Archive for June, 2016

Lore Krüger’s Life of Exile – posted 6/25/2016 and published in the Concord Monitor on 7/3/2016

June 25, 2016 3 comments

Immigration is so much in the news these days and there has been no shortage of demagoguery. Now the hating against immigrants is directed at Mexicans and Muslims. I wanted to tell a different kind of immigration story. Because it is little known, I wanted to tell the story of Lore Heinemann Krüger, a Jewish woman who survived the Nazis.

When I was in Paris in May, I went to the Jewish Museum of Art and History. The museum currently has a photography exhibit featuring Krüger’s work. The photos were shot between 1934-1944. Krüger was a pioneer among avant-garde female photographers. Her work was eclectic: she photographed street scenes, workers, gypsies, young Parisians as well as classic still life shots like bowls of cherries. She experimented with highly original and creative techniques that were ahead of her time.

The photos only became public in 2015 when they were displayed at the Gallery C/O Berlin in Germany. Krüger, who died in 2009, did not live to see the exhibition. She had managed to safeguard some of her photos in big folders she kept under her sofa. While much of her work did not survive, about 250 photos remain, of which about 100 are displayed.

Lore Krüger was born in 1914 in the central German city of Magdeburg. On her 10th birthday, her father gave her a camera. She was passionate about photography and she immediately started taking shots.

Krüger’s family was Jewish. With the rise of Hitler and anti-semitism, peril increased. As the Jews achieved pariah status, few friends remained loyal. Most acquaintances kept a wary distance from the family. Lore Krüger had worked as a typist at a savings bank.

On April 1, 1933, after Hitler came to power, Krüger witnessed a “Jew Boycott” and attacks on Jewish stores, offices and medical practices. Krüger later wrote:

“Never in my life will I forget this day. All over town, members of the SA in their brown uniforms with swastika armbands were standing guard in front of buildings in which Jewish doctors or lawyers practiced, or in front of Jewish stores. On the shop windows and nameplates they had smeared the word ‘Jew’ or ‘don’t buy from the Jews – the Jews are our enemies!’ in huge letters.

In 1933, at age 19, Krüger decided to leave Germany. With help from a rabbi friend, she was able to obtain work as an au pair in England. Her parents and sister also fled Germany, moving to Mallorca, a Mediterranean island off Spain.

Krüger ended up joining the rest of her family in 1934 after failing to get an extension of her visa in England. She apprenticed with a photographer in Barcelona. She was also able to study with Florence Henri, a renowned photographer who lived in Paris. Paris was a refuge for exiled European artists and intellectuals escaping fascism. She became friendly with the philosopher Walter Benjamin and the author Arthur Koestler. Both lived in the building where she was staying.

While in Paris, Krüger became more interested in politics. She studied at the Paris-based German Free University, an anti-fascist and communist-oriented evening school. She wrote a dissertation on Nazi ideology. There is a quote in her art exhibition that reflects the change in her life:

“Art was my principal preoccupation, everything revolved around it but politics was increasingly taking over my life.”

As a German anti-fascist, Krüger realized that the world was insufficiently aware of the barbarism Hitler represented. In that time, only the left wing press wrote about the danger the fascists represented. Krüger wrote that the Nazis owned much of the right wing press in France.

In 1936, when the Spanish Civil War broke out, Krüger supported the Republican side. Her husband-to-be, Ernst Krüger, a German union leader and communist, had fought in Spain. Lore Krüger worked to promote secret distribution of books with anti-Nazi content into the Reich.

Krüger travelled to Mallorca to visit her parents. Things were sticky because the Falangists, the Spanish fascists allied with Hitler, controlled the island. A Republican regiment landed on Mallorca and contested control of the island. After a battle lasting several days, the Republican forces lost. Krüger’s parents knew an officer who allowed Lore entry into the war zone. She went there with her camera. She wrote:

“I will never forget the stench of the corpses filling that completely deserted place. The inhabitants had left suddenly, all the doors were open. Corpses of young people littered the streets. Franco’s troops had poured petrol over them and set them alight. I will never forget that sight. My heart bled but I said to myself, “You must take photographs, you musn’t think about anything else!”

Krüger had a very difficult time returning to Paris. The Spanish police confiscated most of her photos when she left Mallorca. In April 1939, Franco’s fascist forces, with huge help from Hitler, won the Spanish Civil War and they tightened the noose on Jews. The authorities told Krüger’s parents to leave Mallorca within 10 days. Unable to get a visa to a safe country and afraid of falling into the hands of the Spanish police or the Germans, Krüger’s parents committed suicide together. They had a realistic fear of torture at the hands of the fascists or removal to a concentration camp.

Lore Krüger did not find out about her parents’ suicide until years later. Both parents wrote their children absolutely heart-rending letters explaining their decision. Those letters are displayed in the photo exhibition.

