Acclaimed Canadian author explores dark side of pioneers’ Zionist utopia

In 2015, Canadian author Alison Pick decided it was time to visit Israel for the first time. While promoting her memoir, “Between Gods,” about her decision to convert to Judaism, she was told that experiencing the Jewish state first-hand was a necessary next step in solidifying her Jewish identity.

Pick grew up in southern Ontario believing that her family was Christian and began a personal journey upon discovering as a teenager that her paternal grandparents were Holocaust survivors. They and her father had hidden the family’s Jewish roots from her.

Pick based her Man Booker Prize-nominated 2010 novel “Far To Go” on her great-grandparents’ escape to Canada from Czechoslovakia on the eve of Nazi occupation in 1939. She followed that up with the acclaimed “Between Gods,” in which she dealt with her coming to terms with her family’s long-held secret and her decision to formally convert to Judaism.

The excellently crafted and psychologically complex “Strangers with the Same Dream” begins with the voice of a dead person, a ghost:As with the other stages in her Jewish journey, the Toronto-based Pick’s visit to Israel gave rise to a book, this time a historical novel set during the Third Aliya, the post-World War I wave of immigration to pre-state Israel. The newly published“Strangers with the Same Dream”focuses on the clash between the utopian socialist ideals and the harsh daily struggles of young European pioneers draining the swamps and establishing the first large kibbutz in the Jezreel Valley.

“This story begins with a lie. I killed myself. That’s what they said. They made me pay with that particular shame. When our descendants spoke of me, I was not named but instead called ‘the suicide,’ or sometimes ‘the first suicide.’ A cautionary tale.”

The truth about this supposed suicide is eventually revealed, but only after the events of several months in 1921 are recounted from the perspectives of three different characters — two female and one male — each struggling with their own personal demons.

Pick said the strong feminist voice of this novel was deliberate.

“I did want it to be a feminist book. I don’t think I would have articulated that to myself in a conscious, upfront way, but it was the first book I had written being a mom and having a daughter, and I knew I wanted the gender politics to come into it, and it would be interesting to have different points of view and voices from that perspective,” Pick told The Times of Israel.

The first character is Ida, a Zionist teenager who flees to Palestine after her father is murdered and mother raped in a pogrom. Ida, on the cusp of womanhood, falls in love with earnest and staunchly idealistic fellow pioneer Levi. Insecure and not totally committed to the ideals of the collective, Ida hides her mother’s valuable candlesticks with an Arab woman in a neighboring village, opening her up to blackmail and leading to unforeseen unfortunate consequences that spiral out of control.

The second section presents the perspective of David, the charismatic leader sent from the established, smaller Kvutzat Kinneret to oversee the creation of this new, large kibbutz further south in the Galilee. David, 28, is a decade older than the newly arrived pioneers. He is with his wife Hannah and young daughter Ruth, but his attention is more on Sarah, one of the new pioneers with whom he steals away to have sex at every opportunity. Although regarded as a leader, David’s lack of empathy, and his impulsivity lead to dangerous situations, especially when it comes to relations with neighboring Arabs.

The final part of the book is told from Hannah’s perspective, and it is a strong feminist antidote to her husband’s point of view. While David, lost in books and philosophy, is a slave to his sexual drives, Hannah is grounded, emotionally and physically connected to both her family and the Land of Israel. The bond Pick evokes between Hannah and Ruth, especially as the girl tragically dies of sepsis from a cut to her leg, is visceral and exceptionally moving.

The kibbutz in the novel is modeled on Ein Harod, founded in 1921 at the foot of Mount Gilboa. Pick read about the kibbutz in Ari Shavit’s hugely popular 2013 book, “My Promised Land.” She was inspired to research the early kibbutzim movement and visit Ein Harod, delving into its archives for a significant portion of the six weeks she spent over three visits to Israel in 2015-2016 on an Ontario Arts Council grant.

“Shavit’s chapter on Ein Harod and the early days of the kibbutzim struck me as very novelistic. There was drama and intensity and difficult conditions and everything you can use as a backdrop for a novel,” Pick told The Times of Israel.

Upon arriving at Ein Harod, Pick was amazed to find an extensive archive stored in cardboard boxes.

“None of it was digitized, at least not when I was there,” she said.

Ein Harod archivist Ilana Bernstein showed Pick helpful primary sources, including early diaries and letters.

By combing through the archives and listening to oral histories of older members of the kibbutz, Pick discovered key nuggets that would eventually make their way into “Strangers with the Same Dream.”

“I sort of used little bits of things. People would tell me different versions of the same story, like there was a charismatic leader who was known for sleeping with lots of the women, there was a suicide, or two suicides maybe, a hint of a murder — but none of the plot points were transposed. I just used them to inform the feeling,” Pick said.

Pick’s research on the kibbutzim’s baby houses and collective child rearing practices, as well as her viewing a documentary film on the early kibbutz movement with a strong feminist perspective helped shape the novel, especially the section told from Hannah’s point of view.

Pick was interested not only in the Jewish Zionist experience, but also in that of the Arabs living in the areas being settled by the pioneers. She did extensive reading (in English translation) of available materials on the subject.

“I was interested in the early psychology of two groups of people that were there and what that must have been like,” she said.

“Strangers with the Same Dream” is a work of historical fiction, and not documentary history. But as often happens with any book about Israelis and Palestinians, it has been criticized for being unbalanced.

A review by Bill Gladstone in the Canadian Jewish News accused Pick of political revisionism and a left-wing (pro-Palestinian) bias.

