Woman in Gold
Honored for her starring role in Woman in Gold, a 2015 film about American émigré Maria Altmann’s ultimately successful legal efforts to reclaim a painting – stolen decades earlier from her family by the Nazis – from the Austrian government, Dame Helen Mirren has continued to speak out on behalf of Holocaust restitution. It was her involvement with the movie that raised her consciousness and helped to catalyze her empathy for this cause.
Testifying before the U.S. Congress in support of expanded legislation in June 2016, Mirren noted that “what was so extraordinary specifically about Maria Altmann's world, the Viennese world… this glorious time in Vienna that was so full of culture and art…. And being in Vienna and shooting the film and seeing those beautiful houses that were built by the Jewish community, I realized it was a Jewish culture. It was – [the perception that] this beautiful memory of Vienna and the music and its painting was actually created by the Jewish people.”
Intended to appeal to the social media generation, the 2019 Italian documentary #AnneFrank. Parallel Stories now being screened at Jewish film festivals and movie theaters in the U.S., brings Dame Helen into the spotlight again. Filmed in a setting resembling the Frank family’s hiding place in Amsterdam, Mirren provides historical background, reads excerpts from Anne’s diary, and introduces filmgoers to the stories of other young women who experienced persecution during those terrible times. A modern retelling of Anne’s story, the movie celebrates her legacy during her 90th birthday year in what is described as “profound new ways.”
Playwright/actor Jesse Eisenberg portrays legendary mime Marcel Marceau in the new movie, Resistance. Born Marcel Mangel in Strasbourg, France, he was the son of a kosher butcher, who turned to the stage in his adolescence and joined the French resistance in Paris during the Nazi occupation at age 16 in 1939. He was tasked with assisting other Jews to hide or escape the country. In an interview about Resistance, Eisenberg said that “[Marcel Marceau] was asked to save these kids who his cousin was saving. He is reluctant at first, but then realizes that the way to save their lives is to use his art [to entertain and keep the children quiet].” The film, which premieres on March 27, will be shown in theaters as well as On Demand.
On its opening night this month, the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival screened the world premiere of Shared Legacies, Shari Rogers’ documentary about the civil rights movement in the 1960s, in which she focuses on how the bond between Jews and African Americans was shaped by Old Testament narratives and texts, often quoted by Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and a mutual history of oppression. After a visit to Detroit’s Charles Wright Museum of African American History, Rogers asked King’s attorney and speechwriter, Clarence B. Jones, to talk about Jewish participation in the fight against prejudice in the south and what he told her inspired the movie, which seems especially informative to people under the age of 40, who Rogers says knew nothing about this relationship.
Revealed through though archival materials and interviews with celebrities who lived through those times, including Louis Gossett, Jr. and Harry Belafonte, as well as historians and scholars like Hebrew Union College-Cincinnati historian Gary Zola, Jews – civil rights workers, attorneys, rabbis, and other Jewish people from all walks of life – were fully committed to, and sometimes lost their lives for the cause of racial justice.
The film also includes a segment on the first public, integrated dinner in Atlanta honoring King after he had received the Nobel Peace Prize, hosted by activists Rabbi Jacob Rothschild and his wife, Janice, who married David Blumberg, B’nai B’rith’s president from 1971-78, after she was widowed.
Cheryl Kempler is an art and music specialist who works in the B'nai B'rith International Curatorial Office and writes about history and Jewish culture for B’nai B’rith Magazine. To view some of her additional content, click here.
With the commemoration of 75 years after the liberation of Auschwitz just behind us, it’s becoming clear that there is a revisionist trend sweeping Europe.
The arc of post-World War Two history, however sluggish and bumpy, has generally bent in the direction of acknowledging responsibility. While tensions persist in many regions still today, European states have progressively come forward professing their role in the Holocaust and have taken steps, big and small, towards restitution and reconciliation. It’s futile to try to evaluate the degree of genuine remorse versus the pressure exercised by international standards or by public opinion in a changing national landscape; regardless, by and large, states have moved towards assuming their roles as collaborators or enablers of the Nazis.
But with a short historical memory and political sensibilities at play, recent years have brought to light just how fragile this path towards a universally accepted single, factual narrative is.
