Category: Jewish Culture

How Sherlock Holmes’ Creator Saved the ‘Scottish Dreyfus’

Oscar Slater, the “Scottish Dreyfus”

Ofer Aderet writes:

Oscar Slater had all the characteristics needed to become a “suspect” of a heinous crime. He was Jewish, German, an immigrant and a gambler. His police file included complaints about assault under aggravated circumstances, he changed his name several times and hung around with dubious underworld characters. There were also rumors that he was a pimp.

So nobody in Scotland raised an eyebrow when he was arrested on suspicion of perpetrating the robbery and murder in December 1908 of Marion Gilchrist, a wealthy elderly woman from Glasgow.

His possession of a piece of jewelry similar to the one stolen from the murdered woman, combined with the fact that he sailed to America under an assumed name immediately after the murder, were sufficient to convict him – turning a blind eye to many other findings that clearly proved he wasn’t the murderer.

His hasty, fabricated trial ended with the heaviest sentence: death. Slater, who was 36, had already planned his own funeral but at the last minute, two days before the date of his execution in May 1909, his punishment was commuted to life with hard labor.

He spent the next 18 years in a fortress that was dubbed the “Scottish Gulag,” where he suffered from harsh conditions, including hunger, cold and heat.

Slater later testified that he had planned to commit suicide if he wasn’t released after his 20th year in prison. Fortunately, in 1927 he was unexpectedly released, and was later acquitted of all blame and received compensation from the government.

Due to his Jewish origins and the anti-Semitic element lurking behind his false conviction, he was dubbed the “Scottish Dreyfus.” The person who played the role of Emile Zola – the French writer who fought to defend Alfred Dreyfus – in Slater’s criminal drama was none other than Edinburgh-born Arthur Conan Doyle, the famous writer and creator of Sherlock Holmes.

It has been 110 years since the start of this affair, which forever tarnished the British justice system. But very little has been written about it and Slater remains largely unknown to the wider public.

How Should Children’s Books Deal with the Holocaust?


Illustration by Gerard DuBois

Ruth Franklin writes:

As a child, I was obsessed with Anne Frank’s “The Diary of a Young Girl.” Like Anne, I wanted to grow up to be a writer; like her, I kept a diary (though less faithfully), which for a time I addressed, following her model, as Kitty; like her, I agonized over how little my mother understood me and longed to swoon in a boy’s arms. My obsession peaked at the age of eight with a visit to the Secret Annexe, in Amsterdam—the warren of rooms where the Frank family hid from the Nazis. I had imagined it countless times and had the floor plan memorized, but seeing it was a shock: it was so much smaller than I had pictured.

That may have been the moment I began to understand how great was the distance between Anne’s world and my own. As a girl from a family of survivors, coming of age in nineteen-eighties America, I felt the Holocaust as a tangible presence, simultaneously inescapable and unknowable. My grandparents, Jews from Lodz who fled east when the Nazis began their advance into Poland, had better luck than many: taken prisoner by the Soviets, they spent much of the war in a Siberian labor camp. Some of their family had already made it to Palestine, but most of those who remained behind were sent first to the Lodz ghetto and then to Auschwitz. My great-grandmother died there, but my great-aunt survived.

The enormity of the losses my relatives had suffered was palpable in the deep lines around their mouths, the tremors in their hands, the sighs they heaved every time the war years came up. Once, my great-aunt, who had Alzheimer’s disease by the time I came to know her, even grabbed my arm in search of the tattoo that she thought she would find there. But they didn’t often talk in detail about their experiences. When they did, the stories they told were confusing and full of gaps, and I’d complain at having to hear them. I was terrified of my relatives’ emotion and of the crushing responsibility it inflicted on me: the paradox of being charged with remembering something I hadn’t experienced.