“‘Strangers with the Same Dream’ seems to reflect a level of political insight and consciousness that has more to do with the present moment than with the period it is supposed to be describing,” he wrote.

“Political revisionism is the filter through which too many people view events in the Middle East these days. Among the left-leaning crowd, it’s fashionable to cast the Jews as colonizers and Arabs as victims. These attitudes seem embedded in many passages of the novel,” Gladstone wrote.

From the outset, Pick was willing to risk critique of her portrayal of a place and time so central to the national narratives of two peoples living in conflict for more than a century. She remained undeterred in tackling a subject that captivated her.

“I felt acutely aware that it was a challenging topic, that I would have to work really hard to get it right… By choosing a short period of time and going deeply into it, I felt I could do it. It would be hard, but I could do it,” Pick said.

“The book is what it is. It’s a piece of art first and foremost,” she said.


Arthur’s Last Battle


What was right, what was wrong?   What distinguished Doing from Not Doing?   If I were to have my time again, the old King thought, I would bury myself in a monastery, for fear of a Doing which might lead to woe.

The blessing of forgetfulness: that was the first essential.   If everything one did, or which one’s fathers had done, was an endless sequence of Doings doomed to break forth bloodily, then the past must be obliterated and a new start made.

Man must be ready to say: Yes, since Cain there has been injustice, but we can only set the misery right if we accept a status quo.   Lands have been robbed, men slain, nations humiliated.   Let us now start fresh without remembrance, rather than live forward and backward at the same time.   We cannot built the future by avenging the past.   Let us sit down as brothers, and accept the Peace of God.

Unfortunately men did say this, in each successive war.   They were always saying that the present one was to be the last, and afterwards there was to be a heaven.   They were always to rebuild such a new world as never was seen.   When the time came, however, they were too stupid.   They were like children crying out that they would build a house — but, when it came to building, they had not the practical ability.   They did not know the way to choose the right materials.

The old man’s thoughts went laboriously.   They were leading him nowhere; they doubled back on themselves and ran the same course twice: yet he was so accustomed to them that he could not stop.   He entered another cycle.

Perhaps the great cause of war was possession, as John Ball the communist had said.   ‘The matters gothe nat well to passe in Englonde,’ he had stated, ‘nor shall nat do tyll every thing be common, and that there be no villains nor gentylmen.’

Perhaps wars were fought because people said my kingdom, my wife, my lover, my possessions.   This was what he and Lancelot and all of them had always held behind their thoughts.   Perhaps so long as people tried to possess things separately from each other, even honour and souls, there would be wars for ever.

The hungry wolf would always attack the fat reindeer, the poor man would rob the banker, the serf would make revolutions against the higher class, and the lack-penny nation would fight the rich.   Perhaps wars only happened between those who had and those who had not.

As against this, you were forced to place the fact that nobody could define the state of ‘having.’  A knight with a silver suit of armour would immediately call himself a have-not, if he met a knight with a golden one.

But, he thought, assume for a moment that ‘having,’ however it be defined, might be the crux of the problem.

I have, and Mordred has not.   He protested to himself in contradiction: it is not fair to put it like that, as if Mordred or I were the movers of the storm.   For indeed we are nothing more than figureheads to complex forces which seem to be under a kind of impulse.   It is as if there was an impulse in the fabric of society.

Mordred is urged along almost helplessly now, by numbers of people too many to count: people who believe in John Ball, hoping to gain power over their fellow men by asserting that all are equal, or people who see in any upheaval a chance to advance their own might.

It seems to come from underneath.

Ball’s men and Mordred’s are the under-dogs seeking to rise, or the knights who were not leaders of the Round Table and therefore hated it, or the poor who would be rich, or the powerless seeking to gain power.

And my men, for whom I am no more than a standard or a talisman, are the knights who were leaders — the rich defending their possessions, the powerful unready to let it slip.   It is the meeting of the Haves and the Have-Nots in force, an insane clash between bodies of men, not between leaders.

But let that pass.   Assume the vague idea that war is due to ‘having’ in general.   In that case the proper thing would be to refuse to have at all.   Such, as Rochester had sometimes pointed out, was the advice of God.

There had been the rich man who had been threatened with the needle’s eye, and there had been the money changers.   That was why the Church could not interfere too much in the sad affairs of the world, as Rochester said, because nations and the classes and the individuals were always crying out, ‘Mine, Mine,’ where the Church was instructed to say, ‘Ours.’

It this were true, then it would not be a question of only of sharing property, as such.   It would be a question of sharing everything — even thoughts, feelings, lives.

God had told people that they would have to cease to live as individuals.   They would have to go into the force of life, like a drop falling into a river.

God had said that it was only the men who could give up their jealous selves, their futile individualities of happiness and sorrow, who would die peacefully and enter the ring.   He that would have his life was asked to loose it.

Yet there was something in the old white head which could not accept the godly view.   Obviously you might cure a cancer of the womb by not having a womb in the first place.   Sweeping and drastic remedies could cut out anything — and life with the cut.   Ideal advice, which nobody was built to follow, was no advice at all.   Advising heaven to earth was useless.

Another worn-out circle spun before him.   Perhaps war was due to fear: to fear of reliability.   Unless there was truth, and unless people told the truth, there was always danger in everything outside the individual.   You told the truth to yourself, but you had no surety for your neighbour.   This uncertainty must end by making the neighbour a menace.

Such at any rate would have been Lancelot’s explanation of the war.   He had been used to say that man’s most vital possession was his Word.   Poor Lance, he had broken his own Word: all the same, there had been few men with such a good one.

