From Skip and Setter’s Creator: Me and My Interview … in the ‘Times of Israel’

Blog Sketch of Me 092213Well, this is my first post in months, and it has nothing to do with cinema. It does, however, concern a very important thing that happened to me after an interview I conducted 30 years ago (when I was in seventh grade) with two Auschwitz survivors was accepted to the permanent collection of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: The Times of Israel interviewed me for a feature story, which you can read here. The full link:

http://www.timesofisrael.com/how-a-rediscovered-7th-grade-history-project-ended-up-in-a-museum/

Feel free to let me know if you have any questions or comments. I think the writer of this story did a wonderful job.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: ‘Mr. Death’ Offers a View to a Shill

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613It’s hard to watch Errol Morris’ documentary Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr., in part because its subject – the titular electric-chair specialist who became a champion of Holocaust deniers after testifying on behalf of one – is so deluded as to make listening to him an ordeal. But there’s something fascinating about the story behind this misguided individual, and Morris tells it in his usual compelling way. In revisiting the film last night, I was struck by a question I asked myself: Does Leuchter realize he comes off as being willfully ignorant?

Morris’ technique, which includes using incidental music and slow motion to comment on the proceedings, often seems tongue-in-cheek, as it does in another one of his documentaries I saw recently: Tabloid, whose subject also could be construed as being misguided. In some way, this strategy detracts from the idea of letting the viewers draw their own conclusions about the individuals appearing onscreen, but it also adds flavor, context, perspective.

I kinda like it.

Other good news: Morris peppers Mr. Death with views from, happily, intelligent people who document the evidence behind Auschwitz’s use as a location to gas Jews to death during the Holocaust, which Leuchter’s poorly generated findings argued against. Still, watching this guy talk is a trial, and it’s difficult not to get frustrated with what he and other Holocaust deniers interviewed onscreen (such as David Irving) have to say. It’s a testament to Morris’ skill that he lets them speak on camera, and I appreciate that. Because how else are we to know what kinds of people we’re dealing with?

A well-done film. Just not one I want to sit through again.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: On Israel, ‘Genocide’ and Celebrity Politics

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613I was not delighted to read the recent news report about Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Pedro Almodovar calling Israel’s ongoing Gaza Strip initiative a “genocide.”

These are very talented people, especially Almodovar, whose films I like very much. Unfortunately, calling Israel’s operation a genocide smacks to me of ignorance and anti-Semitism. It’s a way of turning around Jews’ experience in the Holocaust to suggest the victims of that era are now the perpetrators of an operation that seeks the extermination of a population, and that’s just not the case.

Full disclosure: I’m Jewish. I have positive feelings for Israel in my blood – my mother raised money for the country when I was an infant – and although I don’t agree with all of its policies, I support its right to exist. I also support the right of celebrities to say any ludicrous thing that comes to their minds, as everyone should have freedom of speech. Sadly, it has become fashionable to single out Israel as a “fascist” or “Nazi”-like state effecting a genocide in the Gaza Strip, despite the fact that Israel’s activities bear no resemblance to the Nazis’ attempt to eradicate Jews in the early part of the last century.

There’s no comparison. I know. I interviewed two Holocaust survivors when I was in seventh grade, and I’ll never forget the horrors they recounted to me. It’s not the same thing. The Nazis were a different animal. They sought the systematic destruction of the Jews, both physically and psychologically. They sought genocide. The two people I interviewed were witnesses.

I don’t believe in violence as a solution to the problems of living in this world. But I also don’t believe in the misuse of words to address political sentiments. Those who argue that Israel is committing genocide should reexamine their claims in light of actual attempts at genocide in recent history – including the Holocaust, the Turkish genocide of Armenians in the early 20th century and the Rwandan genocide in the 1990s. I encourage Cruz, Bardem, Almodovar and others to think further on these events, study them, before making a determination. Hopefully, they’ll come to a more educated conclusion.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: My Problem With ‘Schindler’s List’

ISetter Drawing for Blog 082613 suppose I’m being unfair, but I’ve always had an issue with Schindler’s List in that it doesn’t show the full extent of the torture the Nazis put their victims through.

Don’t get me wrong; cinematically, this movie’s a masterpiece. Yet I have personal reasons for my problem with the film, and it’s because I knew people who survived the Holocaust and told me their story.

In seventh grade, my history class was given an assignment to write about someone who experienced World War II. Initially, I was going to speak to my grandmother about life in the United States during that time, but then my parents suggested another option: interviewing Jack and Bela, an elderly, married couple who worked as tailors in our Manhattan neighborhood.

They had been in Auschwitz.

I’ll never forget this interview. I recorded them and transcribed the conversation to paper. They told me horrifying things, one of which I’ll never forget … not because it was the most violent act the Nazis committed, but because of the humiliation involved. As I recall, I was told that in Auschwitz, if you had to use the toilet, you used it in public, and the Nazis slapped and/or insulted you while you were doing so — you couldn’t do your business in peace. Somehow this affected me strongly; out of all the monstrous events that occurred at Auschwitz, this was the one that bothered me most.

Why?

Perhaps it’s because the Nazis wanted to break the Jews and other victims. They wanted them to suffer as much as possible from a psychological as well as physical standpoint. And I think that’s what disturbed me about this. Their victims never had peace. Even in their most private moments, they were subjected to intrusion, humiliation.

I got a very good mark on my paper. I still have it somewhere. And I like Schindler’s List quite a bit — in fact, I think it’s one of Steven Spielberg’s greatest films. I don’t think it covers everything, though, and to the argument that asks, “How can it?” I say it did attempt to show many of the evils the Nazis perpetuated. It didn’t, however, show all of the humiliation people endured at their hands, and that’s something I feel is missing.

Jack and Bela endured this and survived it. To me, they will always be voices I remember.