A Look to the National Level
You will remember the uproar caused in 2018 by a Polish law: a law seemingly excepting Poland from its historical responsibility, and that initially criminalized such expressions as “Polish death camps” or “Polish concentration camps.” While indeed these specific formulations are inaccurate, the anti-Semitism endemic to pre-war, wartime and post-war Poland is a reality. Many Polish collaborators outed, extorted and rounded up Jews for the Nazis. This is a reality that Poland tried to shield itself from and in so doing created an international fiasco.
But the Polish case is by no means singular: The preamble of the Hungarian Basic Law of 2011 states: “We date the restoration of our country’s self-determination, lost on the nineteenth day of March 1944 (note; the day of the Nazi occupation of Hungary), from the second day of May 1990, when the first freely elected body of popular representation was formed”. The Hungarian constitution does not directly deny the Holocaust, but the culpability of the Hungarian state for the organised murder of about 600,000 Hungarian Jews, and in so doing has contributed to such negative consequences as the glorification of Nazi collaborators, the rewriting of curricula and the creation of a controversial ‘House of Fates’ museum.
Recent proposed legislation in Lithuania has also caused outrage. A bill drafted in the Seimas, the country’s Parliament, is titled, “The Lithuanian state, which was occupied in 1940-1990, did not participate in the Holocaust,”. Although Lithuania was occupied at the time, several Lithuanian leaders did collaborate with the Nazis. About 70,000 Jews were killed in Ponary forest during the Holocaust by German SS and Lithuanian collaborators. More than 90 percent of the 200,000 Lithuanian Jews were murdered.
On an International Level: Minimization, Instrumentalization
The developments above, taking place at the national level are certainly distressing. What we’ve also seen, however, is the muddying of the waters on an international stage.
Unlike the national level where the actors involved usually come to the table with a nationalist agenda, we are seeing a frivolous depiction of the past on the international level, weaponized to deal with current political clashes – especially in response to Russia flexing its muscles globally and in Eastern Europe in particular.
In September 2019, the European Parliament debated a motion on the importance of European remembrance for the future of Europe focused on condemning the totalitarian regimes haunting 20th century Europe: Nazism and Stalinism. While the motion is not factually problematic, the tone clearly departs from the preservation of the singularity of the Holocaust. For instance, the motion “calls for a common culture of remembrance that rejects the crimes of fascist, Stalinist, and other totalitarian and authoritarian regimes of the past as a way of fostering resilience against modern threats to democracy” and stresses the importance of “recognising and raising awareness of the shared European legacy of crimes committed by Stalinist, Nazi and other dictatorships.” With these formulations and more, the Parliament is conflating the Holocaust with other 20th century tragedies and thereby depriving the Holocaust of the special focus it warrants.
A perfect example of the difficulties at hand: while intending to emphasize the importance of remembrance, and to protect against revisionist trends today, the European Union falls into its own trap. As we look to the European Union to be one of the main checks in place to guarantee the preservation of the historical record, we must remind policymakers that guarding the memory of the Shoah, and avoiding its instrumentalization at all costs is crucial and foundational to the very essence of the European project.
Alina Bricman is the Director of EU Affairs at B’nai B’rith International. She formerly served as president of the European Union of Jewish Students (EUJS) from 2017 to 2019 and worked for the Representation of the European Commission in Romania and for the Median Research Centre, a Romanian civil society NGO focused on civil engagement and combating xenophobia. She studied political science at the National School of Political and Administrative Studies in Bucharest and at the Central European University in Budapest.
Ever since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was passed into law in 2010, members of Congress and the administration have been doing everything possible to repeal this important healthcare legislation. Another potential Supreme Court showdown impacting the ACA is on the horizon. Consequently, it got me thinking about ways the ACA impacts older Americans; in particular, how the ACA’s Medicaid expansion benefits older adults.
Medicaid is a cooperative, means-tested healthcare program that currently provides coverage to around 71 million people. It was created in 1965 to deliver medical care to various low-income populations, such as people 65 and older, children, adults and people with chronic disabilities. Because of the ACA, states have the option to expand Medicaid eligibility for people under the age of 65 with income up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL.)
So have older Americans benefited from the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion? The answer is a resounding yes!