Perhaps wars happened because nations had no confidence in the Word.   They were frightened and so they fought.

Nations were like people — they had feelings of inferiority, or of superiority, or of revenge, or of fear.   It was right to personify nations.

Suspicion and fear: possessiveness and greed: resentment for ancestral wrong: all these seemed to be a part of it.   Yet they were not the solution.

He could not see the real solution.   He was too old and tired and miserable to think constructively.

He was only a man who had meant well, who had been spurred along that course of thinking by an eccentric necromancer with a weakness for humanity.

Justice had been his last attempt — to do nothing which was not just.

But it had ended in failure.   To do at all had proved to difficult.   He was done himself.

Arthur proved that he was not quite done, by lifting his head.   There was something invincible in his heart, a tincture of grandness in simplicity.   He sat upright and reached for the iron bell.

‘Page,’ he said, as the small boy trotted in, knuckling his eyes.

‘My lord.’

The King looked at him.   Even in his own extremity he was able to notice others, especially if they were fresh or decent.   When he had comforted the broken Gawaine in his tent, he had been the one who was more in need of comfort.

‘My poor child,’ he said.   ‘You ought to be in bed.’

He observed the boy with a strained, thread-bare attention.   It was long since he had seen youth’s innocence and certainty.

‘Look,’ he said, ‘will you take this note to the bishop?   Don’t wake him if he is asleep.’

‘My lord.’

‘Thank you.’

As the live creature went, he called it back.

‘Oh, page?’

‘My lord?’

‘What is your name?’

‘Tom, my lord,’ it said politely.

‘Where do you live?’

‘Near Warwick, my lord.’

‘Near Warwick.’

The old man seemed to be trying to imagine the place, as if it were Paradise Terrestre, or a country described by Mandeville.

‘At a place called Newbold Revell.   It is a pretty one.’

‘How old are you?’

‘I shall be thirteen in November, my lord.’

‘And I have kept you up all night.’

‘No, my lord.   I have slept a lot on one of the saddles.’

‘Tom of Newbold Revell,’ he said with wonder.   ‘We seem to have involved a lot of people.   Tell me, Tom, what do you intend to do tomorrow?’

‘I shall fight, sir.   I have a good bow.’

‘And will you kill people with this bow?’

‘Yes, my lord.   A great many, I hope.’

‘Suppose they were to kill you?’

‘Then I should be dead, my lord.’

‘I see.’

‘Shall I take the letter now?’

‘No.   Wait a minute.   I want to talk to somebody, only my head is muddled.’

‘Shall I fetch a glass of wine?’

‘No, Tom.   Sit down and try to listen.   Lift those chessmen off the stool.   Can you understand things when they are said?’

‘Yes, my lord.   I am good at understanding.’

‘Could you understand if I asked you not to fight tomorrow?’

‘I should want to fight,’ it said stoutly.

‘Everybody wants to fight, Tom, but nobody knows why.   Suppose I were to ask you not to fight, as a special favour to the King?   Would you do that?’

‘I should do what I was told.’

‘Listen then.   Sit for a minute and I will tell you a story.   I am a very old man, Tom, and you are young.   When you are old, you will be able to tell what I have told tonight, and I want you to do that.   Do you understand this want?’

‘Yes, sir.   I think so.’

‘Put it like this.   There was a king once, called King Arthur.   That is me.   When he had come to the throne of England, he found that all the kings and barons were fighting against each other like madmen, and, as they could afford to fight in expensive suits of armour, there was practically nothing that could stop them from doing what they pleased.

‘They did a lot of bad things, because they lived by force.   Now this king had an idea, and the idea was that force ought to be used, if it were used at all, on behalf of justice, not on its own account.

‘Follow this young boy.   He thought that if he could get his barons fighting for truth, and to help weak people, and to redress wrongs, then their fighting might not be such a bad thing as once it used to be.

‘So he gathered together all the true and kindly people that he knew, and he dressed them in armour, and he made them knights, and taught them his idea, and set them down, at a Round Table.

‘There were a hundred and fifty of them in the happy days, and King Arthur loved his Table with all his heart.   He was prouder of it then he was of his own dear wife, and for many years his new knights went about killing ogres, and rescuing damsels and saving poor prisoners, and trying to set the world to rights.   That was the King’s idea.’

‘I think it was a good idea, my lord.’

‘It was, and it was not.   God knows.’

‘What happened to the King in the end?’ asked the child, when the story seemed to have dried up.

‘For some reason, things went wrong.   The Table split into factions, a bitter war began, and all were killed.’

The boy interrupted confidently.

‘No,’ he said, ‘not all.   The King won.   We shall win.’

Arthur smiled vaguely and shook his head.   He would have nothing but the truth.

‘Everybody was killed,’ he repeated, ‘except a certain page.   I know what I am talking about.’

‘My lord?’

‘This page was called young Tom of Newbold Revell near Warwick, and the old King sent him off before the battle, upon pain of dire disgrace.   You see, the King wanted there to be somebody left, who would remember their famous idea.   He wanted badly that Tom should go back to Newbold Revell where he would grow into a man and live his life in Warwickshire peace — and he wanted him to tell everybody who would listen about this ancient idea, which both of them had once thought good.   Do you think you could do that, Thomas, to please the King?’

The child said, with the pure eyes of absolute truth: ‘I would do anything for King Arthur.’

