Monday, March 2, 2015

Comedy in a Minor Key by Hans Keilson (a novel) published in 1947, published in English in 2010, translated by Damion Searles

"... [T]his is entirely attributable to Keilson's artistry, knowing the small details, having a sense of the house where Nico is being hidden, knowing the main characters well … all this makes the fear, anxiety and distress of the situation these 'normal' people find themselves in palpable." from a review in the Globe and Mail by Andre Alexis 9/3/2010

Hans Keilson, a German Jewish survivor of the Holocaust, has written a novella that draws on many of the experiences of his life: He fled to Amsterdam and hid, and he worked with the Resistance. This work gives readers an opportunity to immerse themselves in occupied Holland and to experience the occupation from the perspective of a Christian couple cooperating with the Resistance and from the perspective of a Jew in hiding.

In this novella, first published in the same year as Anne Frank’s diary, Keilson creates a young Christian couple who’ve agreed to take in a stranger – a single Jewish man in his 60’s. In the first chapter we learn that after many months the hidden Jew has died of natural causes. The rest of the novel is mostly made up of scenes from the past – from his being introduced to the couple, to his settling in, to the nervousness on everybody’s part.

Several chapters deal with the dilemma of how to get rid of the dead body without the couple being suspected of having housed a Jew or without their being caught red-handed with the body of a Jew.  This focus reinforces in the novel an absurdist element created by a political reality that has the world turned upside down. Here a young couple have put their lives in jeopardy to extend hospitality to someone in need. The person who is in need has committed no vile act for which he is being hunted. His sole crime – he was born a Jew.

As we read, we become aware of the many potential problems that can and do arise – issues that the young couple had not thought to anticipate. How safe is it, for example, for the Jew they call Nico, to come downstairs? Can they trust anyone with their secret? Which family members? Any family members? What about venders who come regularly, like the milk man? What to do about the woman who comes to clean twice a week? Caution is intensified by fear.  His being hidden in their home becomes a focus of their day-to-day lives. We can imagine this situation occurring all over this small country and wherever in Europe Christians offered to hide Jews.

The young couple starts off talking amongst themselves about the stranger’s being a Jew. It is clear that Jews are strangers. They are curious about what it means to be Jewish since the stranger explains that he’s given up Jewish ritual practice.  But through the months of forced closeness they become connected and their common humanity transcends their difference. He had put his life in their hands. They mourn his death. They will be forever changed.

Hans Keilson (author)


To read the obituary for Hans Keilson published in the New York Times, click here.
To read the obituary for a Dutch Christian who helped and hid many Jews, click here.

Monday, February 2, 2015

I Am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits 2012 (a novel)

 "I Am Forbidden whips by, its extravagant narrative steadily cast with complicated, thoughtful characters." from a review by Susannah Meadows in the New York Times 5/15/2012

In writing I Am Forbidden,  Anouk Markovits who grew up in a family who were followers of the Jewish ultra-Orthodox Hassidic Satmar rebbe (rabbi), draws from her own past. The main characters of the novel are members of the Satmar community and, mirroring her own experience, one of the main characters leaves the sect and family to live in the world they shun.

The relatively short novel covers a lot of territory. Book I opens in 1939 with scenes in Szartmar, Maramures, and Sibiu, Transylvania. Book II takes place in Paris (where the author was raised) and covers ten years starting in 1947. Books III and IV take place in Paris in 1968 and in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Book V starts in 2005 in Manhattan and closes with a scene in Williamsburg in 2012.

Markovits has constructed an engaging plot that explores the strict life within the community through the lives and decisions of the various characters as they go about obeying their rebbe, Joel Teitelbaum, who his followers revere as an inspired interpreter of God’s word.  Markovits brings history to life in her weaving into her story some of the controversy surrounding what came to be known as the Kasztner train, which transported Hungarian Jews to Switzerland out of harm’s way in 1944. The Satmar rebbe Joel Teitelbaum was a passenger  on that train, and we listen as the moral and spiritual issues surrounding his escape are filtered through the belief system of whichever character is telling the story.