After the Germans invaded France in May 1940, Lore and her sister Gisela were imprisoned in an internment camp in southern France. They were considered “hostile foreigners”. Both were freed months later. Since they lacked a residence permit, the only route of escape they saw was to leave Europe by ship from Marseille. They hoped to get to Mexico, a country that took in anti-fascists, Spanish Republicans and their families.

Lore, her future husband, and her sister were all able to get to Marseille with forged papers. Both the journey to Marseille and the next six months in Marseille where they hid out were fraught with great danger. They knew that if they were caught they could be handed over to the Gestapo. With help from the French Vichy government, the Germans were combing through lists of people who had been in camps and they were hunting down opponents.

Lore lived in constant fear of raids. She and her little band moved constantly, staying in cinemas and hotels that charged by the hour. In May 1941 they finally were able to get a collective visa that allowed all three to leave for Mexico on a cargo ship, the Winnipeg.

En route to Mexico a Dutch gunboat captured the Winnipeg. The gunboat forced the passengers to go to the island of Trinidad. From there, Krüger appealed to the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, an organization of Americans who had fought on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War. The Lincoln Brigade raised the money and helped with the transit visa to get to New York. The Krügers settled into a small apartment in Long Island City. Because of a law change, they were never able to get to Mexico.

Once in New York, the Krügers helped to found an anti-fascist newspaper, the German American. Krüger worked on the paper from May 1942 until 1944. Writers for the paper included Bertolt Brecht, Heinrich Mann, and Lion Feuchtwanger. Krüger wanted to demonstrate that not all Germans were Nazis. In the photo exhibition, Krüger is quoted saying that she believed there were many Nazi sympathizers in the United States at the time, especially in the press.

Krüger was especially concerned about the lack of an anti-fascist press. She wrote:

“The first number of The German American came out in May 1942. The editorial entitled “What we want” stated that out of the more than two hundred newspapers and reviews published in the United States, including more than a dozen dailies, there was not a single anti-fascist paper, not even during the war.”

After the war, in 1946, the Krügers returned to Germany to live. Krüger wrote, “who should bring about a change in Germany… if not German anti-fascists everywhere in the world, if they didn’t return.”

In 1947, Lore became ill. She came down with a case of diptheria and she sustained heart damage. She did not continue with photography after that. She became an English to German translator in the later part of her career. Among other books, she translated “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, “Robinson Crusoe” and books by Doris Lessing, Joseph Conrad and Henry James.

Krüger died on March 3, 2009.

In a very dark time, she lived an honorable life of principle and artistic self-expression. As we face the growth of extreme right wing and fascist parties around the world, Krüger’s example shines bright.

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The Opportunistic Use of Impeachment to Undermine Democracy in Brazil – posted 6/12/2016 and published in the Concord Monitor on 6/19/2016

June 12, 2016 1 comment

I think it is fair to say that any news of Brazil is scarce in the United States. We generally pay little attention to news outside our country, unless it is about terrorism.

When I was recently in France, I was surprised how much TV news coverage there was about the impeachment of the Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff. It was the lead news story everyday I was there in early May.

Rousseff is currently suspended from office for 180 days, pending a full impeachment trial in Brazil’s Senate.

To the extent Americans are paying attention to Brazil, focus turns to the Zika virus and the upcoming Olympic games this summer, The Olympics will be held in Rio in August.

Much of the discussion about Brazil on French TV looked at the question of whether the impeachment of President Rousseff was, in fact, a coup d’etat by the right wing opposition. The reasons for President Rousseff’s removal seem murky at best. She has not been charged with stealing money or any crime.

Brazil’s legislature voted to suspend President Rousseff from office over accusations that she had tampered with government accounts to hide a budget shortfall. On its face, this hardly seems like any basis for impeachment. Governments of the political left or right routinely do misleading things to try and look better. I would say the Brazilian impeachment effort is on a par with the effort to impeach President Clinton for his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

The common thread is the bogus use of impeachment to try and reverse an electoral verdict. The party that cannot win an election resorts to a shortcut replacement strategy. In politically polarized countries, especially those with a weaker democratic tradition than our own, impeachment then becomes an undemocratic substitute for legitimate election.

Out of frustration, Brazil’s political right has now embarked on the shortcut method because it has not been able to win an election in the last four election cycles.

Noam Chomsky, the famous scholar/activist, called the Brazil impeachment ” a kind of soft coup”. He said Rousseff is “being impeached by a gang of thieves”. Chomsky is alluding to the fact that many of the figures behind the impeachment effort are themselves being investigated for corruption.

Folha de Sao Paulo, a Brazilian daily paper, ran a widely-read story which suggested the aim of the impeachment process was an effort to stifle a massive corruption inquiry known in Brazil as the “Car Wash” probe. Many of the figures in Brazil promoting impeachment against Rousseff are themselves being investigated.

