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A Jewish human rights organization has acquired a letter by Adolf Hitler believed to contain his first written comments detailing his belief that Jews were a threat and should be removed.
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The post-Melancholia press conference this morning was going swimmingly. Maybe too swimmingly. The stars (Dunst, Gainsbourg) were there, members of the fine supporting cast (Hurt, Kier, Skarsgård) were there, and von Trier was there, looking sporty and happy in a simple black T-shirt. He jovially fielded questions about the artists who inspired him while he was making the movie (Wagner, Breugel, Antonioni, Tarkovsky, Bergman) and about whether or not he was happy with the film: “I’m not really sure. Maybe it’s crap. Of course, I hope not. But there’s quite a big possibility that this might be” — he pauses — “really not worth seeing.” I can assure you he’s wrong there, but never mind, because then von Trier hurled a bottle rocket.
Late in the press conference, after von Trier spoke eloquently about the nature of sad stuff in art (“Melancholia is in all art that I like, and I’m sure it is part of all good art”), and explaining that his latest film is not as much about the end of the world as it is about “a state of mind,” about “longing,” English film critic Kate Muir asked a question about his German heritage. Von Trier then steered the press conference in a whole new direction — maybe onto a whole new planet.
“I think I was a Jew for a long time,” he said. “I was very happy being a Jew.” Then, after making a sly reference to fellow Dane filmmaker Susanne Bier, who often speaks candidly about her Jewish identity in interviews, von Trier announced that even though he always really wanted to be a Jew, he discovered that he’s really a Nazi. “Which also gave me some pleasure,” he added.
“What can I say? I understand Hitler,” he continued. “I think he did some wrong things, absolutely, but — I can see him in his bunker in the end.”
“What can I say? I understand Hitler,” he continued. “I think he did some wrong things, absolutely, but — I can see him in his bunker in the end.” The roomful of journalists sat, stunned. It appeared that von Trier, who seemed to be in jolly good spirits for a notoriously depressive Dane, intended this as an joke, albeit an ill-advised one. But how was he going to dig himself out? He added that Hitler was “not what you would call a good guy” and babbled further, explaining that he’s very much “for” Jews. “All Jews. Well, Israel is a pain the ass.”
Von Trier knew he was in a pickle, and asked aloud, “How do I get out of this sentence?” But there was more: When one last journalist asked von Trier if he considered Melancholia to be his Hollywood blockbuster, he replied, “We Nazis tend to do things on a great scale.”
The joke fell flat, but by that time von Trier’s indiscreet chatter had been eclipsed by the thundercloud of disbelief and disapproval on Dunst’s face as she sat on the director’s left, listening to his increasingly loopy rambling. During the press conference, Dunst had given every indication that she’d enjoyed working with von Trier, who has a reputation for making his actresses miserable. In this case, maybe, he pushed her goodwill too far. Von Trier embarrassed himself, but it wouldn’t be surprising if he alienated Dunst for good. Every press-conference attendee loves a freak show — we’re all looking for great copy — but this one ended on a note that was just weird and sad. Melancholic, even.
UPDATE: Lars Von Trier has apologized for his statements at Cannes. “If I have hurt someone this morning by the words I said at the press conference, I sincerely apologize. I am not antisemitic or racially prejudiced in any way, nor am I a nazi.” Click here for more, including a statement from the Cannes Film Festival. [via Deadline]
RELATED: Stephanie Zacharek’s review of Melancholia
Read more of Movieline’s coverage from Cannes 2011 here.
WARSAW, Poland – Polish police found the infamous "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign that was stolen from the gate of the former Nazi death camp ofafter an intensive three-day hunt and arrested five suspects, police said early Monday. The sign was found cut into three pieces.
Police spokeswoman Katarzyna Padlo told The Associated Press that the sign was found Sunday night in northern Poland, the other end of the country from the southern Polish town where the Auschwitz memorial museum is located and where it disappeared before dawn Friday.
Padlo said police detained five men between the ages of 25 and 39 and took them for questioning to Krakow, which is the regional command of the area that includes the Auschwitz museum.
