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Some People

In a spoken excerpt from her new memoir, Rachel Shukert recounts the final days of a European romance

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Fresh out of college, Rachel Shukert, who majored in acting, landed a job with a theater company bound for Central Europe. In her new memoir, Everything Is Going to Be Great, she recounts the pleasures and humiliations of her time abroad, unabashedly exposing her own prejudices and the prejudices of others. For this week’s Vox Tablet, she reads an excerpt that chronicles the denouement of an ill-fated romance. The man in question is Berthold—Viennese, twice her age, and both overprotective and dismissive when it comes to Shukert’s self-identification as a Jew. (“No, no,” he assures her, “you are beautiful.”) Their differences come to a head during a wander through Vienna’s best-known flea market, which contains some chilling artifacts from the city’s past. 

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Harold Tobin says:

As a British Jew I can confirm that when Iwas at school,Many years ago, there were only two Jewish boys attending and the other boys would not belive that we were born in England or if we were our parents must have comefrom Palestine. They ofte told us to go back to our own country.Now we have our own country they are still not satisfied and tell us we stole the country. Things have never changed.

Dani Levi says:

Rachel is very cute.

N.Shum-Ish says:

Didn’t I READ this same excerpt yesterday — was it in Salon?

Dani Levi says:

Excuse me? “Europeans asked Americans where their ancestors come from ALL THE TIME ?” , I like to think that Americans let Europeans know ALL the time where their ancestors are from, to set the record straight. The favored ancestry being German, English and either “white” cultures, best not be Italian! Since “Jewish” is not really a nationality and most Hebrews in the US arrived well before the Shoa. But I guess it never hurts the tribal street cred to emphasize some connection with the Shoa – my humble observation since arriving in the US recently from EUland. My fave is the different US ethnicities slipping into a moment of unguarded racism in front of moi, feeling some how secure since I belong to “nobody”- yet. This happens to all, be they Asian, White, Black or Latino or Green. The identity questions beyond the “American” is fascinating, as most will actually say ” I am English/German/Chinese “, to which I would like to say ” No you are bloody not, your ancestors arrived here 135 years ago. ” I do love the US but the race thing is sadly everywhere. I think that the UK or France is light years ahead in letting people be who they are, it is more a class issue on Euroland. Let as not forget that black people are shot nearly every day in the US by the police, often for ” I thought he had a gun “, that shit don’t fly in Euroland. And the neo-Nazi thing? Just trawl US websites and you will find some very sick stuff! Here:
http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-files/ideology .
Europe is more complex than Rachel makes us believe here. Arriving with a US-Hebrew narrative in your head is not a good start. Leave any narrative at home. Looking for Nazi ghosts is not a good starting point. Stereotypes, you know. They help nobody.

Rachel says:

Dear Dani–

You’re right. I did not get asked this question of my heritage ALL the time everywhere in Europe. I got asked this question many, many times, mainly while in Austria, which is what I was thinking of while preparing to read my excerpt. I should have clarified both these things; however, the generalization is a function of answering an off-the-cuff question in a casual setting.

However, I was asked this question with enough frequency for it to have clearly left an impression on me. I agree that going to a place looking to find fault with an immutable history is not particularly helpful, but in this case, I’m afraid the history continually presented itself. Again, for me this was something peculiar in Vienna–I never had this experience in Berlin, for example. Make of that what you will.

I also agree that America, as a society, is beginning to exhibit a nasty nationalistic streak that I’m sure you find as disturbing as I do. For the sake of the world, I sincerely hope we learn our lessons less painfully.

All the best,
Rachel

Dani Levi says:

Dear Rachel,

you may very well have tapped into something very dark in Austria, and that is of course Austrias un-dealt with part in the Third Reich. Austria is infamous for just being frigging unable and unwilling to deal with their “contribution” to the Third Reich. Hitler was after all Austrian, although, as one Austrian once put it, it was the Germans who made him into a “Depp”/fool.
This horrific ‘freeze’ in Austrias post war development haunts them to this day, from Waldheim, to the bombing of Gypsies recently, to Haider and is FPO, who are frankly Neo-Nazis light.

The Austrian author Thomas Bernhard deals with this dynamic in thousands of excruciatingly well written haunts ( Extinction ), as he dissects his nations seemingly ever raised right arm. Anybody who wishes to understand Austrias Nazi uniform clad skeleton must read him. His obsession is his nations conscience, bless his soul.