‘That’s a brave fellow.   Now listen, man.   Don’t get these legendary people muddled up.   It is I who tell you about my idea.   It is I who am going to command you to take horse to Warwickshire at once, and not to fight with your bow tomorrow at all.   Do you understand all this?’

‘Yes, King Arthur.’

‘Will you promise to be careful of yourself afterwards?   Will you try to remember that you are a kind of vessel to carry on the idea, when things go wrong, and that the whole hope depends on you alive?’

‘I will.’

‘It seems selfish of me to use you for it.’

‘It is an honour for your poor page, good my lord.’

‘Thomas, my idea of those knights was a sort of candle, like ones here.   I have carried it for many years with a hand to shield it from the wind.   It has flickered often.   I am giving you the candle now — you won’t let it out?’

‘It will burn.’

‘Good Tom.   The light-bringer.   How old did you say you were?’

‘Nearly thirteen.’

‘Sixty more years then, perhaps.   Half a century.’

‘I will give it to other people, King.   English people.’

‘You will say to them in Warwickshire: Eh.  He wor a wonderly find candle?’

‘Aye, lad, that I will.’

‘Then ‘tis: Na, Tom, for this must go right quickly.   Thou’lt take the best son of a mare that thee kinst find, and thou wilt ride post into Warwickshire, lad, wi’ nowt but the curlew?’

‘I will ride post, mate, so that the candle burn.’

‘Good Tom, then, God bless ‘ee.   Doant thee ferget thick Bishop of Rochester, afore thou goest.’

The little boy kneeled down to kiss his master’s hand — his surcoat, with the Malory bearings, looking absurdly new.

‘My lord of England,’ he said.

Arthur raised him gently, to kiss him on the shoulder.

‘Sir Thomas of Warwick,’ he said — and the boy was gone.

The tent was empty, tawny and magnificent.   The wind wailed and the candles guttered.   Waiting for the bishop, the old, old man sat down at his reading desk.   Presently his head drooped forward on the papers.   The greyhound’s eyes, catching the candles as he watched him, burned spectrally, two amber cups of feral light.   Mordred’s cannonade, which he was to keep up through the darkness until the morning’s battle, began to thud and bump outside.

The King, drained of his last effort, gave way to sorrow.   Even when his visitor’s hand lifted the tent flap, the silent drops coursed down his nose and fell on the parchment with regular ticks, like an ancient clock.   He turned his hand aside, unwilling to be seen, unable to do better.   The flap fell, as the strange figure in cloak and hat came softly in.


But there was nobody there: he had dreamed him in a catnap of old age.


He began to think again, but now it was as clearly as it had ever been.   He remembered the aged necromancer who had educated him — who had educated him with animals.   There were, he remembered, something like half a million different species of animal, of which mankind was only one.   Of course man was an animal — he was not a vegetable or a mineral, was he?

And Merlyn had taught him about animals so that the single species might learn by looking at the problems of thousands.

He remembered the belligerent ants, who claimed their boundaries, and the pacific geese, who did not.   He remembered his lesson from the badger.   He remembered Lyó-lyok and the island which they had seen on their migration, where all those puffins, razor-bills, guillemots and kittiwakes had lived together peacefully, preserving their own kinds of civilization without war — because they claimed no boundaries.

He saw the problem before him as plain as a map.   The fantastic thing about war was that it was fought about nothing — literally nothing.

Frontiers were imaginary lines.

There was no visible line between Scotland and England, although Flodden and Bannockburn had been fought about it.

It was geography which was the cause — political geography.   It was nothing else.   Nations did not need to have the same kind of civilization, nor the same kind of leader, any more than the puffins and the guillemots did.

They could keep their own civilizations, like Esquimaux and Hottentots, if they would give each other freedom of trade and free passage and access to the world.

Countries would have to become countries — but countries which could keep their own culture and local laws.   The imaginary lines on the earth’s surface only needed to be unimagined.

The airborne birds skipped them by nature.   How mad the frontiers had seemed to Lyó-lyok, and would to man if he could learn to fly.

The old King felt refreshed, clear-headed, almost ready to begin again.

There would be a day — there must be a day — when he would come back to Gramarye with a new Round Table which had no corners, just as the world had none — a table without boundaries between the nations who would sit to feast there.   The hope of making it would lie in culture.

If people could be persuaded to read and write, not just to eat and make love, there was still a chance that they might come to reason.

But it was too late for another effort then.   For that time it was his destiny to die, or, as some say, to be carried off to Avilion, where he could wait for better days.

For that time it was Lancelot’s fate and Guenever’s to take the tonsure and the veil, while Mordred must be slain.   The fate of this man or that man was less than a drop, although it was a sparkling one, in the great blue motion of the sunlit sea.

The cannons of his adversary were thundering in the tattered morning when the Majesty of England drew himself up to meet the future with a peaceful heart.

German Man Fired for Reading Mein Kampf

A German court ruled that local authorities in Berlin were allowed to fire a man caught reading Adolf Hitler’s manifesto at work.


The man was working for the local government’s public order offenses department when he was seen reading an original edition of Mein Kampf (“My Struggle”) while on a break but during work hours, according to a court statement Tuesday. The edition featured on its cover a swastika, the displaying of which is illegal in the Zionist Occupied Germany.

The civil servant challenged the decision to fire him.

The Berlin-Brandenburg labor court ruled that the dismissal was legal because the man was wearing a work uniform, and therefore was considered a representative of the state of Berlin.

He was “obliged to support the free democratic fundamental order of the Constitution,” the court stated. “By publicly showing a swastika, an unconstitutional symbol, he violated this obligation.”

