Thursday, September 22, 2011

Code Words

The conductor Kurt Sanderling died a few days ago, just short of his 99th birthday. He earned obituaries in the NY Times, the LA Times, and the Telegraph (UK), among others. We need to compare and contrast a bit:
  • Telegraph: "Forced out of Germany by the Nazis, he made his career in Russia until, in 1960, he returned to what was then East Germany....Educated privately, he began his career at the age of 18 as a répétiteur at the Berlin Städtische Oper, assisting Klemperer, Erich Kleiber and Wilhelm Furtwängler. In 1936 he left Germany for Moscow. After making his debut with the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra shortly after his arrival..."
  • BBC News: "German Conductor Kurt Sanderling, who fled Nazi Germany for Moscow in 1936, has died in Berlin at the age of 98."
  • Guardian: "After working for the Jewish Cultural Foundation, he was forced to leave Germany."
  • LA Times: "When the Nazis rose to power in Germany in 1933, Sanderling was dismissed from his position because he was Jewish. Two years later he fled the country."
  • NY Times: "Kurt Sanderling, an often acclaimed German-born conductor who spent most of his career in the Communist world after finding refuge from the Nazis there during World War II, died on Saturday in Berlin. He was 98....Mr. Sanderling’s budding career with the Berlin State Opera was cut short when the Nazis came to power and removed him from his post because he was Jewish. He fled to Moscow in 1935...."
Can someone explain to me the reluctance of the British media to say outright that Sanderling was Jewish? Even the Guardian hints without stating it outright.

17 comments:

Dexter Edge said...

I don't know the answer. But your question reminds me that back in the late 1980s (more or less), when I happened to be reading a lot of articles in the original New Grove, I noticed a similar reluctance in many articles to state that the subject of the article was Jewish. There also seemed to be a similar reliance on "code words" (such as "forced out by the Nazis"). I found this particularly odd, because New Grove, was, after all, an encyclopedia.

I had the opportunity at one point to ask Stanley Sadie (who was Jewish) about this, but to be honest, I don't remember what he said. (It was a long time ago, and I don't travel in those circles anymore.)

Lisa Hirsch said...

Thank you; that is VERY interesting. New Grove was also famously reluctant to publish the full text of the Lesbian and Gay Music article by Elizabeth Wood and Philip Brett.

Elaine Fine said...

If Sanderling were not a practicing Jew, he might not want to be identified as Jewish in his obituary. Perhaps the British press is being sensitive.

I do take issue with the use of "forced out by the Nazis," because the Nazis were interested in "eliminating" Jews from the face of the earth, not forcing them leave Germany, and Austria, and Poland, and Hungary, and France, and every country they took over. Perhaps "escaped" or "fled" would be better terms to use.

Lisa Hirsch said...

The British press, sensitive?

I think it is more likely to be discomfort with things Jewish. Some years ago, I read a fascinating New Yorker article by Calvin Trillin called "The British and the Jews" (I think), which covers....British attitudes towards Jews. Well worth reading if you can find it.

calimac said...

I've been hunting, and so far my tentative guess is that it wasn't Calvin Trillin.

Lisa Hirsch said...

It's Trillin, but I got the article title wrong. " Drawing the Line," from 1994.

Doundou Tchil said...

Funny how Americans can decide for the British press. It's not a big thing in Europe because people are seen as people, not thru labels.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Let's just say that as an American Jewish person, it's really weird to me when someone isn't identified as Jewish even though his being Jewish played a major role in his life: done out of a job by the Nazis, fled to Russia, etc. Is that not an important part of the Sanderling biography?

Lisa Hirsch said...

And I meant to add - you mean that the British now see people just as people, not as members of a social class or religious group or ethnic group?

Doundou Tchil said...

No one should be forced to wear a label of any kind. Human beings are much too complex to fit into categories. As the King of Denmark told Hitler, "we'll all wear the yellow star". The British media hate everyone, the French, Germans, Muslims, liberals, immigrants, blacks, gays, women, the poor. Much the same as everywhere else in the world. In any case the press is not the same as people in general. The current thing in the press is much more complicated than meets the eye so it's not smart to jump to conclusions without knowing things in more depth. In any case the media aren't "the people". Just because people don't think the same way as you do, doesn't mean they are wrong.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Perhaps you're unaware that the King of Denmark wearing the yellow star never happened - it's become a cultural myth, and it's based on an event in a novel.

You're saying a lot, but you haven't actually answered my question, though you may think you have. It's uncomplicated: why did US papers, but not British, identify Kurt Sanderling as Jewish?

It's not as if it's a secret that a lot of Jewish people left Europe in the 1930s because they quite rightly feared for their lives. It's also not a secret that Hitler and the Nazis didn't care if you identified as Jewish or not. If they thought you were Jewish, off to the ovens with you.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Whoops - I actually got that wrong, or, rather, I'm right that the King of Denmark story is a myth, but I got the origins of the story wrong. For full information, click here.

Doundou Tchil said...

I didn't say it was truth or myth. The point is pinning labels on people is not a good idea. You might like it but not everyone does, or should be forced to. Since you've already decided, no facts or explanations are going to make a difference.

Lisa Hirsch said...

You're using loaded terms like "pinning" and "forcing" - do you personally have information on Sanderling's views that makes you think he would object to being identified as Jewish?

It's just difficult for me to understand why there might be something wrong with making a factual statement about his origins.

And what I am asking about is reporting and the choices journalists make about what they write and why they might make those choices. Telling me repeatedly that it's wrong to "pin labels on people" tells me nothing about what appeared in Sanderling's obits.

Lisa Hirsch said...

By the way, I'm wondering if it's clear to you that I was concerned about the possibility of residual anti-Semitism in the British press.

Bill said...

There are many in the British media who want to pretend that anti-semitism doesn't even exist.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Yes.

I've been planning a long posting about obits and their purpose; we'll see if it goes up.