Another -living- Austrian author (who won the Nobel Prize for Literature) is Elfriede Jelinek. She too deals with Austrias ‘special status’ and like Bernard is ostracised by a conservative elite who see them as trouble makers ( Nestbeschmutzer/nest-besmearers ) in Austrias otherwise pristine alpine and cultural landscape. Pass the Mozartkugel and the hot chocolate!

Thanks,
D

I’ve been a fan of Rachel’s writing and spoken word for a couple of years now. I have to admit, I have an unrequited hate for much of Europe, and particularly Austria. Its Nazi history is the most odious of all European nations, as anyone who bothers to look into the subject knows. It took five years between Hitler’s election and Kristallnacht, in Austria it took five days between the Anschluss and Jews being publicly beaten in the streets. The Austrians didn’t need any conditioning.

This Jew has no use for Mozartkugel or anything else Mitteleuroropean. Sugarcoat it anyway you want, for Jews Europe is first and foremost a graveyard. I’m not sure what the problem with “American nationalism” is exactly, America is a melting pot of ethnicities, and America is the vanguard of Western Civilization. America is the future, Europe is the past. However boorish America seems to some, Americans don’t kill each other over blonde hair and blue eyes. Americans don’t ban minarets. America doesn’t have a state religion or “Christian Democrats”.

Don’t let the marzipan fool you, Europe is by and large a continent of tribes with flags. And of course, our tribe’s allotted turf is six feet under–by popular decree. In this era of supposed inter-European cooperation, by far the most cooperative and far reaching pan-European endeavor was the destruction of European Jewry. The results speak for themselves. Look at it objectively and see if you don’t agree.

America may be rough around the edges, but America is nonetheless the predominant cultural engine of the world and will continue to be. And of course, without American occupation, Europe would all be speaking German (WW2) or Russian (post-WW2). Thanks to America, Europe has a second chance. But as European words and deeds show, they could not rest until the Jewish Problem was solved once and for all. I have no use for a place like that. For all its faults, America is the multi-ethnic future.
Ms. Shukert is a perfect example of that.

Irene L says:

I can identify with Harold Tobin. I too experienced terrifying bullying during my schooldays in the London of the fifties. And like him, it was because of my physicial appearance. In the fifties it was unusual for a child to not appear to be of so called ”good British stock”. Unlike today, when quite the opposite would be true.

In spite of today’s ”multi-culturalism” the deep down, (mostly hidden due to political correctness) antisemitism has again raised it’s ugly head in ”merrie ol”. And yes, it has a lot to do with the rise of Islam in the country, but this particular form of antisemitism, often called ”antizionism” (for the sake of political correctness) is very much alive and thriving in the good ol’ UK. And while I don’t necessarily agree with every move or action that Israel takes, I would NEVER voluntarily sign my name to a list such as, for instance ”Jews for Justice for Palestinians”. Because, by doing so, these Jews are putting the rest of us at greater risk and playing right into the hands of our enemies, who will use the listed names for their own malevolent purposes. These listed Jews are rightly entitled to their opinions, but the minute it’s posted online for the rest of the world to view, they are playing right into the hands of our worst enemies.

We must take heed, learn from history, and remember that basically people never really change and age-old prejudices live on in one form or another.

Rachel says:

This is the first time I’ve encountered Rachel’s work but not the first time I’ve heard her name. I really enjoyed this piece and found it inspiring as I am currently taking a travel creative non-fiction writing course.

While many, if not most, Jews have had to awkwardly try to answer the question “Where are you from? Really from?”, I once asked a Scottish friend the same question. We were living in Toronto, the most diverse city in the world, and asked her how far back she could trace back her family.

“Forever.”

This struck me as incomprehensible, how anyone could stay in the same region for so long, but then I remembered that Europe is where people come from. The Scots have Scotland: she said she hated the question because the answer was painfully obvious. As a Jew who has lived in five countries, this answer never would have occurred to me.

Dani Levi says:

Dear Dave,
You must try and free yourself from this pain and come and see the thousands, probably tens of thousands of Israelis living working and partying in Berlin. I am in Tel Aviv now, and I can tell you that most young Israelis would give anything to live or spend time in Berlin, in fact I am meeting a friend now ( corner of King George and Naavim )who asked me yesterday if I knew anybody there whom she could stay with? You need to free yourself from Hitlers world and join Martin Buber, Franz Rosenzweig and Gershom Sholem in spirit and try and overcome your “hate”, otherwise Hitler will have won. And we do not want that.