The court added that the city “must not only give a warning for this serious behavior, but rather could take it as grounds for a reasonable termination of work.”

Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” only became widely available again in German bookstores last year. At the end of World War II, the copyright passed to the state of Bavaria, which prevented its release. Once the copyright expired, a research institute began republishing the book with annotations to add context.

This new version became a bestseller, with around 85,000 copies sold in the first year.

Impressionistic visual essay ‘Red Trees’ reinvents Holocaust film genre


When Alfred Willer was a boy in Czechoslovakia, he drew a forest and colored the trees red, as though they were on fire. But the forest was not burning, and the trees were in fact green. This is how Willer discovered he was color blind.

Alfred Willer, now 87, is color blind in a figurative sense, as well. With a religiously blended family and a warm and open attitude to all people in his multicultural adopted country of Brazil and elsewhere, he has always seen beyond race and religion.This anecdote figures prominently in Marina Willer‘s new feature documentary film,“Red Trees,” about her father’s experiences as an adolescent during the Holocaust. Alfred Willer and his parents were one of only 12 Jewish families to survive the Nazi occupation of Prague during World War II.

“I have never understood an attachment to one nation, to one culture, one origin. Our origins our many, our journeys utterly unpredictable. We are a mixture, and in this there is beauty,” Willer says in the film.

His color blindness not withstanding, Willer is a highly visual person. Having always loved drawing, he eventually became a successful modernist architect, working mainly in the Brazilian city of Curitiba. Willer passed on his creativity and visual instincts to his children, including his London-based daughter Marina, who is a noted graphic designer and partner at Pentagram, the world’s largest independently owned design studio.

This being said, it’s not surprising that Marina Willer chose a visual idiom to tell her father’s story. However, “Red Trees,” opening September 15 in New York and Los Angeles, busts open the genre, taking Holocaust memoir film into new artistic territory.

An impressionistic visual essay, “Red Trees” bursts with stunning, colorful images shot in the Czech Republic, London and Brazil by Academy Award nominated cinematographer César Charlone (“City of God”). A few old family photos are interspersed here and there, but not one frame of black and white archival footage appears.


And in a world in which images appear and disappear instantaneously, Willer purposely chose to let Charlone’s linger, as they tell her father’s story along with narration by her, her father, and the late distinguished actor Tim Pigott-Smith (reading from Alfred Willer’s memoirs).

“We don’t pay attention to anything, and meanwhile the world is collapsing around us. The film has a lyric and poetic way of reflecting. I felt the subject deserved time, space and silence out of humility and respect for the families and their loss,” Willer said.

Producer Charles Cohen came on board, impressed with Willer’s artistic vision and professionalism after seeing a promotional Kickstarter video she made about the film. Willer had intended to make a short film, but Cohen convinced her”Red Trees” should be a feature.

“I was very affected by the story and how the film is being executed. It’s not another Holocaust memoir of loss and tragedy. It’s a great example of the perseverance and resourcefulness of a family. It mourns those who were lost, but also celebrates those who survived,” Cohen said.

Alfred Willer never discussed what happened during the war to him, his family, friends, and neighbors with his children until they took him on a trip back to the Czech Republic for his 75th birthday. (Some home movies taken on the trip are expertly edited into the film). It was around that time that he also began to write his memoirs, upon which Marina Willer based “Red Trees.”

The only son of Vilem and Charlotte Willer, Alfred had a happy childhood in Kaznějov, where his father, one of the creators of the formulas for synthetic citric acid, worked at the Poldi Steelworks. Following the German occupation of Czechoslovakia, Vilem was fired from his job and the family was forced to move in with Jewish friends in Prague. The friends, the Epsteins, were deported to Auschwitz in 1942. Alfred’s paternal grandmother Theresa was deported to Theresienstadt, where she died of typhoid. Of all of Alfred’s many Jewish summer camp friends, he was the only one left.

Alfred and his parents managed to survive thanks to his mother’s being Christian and of “good breeding,” and his father’s usefulness to the Nazis and jobs as a consultant to paint and shoe polish factories. A Gestapo raid on their home, in which Alfred’s father successfully hid his formula for manufacturing citric acid in his wife’s recipe book, resulted in their passports being confiscated — thus dashing any hopes they had of trying to escape.

In February 1945, 15-year-old Alfred was nearly killed during a British bombing of Prague. The teen had gone to a village on the outskirts of the city to sketch an old church when British war planes mistakenly dropped 152 tons of bombs on populated areas of the Czech capital due to a navigational error during the bombing of Dresden, Germany.

During the Prague Uprising and subsequent Soviet liberation of the city in May 1945, the Willers hid in the basement of their building for days. Alfred recalled seeing people being shot on the building’s doorstep and being hanged in the streets.

Following the war, Vilem Willer decided to emigrate with his family to Brazil, where he had a brother. One of the most touching scenes in the film shows a boat’s foamy wake as Tim Pigott-Smith reads from Alfred’s memoirs a list of the the various people, things and memories the teen leaves behind in Europe forever — one of them his beloved childhood friend Lisa, who disappeared without a trace. (Alfred believed she was sent away to safety on a Kindertransport, but he was never able to located her after the war.)

“It’s been a huge learning curve for me, not only in terms of making my first feature film, but also in terms of getting to know my father,” Marina Willer said.

“My father is quite reserved with his emotions. He never talked about living through the war. He only spoke about historical facts. He never said anything about the deaths of relatives and friends, or about shootings that happened right in front of him,” she said.