Reading about the Holocaust was my way of trying to fulfill that obligation. But the gaps remained. I pored over the final pages of my edition of Anne’s diary, where the facts of what happened after the police raided the Secret Annexe were stated tersely: deportation to Westerbork, Auschwitz, and, finally, Bergen-Belsen. Searching for more, I came upon a book in which Hanneli Goslar, a childhood friend of Anne’s who was interned in another section of Bergen-Belsen, recalled having caught a glimpse of her, almost unrecognizable, through a fence. She returned a few days later with a package of food, but when she threw it over the fence another woman caught it and ran away as Anne screamed. The chatty, cheerful girl had become a person I couldn’t identify with at all: skeletal, desperate, scrabbling for food. She had gone to a place I couldn’t follow, not even in my imagination.

Jewish groups attack Jeremy Corbyn over anti-Semitism

Jeremy Corbyn

“Enough is enough,” Jewish groups have said in a letter accusing Jeremy Corbyn of failing to tackle anti-Semitism.

The Labour leader has said he is “sincerely sorry” for the pain caused by “pockets of anti-Semitism” in the Labour Party.
Mr Corbyn said he would be meeting representatives of the Jewish community to “rebuild” confidence in his party.
However, the organisations behind the open letter are planning a protest outside Parliament later.
The letter – drawn up by the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council – said there has been a “repeated institutional failure” to properly address anti-Semitism.

“I like poetry that appears to be clear on the surface, with unexpected depths”: Chana Bloch

The poet Chana Bloch in an undated photo. “I value clarity — an old-fashioned virtue — and concision,” she once said in an interview about her work. Credit Lonny Shavelson

In his obituary of Chana Bloch, William Grimes writes:

Ms. Bloch, an admirer of poets like Emily Dickinson, Anna Akhmatova and Elizabeth Bishop, specialized in taut, pared-down verse that fused disarming simplicity with emotional depth. Her subjects — family life, children, sex, aging — lay close to hand but resonated with deeper meanings, often enriched by biblical allusions.

“I value clarity — an old-fashioned virtue — and concision,” she told The San Francisco Book Review in 2011. “I like poetry that appears to be clear on the surface, with unexpected depths.”

In her later work, Ms. Bloch linked her short poems into longer sequences that allowed her to range over difficult terrain. “In the Land of the Body,” included in her collection “The Past Keeps Changing” (1992), addressed her struggles with ovarian cancer, which was successfully treated.

Read “The Real Truth”,  Interlitq‘s interview with Chana Bloch.

In memoriam: Geoffrey Hartman, renowned scholar helped found Yale’s Holocaust testimonies archive

