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« 45 Years Ago Today -- The Two-Day War | Main | Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir (1915-2012) »

June 20, 2012


Rick Richman

From an interview of Furst in the Wall Street Journal:

A scene in your new book describes the Kristallnacht terror of 1938, but only in glimpses. Why?

I want the reader to experience it like most people experienced it at the time. Most people didn’t actually see it happening, but they could hear it, they could smell it; they knew something terrible was going on. Also, I’ve become averse to graphic depictions of violence. It was a much more brutal period than people really understand. Unimaginably bad things, unspeakable things happened.

Mannie Sherberg

Perhaps France's worst problem in 1940 is that the French people were riven -- as they had been for more than a century -- over the identity of their own nation, what it stood for, and whether it was worth preserving. Since the Revolution of 1789 -- which never really ended -- the French tore themselves up over such questions as, "Should France be a monarchy or a republic?" ... "Should France be Catholic or secular?" ... "Should France enthusiastically embrace the Revolution or adamantly reject it?" Throughout the whole of the 19th century and well into the 20th the French argued over these questions, always venomously and sometimes violently. From a cultural point of view, the 19th century was, for France, a thing of glory (Would we even have such a thing as modern art today were it not for the 19th-century French?). But politically and socially, the 19th century was cataclysmic. The Franco-Prussian War settled nothing, the Paris Commune settled nothing, the Dreyfus Affair settled nothing -- the French simply could not agree on who they were or what kind of nation they wanted to be. The nation -- if that's what it can be called -- that went up against the Nazis in 1940 was as unfit to fight as any nation of modern times. It was a splintered, demoralized, and thoroughly confused mass of people who spoke French but could not agree on one sentence that would explain to themselves and the world what they were fighting for. Does the tragedy of 1940s France -- which has never been completely overcome -- have any resonance today? Perhaps. When one looks at the deep cleavages within our own country and within the State of Israel, one can only wonder: At what point does a disunited people become a suicidal people? I don't pretend to have the answer.

Rick Richman

Thank you, Mannie, for another brilliant comment. It reminds me of the moment during the Altalena horror that Menachem Begin made the avoidance of a civil war the supreme value, when he would have been justified in acting differently. It saved a nation at the moment of its rebirth.


In reference to your addendum, the Alan Furst quote about how people experienced Kristallnacht, I highly recommend this account by my dear friend Arthur Bierman, of blessed memory.


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I cannot resist adding this, from the Akiva Tatz book, Worldmask:

"This world is a mask which hides a higher world. But it is a unique mask: it hides, and yet it reveals. It is opaque and yet transparent. The face behind the mask [Gd particle?] hides or shines through, depending on the viewer.

Just as a human face is only an outer layer and yet is able to reveal that which is within... so too the world reveals its depth to the one who studies it carefully."

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