Another police spokesman, Dariusz Nowak, said the 16-foot (5-meter) sign, made of hollow steel, was found cut into three pieces, each containing one of the words. The cruelly ironic phrase means "Work Sets You Free" and ran completely counter to the purpose of Auschwitz, which began as a concentration camp for political prisoners during the Nazi occupation of Poland and evolved into an extermination camp where Jews were gassed to death in factory-like fashion.
The police refused to divulge any details of the circumstances in which the sign was found or to speculate on the motive of the perpetrators. They were expected to disclose more at a news conference in Krakow planned for 0800 GMT (3 a.m. EST) Monday.
The sign that topped the main gate at the Auschwitz memorial site was stolen early Friday, setting off an international outcry at the disappearance of one of the most chilling and best known symbols of the Holocaust. State authorities made finding it a priority and appealed to all Poles for assistance.
Museum authorities welcomed the news with huge relief despite the damage done to the sign. Spokesman Pawel Sawicki said conservation experts will have to determine how best to repair it and that the museum authorities hope to restore it to its place as soon as possible.
Sawicki said the museum staff did not yet know who carried out the theft or why and were themselves waiting for more information from police.
More than 1 million people, mostly Jews, but also Gypsies, Poles and others, died in the gas chambers or from starvation and disease while performing forced labor at Auschwitz, which Nazi Germany built in occupied Poland during World War II. The camp was liberated by the Soviet army on Jan. 27, 1945.
Earlier on Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on Poland to act to find "these twisted criminals that desecrated the place where over a million Jews were murdered."
"The sign is of the deepest historical importance to the Jewish people and the whole world, and is a tombstone for more than a million Jews," Netanyahu said.
Associated Press Writer Vanessa Gera contributed to this report.
The wide iron sign — across a gate at the former Nazi death camp in southern Poland where more than 1 million people died during World War II — was removed by being unscrewed on one side and torn off on the other, police spokeswoman Katarzyna Padlo said.
She said the sign — bearing the German words for "Work Sets You Free" — disappeared from the Auschwitz memorial between 3:30 a.m. and 5 a.m.
Police have launched an intensive hunt, with criminal investigators and search dogs sent to the grounds of the vast former death camp, whose barracks, watchtowers and ruins of gas chambers still stand as testament to the atrocities inflicted by Nazi Germany on Jews, Gypsies, and others.
Museum spokesman Pawel Sawicki called the theft a "desecration" and said it was shocking that the tragic history of the site did not stop the thieves.
"We believe that the perpetrators will be found soon and the inscription will be returned to its place," Sawicki told The Associated Press.
Padlo said there are currently no suspects but police are pursuing several theories. A 5,000-zloty ($1,700) reward has been offered to anyone who can help track down the perpetrators.
An exact replica of the sign — made by the museum after World War II — was immediately hung in place of the missing original to fill in the empty space, but all visitors were being informed about the theft, Sawicki said. The museum had the replica made to hang when restoration work has been required on the original, Sawicki said.
The original sign was made in the summer of 1940 by non-Jewish Polish inmates of Auschwitz in an iron workshop at the camp, Sawicki said.
‘Physical reminder’ Poland's Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich said he had trouble imagining who would steal the sign and condemned the theft.
"If they are pranksters, they'd have to be sick pranksters, or someone with a political agenda. But whoever has done it has desecrated world memory," he told the AP.
"Auschwitz has to stand intact because without it, we are without the world's greatest reminder — physical reminder — of what we are capable of doing to each other," Schudrich said.
The slogan "Arbeit Macht Frei" was also used at the entrances to other Nazi camps, including Dachau and Sachsenhausen. The long curving sign at Auschwitz, is, however, perhaps the best known.
1 million deaths Between 1940 and 1945, more than 1 million people, mostly Jews, were killed or died of starvation and disease while carrying out forced labor at the camp, which the Nazis built in occupied Poland.
Today the site is one of the main draws in the region for visitors from abroad and Polish students, with more than 1 million visitors per year.
However, the barracks and other structures, which were not built to last many decades, are in a state of massive disrepair 65 years after the camp was liberated by the Soviet army, and Polish authorities have been struggling to find funds to carry out conservation work. This week, Germany pledged (EURO) 60 million ($87 million) to a new endowment that will fund long-term preservation work — half the estimated amount that officials with the Auschwitz memorial museum say is needed.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.