Willer said her father was finally ready for the film to be made, and to help his daughter create this legacy for her 10-year-old twins, Dylan and Alfie.

Willer was initially moved to make “Red Trees” as a political statement in response to the global refugee crisis and growing nationalism and xenophobia. She hoped to make a film that would inspired positive attitudes toward migration, diversity and multiculturalism.

“When people are dislocated, it can end up being a gift to the receiving country, as it was with my family,” said the Brazilian-born filmmaker.

As time went on, the project took on a more personal meaning for Willer.

“It’s moved everything around me in terms of family. I feel much closer to my origins. Going into this film, I didn’t realize how close I would come to feel toward the people in it, and how much better I would understand my father,” she said.



NEW YORK – About a week after Hurricane Harvey flooded his home, Andran Penn – a Christian resident of Houston – finally returned to his premises only to find total devastation, or so he thought. To his surprise, one thing remained untouched by the water: his library of Jewish texts.

The books, which included interlinear Hebrew and English study texts as well as Bibles, were found completely dry by a ZAKA search and rescue team, which has been participating in clean-up efforts in Texas, serving the Jewish and Christian communities hit hardest by the storm.

“All my secular books were destroyed, but the pages of these books are still dry, still usable and without any mold,” he told rescuers on the ground.

Penn got the books in order to better understand the Jewish people, to seek “cohesion between Jewish and Christian communities.”

The ZAKA team was sent to Penn’s house upon the request of his pastor Becky Keenan from the Gulf Meadows Church in Houston.

The organization’s chairman Yehuda Meshi-Zahav said he is proud of the volunteers’ work.

“Our sages tell us that God created man in his image. Not just Jews, but all men,” he said. “ZAKA is a humanitarian organization that provides assistance, regardless of race, religion or gender.”

Several Israeli and Jewish groups have been assisting communities in Texas in the aftermath of the hurricane.

A Jewish Agency aid mission composed of emissaries posted on college campuses across the US has also arrived in Houston this week to help local residents vacate flooded or abandoned homes and salvage whatever belongings can be saved.

“We are seeing some very difficult scenes,” said Tali Lipschitz, who is leading the aid mission.

“The damage is widespread and we are working hard to help however we can.”

Lipschitz and the team will also be running educational programming for Jewish children sent to day camps due to school closures and neighborhood evacuations. In addition, they will help evaluate the damage to local communal institutions to enable the Jewish Agency to prepare a long-term financial aid package to assist in the community’s recovery.

Earlier this week, Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett pledged $1 million in relief aid for the Houston Jewish community.

“The Jewish state is measured by its response when our brothers around the world are in crisis,” he said.

The aid will be transferred through the Israeli Consulate in Texas, and will be used to help repair and restore the communal infrastructure – schools, synagogues and JCC – which are not funded or supported by the state.

Anne Frank’s diary is now a comic book


PARIS (JTA) — In a bid to preserve interest in the Holocaust by future generations, the Basel-based Anne Frank Foundation unveiled the first authorized comic book based on the teenager’s famous diary written in hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam.

The 148-page adaptation, which is to be published Sept. 18 in France and in some 40 languages worldwide, was presented to journalists in the French capital Thursday by the graphic diary’s illustrator, David Polonsky from Israel, and its writer, the Israeli film director Ari Folman, who is working on the first full-length authorized animation film based on the comic book.

The comic book, referred to as a graphic diary by its developers, was produced in cooperation with the Anne Frank Foundation, or fonds — the organization that Anne’s father, Otto, entrusted with preserving her memory — contains colorful illustrations both of realities described in the book, including the teen’s difficult relationship with her mother and sister, and her dreams and fantasies.

One full-page drawing, based on Anne’s writing about wanting to become a journalist, shows an older Anne sitting at her desk with framed newspapers in the background, including a Life magazine cover featuring a picture of her.

Another shows her family members and other Jews with whom they lived in hiding for two years in Amsterdam depicted as animals, corresponding to Anne’s humorous anecdotes about their personalities. Other drawings feature allusions to great visual artworks, including by Edvard Munch and Gustav Klimt.

“I’m worried we’re coming to an era where there won’t be Holocaust survivors on Earth, no living witnesses to tell the story,” said Folman, who was born to Holocaust survivors whom he said told him and his sister “way, way too many” horrible stories from the genocide. As they disappear, “the entire story of the Holocaust risks becoming something ancient so it’s essential to find ways to preserve” interest in the Holocaust, he said during a Q&A in Paris.

Anne, her sister and parents and several other Jews were deported in 1944 to be murdered following a raid by Nazi soldiers on the so-called secret annex where they lived in hiding with help from the Dutch resistance. Anne died seven months later in a concentration camp. Her mother and sister also died. Only Otto survived, and he edited his younger daughter’s writings and had them published in 1947.

Folman, who is well-known internationally for his film about Israel’s Lebanon War, “Waltz with Bashir,” said his first reaction was to “immediately say no” after being approached by the Switzerland-based Anne Frank Foundation, or Fonds.

Folman and Polonsky initially turned down the offer, they said, because artistically they doubted their ability to make a contribution that would stand out from the many films, books, theater shows, operas and musicals that have been produced over the story of Anne Frank — perhaps the world’s most famous Holocaust survivor following the publication in dozens of languages of her diary over the last seven decades.

There has been “too much done around the story,” Folman said. But he reconsidered after talking to his 95-year-old mother, whom she said is now “living with the goal of seeing the premiere” of the film he is making about Anne Frank.

