Subscribe to The Jewish Standard free weekly newsletter

 
font size: +
 

Film explores the role of Jews in Civil War

 
|| Tell-a-Friend || Print
 
 
image
Image from the film “Jewish Soldiers in Blue and Gray.” The National Center for Jewish Film

As America marks the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, a new film highlights the role Jews played in the conflict that pitted North against South. The 86-minute film, “Jewish Soldiers in Blue and Gray,” was produced by the National Center for Jewish Film of Brandeis University. It was screened locally on July 13, at Cong. Beth Tikvah/New Milford Jewish Center.

“Jewish Soldiers in Blue and Gray” was written by Jonathan Gruber, with an assist from Robert Marcus. It was directed by Gruber. It relies on interviews with Civil War historians such as Shalom Lamm and Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer and descendants of Jewish soldiers, as well as original letters and records stored in museums, archives, and private homes. Approximately 7,000 Jews fought for the Union; approximately 3,000 fought for the Confederacy.

The screening attracted a wide audience, including many from outside the congregation. Ken Morrow of Dumont said he had always been curious about Jewish soldiers serving in the Civil War. “This is a subject most people are not informed about.”

Bob Mark, rabbi of the New Milford congregation, noted in his opening remarks that most history textbooks ignore the contributions of Jews to the early history of the United States.

Although more than twice as many Jews fought for the North than the South, the film explores the myth that the North was friendlier to the Jews. Said one expert interviewed in the film, “The lines of division in the South were more racial than religious.”

The film discusses the career of Judah P. Benjamin, one of the first Jews to serve as a U.S. senator. The Louisiana native, known for his “incredible oratorical skills,” was a leader of the secessionist movement that created the Confederate States of America. He served as “Jefferson Davis’ right-hand man,” said one historian featured in the documentary, was appointed secretary of state among his other positions, and his face appeared on the Confederate two-dollar bill.

Also highlighted was Eugenia Levy Phillips, who was imprisoned for spying for the Confederacy.

Other notable Jews highlighted by the film include Alfred Mordecai, a major in the U.S. Army who refused to fight for either side during the war and resigned his position in protest of it; Rabbi Max Lillienthal, a vehement abolitionist; and Lt. Jacob Ballantine, who fired some of the first shots on Union soldiers at Fort Sumter.

The movie also discussed the Concordia Guard, reportedly an all-Jewish company of 96 men that was part of the 82nd Illinois Infantry.

Evidence of Jewish involvement in the war rests not only in the archives and the descendants of soldiers, but also on the field. A cemetery in Richmond holds the remains of dozens of Jewish soldiers who served in the Civil War. Additionally, a 19th-century Jewish activist, Simon Wolf, published a directory in 1895 containing the names of 7,000 Jews who fought on either side during the conflict. After being given a copy of the directory — “The American Jew as Patriot, Soldier, and Citizen” — Mark Twain publicly recanted a statement he made criticizing American Jews for refusing to fight in the Civil War.

The film also explores anti-Semitism in America at the time. One bright spot in the film was a discussion of President Lincoln’s strong support for the Jewish community. Lincoln’s voice in the film was more familiar to most people in the audience as belonging to Manhattan District Attorney Jack McCoy, the “Law & Order” character portrayed by the actor Sam Waterston.

Immediately after the screening, there was a brief discussion led by Rabbi Mark. He said he hoped that viewers had discovered “something you never knew before.”

“Pass this information on to your children,” he told the audience.

“Jewish Soldiers in Blue and Gray” was produced by Indigo Films, with funding from the Shapell Manuscript Foundation .

For more information about the film or to schedule a screening, call the National Center for Jewish Film at Brandeis University, (781) 736-8600, or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

 
|| Tell-a-Friend || Print
 
 

Stay tuned for the return of comments

 

Movies at KulturefestNYC

It is not every week when you can see 37 films in seven days — all celebrating the renaissance of Yiddish culture.

Starting Sunday, as part of KulturfestNYC, the National Yiddish Theatre — Folksbiene will present the largest festival of Yiddish culture cinema ever presented anywhere. (In full disclosure, I am pleased to have been asked to curate and moderate the film series.)

A century ago, Yiddish cinema began. It was seen as a way to convey Yiddish theater to the far ends of Europe. In Soviet Russia, it became a medium for Jewish expression in a Communist realm that first encouraged it and then later demanded ideological conformity. Throughout the 1930s, it continued as a creative force, both in the United States and in Poland, as a source of entertainment and a bulwark against assimilation. After World War II, Yiddish movies served to provide comfort to those in need of that consolation.

 

‘A Nazi Legacy’

Two sons diverge on mass-murdering fathers

It’s hard not to get emotional watching the superbly rendered “A Nazi Legacy: What our Fathers Did.”

But unlike many Holocaust documentaries, the overwhelming feelings aren’t sadness and loss, though there are those, too. They are exasperation and anger.

In the film, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York last month, British-Jewish lawyer Philippe Sands tells the story of two men, both the children of high-ranking Nazi figures.

Niklas Frank is the son of Hans Frank, Hitler’s lawyer and the governor-general of Nazi-occupied Poland. The elder Frank was hanged in 1946, after being found guilty at Nuremberg for complicity in the murder of Poland’s 3 million Jews.

Horst von Wachter is the son of Otto von Wachter, an Austrian who served as the Nazi governor of Galicia (now Lviv, Ukraine) and died in hiding in 1949 while under the Vatican’s protection.

 

Film addresses anti-Semitism on campus

 

RECENTLYADDED

‘A Borrowed Identity’

In Israel, making films during the early years of the state was a difficult enterprise.

With no government funding, creative movie-makers got minimal investment monies and often knocked out low-budget films to a public generally not interested in seeing them. But by the 1980s funds had been created to assist filmmakers, and seed money to jump-start movie production has become more readily available during the last 15 years. The result has been a growth in the number of film schools in Israel, and increasingly in the production of world-class films that can compete on the world market with films from anywhere.

A few decades ago, a filmmaker often would wait seven or eight years before making the next film; today, many Israeli directors are making films every two or three years, and the movies are getting better and better. The result is that an increasing number of Israeli filmmakers now have a body of work that can be seen, studied, and analyzed. One of these filmmakers is Eran Riklis, whose latest film, “A Borrowed Identity,” opens today in New York.

 

‘World’s Best Short Films’ in Tenafly

 

Movies at KulturefestNYC

It is not every week when you can see 37 films in seven days — all celebrating the renaissance of Yiddish culture.

Starting Sunday, as part of KulturfestNYC, the National Yiddish Theatre — Folksbiene will present the largest festival of Yiddish culture cinema ever presented anywhere. (In full disclosure, I am pleased to have been asked to curate and moderate the film series.)

A century ago, Yiddish cinema began. It was seen as a way to convey Yiddish theater to the far ends of Europe. In Soviet Russia, it became a medium for Jewish expression in a Communist realm that first encouraged it and then later demanded ideological conformity. Throughout the 1930s, it continued as a creative force, both in the United States and in Poland, as a source of entertainment and a bulwark against assimilation. After World War II, Yiddish movies served to provide comfort to those in need of that consolation.

 
 
S M T W T F S
1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30