, therefore, should be constantly redirected to the main source of dominance, the Nazis. However, and as much as there were very limited options to resist extermination at that time, nowadays the matter is very much in our hands, how to conduct communal life with the memory of this tragic event, and the sense of powerlessness. The decision to sanctify force and aggression, to sacrifice the weaker member of society in favor of a false façade of power and ethics, the decision to join hands with the most oppressive forced globally in the name of a cynical rule of survivorship, these choices are not a response to the Holocaust, but its perpetuation.