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Johannes Simon/Bongarts/Getty Images

A group visits the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site. (Johannes Simon/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Subtle anti-Semitism

Some forms of prejudice are less blatant but still dangerous

Last year, I joined a group for World War II historical tour in Europe. Part of that trip took us to Dachau concentration camp, the first Nazi death camp, where a documented 32,000 prisoners died due to brutal treatment, murder, diseases, malnutrition, and suicide.

All our tour participants were Americans. Given the heavy topic, the air was somber as we walked through the iron entrance gate with the slogan “Arbeit macht frei” (“Work makes one free”). Our guide pointed out the seven guard towers surrounding the area, the electrically charged barbed wire fence, the torture chambers, the barracks that held Nazi-defying clergy members and human guinea pigs for medical experiments. 

It was sickening to hear these true stories—but apparently not sickening enough for one couple in our tour group, who began snapping pictures of themselves holding up their arms in a mock Nazi salute, snickering as they did so. Not many people saw that, but I did, and so did our guide, who turned away with a look of disgust. Mercifully for that couple, he didn’t report them—doing a Nazi salute is currently illegal in Germany, as I learned later that day.

I was horrified by the American couple’s insensitivity—how could they have thought that was appropriate or funny?—but I also wondered if that kind of behavior warranted jail time. Don’t such criminal codes curtail freedom of expression and thus become counterproductive to fostering a more tolerant society? Can we really shut down anti-Semitism by punishing people for doing something incredibly insensitive, stupid, and ignorant? 

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D.A. Peterson/State Dept.

Mihrigul Tursun (D.A. Peterson/State Dept.)

Life and death in detention

Abusive Chinese detention practices and potential genocide took the spotlight at a recent tribunal investigation into organ harvesting in China

A recent tribunal report on organ harvesting reveals the devastating torture both Falun Gong practitioners and minority Uighurs face in detention inside China.

Over the past week, I’ve watched recorded testimonies from the China Tribunal, an independent panel investigating the harvesting of organs from prisoners of conscience in China. Headed by Sir Geoffrey Nice, a prosecutor at the United Nations criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the panel listened to testimony from Falun Gong practitioners, formerly detained Uighurs, researchers of organ harvesting, and transplant doctors at a hearing in London. 

In the end, the tribunal determined China has long harvested the organs of prisoners of conscience, mainly followers of the banned spiritual movement Falun Gong, and continues the practice today. That panel fears that Uighurs, who are an ethnic minority in China’s western Xinjiang region, are at great risk for organ harvesting: Chinese officials have blood-tested the population and placed more than 1 million Uighurs in massive concentration camps.

Tribunal members concluded that the Chinese government’s actions against Falun Gong adherents and Uighurs constitute crimes against humanity. They asked other international groups to determine whether China’s actions also qualify as genocide. 

Overall, it’s grim viewing material: The crimes are heinous, the cover-up enormous, and the personal stories heartbreaking. At one point, an interpreter choked up as he translated a Falun Gong practitioner’s recollection of the torture she faced in prison: Guards pulled her hair, slapped her face, stomped on her, and threatened to remove her organs and burn her body. Her crime? Refusing to recant her religious beliefs.

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Joan Marcus

Much Ado at Delacorte Theater in Central Park. (Joan Marcus)

Shakespeare reimagined

An all-black Much Ado About Nothing in New York incorporates gospel music into the Bard’s work

On a rainy night last week I went with some friends to the Public Theater’s production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, performed in an outdoor theater in Central Park. Shakespeare in the Park is a free program every summer, designed to bring Broadway-quality shows to the masses. The actors gamely went on with the show through patches of downpours as attendants squeegeed the stage to keep them from slipping.

In this rendition, director Kenny Leon set the story of witty romance, mistaken identities, and false accusations in the home of a wealthy black family in suburban Atlanta. It suit Much Ado just right. The nobleman Leonato rolled onto stage in a real, massive SUV with his friends, parking between some peach trees, and I knew this was going to be a rollicking party. The leads, Danielle Brooks as Beatrice and Grantham Coleman as Benedick, kept the party going.

Shakespeare wrote multiple songs into Much Ado, and Leon filled the show with African American music instead, allowing seamless incorporation of gospel songs. Political commentary was present but minimal. The show opened with a beautiful rendition of Beatrice singing Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” (a song originally in response to an incident of police brutality) intertwined with the other actors singing “America the Beautiful.”

At one wedding in the play, a woman sang “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” as the bridal processional. The show closed with “Lift Every Voice And Sing,” which is known as the black national anthem and has the gospel woven throughout, especially in the final verse:

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand.
True to our God,
True to our native land.

Worth your time:

St. Louis Cardinals’ second baseman Kolten Wong has a delightful start to a double play in this video. Baseball will always give you something you’ve never seen before.

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