Neocon Apparatchik Podhoretz Attacks Holocaust Musical He’s Never Seen


UPDATE: In an additional Commentary commentary, Podhoretz cops to being a colossal hypocrite who’d rather criticize a musical than actually see it. Then again, what else can we expect from a coddled, overprivileged, doddering daddy’s boy?

The editor of Commentary magazine, John Podhoretz, a neoconservative and son of two neoconservative journalists, is precisely the kind of compliant philosophical lieutenant one would expect to support, protect, defend and apologize for President George W. Bush. Podhoretz, like Bush, understands how best to get along in the family business.

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What Podhoretz apparently doesn’t know is how to comment with all the facts — not too surprising for a conservative. According to a press release received by the Clyde Fitch Report this afternoon, Podhoretz read the New York Times article on the recent crop of “somber” musicals opening Off-Broadway and took umbrage regarding one of them, Signs of Life, which examines the concentration camp at Theresienstadt. (The CFR’s coverage is here.)

The Times quoted the show’s composer, Joel Derfner, as follows:

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The message of our show is not ‘Killing Jews is bad,’ Mr. Derfner said. It’s: ‘What do you do when you find out you’ve been lied to? What is telling the truth worth?’ In the last 30 years this question has been vital to American life and especially so in the last nine years.

A self-styled macher regarding all things musical theater (except, one supposes, the centrality of the First Amendment to American culture), Podhoretz decided this slam against the former President required a gussied-up response. Even though he hasn’t seen Signs of Life, he pronounced it to be something less than a gas:

I’m sure you’re looking forward to the new off-Broadway musical, “Signs of Life,” which offers what promises to be a wonderfully tuneful look at the Thereseinstadt concentration camp. But it turns out, according to tomorrow’s New York Times, that the musical really isn’t about the Holocaust after all, which is probably a wise thing, since The Producers got there first with its signature number, “Springtime for Hitler.” No, it turns out, the Holocaust exists as a dramatic trope to teach us lessons about America in the age of Bush:

Well, the creative team behind Signs of Life — Derfner, book writer Peter Ullian and lyricist Len Schiff — have issued a public response to Podhoretz, which has been provided to the Clyde Fitch Report. It reads, in full:

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Dear Mr. Podhoretz:

You are well-known as a protector of the memory of the Holocaust and as someone who, by his own admission, knows “the lyrics to every show tune ever written.” We were therefore dismayed to read your post on Commentary about our new off-Broadway musical, Signs of Life. Your casually insulting aside about the “wonderfully tuneful” quality of the show — which as far as we can tell you have not seen — is irresponsible enough, but to make the ugly accusation that we believe “the Holocaust exists as a dramatic trope to teach us lessons about America in the age of Bush” is contemptible.

The characters in our show must participate in the Nazi propaganda machine in order to survive; when they realize the implications of their participation they face ethical choices that endanger their lives. But the obligation of citizens across the political spectrum to question our leaders and evaluate the truth of their answers did not end on V-Day.

The idea you seem to advocate — that if you put an event as vastly horrific as the Holocaust onstage you should do it as a museum piece, rather than exploring what we might learn from it about human nature — implies that today’s society is no longer capable of a Holocaust, which is a position both false and dangerous.

We would like to invite you to see Signs of Life and to judge based on experience rather than distortion and mockery whether our show honors the memory of those slaughtered in the Holocaust. Please e-mail us and we’ll arrange tickets for whatever date you’d like.

Yours truly,

Joel Derfner (composer)
Len Schiff (lyricist)
Peter Ullian (bookwriter)

Tellingly, the caught-with-his-pants-down Podhoretz has not replied; perhaps he’s hiding in an undisclosed intellectual bunker. Deep down in his mind, he must perfectly well that not only is mankind capable of another Holocaust, but one was perpetrated when hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and tens of thousands of American men and women in uniform were murdered and maimed by the politics of his patron, George W. Bush — thanks to the treacherous, malodorous swamp of deception that sucked in our nation from the moment Bush lied about weapons of mass destruction.

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And it does not matter whether Bush knew he was lying. The buck stops at the Oval Office. Period.

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And for those like Podhoretz who wonder when we will stop talking about the economic and foreign policy holocaust foisted on the world by the 43rd President, the answer is quite simple: never.

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Mr. Podhoretz, you’d have to kill us to stop us from talking about it. And, knowing you, you probably would.