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2: Reconciling the Self with the System

Nanci Adler Indiana University Press ePub

CHAPTER 2

 

Reconciling the Self with the System

Under Stalin, in the years before the 1956 Twentieth Party Congress, simply being charged with a crime was commonly prima facie evidence of being guilty, and punishment followed quickly. After Stalin's death, and particularly after 1956, the Party officially declared that arbitrary punishment was a crime perpetrated by Stalin and his henchmen against loyal Communists and others. E. Charents, an Armenian poet who considered himself a loyal Communist, was born before 1956. “There is no crueler punishment,” he lamented, “than when a man is denounced as a traitor to an idea that was sacred to him, that was in fact the only thing that made sense in his life.”1 that life, and whatever sense could be made of it, was extinguished by the terror in 1937.

When Charents was denounced, he lost his social, material, and ideological sources of support. Such victims were impelled by the belief that their predicament made sense—if only they could decipher that sense. And therein lay a paradox. The punishment made sense only if the crime made sense, but for those falsely accused, their alleged crime was a political fiction. Like Kafka's Gregor Samsa, who awoke with dismay to discover that he was a bug, or his equally dismayed Josef K., who suddenly found himself under arrest, these victims tried to make sense of their misfortune, assuming that insight would lead to a way out of the morass. The Soviet terror had created facts out of fiction for innocent arrestees, now presumed guilty by reason of arrest.

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Chapter Five: Seoul—September 1950

Alec Wahlman University of North Texas Press ePub

General Douglas MacArthur's bold Inchon landings on 15 September 1950 were but a means to an end. The true objective of Operation CHROMITE was Seoul, as its capture would simultaneously cut off the bulk of the North Korean People's Army (NKPA) in the south from its primary supply hub and its principal escape route back north. An added incentive, especially for someone with MacArthur's flair for publicity, was the notoriety of recapturing an allied capital city.

Most of the defenders of Seoul were North Korean units that had been recently assembled, with little experience or training for the rank and file. Some of these units were leavened with experienced officers, and a few other units rushed up from the south. However, the caliber of most of these defending forces was not the same as those NKPA units that had crossed the 38th parallel four months earlier.

Unlike Aachen and Manila, which involved forces seasoned by several years of war, US forces at Seoul were a hastily assembled collection of units that included some personnel with World War II combat experience, but many without. Another difference from the two World War II battles was the reduced level of effort by US commanders to seal off the city. Unlike the combination of skill and luck that allowed American forces to avoid the primary enemy defensive positions guarding Aachen and Manila, the primary American thrust into Seoul would run headlong into the primary NKPA defensive position holding it.

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2 The Forty and Eights

Otto Schrag Indiana University Press ePub

Along train of cattle cars had come in. Soldiers had opened the doors. To Licht, it looked like a long row of dark caves. Each car was marked “40/8”—forty men or eight horses. They were ordered to step to the cars and begin boarding, sixty men to each car. In the confusion, Licht had lost his companions and now found himself among strangers. “Vite, vite, vite!” the guards shouted again and again. Using their rifle butts, the soldiers shoved those who weren’t quick enough.

Licht, among the first in, felt his way along the walls, all his instincts suddenly alert. In the dark interior, he felt his way along the side of the car and laid himself in a corner. No sooner had the sixty been loaded than the doors were pushed shut and barred from the outside with iron bars.

There was great tumult in a darkness that was almost palpable. People elbowed and stepped on one another; no one knew where he was or who was who. Some tripped over luggage in the dark; Licht heard cursing and groaning. A man standing next to him tried to open one of the vents. He was breathing heavily, and said to someone else. “I know how these vents work. I used to be a cattleman. I’ve opened and shut these things a thousand times. But these swine have nailed this opening shut.”

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3 Between Empire and Nation State: Outline for a European Contemporary History of the Jews, 1750–1950

OMER BARTOV Indiana University Press ePub

DAN DINER

This chapter explores the epistemic and conceptual advantages of integrating the transnational or diasporic Jewish experience into European History in order to overcome the nation state paradigm that is so inherent to continental historical thought. The experience of the Jews as a physically dispersed population united nevertheless by religion and liturgy, as well as by semi-religious memorial and ethnic bonds, makes for a unique store of preconceptual knowledge that can be cognitively transformed into actual notions of historical understanding. This understanding focuses first and foremost on the institutional, political, and cultural fabric of substantial changes in the age of transition from premodern patterns of life and modes of social intercourse into modernity.

Seen through this lens, the Jewish experience serves as a seismograph of knowledge and understanding in an age of profound changes—not least the conflict-ridden transformation that accompanied the shift from the variety of imperial integration into the homogeneity of emergent nation states—that extends well into the web of the first half of the twentieth century, but removing the Holocaust from the core to the margin. Removing the core event of the century from the center to the margin seems to become justified by methodological and ethical reasons that need not be elaborated here. Just one reason should be mentioned: by avoiding the Holocaust, the narration of modern Jewish history proposed in this chapter permits a closer look at the events up to the Holocaust. Such an approach highlights the role and nature of contingency in historical understanding, the recognition of which is urgently needed in the case of the Holocaust, especially in view of narratives that tend to assert alleged and/or largely overstated modes of a supposed continuity. This approach allows the actual contemporary human experience a more appropriate share in the reconstruction of the past, and avoids—to the extent that it is possible—being overwhelmed by the impact of teleology. This methodological preference is valid despite our awareness of the evident and unavoidable truth that catastrophic intrusions draw events that occurred before and after them into their vortex.

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6 Marking National Space on the Habsburg Austrian Borderlands, 1880–1918

OMER BARTOV Indiana University Press ePub

PIETER M. JUDSON

Early in Fritz Mauthner’s 1913 novel, Der letzte Deutsche von Blatna, the hero, Anton Gegenbauer, remarks on a minor renovation to an arcade in the main square of his fictional small town, Blatna. For Mauthner and his protagonist, these external cosmetic changes reflect some much deeper transformations that have gradually overtaken the fictional Bohemian community.

The words “Stephan Silber’s Gasthaus”—“zum römischen Kaiser”—had decorated the middle arcade for 20 years. [As a child] Anton had first practiced his knowledge of spelling by reading those freshly gilded letters. Now the text had been whitewashed and the bright red letters that decorated the white background spelled out: “Stjepan Zilbr hostinec.” The given name Stephan had been Czechified, the name “Silber” had simply been written using Czech orthography; “hostinec” basically meant the same thing as “pub,” but sounded more patriotic than “Gasthaus.” This painting over, along with the changes inside that they reflected, symbolized the process by which the German town had slowly but surely been transformed into a Czech one.1

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