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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2018 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


 

December 4, 2015  RSS feed
Federation

Text: T T T

Half Jewish in the High Castle

Emilie Socash

Some time ago, I picked up this thick, hardcover book called What If? Eminent Historians Imagine What Might have Been. This 2006 compilation wrestles with brain teasers like “What if Lincoln didn’t abolish slavery?” or “What if the Chinese had discovered the New World?” The book has gotten the most action in me moving it from one bookshelf to another, occasionally perusing it, and scratching my temple ponderously thinking “What if, indeed?”

Then, back to the shelf it goes.

Nearly half of the volume is committed to the consideration of World War II elements, including if Great Britain were to make peace with Germany in 1940, if the Allies failed to break Enigma (the German cipher machine), or if Pope Pius XII had protested the Holocaust. What if the Fuhrer did not die? What if no atom bomb was developed?

One of the things that I have always found difficult about history that predates my generation, or even that of my parents’, is the lack of color photography. Admittedly, this sounds a bit naïve and childish, but when we see images of the past in solely black and white, it is easier to put it on that vast shelf of “back then.” On occasion, a series of recolored photographs will turn up on my Facebook feed and there’s something extraordinarily chilling about seeing, say, a scene from Auschwitz in full color. In other words, the atrocities of yesteryear, when presented in black and white, stay neatly in their tidy box of antiquities.

So the question, What if Hitler won the war?, can typically be dismissed into the ether of that way-back-when shelf as an unanswerable question because, in truth, he didn’t.

But on Nov. 20, Amazon’s production studio forced me to take this question out of the box and give it a long, hard look.

On this day, Amazon released a 10-episode series entitled “The Man in the High Castle.” This disturbing, challenging dystopian piece is based on the novel by the same name written by Philip K. Dick in 1962. In a nutshell, both the novel and the cinematic presentation answer this concise, disturbing question. As Shane (my husband) and I binge-watched the show, we both found ourselves squirming, gasping, and at times closing our eyes to the full-color, beautifully filmed portrayal of what a German- and Japanese run North America might look like.

It’s the flapping of the flag, which keeps its red and white striping, but replaces a sole swastika for stars.

It’s the common greeting and gesture of “Sieg Heil!”

It’s the crematoriums actively run on Tuesdays, spewing the ashes of “enemies of the state,” “cripples,” and “elderly” across farmland.

It’s the age-progressed portrayal of a white-haired Hitler, speaking in an animated fashion on color television on “VE Day.”

It’s the open conversation about “vile Semites.”

It’s the line in which a Japanese government official says, “Jews don’t get to decide if they are Jews.”

One comment made in an interview with Frank Spotnitz, the creator of the series, gives me pause. When asked about the Jewish community’s response to the show and if he had any “visceral” reaction to the show, he said “I feel it all very deeply… I am half- Jewish. I was never raised with religion, but it’s always struck me that if you live in an anti-Semitic state, it doesn’t matter.”

It’s the “half-Jewish” part that really sticks with me. When contemplating a regime that seeks to eliminate all Jews (and in the show it’s the character Frank, whose paternal grandfather was Jewish), this specific distinction by Spotnitz seems strange and, honestly, troubled.

The novel has been considered for production for quite some time, with the BBC at one time taking an interest, then the SyFy channel. Amazon tested the waters with the pilot, back in January, and opted to follow through after a very positive response.

But what’s going on behind what one reviewer called a “juicy alt-history premise?” Are we able to truly contemplate what an oppressive government looks like in our modern-day castles?

A very brief interaction occurs that’s worth digging deeper into: the young heroine, Juliana Crane, who seems to be a 20-something, is fighting to make her way into the revolution. She wants desperately to play her role in “finding a way out.” Yet when asked why she cares so much by a youngster, she replies “You’ve never known a world without oppression,” but yet the child says, “You don’t remember it either.”

Juliana is connected to the original atrocities: we learn that her father died in the war. And we know that her mother is adamantly opposed to supporting anything that resembles Japanese influence, including the drinking of tea or Juliana’s interest in Aikido.

I can’t help but find Juliana relatable, or at the very least, admirable. She’s a big thinker who’s terribly nervous that she’ll take a misstep. She’s guided by this larger-than-life ideal of pursuing “the truth,” and living in a way that will honor her sister’s memory (who lost her life fighting in the resistance). She travels to the neutral territories, risks her life, kills a man, and returns to take an incognito role with the government.

But Juliana speaks to all of us who did not experience wartime America in the sense of the worldwide scope. Can we truly do enough to act out against oppression, even if we’ve never been oppressed? I would argue that yes, we can. We can do all that we can to fight the wrongs in our world, driven by tikkun olam.

Half-Jewish or not, I think Spotnitz is right: when you live in a world where oppression exists, it just doesn’t matter. We must act.


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