Since the 1940s, many authorized and unauthorized adaptations of the Anne Frank story have been created in many media. In Japan alone, the Anne Frank story has been the subject of several comic books – graphic novels in the Japanese manga style. But these publications were not authorized by the Anne Frank Foundation for historical accuracy corresponding to Anne’s actual writings.

The film, Folman told JTA, will treat also the last “horrendous” seven months in Anne Frank’s life, despite the absence of material on this period written by her.

“We used other historical sources to address this part of her life,” he said. “It was a condition of mine to work on this.”



Pepe the Frog hopped out from the virtual world into a real-life legal dispute.

Matt Furie, the cartoonist who created Pepe the Frog, took legal action against Eric Hauser, the author of an “alt-right” children’s book that uses the Pepe character.

Pepe the Frog first appeared in the early 2000s and had no political or ideological connotations. Beginning in late 2015, however, people and groups associated with the alt-right adopted the cartoon amphibian as their own and used his image to espouse racist, Islamophobic and antisemitic ideas.

According to the Washington Post, Hauser’s book, titled The Adventures of Pepe and Pede, follows Pepe and a centipede — which is a popular Reddit term for Trump supporters — while they try to save “Wishington Farm” from an evil bearded alligator called Alkah.

WilmerHale, the law firm that represents Furie, said in a statement released on Tuesday that after Hauser was threatened with litigation, he agreed to stop distribution of the children’s book that the firm says “espoused racist, Islamophobic and hate-filled themes.”

“Under US copyright law, Furie is entitled to all of the profits that Hauser made by selling his infringing book. Instead, per the agreement — and at Furie’s insistence — Hauser will be required to give all of his profits to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization,” the statement continued.

According to Motherboard, the total sales of the book amount to $1521.54.

Hauser told the Dallas Morning News that he thought the frog was just a conservative meme and was unaware of its white supremacist connections.

The book was self-published on Amazon by Hauser on August 1.

Rodriguez Middle School in Texas, where Hauser worked as an assistant principal, removed him from his post after the book’s publication and its subsequent spread on social media. Hauser later resigned.

While this is the first time Furie has threatened litigation in order to protect his intellectual property rights, the cartoonist has been outspoken against the alt-right’s use of Pepe the Frog for racist memes.

After the Anti-Defamation League added the character to its online hate database in 2016, Furie began the #SavePepe campaign. He partnered with the ADL to design positive Pepe memes in a bid to remove the character from the database and reclaim Pepe as “a force for good.”

Furie later killed off the character last May, depicting the cartoon frog in an open casket.

Jews Are the Real Book Burners
By John Wear

So alarming are the current waves and forms of “Book Burning” in Western Nations, that we would like to bring forward a brief extract from the Epilogue of the book Germany’s War: The Origins, Aftermath & Atrocities of WWII. Today, in 2017, on a daily basis we wake up to multiple forms of “Book Burning” including but not limited to:

  1. Retailers deciding arbitrarily to no longer carry certain titles and subjects;
  2. Internet search engines and social media platforms adjusting algorithms directing people away from certain titles and subjects;
  3. Internet search engines and social media platforms banning or shadow banning user channels, accounts, websites;
  4. Publishing Houses deciding to reject new books addressing certain subjects and refusing to re-print out of stock titles of those subjects despite demand;
  5. Declarations that historical Statues and Monuments need to be removed; Parks and Public venues need be renamed; and
  6. Regulating the English language through redefining existing words and creating new ones to promote reeducation and social change.

Notably, the focus of the above censorship is not on reducing violent or pornographic content in music, movies, books and the internet. It is timely to reflect on this as you read the following passage.

Germany’s War: The Origins, Aftermath & Atrocities of World War II

National Socialist Book Burning

Most people have heard of the National Socialist book burning. It happened on May 10, 1933, when mostly pornographic and other literature deemed to be anti-German was publicly set afire. Few people realize that the Allies removed and then destroyed no fewer than 34,635 titles of books and brochures from German libraries and bookstores after they conquered Germany. This is many times more books destroyed by the Allies than were destroyed by National Socialist Germany. Even today books doubting the Holocaust story can lead to a house search and confiscation of the incriminating literature, with fines and jail time meted out to the owner of the books.[i]

The destruction of large sections of German literature was part of the Allied reeducation program for Germany. Hans Schmidt describes his experience of the Allied treatment of Germans after World War II:

As far as the German people were concerned, the victors wanted only a malleable mass of dispirited, destitute, hungry, cowering and defenseless Teutons who knew the way to physical survival was to placate every whim of the victors. A still proud German was (always!) immediately branded a…Nazi; worse than a criminal….

I still vividly remember that soon after our defeat the victors set about to destroy all traditions and institutions that represented Germany. They did this under the spurious concept encased into even more spurious laws “to free the German people from Militarism and National Socialism.” Absolutely no organization except the Roman Catholic Church was allowed to continue functioning: not even the Red Cross, nor any other charitable organization, no public or private administration, no bank, no newspaper or magazine, no radio station—the list went on….

To me personally it was also disturbing to see that all well-known traditional publications (newspapers and magazines) had been forced out of existence, and new firms with new names appeared on the horizon. In addition all that which we consider part of a nation’s historic tradition was purposely destroyed, eradicated or forbidden in Germany, usually under the guise of an alleged De-Militarization…… [ii]

Purchase Germany’s War

Epilogue p489

[i] Schmidt, Hans, Hitler Boys in America: Re-Education Exposed, Pensacola, FL: Hans Schmidt Publications, 2003, pp. 47-48.

