Monday, November 25, 2013

Coming to a theater near you: The Book Thief

Our marketing coordinator, Emily, previews the film adaptation of one of our book club’s favorite picks.

Liesel Meminger, the title character of Markus Zusak’s young adult novel The Book Thief, is good at keeping secrets, even when it involves hiding a young Jewish man and rescuing a book from being burned by the Nazis. 

Her captivating story has captured the hearts of millions across the globe, so it was only a  matter of time before the novel was optioned for the big screen. While it promises a large, built-in following, it is nonetheless a difficult story to capture on film. Zusak’s writing style is nothing short of unique, as the novel is narrated not by Liesel, but by Death. Having a disembodied narrator worked well for the novel, but it never would have had the same effect on screen. Consequently, director Brian Percival cut-back Death’s narration considerably. 

While this will disappoint some fans, the movie has a number of redeeming qualities. The cast, for one, is exemplary. Sophie Nélisse embodies the role of Liesel perfectly. The quick-fingered young girl is just as infinitely lovable on-screen as she was in print. Nico Liersch, similarly, brings to life Rudy Steiner, Liesel’s love-struck, Jesse Owens-obsessed best friend. The cast also includes seasoned film stars Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson, who play Liesel’s foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann. While the film explores dark themes, there are lighter moments of comedy that come from the way Rush and Watson portray the unusual, miss-matched couple.

Ben Schnetzer, who plays Max, the young Jewish man in hiding, is relatively new to acting, and yet he holds his own against Rush and Watson, and is the perfect older-brother figure to Nélisse’s Liesel. He also delivers one of the more memorable lines in the film: “Words are life, Liesel. All those pages, they’re for you to fill.”

 The film lacks some of the depth of Zusak’s novel, but it would be impossible to condense a nearly 600 page book into a two and a half hour film without glossing over certain points. There are a number of heart-wrenching moments in the film, and you can’t help but fall in love with Zusak’s characters all over again. Like the book, the film speaks volumes about the power of words and the durability of the human spirit. It is currently playing in select theaters in the city, and will be opening in theaters everywhere on November 27.

Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Monday, November 18, 2013

A Special Visitor to the Auschwitz Jewish Center: Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations

Today, our colleagues in Poland at the Auschwitz Jewish Center in Oświęcim welcomed  Ban Ki-moon, United Nations Secretary General for a very special visit. The Secretary General visited to tour the Center’s Chevra Lomdei Mishnayot Synagogue, accompanied by Rabbi Yehoshua Ellis, rabbi of Katowice and Upper Silesia, following a visit to the former camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau.

This is the first visit by a UN Secretary General to the Auschwitz Jewish Center, the only Jewish presence in the vicinity of Auschwitz; the Center’s facilities include Oświęcim’s only surviving synagogue.

Secretary General Ki-moon discussed the UN’s work for genocide prevention, tolerance, and peace while at the Center and wrote in the Center’s guest book, “I am honored to visit this synagogue and learn about Jewish life in Poland before the cataclysm of the Holocaust. I am especially impressed to see the staying power of Jewish tradition and the rebirth of Jewish life. Coming at the end of a deeply moving visit to the Nazi death camp, I leave Auschwitz saddened but also with the hope, determination to build this world of equality, human dignity and peace.”

Tomasz Kuncewicz, the Director of the Auschwitz Jewish Center says, “We are honored by the visit of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, which affirms our commitment to educating about European Jewish history and the Holocaust as a response to today's dangers of social exclusion, anti-Semitism, and other forms of xenophobia.  His determination to advance peace, development, and human rights serves as an example in today's world.”

Dr. David Marwell, President of the Auschwitz Jewish Center and Director of the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, says, “We are so pleased that the Secretary General was able to visit our Center and witness evidence of the vibrant Jewish life that animated the town of Oświęcim before the war – a powerful counterpoint to what he had seen earlier in the day during his tour of the Nazi death camp just a few kilometers away. We hope that this powerful experience will help to inform his important work of pursuing peace in the world.”

Images: Ban Ki-moon, United Nations Secretary General at the Auschwitz Jewish Center. Photo by Dominik Smolarek. Image of guest book by Artur Szyndler.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Excerpt of Fascinating Book about A French Priest Who Rescued Jews During the Holocaust

Next month, we’re honored to be welcome historian Susan Zuccotti who will be presenting her new book, Père Marie-Benoît and Jewish Rescue: How a French Priest Together with Jewish Friends Saved Thousands During the Holocaust (Indiana University Press, 2013) on December 11 at 7 p.m.

The book explores the life and work of Père Marie-Benoît (1895-1990), a courageous French Capuchin priest who risked everything to hide Jews in France and Italy during the Holocaust, by providing false papers, helping them to elude their persecutors. From monasteries first in Marseille and later in Rome, Père Marie-Benoît worked with Jewish co-conspirators to build remarkably effective Jewish-Christian rescue networks. To shed light on the priest’s life, Zuccotti delved into archives in France and at the Vatican and personally interviewed Père Marie-Benoît, his family, Jewish rescuers with whom he worked, and survivors who owed their lives to his network.

Click here for an excerpt of the book which the Wall Street Journal praised for helping “to keep alive the memory of one of the brave men and women whose actions showed that goodness and charity will survive even in the midst of a great evil.”

Susan Zuccotti will be joined by investigative journalist Leslie Maitland, author of Crossing the Borders of Time (Other Press, 2012), which is the compelling account of her mission to discover what happened to her mother’s long lost love after the war. Admission is free.