I trust you hate the US anti Latino racists as much as you hate hundreds of millions of Europeans.

Love & light,
Dani

Irene L says:

Re the Austria phenomenon.

Here’s a link describing how a certain guesthouse in the Austrian Tyrol decided to no longer accept Jewish guests due to ”past problems”! This is from a few years back, 2009 (and the situation ”may” have changed). But I don’t know. The fact that it happened at all is an eye-opener.

http://www.news.com.au/austrian-hotel-bans-jews/story-0-1225710655853

stan nadel says:

As Dani says, things are complicated. I live in Salzburg where a lot of people have contributed to a set of memorials to those killed by the Nazis. We have also tried for a long time to get the city to rename streets named after Nazis and other Antisemites–without any success. Then, last week the city named a square after a major post WWII People’s Party [the current name of Karl Lueger's Social Christian Party] politician, over the protests of the Greens who produced a leaflet he had written in 1932 calling for the elimination of Jewish professors from the University of Vienna. I guess they thought they didn’t need to mention that when he ran against Bruno Kreisky around 1970, his posters called on voters to support a “real Austrian” [hint, hint] The same Social Democratic mayor who came to the Salzburg synagogue to speak at the book presentation for my Guide to Jewish Salzburg proudly unveiled the sign naming the square after the Antisemite from the People’s Party.

BH in Iowa says:

US is my Country.

Israel is my Homeland.

I have absolutely no use for Europe.

Dani, I’m glad young Israelis want to travel. Ideally every young person should travel, it can be mind expanding and life changing. I backpacked through Europe for a year myself. But Dani, none of what you say addresses any of my points, you only suggest I change my attitude.
When I first went to Europe I was impressed by this mellow, contemplative nature of Europeans (as compared to Americans). But eventually I learned that behind the contemplative facade, instead of wisdom there was nothing. In order to live with themselves after the Nazi era, Europeans engage in something called collective amnesia, or the art of forgetting. You do it as well when you simply ignore every point I made and instead suggest I let go of my anger; in other words, ignorance is bliss.
For some people, even Israelis, it may be enough to wave glow sticks at raves in Berlin in order to ‘move on’, but not for everybody. For more pensive people, the legacy of the Holocaust–the destruction of European Jewry, and the ease with which it was carried out–is too much to simply ignore or somehow contextualize. That includes me, and it also includes Rachel Shukert. She is much more fair minded and conscientious than I, but even she is haunted by this legacy when she’s in Europe, and probably always will be.
And let’s be honest, dani, you had a problem with Rachel’s article and her criticisms of Europe, no matter how mild they were, you simply had to remind her that America was no better than Europe.

And Dani, there are tens of millions of Mexicans in America and more coming everyday. I live in a Latino majority state. In that context, the ‘racism against Mexicans’ is negligible. Can you imagine that many people of another culture being assimilated into Europe so peaceably? Of course not. When you try to equivocate ‘American racism against Mexicans’ with the genocide perpetrated by Europeans, it only reinforces how little you grasp the facts.
The art of forgetting indeed. We all have to cope somehow

Dani Levi says:

@Dave
Europe and especially Germany is dotted with memorials to the holocaust, to the death marches, to those who were picked up and deported, to those books burnt to those who just lived and were beaten, humiliated, shot assassinated, to those who tried to make a difference. yes not all have learned from these, but one can not simply dismiss the enormous efforts that have been made since 1945. many many Europeans know much about the Third Reich, they just do not wear this on their sleeves for many a reason.
Israelis do not come to Berlin to party, that is just not true. they come to Berlin to study in all sorts of fields, they come to Berlin because they fell in love with a Berliner or with the city, like thousands of others from all over the planet. Berlin, like it or not is at this time the most open, happening city on the planet ( not for me) but for those who no longer find what they are looking form in New York, London, Paris and yes, often even tel aviv.
the Latinos that come to the USA are there mostly because of grinding poverty in their screwed up countries, often courtesy of the CIA and their semi feudal societies. being an immigrant from Latin America in the USA is no pass to freedom, that is the cool aid line the state department sells. is is just b.s., sorry Dave. as a white man ( you ) you have very little right to talk about what racism in the USA feels like (AZ). and in the same vein you need to watch the ( a dominant ) US-Hebrew narrative concerning a very complex and ever changing Europe. Judaism and Europe may not be defined through the shoa. you may feel it does, and that is your privilege, but do not assume that it is a truth.