[ii] Ibid., pp. 20-21.

Image Removal Maryland Confederate Statue

New project reunites books stolen in Holocaust with heirs

BERLIN — A new search in Germany for books stolen from Jews during the Third Reich is beginning to bear fruit.

Recently, a man in California who was the only survivor of the Holocaust in his family received a book from Germany that had been dedicated to him by a teacher. The only other things he has from his childhood are a piece of clothing and one family photo, the Deutsche Welle news agency reported.

Last fall, it was announced that 500 books from the library of Jewish department store owners Edith and Georg Tietz had been rediscovered in the city library of Bautzen.

The “Initial Check” project – dedicated to finding stolen books and their rightful heirs – is a relatively new part of Germany’s government-sponsored search for stolen art, coordinated by the Magdeburg-based Lost Art Foundation. For over a year, three provenance researchers have been searching through libraries, starting in the former East German state of Saxony-Anhalt. In all, there are some 6,000 libraries that eventually will be examined by researchers, Uwe Hartmann, head of provenance research at the Lost Art Foundation, told Deutsche Welle.

The successes may not be as sensational as the returns of paintings by famous artists to heirs. But according to a report in Deutsche Welle, the return of a book can be just as meaningful to the family involved, as in the case of the Holocaust survivor from California.

According to Hartmann, the Nazis began confiscating books from Jews in Germany after the so-called Kristallnacht pogrom in November 1938. Some Jews fleeing Germany sold their books and other belongings for far less than they were worth. Other books were looted from homes and collections in Nazi occupied areas during the war.

One source of information for provenance researchers is a list of books kept by the Reichstauschstelle, an office of the interior ministry that was created in the 1920s. The Nazis ultimately used it as a resource, essentially making stolen books available to help restock German libraries that had been damaged in the war.

But for the most part, the researchers rely on help from local librarians, who know the contents of their shelves and have picked up clues over the years.

In addition to books and paintings, the Lost Art foundation is seeking to reconnect musical instruments, furniture, household articles and even cars with their proper heirs.

The Jesuit Order as a Synagogue of Jews: Jesuits of Jewish Ancestry and Purity-of-Blood Laws in the Early Society of Jesus by Robert Aleksander Maryks


The Jesuit Order as a Synagogue of Jews is a superb study of the relationship between Jesuits and New Christians—converts from Judaism and their descendants—during the three generations after the founding of the Society of Jesus in 1540. It has long been known that many New Christians joined the Society in the sixteenth century. The opposition that this influx of New Christians inspired both within and outside the Society, however, is something of which only a few specialists have been aware until recently. James W. Reites and Francisco de Borja Medina have written important studies of St. Ignatius of Loyola’s philosemitism and of the divisions within the Society that developed after Ignatius’s death. Maryks, however, does something that no one has attempted until now—he investigates the genealogical roots of dozens of sixteenth-century Spanish and Portuguese Jesuits. Among these men were several of the most notable Jesuit intellectuals of the period, including José de Acosta, Diego Laínez, Juan de Mariana, Jerónimo Nadal, Juan Alfonso de Polanco, Pedro de Ribadeneira, and Francisco Suárez.

Maryks links his genealogical study to a sophisticated analysis of the various factions that developed within the Society as a result of the debate about the admission of New Christians. In addition, Maryks analyzes the strong opposition in court and clerical circles in Spain and Portugal as a whole to the admission of New Christians in the Society.

The Jesuit Order as a Synagogue of Jews provides a profound and convincing analysis—based on extensive archival work—of the conflict between theory and practice in the Society of Jesus. The Society’s founding documents called for an inclusive approach to the admissions process. In practice, however, discrimination in the admission of a wide range of minorities—including not only New Christians but also Asians, Africans, Amerindians, and mestizos—was widespread.

The debate about New Christians hinged on the interpretation, by individual Jesuits, of Ignatius’s intentions. Drawing on their direct contacts with Ignatius, on their understanding of the Institute of the Society, or on both, Jesuits on both sides of the debate about New Christians asserted that they sought to adopt the policy that Ignatius would have adopted had he been alive in the 1570s, when the debate threatened to produce a schism in the Society.

The vocal minority in the Society that opposed the admission of New Christians gained strength at the Third General Congregation in 1573, when it prevented the election of Polanco to succeed Francisco de Borja as Superior General. Opponents of Polanco said that they wished to elect the [End Page 355] first non-Spanish Superior General, but their true goal—to prevent the election of a New Christian—was clear to all the electors. The new Superior General, Everard Mercurian, removed influential New Christians from their administrative posts in Rome and ordered them to return to Spain.

At the Fifth General Congregation in 1593, the electors voted to exclude men of Jewish and Muslim descent from the Society. Acosta cast one of only two dissenting votes. Maryks provides the most comprehensive analysis to date of the bitter debate surrounding the passage of the exclusion decree. Several notable Jesuits, including Ribadeneira and Antonio Possevino (an Italian who was likely of Jewish descent), mounted an eloquent defense of the principle of nondiscrimination in general and of the admission of New Christians in particular. The decree was modified slightly in 1608 to ensure that investigations of lineages not extend beyond five generations, but it was not formally rescinded until 1946.

Ironically, as Maryks notes, Mercurian’s marginalization of the New Christians gave several of these Jesuits—notably Nadal, Polanco, and Ribadneira—the opportunity to explore interests that they had not previously had time to pursue. During the next forty years, these men produced a brilliant collection of writings—ranging from history and biography to…