Leaked recordings show the planning minister in the new government, Romero Juca, discussing the impeachment process as a way of stopping the Car Wash inquiry into corruption at Petrobus, the state oil company. Petrobus is Brazil’s largest corporation and it is one of the world’s largest oil companies. There are actually seven ministers in the new government implicated in the investigation.

The leaked conversations also revealed that some of the politicians under investigation were secretly conspiring with members of the Brazilian Supreme Court and the military. So we have a situation where the right wing interim president and some of his allies face actual corruption charges while they engineer the ouster of a president charged with no crime.

To appreciate this black comedy, it helps to place Brazil’s current political situation in a historical context. The writer Eduardo Galeano described Brazil this way:

“There is no country in the world as unequal as Brazil. Some analysts even speak of the Brazilianization of the planet in sketching a portrait of the world to come. By “Brazilianization”, they certainly don’t mean the spread of irrepressible soccer, spectacular carnivals or music that awakens the dead, marvels that make Brazil shine brightest; rather they’re describing the imposition of a model of progress based on social injustice and racial discrimination, where economic growth only increases poverty and exclusion.”

Galeano’s words were written in the late 1990’s before the election of Lula and the center-left Workers’ Party, Since the early 2000’s, the Workers’ Party has won four consecutive national elections. Luis Ignacio da Silva or as he is known in Brazil, Lula, has been the leader of the Workers’ Party and he is probably the most popular president in Brazil’s history. He left office in 2010 and Dilma Rousseff replaced him. Rousseff was first elected in 2010 by a 56-44 per cent margin and she was reelected in 2014 with a reduced margin of 52-48 per cent.

During Lula’s presidency, Brazil’s economy boomed. He also presided over a very significant redistribution of wealth. The real minimum wage rose 70%. The government created 21 million new jobs and it also created the Bolsa Familia, a federal assistance program which provided financial aid to poor Brazilian families.

Lula has been widely credited with dramatically reducing poverty and hunger. Lula called his program Zero Hunger. He also promoted an expansion of higher education. Professor Alfredo Saad-Filho of the University of London described the Brazilian change:

“For the first time, the poor could access education as well as income and bank loans. They proceeded to study, earn and borrow, and to occupy spaces, literally, previously the preserve of the upper-middle class: airports, shopping malls, banks, private health facilities, and roads, with the latter clogged up by cheap cars purchased on seventy-two easy payments. The government enjoyed a comfortable majority in a highly fragmented Congress, and Lula’s legendary political skills managed to keep most of the political elite on his side.”

But then, on President Rousseff’s watch, things deteriorated. The present crisis is very much the product of a declining economy, a strengthened right wing opposition, corruption, including in the Workers” Party, and powerful right wing media controlled by the Brazilian oligarchs. Imagine Fox News as every network. That is close to the Brazilian reality. The confluence of these factors created the political power grab opportunity.

Democracy remains fragile although Brazil has made enormous strides toward the construction of a more inclusive and just social system. It is not that long ago in 1964 when the Brazilian military staged a coup and overthrew the democratically elected government of then-President Joao Goulart, a mild social democratic reformer.

For 21 years until 1985, the Brazilian military imposed a brutal dictatorship on the people. The military became infamous and hated for, among other things, the use of extreme torture techniques applied against dissidents. Torture victims included President Rousseff herself. During the military dictatorship in the late 60’s until 1970, Rousseff was an underground guerrilla, fighting the regime. Rousseff was captured by the military in 1970 and she was detained for three years without trial.

Her interrogations started with punching, electric shock and then there were sessions of “pau de arara” (suspension from a rod by the hands and feet). She was often beaten and her torturers threatened to disfigure her. They dislocated her jaw and that problem still causes her difficulty. In court proceedings later, Rousseff denounced her own torture and named names of those who tortured her.

A Truth Commission found 434 people were killed or disappeared during the dictatorship. Thousands more experienced beatings, electric shock, sexual violations and psychological torture. The report named 377 people it said were involved in human rights abuses, of whom 196 are still alive. The torturers have so far escaped criminal prosecution. There is a 1979 amnesty law which prevents those who committed abuses from being tried or punished.

Since the military coup in 1964, a body of evidence has appeared showing the role of the United States in assisting the Brazilian military in its coup efforts. The extent of the U.S. role remains in dispute. There is also strong evidence showing the American and British role in training the Brazilian military in torture techniques.

To appreciate the gravity of the present crisis, the history of the military dictatorship must be mentioned. It remains a tricky challenge how Brazil will be able to constructively move forward without reverting to increased economic injustice and authoritarianism. The impeachment of President Rousseff is a step in the wrong direction.

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