What is clear from reading this novel is that although the writer has herself left the fold, she tries to give both sides a fair hearing. She paints a complex portrait of generations in a family, their religious leaders, and their practices in an era that starts with World War II and the Holocaust and brings us up to contemporary times. She leaves room for her readers to contemplate issues of community, individuality, faith, choice, spiritual longings, moral quandaries and moral imperatives.

Since this is a novel, none of the author's family members are named.

Public Figures
Rezso Kasztner
Joel Teitelbaum
Rudolf Vrba
Alfred Wetzler

Szatmar (Satu Mare), Transylvania, Romania
Kolozvar (Cluj), Transylvania, Romania
Maramures, Romania
Kenyermezo, Hungary
Budapest, Hungary
Paris, France
Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York

To read an interview with the author, click here.
To read an article about the Kasztner controversy click here.


Monday, January 5, 2015

Berlin Childhood around 1900 by Walter Benjamin first published in 1950; this edition translated into English by Howard Eiland – 2006

"Berlin Childhood around 1900 is perhaps an even more important book today than when it was written." from commentary by Jeffrey Lewis as part of the You Must Read This series on National Public Radio website, May 28 2012

Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) wrote the pieces included in this volume in the 1930’s when he was no longer living in Germany. Published in 1950, ten years after his death, Berlin Childhood around 1900 includes some pieces first published in German newspapers, but during his lifetime the manuscript as a whole was rejected by several publishers.
Before exile, Benjamin had lived in Berlin, the place of his birth, having been raised in the West End in a prosperous, assimilated German Jewish family. He was a part of the vigorous intellectual life in Germany that was destroyed by Hitler.

In these pieces Benjamin  re-examines his childhood from a sensual, impressionistic point of view, a literary style much like Marcel Proust employs in his autobiographical fiction. Benjamin was, in fact, a translator of Proust. Benjamin realizes his home, his city, his native country, have been taken from him, so he sets out to re-create many aspects of his childhood so that he can hold on to them. In transferring memory to paper, he leaves behind an eye-witness account, a poetic inventory, of a home and a city that were soon to be destroyed.

The poignancy of his account resides in the innocence of the protected, privileged child he had been whose perspective and experience he re-inhabits in order to write these vignettes. For example, in a section entitled Society, he discusses in some detail a large oval piece of jewelry his mother owned and the pleasure he got out of watching her take it out of the jewelry box and her wearing it on the nights she and his father had social engagements. He remembers it not only as a gem, but as a talisman that he believed kept both him and his mother safe.

As he is writing in the 1930’s about times and places that he treasured, he is aware of the external threat of Hitler’s rule, and we come away with a pervading sense of loss. We know the tragic outcome. -

This volume also includes an introductory essay by the translator, Howard Eiland.

To read a review of a biography of Walter Benjamin published in 2014, click here.
To see a photo of Benjamin's headstone in Portbou, Spain click here.
To read account of his death, click here.

Georg Benjamin – brother of Walter
Walter Benjamin
Dora Benjamin – sister of Walter

Berlin, Germany

Monday, December 1, 2014

What I Saw: Reports from Berlin 1920-1933 by Joseph Roth, translated from German and with an introduction written by Michael Hofmann, published in English in 2008

"It’s not only what Roth sees; it’s what he sees through. And often he sees unknowingly into the future we inhabit beyond his time." from a review by Nadine Gordimer in The Threepenny Review Spring 2003
 Joseph Roth, a journalist and novelist born in Galicia in 1894, arrived in Berlin, Germany in 1920 after first living in Vienna. In this volume Michael Hoffman brings together 34 of Roth’s journalism pieces written between 1920 and 1933 which he has translated from the German. He also includes an informative introduction which includes biographical information about Roth and places him in the context of the Weimar Republic. And he provides footnotes so as to help us understand an occasional obscure reference. Also included are many photographs and illustrations.

Grouped according to subject matter in this volume, Roth’s topics give an impressionistic feel for the Berlin between the wars. His point of view is that of the outsider – someone who lives in the city and knows many of its quarters well, but at the same time he looks at the city, its residents, its architecture, its infrastructure, its cafes and night life with “new” eyes.