For starters, the Urban Institute and the American Association of Retired People (AARP) report that because of the ACA’s Medicaid expansion and other reforms, the uninsured rate for older adults, ages 50 to 64, was cut in half by 2015. Also, the ACA’s premium tax credits have helped over 3 million people in this age range afford health insurance. This news isn’t just good for older adults before they turn 65, but is critical for when they are Medicare-eligible. As I reported in my blog, “Repealing and Replacing the Affordable Care Act and its Impact on Medicare,” evidence demonstrates that Medicare-eligible seniors with prior health insurance require less expensive health care than people who were uninsured before they enrolled in Medicare.
To further the point, the University of Michigan recently released a study that examined the impact Medicaid expansion had on the mortality rate of older adults (55 to 64 years old) in expansion states vs. non-expansion states. The study concluded that between 2014 and 2017, the ACA’s Medicaid expansion saved 19,200 older adults’ lives. Expansion could have prevented another 15,600 deaths in non-expansion states. Overall, I think the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities summed up Medicaid expansion best: “If all states had expanded Medicaid, the number of lives saved just among older adults in 2017 would roughly equal the number of lives that seatbelts saved among the full population, based on estimates from the National Highway Traffic Safety Commission.”
Furthermore, the study stated, “The estimated impact of the expansions increases over time, suggesting that prolonged exposure to Medicaid results in increasing health improvements.” Researchers reported that mortality reduction rates in Medicaid expansion states can be attributable to better health outcomes in the areas of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and early detections for breast and cervical cancers. I think it’s fair to conclude that government programs that expose more people to health care lead to healthier outcomes.
Strengthening the argument, last November, Kaiser Health News’ Laura Ungar, authored a fascinating article entitled “The Deep Divide: State Borders Create Medicaid Haves And Have-Nots” documenting the differences in health care between the states of Illinois and Missouri. While these two states lie right next to each other, only separated by the Mississippi River, the difference between their two Medicaid programs couldn’t be more different. For instance, the state of Illinois has reaped the benefits of Medicaid expansion by being able to provide health coverage to an additional 650,000 people, while Missouri’s decision not to expand Medicaid has denied health care coverage to 200,000 people.
The article further highlights the point with a human interest story about Patricia Powers, a resident of Missouri, who lost her health insurance. Because she was unable to afford health insurance, she never visited a doctor and was unaware of the cancerous tumors in her breasts. In addition, she discontinued taking medicine for high blood pressure and anxiety, because it was cost prohibitive. What makes the story even more tragic is that if she lived in Illinois, she would have qualified for Medicaid. Eventually, in her early 60s, the cancer was discovered upon visiting Casa de Salud, a low-cost medical clinic in Missouri. Since Powers was ultimately diagnosed for breast cancer, she became eligible for Medicaid that allowed her to receive treatment for the disease.
What makes the decision by some states not to expand Medicaid maddening is that often it’s significantly easier and cheaper to treat patients when the medical problem is in its infancy. Jorge Riopedre, president and CEO of Casa de Salud said, “Even if you didn’t care about the human cost, you should care about the economic cost. Treating a disease at its first stage is always going to be much cheaper than treating it at its advanced stage.”
Thankfully, Medicaid expansion advocates in the state of Missouri are trying to get the issue on the November 2020 ballot. We can only hope that after election day, thousands more Missourians will be eligible for health care coverage.
The benefits of the ACA don’t just stop with improving the rate the of insurance. They also extend to protections for people with pre-existing conditions and curtailing what insurance companies can charge older adults compared to younger people in the marketplace.
Despite the millions of Americans that have benefited from the ACA, it continues to be under attack. If the congressional ACA fights of 2017 taught us anything, it’s that Congress is no closer to agreeing on healthcare than they are on immigration, taxes or any other “hot button” issue. The benefits of the ACA in the older adult community can’t be denied any longer. However, we can only hope that once again, this legislation can withstand judicial scrutiny.
Evan Carmen, Esq. is the Legislative Director for Aging Policy at the B’nai B’rith International Center for Senior Services. He holds a B.A. from American University in political science and a J.D. from New York Law School. Prior to joining B’nai B’rith International he worked in the Office of Presidential Correspondence for the Obama White House, practiced as an attorney at Covington and Burling, LLP, worked as an aide for New York City Council Member Tony Avella and interned for Congressman Gary Ackerman’s office. Click here to read more from Evan Carmen.
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