Thursday, October 21, 2004

In Memory of Mindel

Recently a “moral equivalence” type from France (!) responded to what I said here about choosing evil after the massacre in Beslan and tried to justify it by saying that the Russians had done horrible things in Chechnya. He equated Israel’s acts of self-defense with Palestinian terrorism, saying that their side has homemade weapons while ours has helicopters, that our acts of self-defense are really state terrorism by a country that calls itself a democracy but is really not, and so on and so forth. I thought of how Meryl and Lair handle people who spew this swill and did my best. My only criticism would be that I was probably a bit restrained. Still, it’s so depressing sometimes. There is so much falsehood out there and so many people willing to swallow it whole with their eyes tightly shut. From this side, it feels like bailing an ocean liner with a thimble.

Two nights ago a close friend of mine took me to see a documentary film called “Menuha’s Last Scene.” Made by a young man named Layzie Shapira, this remarkable project is actually a film within a film: a documentary about Menuha, an amazing and gifted Israeli woman originally from Poland who started making films when she was more than seventy years old. Shapira follows Menuha as she makes a film depicting the most tragic scene of her life, which took place in 1935, when she was five years old, several years before Germany invaded Poland. Her father had gone to pre-state Palestine to make a place for his family but was only able to get enough immigration certificates for his wife and two of their three daughters. Her mother, faced with the horrific choice of which daughter to leave behind, left Menuha’s eleven-year-old sister, Mindel, with her grandmother, intending to send for her as soon as she could. Events—including, eventually, World War II—intervened and the family couldn’t get their remaining daughter or the grandmother out of Poland. They were murdered shortly after the German invasion.

Menuha’s film consists of only one scene: the parting at the train station in Warsaw, where Mindel is told that she will have to remain behind with her grandmother. It is a tribute to Mindel and is heartbreaking to watch.

The surrounding documentary focuses on the making of Menuha’s film: the auditions, the production work, the trip to Poland, the actual filming. The actors showed a deep emotional connection to the story, some of them weeping as they auditioned and again as they made the film. (Considering that all the actors are from Israel, it is possible that something similar may have happened in their own families.) During one scene when Menuha discusses filming at a local train station with an official of Israel Railways, I was struck by the irony of using an Israeli train station and locomotive to film the family’s traumatic parting from Mindel at that train station in Warsaw. In another scene at Yad Vashem’s documenting center, Menuha finds a photograph of Mindel which was taken four years after that terrible and final separation and which she had never seen. For the first time, Menuha has evidence that Mindel went on with her life, however briefly, after the train left without her. But her wonder and delight at seeing the photograph mix quickly with the pain and loss that have accompanied her all her life.

My friend, a filmmaker herself, cried throughout. So did I.

And this fellow from France (and who knows how many others like him) says that defending ourselves constitutes terrorism. Chalk up another one who, at best, closes his eyes and swallows all the propaganda offered to him without bothering to check facts or think for himself, and at worst ... see below.

UPDATE: Yedi’ot Aharonot’s daily magazine contains a feature about Menuha’s film. I looked for it on their site but didn’t find it. So far it appears to exist only in print, but I hope that many more people will soon write about this film. Here are items about it in English and in Hebrew.

UPDATE: has preliminary reports from the Duke conference. Look carefully. For these people, there is no such thing as co-existence. They say that Israel should not exist, that the Jews should not have a state ... in other words, that Mindel and her grandmother should not have been the only ones of that family to die.

Well, at least they’re honest about it. No moral equivalence there.

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