Posts tagged Frank Capra

“Why We LOVE the U.S.” – Happy Fourth of July!!!

My economist husband reads a great deal of different material on-line and he sent me the link below. He knew I would appreciate it. He does that often and I benefit while I, in turn, send him links that I know he is tracking with and he has MANY interests.

The other night I watched “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”  I believe this is a classic that should be viewed yearly, right around Fourth of July.  Frank Capra masterfully directed this B&W movie in 1939 starring Jean Arthur, Jimmy Stewart and other characters found in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” It gives me a fresh perspective about our American democracy and just how fragile it really is.  For many who have lived in the former Soviet Union, they know what it is like to NOT have our cherished freedoms.

Read the following and if you are a westerner, especially an American – BE VERY THANKFUL FOR THE FREEDOMS YOU ENJOY!!!

Independence Day in Siberia

From a former Soviet Army truck driver, I learned the blessings of being an American.

By HILARY KRIEGER

My “there but for the grace of God” moment came on March 30, 2005. On that day, I found myself in the musty, bare apartment of 75-year-old Josef Katz, a former Soviet army truck driver who lived in the industrial wasteland of Achinsk, Siberia.

I had come to learn about the Jewish aid organization that provided him basic necessities each week, but what touched me most wasn’t his present poverty. It was the story he told me about his past, of the steps that carried him to a cramped and crumbling apartment with a vista limited to the concrete courtyard separating his warehouse of a building from the others just like it—and how it could have been my own family’s.

Like the many political prisoners who made Siberia synonymous with exile, Katz was born elsewhere. In his case, it was Ukraine, where he lived in a small town until World War II. Then, in 1944, he was packed onto a train, sent to a concentration camp and separated from his family. He managed to hang on until the next year when, at the age of 15, he was liberated by American soldiers.

Being just a boy, when the GIs—”angels” he called them—offered to take him to the United States, he thought only of finding his parents. So he turned down the soldiers’ offer. Half-starved and penniless, Katz could barely walk. Yet he made it back home, where he discovered that he alone from his family had survived.

There was a neighbor who recognized him and took him in. She spent a year nursing him back to health, and he in turn spent two years after that working to repay her. By then he was old enough to realize what he had lost by not going to America. But it was too late. He entered his mandatory military service in the Soviet army and was sent to a base in Siberia.

After his release Katz found work as a driver in Achinsk, where the grayness of the buildings, streets and perpetual slush penetrates the bones more deeply than the chill. It was in Achinsk that he, as he put it, “lived, worked and grew old.”

Katz’s decision was long made by the time I met him in his apartment five years ago. But that didn’t mean the wound of a life that might have been wasn’t fresh. When I asked him whether he regretted his choice, tears welled up.

“It was the biggest mistake I ever made,” he answered. “Many times I was crying in my heart that I missed that chance.”

My eyes weren’t dry, either. But I can’t claim it was solely compassion that moved me. It was also deep gratitude.

My own family lived in parts of Eastern Europe that later came under Soviet control. And they, too, were buffeted by historic forces of tragedy and opportunity.

The discrimination and hardship visited on Jews in the Czarist army caused my great-grandfather’s parents to have him smuggled out of Russia at the age of 14 before he could be conscripted. Against a backdrop of anti-Jewish pogroms, the prospect of building a better life convinced my great-great-grandmother to sell her home so that she, her husband and their 10 children could join the huddled masses reaching the New York shore in 1895.

Had they wavered, they and their offspring would also have grown up to face the ravages of World War II and—had any survived—a life of stifled hopes under Soviet Communism.

As their descendant, I would not have had the superlative public education where even as a student journalist I was able to test the bounds of free speech. I would not have gained the entrée and financial aid at Cornell, one of the country’s finest universities, that opened the door to the career of my choice. I would not have been able to worship freely as a Jew, to recite the Passover declaration loudly and publicly that “on this festival of freedom we pray that liberty will come to all.”

On Independence Day, I am acutely aware of the remarkable gifts I have been given because of decisions my forebears made, risks they took because of their conviction that America would receive and favor them. Because they were able to seize opportunity rather than let it slip away.

In a godforsaken apartment in Achinsk, I understood the blessings of being an American.

Ms. Krieger is the Washington bureau chief of the Jerusalem Post.



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“Why We Teach Overseas” series

What’s all this flap about a Russian spy ring caught in the U.S.?  I know some Kazakh teachers/administrators thought I was a “spy” when I was teaching in Almaty, perhaps some of my American friends think I am too.  I can attest that Cold War sentiments may die hard or take a long time to go away. I’ve witnessed or heard of some things up close and personal that makes one wonder how long this Cold War will go on. Okay, I admit it, I’m a “neo-con” as opposed to a “revisionist” for those of you historians out there who read this blog. But you knew that already if you have consistently read my daily writing rants for the past few years.

The next several days I will try to explain why my husband and I live overseas in a country, such as “Kazakhstan,” that seems difficult to pronounce.  Kazakhstan IS a land of mystery and undeniably creates more questions than answers. But I have a few answers for my dear blog readers as to WHY we are in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. A much earlier film series directed by Frank Capra titled “Why We Fight” was about WWII and might help explain MY blog title above.  Sometimes living in a foreign venue while trying to teach in English feels like we are “fighting” for a just cause.