Dani Levi says:

another thing that strikes me, is frankly the disregard of many US Hebrews who assume that, they have all that much in common with say Germanys Jews before the shoa. for the vast majority of these people, they were German first, they were European, and to assume that the self definition of say Dave here, can be transplanted to how German Jews felt like is presumptuous at best, if not down right ignorant. because in doing so, you disregard nearly 1000 years of hebrew history in Europe. this history was often underlined with murder, BUT it was also a period where Europe and Hebrew culture rose to it’s combined zenith. and in by reducing this incredibly beautiful time with all it’s great great men and women to the f’ing holocaust you frankly spit on or do not understand what THE Jews/Germans or Spanish or Russians achieved. reading about German Hebrews especially during the hundred years preceding the shoa AND what they were working on, the Reform movement for one, is just awe inspiring it was stunningly beautiful, so much of what goes on in US synagogues was framed by German Hebrews. so hating Europe, is hating martin buber, because Martin buber was a European first, so was heinrich heine and so was rosenzweig ( and they saw themselves as such) and the reform rabbis from germany who set up shul in Philly. one can not separate Europe from Judaism, even central europe. in a way, they are one. Europe’s humanism is to a large degree Jewish and it was Europe which made this possible. and you can
never separate the two.

Where once were millions of people, there are now a few memorials. The first time most Germans really confronted the Holocaust was when an American network miniseries was broadcast on German TV in 1978. The Berlin Holocaust museum/memorial didn’t come around until the 1990s. In both cases, the US established the lead, and Germany cautiously followed.
In Cologne there is a memorial to a synagogue that used to sit on the river banks before it was destroyed. Right behind that is the famous cathedral of Cologne. My German hosts walked right by the synagogue memorial as if it weren’t even there on their way to show off the majestic cathedral, while casually informing me that ‘America destroyed many cathedrals in WW2 for no reason’. Selective memory at its finest.
I understand why you put so much stock in the belated memorials “dotting” Europe. It’s all there is to counter the reality of the eliminationist antisemitism that manifested in the greatest example of pan-european cooperation to date: The Holocaust. The facts speak for themselves.

But the new-think in Europe is about avoiding the facts and instead using platitudes. Platitudes such as “all racism is bad”, therefore somehow a post-WW2 Austria full of mass murderers and their legacy is equivalent to American racists who hate Latinos. Missing from this new-think is the reality that there are tens of millions of Mexican Americans with a very vibrant culture who are totally assimilating into the American melting pot as opposed to an exterminated culture as in Europe.
The comparison is absurd, but unfortunately par for the course, as I’ve discovered through speaking to so-called European progressives. They agree that Nazism was bad, but instead of looking hard at their own society and demanding true accountability–not museums but true accountability–they instead turn towards moral equivalency and somehow equating the calculated destruction of European Jewry with some anti-Latino sentiment in the US melting pot.

And I agree about Germany being the home base of 19th/early 20th Century Jewish reform and progressivism. 100 years ago Germany was the seat of intellectualism, and fluency in German was required to be au courant in many fields of science. But now, that world has been destroyed and the only people needing to learn German are those who work in the tourist industry who cater to German tourists. Nowadays, if you want to be relevant, you have to speak English.
Where is the engine of intellectualism, science, and the arts today? The USA of course, strangely enough, the nation with all the German Jews lucky enough to get out before the European volk carried out their will.
Now Berlin is philosemitic, and much is made of the reborn Jewish community there, made up mostly of Jewish refugees from the USSR. But that community, while Jewish on paper, is nothing like the Jewish Berlin that once was, the center of global arts and science. That Berlin is gone for good. But I hear the memorials are really something.
How about Vienna? It was right up there with Berlin 100 years ago. Now it’s a tourist attraction where people go to have mozartkuchen and gaze at old castles. And so goes Europe. Of course, European cities will pay artists to perform and reside there in the same way they will pay young mothers to make native babies, or the same way Berlin will try to buy a replacement Jewish community from Russia. But these are all forms of damage control.
People with talent and desire compete to get to America, not the other way around. America, with its supposed anti-Latino hordes, nonetheless manages to absorb millions of Latin Americans every year, while those progressive Europeans (within living memory of the destruction of their last big ethnic minority) are once again failing to assimilate Turks and North Africans and electing right wing immigrant bashing parties to power.

