Metaphorical drama for the 20th century. Aug 10, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 45 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
Daša Drndić, a Croatian, has gained respect in her country as a novelist, literary critic, and playwright. After teaching in Canada and completing a master’s degree in communications in the United States, thanks to a Fulbright grant, she now teaches philosophy at the University of Rijeka.
With Trieste, a novel in the “neo-Borgesian” style—merging history, personal anecdotes, and fictional meditations—Drndić has written a great work, adding significantly to our knowledge of the Holocaust in German-occupied Europe. Centering her narrative in Trieste, the port at the north of the Adriatic Sea, she has produced a harrowing volume. Trieste is not for the faint-hearted, but it is a necessary and virtuous chronicle.
Trieste was a Habsburg seaport for centuries, inhabited by three main communities: the Italians, the Slovenes, and the Jews. The first two despised one another, while the Jews, largely middle-class and assimilated to the cultures of their neighbors, tried to maintain good relations with both the Italians and Slovenes. The Austro-Hungarian political system encompassed an overabundance of competing nations but managed to balance their competing claims. “The Monarchy [was] mighty,” Drndić writes; it extended hundreds of miles from the German-speaking west to the Carpathian east, from the Czech north to the Dalmatian south.
Before World War I, Trieste was ruled by Germans and Hungarians; afterward, it was annexed by Italy. In 1919, as Drndić notes, its southerly rival—Fiume in Italian and Rijeka in Slavic—was the scene of a comic-opera coup by a flamboyant writer-adventurer, Gabriele D’Annunzio. Trieste, remaining under the sovereignty of Italy, was swept by the new fascist mass movement in 1920. Drndić likens the arrival of fascism to “rats pouring out of the Trieste sewers.” Fascist personnel persecuted Slovenes, invaded the surrounding villages, and beat and stripped those of all ethnicities who were identified as peasants and leftist activists. By 1922, Benito Mussolini and his thugs had assumed supreme power.
Nevertheless, multiple cultural identities persisted in the region. Drndić’s narrative ranges to the town of Gorizia (in Italian, Gorica in Slavic). Her protagonist, Haya Tedeschi, of Italian Jewish origin, is born in 1923 and spends most of the novel attempting, in the first decade of the 21st century, to assemble the truth about her life. Her dignity, and that of her fellow Jews, had been fractured unalterably by the descent upon the population, during World War II, of Germany’s National Socialism, feral cousin of Italian Fascism and monstrous reanimation of the Habsburg bureaucratic mentality.
In this regard, by providing a memorial to Jews and others murdered and exploited by the Nazis in Trieste yet ignored by most later commentators, Drndić has done a considerable service to the world. And as she makes clear, the worst horror of Nazi domination was its unpredictability, arbitrariness, and tendency to masquerade as a normal, if harsh, form of military occupation. Because of the cruelties imposed on the Jews of Gorizia and Trieste, Haya Tedeschi loses all trace of her family’s background. Documents and photographs are missing, people she knew have been killed in bombings, deported to death camps, or committed suicide, and some have accepted baptism as a means (although uncertain) of saving their lives.
Survival assumes many forms of behavior in Nazi-occupied Trieste. Haya flees with her family down the Adriatic to the city of Vlora in Albania, which is an Italian possession but free of German anti-Jewish propaganda. At first the family are not classified as refugees in Albania, but then they are—and they return, through Venice, to Trieste.
Trieste includes many things that may surprise the most assiduous readers of the Holocaust canon. Heinrich Himmler, leader of the SS and despairing over the sexual deprivations of Aryan troops, commissioned the production (according to Drndić) of an inflatable “disinfected rubber doll in natural size.” Intended to prevent German soldiers from relationships, however brutal and brief, with local women who were typically Slavic or Jewish, the doll goes out of production, leaving only a single prototype at the end of the war. This detail reminds one of Germany’s advanced technology in rocketry and jet aircraft and the strange capacity of Hitlerism to anticipate things we see around us today.
Nothing good ever came from rivalry and hatred. Jun 15, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 38 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
In Homage to Catalonia, George Orwell described, on his return to Barcelona after serving in the front lines of the Spanish Civil War, “an unmistakable and horrible feeling of political rivalry and hatred” in the Catalan capital. During a late-May visit to Skopje, capital of the independent Republic of Macedonia, something similar was in the air.
The fate of Mecca in the hands of the WahhabisOct 20, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 06 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
Since Islam emerged more than 14 centuries ago, Mecca, near the western coast of the Arabian peninsula, has drawn the interest of the world. For Muslim believers, the city and its sacred mosque—which encompasses a high, cubical structure, the Kaaba—are the focus of spiritual devotion as the qibla, or direction of prayer, and a destination for pilgrimages. For non-Muslims, Mecca has long been enigmatic, as it has been closed to them since early in Islamic history.
Republicans, nationalists, and the crucible of modern SpainJun 23, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 39 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
The virtues of Stanley Payne, the outstanding living historian of the Spanish Civil War, are on gratifying display in this comprehensive volume. He writes with appropriate sweep: “[C]ivil war in Spain was not a complete anomaly, but rather the only massive internal conflict to break out in Western Europe during the 1930s.
Publishing and profiting with the avant-garde. Aug 12, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 45 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
Through the modernist upheaval in American cultural life, with its earliest significant traces in the 1930s and an inerasable mark on the society as we now know it, three publishing houses were most prominent in redefining aesthetic taste. All of the trio remain in business today.
American labor unions and how they got that way.Apr 5, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 28 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
Labor unions in the United States were not always tied to the Democratic party and to a leftist ideological agenda. Once upon a time, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) stood at odds with the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO); the former resisted statist labor law changes and leftist union policies beginning in the 1930s and the latter supported them.
12:00 AM, Feb 23, 2010 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
For almost 11 years, Kosovo has been ruled by foreigners: mainly the United Nations through its former mission in the country (UNMIK), along with the European Union (EU) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Most Americans are aware of the derelictions of the U.N. in crises afflicting countries from Rwanda through Israel to Kashmir. And Americans have a healthy suspicion about the EU, because of its political competition with the U.S. and its intrigues with Russia. Unfortunately, few Americans have heard of OSCE, to which the United States belongs, alongside (among others) Russia, Belarus, Serbia, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan—bastions of antidemocratic politics and sources of regional instability. Yet the OSCE intervenes boldly and often crudely in “managing” the transition to democracy in the troubled Balkans and other states.
The story of Seyed Khalil Alinejad.12:00 AM, Jan 21, 2010 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
On a dark winter’s day in Sweden some eight years ago, one of the most remarkable and beloved figures in modern Iranian culture died on a sidewalk. His name was Seyed Khalil Alinejad. While is largely unknown among non-Iranians, since little is written about him in English, his story continues to provoke controversy and elicit mourning from Iranians living under the tyranny of the Tehran clerical regime. His tale offers a glimpse of the tormented history of the Iranian people, and it may even be seen as similar, in a sense, to current opposition movement in Iran.
It is now an exporter, if not a sponsor, of terrorism.
7:55 PM, Jan 14, 2010 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
Anybody curious about how and why Yemen became a place where al Qaeda and other jihadist groups operate with apparent impunity--while its government claims to be a reliable ally of the United States--should simply look at a map of the Middle East. Throughout its history Yemen has been different from the rest of its neighbors. It is, in truth, a local pivot--but a permanently wobbling one. It now faces an existential threat, as radicals from within in its borders and around its neighborhood threaten to destroy it, with the apparent complicity of--or at least, a dangerous passivity on the part of--its rulers. In this it resembles that other strategic hub and Islamist target, Pakistan.
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