Totally random historical post: Things to like about Marshal Antonescu

I was going to do a rather obnoxious post about the Macedonian name issue, but decided not to. You can see a draft of it in the comments section over here.

Meanwhile, here’s an idea I’ve sometimes toyed with: a series of posts on the leaders of small European countries during the Second World War. There were some fascinating characters running around then: Admiral Horthy of Hungary, Salazar of Portugal, Prince Paul of Yugoslavia and Ante Pavelic of Croatia. (Pavelic not so much fascinating as disgusting, but that’s a story for another time.)

Anyway, I don’t want to commit myself to this — I still have the series on frozen conflicts half-finished — but here’s a random post on one wartime leader: Marshal Antonescu of Romania. Continue reading

The Jewish-European heritage

On the day following Israel’s national holocaust memorial day, writing in Haaretz, Fania Oz-Salzberger reminds both Israelis and Europeans that, for centuries, Jewish history has been an enriching element of European history. Concerned about the effect of class trips of “roudy groups” of Israeli teenagers to Auschwitz, she recommends trips to Spain instead –

Take the money, enlist more supportive foundations, and take select groups of Israeli pupils to Andalusia, in the south of Spain. Because there, in many ways, begins the story that ends in Auschwitz: the story of Jewish Europe, which is both an Ashkenazi and Sephardi tale.

Somewhere in Andalusia there was a small paper mill at the end of the Middle Ages. It was at that time that the ancient Chinese technology arrived, after a long journey across Asia and North Africa, and entered Europe via Spain. Without it Gutenberg would not have been able to print. And lo, that mill was operated by two partners, a Jew and a Muslim. Their clients from the north were Christians. This story, symbolic rather than historic, should be told to 17-year-old Jewish and Arab Israelis. You have to be a great pessimist not to tell it. It is a story of life and rejuvenation. It would not overshadow the story of the persecuted and the murdered, but empower it greatly.

Woe to a Jewish-Israeli identity that relies only on the ashes of the crematoria. Our European past also includes a thousand years of life, art and the spreading of knowledge.

I don’t think trips to Andalusia should replace trips to Auschwitz, but they certainly seem like a valuable addition. They represent what I like so much about the the Jewish Museum in Berlin – it’s not just a holocaust memorial but also offers a glimpse onto Jewish European’s life before the Shoah – as well as thereafter. Because, as opposed to Ms Oz-Salzbergers claim above, I don’t believe the story of Jewish Europe ended in Auschwitz, not even in Germany.

The statistics of recent Jewish immigration, particularly from Russia, are unequivocal. But it’s the anecdotal evidence that, I think, matters more in this case. The Jewish community in my home town, Mainz, is one of the oldest in Germany, dating back to the 10th century, possibly even to Roman times. In the 1970s, there were only about hundred community members. Today, there are about a thousand, and a new Synagoge – architecturally slightly reminiscent of the Jewish Museum in Berlin – is currently being planned.