Author Archives: robert1

Isherwood’s Snapshots of Weimar Berlin

25/2/2014 – this post is still being edited and fussed over.

Weimar Out, Nazis In

Robert Liebman

Liza Minelli, Cabaret

For British novelist Christopher Isherwood (1904-86), Berlin during the Weimar era had its attractions. Then Hitler arrived.

In 1929, Isherwood moved to Berlin, lived in rented rooms, taught English to support himself, and kept a diary which served as the basis for his short-story collection Goodbye to Berlin (1939). The publication date is deceptive. The book was effectively written in the early 1930s before the Nazis came to power but while they were rising in power—and, a feral force, roaming the streets. Isherwood captures the ethos of a German capital undergoing massive change. By the time (January 1933) Hitler became Chancellor, Isherwood’s Berlin sojourn was effectively over. Continue reading

The Jewish Daughter

Posted 30/1/2024

Polina, Molotov’s Jewish Wife

Robert Liebman

Polina-MolotovaHitler needed it, to pave the way for his powerful Wehrmacht to attack Poland. Stalin needed it, to buy time to bulk up his Red Army.* On 23 August 1939, their foreign secretaries delivered it: the non-aggression Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact.

Bitter enemies—Communist Soviet Union and Fascist Germany—instantly became allies.

A week later, on 1 September, Germany invaded Poland. The Second World War in Europe had begun.

Continue reading

Kosher Nobels, Literary Division

[20 January 2024: This post is still being tinkered with.]

[27 January 2024: The tinkering is just about done.]

Nobel Prizes for Literature: Explosive

Robert Liebman

Nobel PrizeIn literature as in the sciences, a disproportionately high number of prizes have gone to Jews.

This particular collection is a bit meshuganah.
Continue reading

Photographers and World War II

Shot by a Jew

By Robert Liebman

A gaggle of American GI’s (Government Issue = soldier) raise the Stars and Stripes on a bomb-damaged hilltop.

A sailor and a nurse enjoy a passionate kiss in Times Square.

General Douglas MacArthur returns, knee-deep, to the Philippines.

The truly iconic photographs from the Second World War are instantly familiar. We can picture them from a brief description alone; we do not actually need to see them. Continue reading

Broadway: Birth, Bar Mitzvah and Beyond

[20 January 2024: This post is still being tinkered with.]

By Robert Liebman

The movie industry was launched a little over a hundred years ago by entrepreneurs who are household names today, such as Szmuel Gelbfisz, Karl Laemmle and Adolf Zukory.

Gelbfisz? Laemmle? Zukory? Household names? In whose house?

Szmuel Gelbfisz became Samuel Goldwyn, and MGM became MGM. Zukory dropped his Novelty Fur Company and the last letter of his surname to oversee, as Adolph Zukor, Paramount Pictures. Continue reading

Literary Talent and the Unforgiving Scoreboard

Schemers and Dreamers, Ids and Yids

In October 1947, a Jewish-American writer, grandson of a Russian rabbi, completed page 721 of his 721-page novel and set off for a year in Paris with his wife. First novel. First wife.

His novel, published while he was in the French capital, met with widespread acclaim and he started a new novel, which he completed after returning home to New York. Short where his first novel was long, symbolic instead of realistic, and with a skimpy contrived plot, novel number two fell flat on its face.

Nobel Prize

When he died at the age of 83, his totals were ten novels, six wives and numerous awards—but the gong he yearned for most eluded him.

In September 1948, another young Jewish-American writer (the born-in-Canada variety), also the grandson of a Russian rabbi, went to Paris with his first wife. He already had two accompished but modest novels under his belt and was well into his third. He never finished it. Instead, he abruptly ditched it and started an entirely new work which he completed after returning to America several years later.

His original third novel, the one he jettisoned, would have been in the same competent but dreary league as his previous novels. His new work was a different species altogether, stylistically as well as in subject matter. It provided him with a lush new vein and he mined it to the hilt. When he died, aged 95, his tally was 13 novels, a mere five wives, and one Nobel Prize.

The futures for both writers turned on the novels they started in Paris, but why did this most inspirational of cities prove poisonous for one of them and utterly magical for the other? Continue reading