Europe has its postcard views and 19th Century legacy, but the torch has been passed.

America is the gl

Dani Levi says:

Dave,
like I wrote, you reduce Europe to the Shoa. Hitler won, and you failed. but that is your privilege and time waits for nobody. I am not equating nazism with the AZ legislature or Prop. 8,, not for one second, but making the US out to be the promised land is absurd, especially after W and shaving off a third of your net worth during this recession thanks to bankers run amok.
your hosts in cologne might have walked past a synagogue, but so what?
a new dawn has risen, and times are fluent, I personally think asia is the new shit, and America may just have been last century. Time waits for nobody. not even for you, or those who were murdered at Auschwitz. you “hate” Europe, and with that you sit and crumble. 300 million people, think about it, as a Jew, that us a great deal of hate.
PS.
when they start building memorials for the Slaves in the South, come back to this thread. I am off to Tel Aviv on 8th!
Shalom and Love.

Dani, I said I have an unrequited hate for much of Europe, and that’s true. That’s not the same as hating every European. It’s also wrong to say I reduce all of Europe to the Shoah. The Shoah is the definitive event that forms my opinion about Europe, that’s certainly true.
And whether it’s you or some history denying Austrian telling me that time moves on and it’s best not to dwell on the extermination of 1.5 million Jewish children or the perpetrators who got away with it, it doesn’t matter.
Unlike you, I don’t live in Europe and don’t need to come to terms with living amongst the Nazis and the ghosts of their victims. My version of moving on is having a new start in America (Israel works too). Don’t dwell in the past, Dani. Europe’s heyday was 100 years ago.. You can ‘move on’ from the Shoah all you want, but the damage is permanent. Europe destroyed itself. America is the cultural center of the world now, and I choose to be glad to be part of now rather than the land of yesterday.

My disdain for Europe is furthered by all these lectures I get from Europeans about how to move on and how ‘all racism is equally bad’. All these ridiculous analogies between the Holocaust and the plight of Mexican Americans or slavery show how little you understand. Ditto the dire warnings about America’s imminent economic collapse and the horrors of W. It shows you don’t have very much perspective at all. And I thought Americans were supposed to be the ones without historical perspective; another myth shattered.

I choose life dani. I live in the nation where Jews were allowed to live and thrive, and in turn have helped make the US into the greatest nation of the 20th Century, far eclipsing Germany of the 19th Century. And it’s not just Jews. America is a melting pot of everybody, and each group contributes something.
But you’ll always have the mozartkugel.

Have fun in Tel Aviv. I’m surprised you don’t boycott it. Progressive Europeans tell me israel is passe and colonialist.

Dani’s comments about getting over the Holocaust and moving on could be construed as flippant in other contexts, but here it’s okay because he’s arguing for ‘love and light’ against my ‘unrequited hate’. But what about his other comments? These seem to consist of “Rachel is very cute” and some nitpicking about how it is really Americans who are more obsessed with ethnic heritage. Behind the peace&love platitudes, how much depth is there? (“nice gams hon, just remember, Europe is still deeper than America.”)

I just heard another vox podcast, the subject was young Israelis flocking to Berlin, with some of the very phrases Dani used in his comments above. Again, I’m hardly convinced. Remember all the good press Dubai’s renaissance(sic) was getting just before the economic collapse? Berlin’s boom ends when the money stops coming. The band the vox podcast profiled was meant to show a revival of Berlin 20s cabaret music. Beyond the marketability of the band they featured (two Jews playing with some Germans, a mixed band just like the 20s!), the music was not particularly good or memorable.
Then I remember that what passes for good young Jewish German literature is 48 year old Maxim Biller, whose short stories look like the sort of observations a 24 year old would put on his myspace page.

Julie Subrin says:

Just for the record, Vox Tablet hasn’t done a podcast about young Israelis flocking to Berlin. Dave, I think you were listening to PRI’s radio program “The World,” no?

Nice catch, Julie.

I listened to about three or four Vox Tablet podcasts while driving around all day Tuesday, and must have had the radio on for the last segment of The World. Highly symbolic but not necessarily talented ‘world music artists’ placed into the appropriate milieu is their forte, not yours. You guys are still gold.

It is uncanny how that segment of The World tied into what dani was saying, in some parts almost word for word.

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Some People

In a spoken excerpt from her new memoir, Rachel Shukert recounts the final days of a European romance

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