Soviet-style terror has the media at bay

President Putin’s tightening grip looks likely to crush his country’s last privately owned TV station.
By any standards NTV, the only remaining privately owned television station in Russia, is in a peculiar position. Its chief shareholder, Vladimir Gusinsky, has fled the country, having been arrested once already. Continue reading “Soviet-style terror has the media at bay”

The battle for the Holocaust legacy

In the travelling over the past fifteen years or so, I reckon I have visited several dozen memorials to Hitler’s destruction of the Jews. I have been to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem; to the Polish museums and memorials commemorating Auschwitz, Treblinka, and the Warsaw ghetto; to uncounted monuments and plaques, wrecked synagogues and wrecked Jewish cemeteries in other parts of Eastern Europe, Germany and the former Soviet Union, all testifying to the terrifying absence of a nation which once was a major part of European culture. Continue reading “The battle for the Holocaust legacy”

Playing at Survival in Warsaw

An interview with Wladyslaw Szpilman, musician, writer, and survivor.

He lives in a neat, narrow house with a small, well-kept garden. Inside his sitting room there are shelves of old books, a Biedermeier secretaire, a polished parquet floor. Black and white photographs of old friends stand in rows on the piano; prints and framed mementoes hang from the white walls. At first glance, everything about Wladyslaw Szpilman speaks of a certain kind of Central European comfort, of a pleasantly uneventful, bourgeois life. Continue reading “Playing at Survival in Warsaw”

I Was Booked on Flight 103

A meditation on Lockerbie, accidents, and fear of flying.

I cannot remember a time when I did not fly on airplanes, and for years and years, I flew without anxiety. Later, after the Lockerbie crash, when I developed serious fear of flying not the odd tremor during turbulence, but the real thing – this previous experience with airplanes helped me to keep it concealed. Continue reading “I Was Booked on Flight 103”

The Three Lives of Helena Brus

A Polish Communist, resident in Britain, was accused of Stalinist-era war crimes. Her extradition became a matter for British justice.

To the citizens of safe, happy countries which have never known war and occupation, the lives of ordinary people in less safe, less happy countries can seem extraordinary indeed. Here, for example, are three scenes, three moments in the life of a Polish woman, born in 1919. Continue reading “The Three Lives of Helena Brus”