When I first arrived in the Almaty airport on May 1, 1993, I quickly learned what a challenge it would be to train 32 American Peace Corps volunteers (PCVs) to eventually be English teachers scattered throughout the huge country of Kazakhstan. At that time, I could only tell these young, impressionable PCVs to expect teaching to be “different” based solely on my two years teaching in China (1986-88). What did I know about Kazakhstan back in 1993 beyond reading Martha Brill Olcott’s classic titled “The Kazakhs” and various other exotic, travel articles?  Kazakhstan was a vast, unknown land back in those early days after the fall of the Soviet Union, (regrettably it still is unknown by many westerners.)

In 1993, we were the first Peace Corps group to enter Central Asia, an area that had been closed off for over 70 years to anything western except for the Russian and German influence that was still noticeably prevalent in those early days beyond perestroika. Ironically, our Peace Corps training site was the former Communist Party School for all of Kazakhstan.  Also, strangely enough this very same campus became a well-known western university in Almaty with a current student population of over 4,000 graduate and undergraduate students. Little did I know then that I would return to this same campus 15 years later in 2007, with my husband, to teach academic English courses in the Language Center.

After two years of teaching, I am now living and working in Astana, the ten year old capital of Kazakhstan, which had formerly been in Almaty.  Bottom-line, my years spent in Central Asia, I have learned to be flexible. The Kazakhs have necessarily made major changes economically from a planned economy, according to the dictates of Moscow, to that of a market economy ready to compete against the top players in the rest of the world. Kazakhstan has a real chance to succeed with their rich oil and mineral resources and do just that with the inauguration of the New University in Astana.

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Detractors Promote “What Orwell Didn’t Know”

A blog reader from Rockville, Maryland commented that I should read the latest book “What Orwell Didn’t Know.” I will counter his recommendation with the following about what George Orwell (aka Eric Blair) DID know, a lot more than this young, pseudo-researcher from the left. Orwell was a very popular author from 1945 once his post-war book of Animal Farm was published until his death in 1950. Orwell’s writings still are applicable today and this book has been translated into many languages. Obviously Orwell as a journalist DID know what was happening in Ukraine and other regions of the former Soviet Union. Read the following from Orwell’s Appendix of Animal Farm concerning the freedom of the press.

At present, not only is serious criticism of the USSR considered reprehensible, but even the fact of the existence of such criticism is kept secret in some cases. For example, shortly before his death [murder] Trotsky had written a biography of Stalin. One may assume that it was not an altogether unbiased book, but obviously it was saleable. An American publisher had arranged to issue it and the book was in print—I believe the review copies had been sent out – when the USSR entered the war. The book was immediately withdrawn. Not a word about this has ever appeared in the British press, though clearly the existence of such a book, and its suppression, was a news item worth a few paragraphs.

I’ve watched some of the “Why We Fight” series masterfully done by film director Frank Capra. This was supposedly a documentary and a propaganda piece for Americans to NOT be isolationist and get involved with the World War II. In fact, Stalin loved the Capra’s film series so much he insisted movie theaters throughout the Soviet Union show it to the populace with a Russian translator. Yes, Americans had sacrificed much on foreign shores with the First World War, they weren’t ready to do go over the Atlantic to fight again 30 years later. However, the Soviet Union needed the Allies help to combat the Nazi Germans. Living in Ukraine and Kazakhstan I am finding out how the Soviet Union’s history books have painted Stalin as the great war hero and all honor and praise is given him for winning the war!!!

According to Orwell, he wrote the following about what journalists back in the 1940s felt pressured to do:

Stalin is sacrosanct and certain aspects of his policy must not be seriously discussed. This rule has been almost universally observed since 1941, but it had operated, to a greater extent than is sometimes realized, for ten years earlier than that. Throughout that time, criticism of the Soviet regime from the left could only obtain a hearing with difficulty…The English intelligentsia, or a great part of it, had developed a nationalistic loyalty towards the USSR, and in their hearts they felt that to cast any doubt on the wisdom of Stalin was a kind of blasphemy. Events in Russia and events elsewhere were to be judged by different standards. The endless executions in the purges of 1936-8 were applauded by life-long opponents of capital punishment, and it was considered equally proper to publicise famine when they happened in India and to conceal them when they happened in the Ukraine. And if this was true before the war, the intellectual atmosphere is certainly no better now.

The issue involved here is quite a simple one: Is every opinion, however unpopular—however foolish, even—entitled to a hearing? Put it in that form and nearly any English intellectual will feel that he ought to say ‘Yes.’ But give it a concrete shape, and ask, ‘How about an attack on Stalin? Is THAT entitled to a hearing?’ and the answer more often than not will be ‘No.’ In that case the current orthodoxy happens to be challenged, and so the principle of free speech lapses.

One of the peculiar phenomena of our time is the renegade Liberal. Over and above the familiar Marxist claim that ‘bourgeois liberty’ is an illusion, there is now a widespread tendency to argue that one can only defend democracy by totalitarian methods. If one loves democracy, the argument runs, one must crust its enemies by no matter what means. And who are its enemies? It always appears that they are not only those who attack it openly and consciously, but those who ‘objectively’ endanger it by spreading mistaken doctrines. In other words, defending democracy involves destroying all independence of thought. This argument was used, for instance, to justify the Russian purges.

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