Geoffrey Hartman

Geoffrey Hartman was a Consulting Editor for Interlitq.
Geoffrey Hartman, a renowned literary scholar and co-founder of the Fortunoff Video Archives for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale, died on March 14 at his home in Hamden. He was 86 years old.
Hartman, who was Sterling Professor Emeritus of English and Comparative Literature, also played a role in establishing Yale’s Judaic Studies Program.
In the 1970s Hartman joined with his colleagues Paul de Man and J. Hillis Miller to form the nucleus of the “Yale School” of criticism. The Yale Critics, with whom Harold Bloom and Jacques Derrida were also associated, focused on the instability of linguistic reference in literary and philosophical texts, as exemplified in the collection of essays that all five scholars published together, “Deconstruction and Criticism” (1979). Despite being linked with this group, Hartman himself was not himself a deconstructionist, and however much his earlier phenomenological criticism evolved, he always held to his conviction that texts have meaning and pathos beyond verbal play.
Langdon Hammer, current chair of Yale’s English Department, said: “Geoffrey combined Anglo-American close reading and a deep knowledge of English and French and German poetry with Continental philosophy and Jewish traditions of interpretation to become a distinctively new type of literary critic. He moved fluidly between poetry, psychoanalysis, ethics, and philosophy, as if literary creativity and intellectual argument were essentially one. After the narrowing of scope represented by the New Criticism, it was a great opening, raising the stakes of the enterprise for everyone involved in literary study. On the page and in person, he was playful, searching, and wise.”
Speaking at the memorial service for Hartman on March 16, Leslie Brisman, the Karl Young Professor of English, said: “My first conversation with Geoffrey Hartman, when I arrived at Yale in 1969, was about his recently published magnificent essay, ‘The Voice of the Shuttle.’  He had written, ‘Interpretation is like a football game. You spot a hole and you go through. But first you may have to induce the opening.’ … [What] has stuck with me all these years, is that if interpretation is like a football game, the other team is not ‘other interpreters,’ to be beaten, but the text itself, to be played with, in good spirit and without agonistic violence. ‘Think touch football,’ he gently suggested. And in his hands, a most touching intellectual sport indeed.”
Although his interest in poetry extended from the Renaissance to the contemporary (including his own), Hartman always returned to his favorite poet: William Wordsworth. These interests — and his pioneering work in Judaic studies, trauma studies, and studies of the Holocaust — are reflected in his many publications, which include “Wordsworth’s Poetry “(1964), “Beyond Formalism” (1970), “Criticism in the Wilderness” (1980), “The Fate of Reading (1975), “The Longest Shadow: In the Aftermath of the Holocaust” (1996), and “The Geoffrey Hartman Reader” (2004).
Aside from his book of poems, “The Eighth Day” (2013), Hartman’s last book was a memoir titled “A Scholar’s Tale: Intellectual Journey of a Displaced Child of Europe”(2007). In it, he describes how his career was influenced by his experience, at the age of 9, as one of the Kindertransport children who were sent away by their parents to escape the atrocities against Jews in Nazi Germany. Hartman spent the next six years at school in England, where he developed his love of English literature and the English countryside. He joined his mother in America in 1948 and later became a U.S. citizen. He graduated from Queens College and earned a doctorate in comparative literature at Yale in 1953. He was a member of the Yale faculty for almost 40 years, retiring in 2009.
The Fortunoff Video Archives for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale, for which Hartman was the first director and faculty adviser, had its roots in a grassroots organization called the Holocaust Survivors Film Project, initiated by local television interviewer and producer Laurel Vlock in association with Dori Laub, an associate professor of clinical psychiatry at Yale and a child survivor of the Holocaust. Hartman’s wife, Renée, was one of the first people interviewed. In 1979 the project organizers began videotaping testimony from survivors and witnesses in the New Haven area; when they decided to expand the scope of the project to include testimonies from across the nation, Hartman, one of its board members, urged the university to assist the project. The archive became part of the collections at Yale’s Sterling Memorial Library in 1981. A grant from the Charles H. Revson Foundation supported the transfer and cataloging of the testimonies, and made it possible for Yale to extend the collection’s reach to a national and international level. The archive became accessible to the public in 1982, and in 1987, the late Alan M. Fortunoff, president of Fortunoff specialty stores, provided endowment funding. Eventually the testimonies were moved from video to digital format.
“I think we were the first to systematically interview Holocaust survivors,” said Hartman in a 2014 interview in the Connecticut Jewish Ledger. “We had to invent the whole structure of doing this, had to make sure that the survivors were properly questioned, that they had enough time to answer, and so we had to train quite a few helpers in that direction.” A decade later, when Steven Spielberg and the Shoah Foundation prepared to launch a more extensive Holocaust testimony archive, the Fortunoff staff helped train the new interviewers.
A year after the establishment of the Fortunoff archive, President A. Bartlett Giamatti asked Hartman to help raise funds for a Judaic Studies Program at Yale. While the establishment of the new major was challenging, Hartman said in the Connecticut Jewish Ledger interview, “Judaic Studies at Yale is flourishing, even more than I expected.”
Hartman delivered hundreds of lectures during his career, and held visiting professorships or fellowships at more than 20 institutions. His numerous honors included fellowships in the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Academy of Literary Studies. In 1997, the French government awarded him the Chevalier, Ordre des Arts et Lettres, which honors significant contributions to the arts and literature. His book “The Geoffrey Hartman Reader” received the Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism in 2006.
In addition to his wife, Renée, Hartman is survived by his daughter, Liz Hartman of New Haven; his son, David Hartman, also of New Haven; and his grandson, Shel Mizrahi.
Memorial contributions may be sent to the Fortunoff Video Archives for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale University.