An assimilated German Jewish intellectual, Roth chose to write about Berlin’s Jewish quarter and he wrote sympathetically, but at a remove. He describes its residents who are refugees from the East, their difficult living conditions, and the lure of Palestine for those who wander homeless. He is quite passionate in his opinions and upset at their plight, but although he was himself born in Galicia, it is clear he sees them as “other.”

According to Hofmann’s introduction, in 1925 Roth made Paris his new base although he still spent time in Berlin and continued to write for the German newspapers until the Nazis came into power in 1933. The pieces included in this volume written starting in 1924 seem more engaged and more consistently political. One piece laments the murder of Walter Rathenau, a German Jew who, serving as foreign minister, was killed by right-wing extremists. Another, entitled “An Apolitical Observer Goes to the Reichstag,” is a cynical, critical look at the members of the German parliament. In the course of the piece he criticizes the seeming paralysis of the various political parties, each representing its own interests. And he ominously refers to “[t]he goose-stepping of the Nationalists.”

The most powerful piece in the collection because of its subject and Roth’s engaged fury is the last one included, “The Auto-da-Fe of the Mind,” published in French in the September/November issue of Cahiers Juifs (Paris). The title, deliberately echoing the barbarity of the Spanish Inquisition, is at one and the same time a piece written to protest the enormity of the burning of books of German writers who the Nazis considered “degenerate,” many of them Jewish, and to protest the expulsion from Germany of German Jewish writers (including Roth, of course). In the piece he gives a brief history of entrenched German anti-Semitism and praises the many German Jewish writers whose books were burned, listing more than three dozen alphabetically (from Altenberg to Zweig). But most importantly, he uses the piece to alert the world, to try to get the world beyond Germany to understand the implications of what was happening. This piece is horrifying to read  now, given that we know the outcome.

Roth mentions no family by name. The translator Michael Hofmann supplies some background about Roth's family in the introduction.
One piece is a tribute to Walter Rathenau.  In the final piece, as stated above, Roth lists and characterizes each of about three dozen German Jewish writers.


To watch a video about the book burning in Germany, click here.
To read a timeline that covers Berlin history and its Jewish residents, click here.

Monday, November 3, 2014

In This Dark House by Louise Kehoe 1995

"An extraordinary, well-told story of a brutal childhood." from a review in Publisher's Weekly 10/1995

Louise Kehoe has written a suspenseful memoir that is difficult to discuss without giving the “ending” away. The cover of the soft cover edition states that this memoir won the National Jewish Book Award, so to some extent as you read, you suspect the outcome, but it isn’t until you get to the last fifty pages that the Jewish content is revealed and discussed.

The memoir focuses on Kehoe’s immediate family, but most specifically on her brilliant, mercurial, autocratic, abusive father, Berthold Lubetkin, a forward-thinking, well-respected architect. Lubetkin and his wife abandoned London in 1939 as World War II was revving up in England, relocating to a farm in rural England where they raised their three children and kept them isolated until each went off to college. Her father, who was both an atheist and a communist, when pressed, said he was a Russian immigrant, educated in Warsaw, the son of members of the nobility who lost everything in the Russian Revolution and that Lubetkin was an assumed name. That was all he would ever say about his background and family.

Over the years the author tried to pry more information out of her father who refused to cooperate except to write a short account of his life that seemed to aim at obfuscation. It wasn’t until he died – he outlived the author’s mother – that Kehoe was eventually able to unravel his story, based on documents and photos he left behind in a yellowing envelope that she found in the back of his closet.
Suffice to say that although her father’s background and circumstances do by no means totally explain his treatment of his wife and children, when we learn his story, we realize, as did the author, that his survivor’s guilt and his shame contributed to his behavior. He insisted on keeping secrets which tormented him – they were debilitating and they scarred those around him as well. This memoir reveals the impact of the Holocaust on multiple generations.

To read an article about the children of survivors, click here.
To see a short video about Lubetkin, the architect and his politics, click here.

The author states that some names have been changed to protect some individuals’ privacy. It is possible that her brother and sister’s first names are not their real names. It’s also possible that the author has changed the first name of her father’s cousin, Mira Aaronovna Lubetkin.

Roman and Fenya Lubetkin
     Berthold Lubetkin – son of Roman and Fenya
          Victoria Lubetkin – daughter of Berthold
           Louise Lubetkin Kehoe – daughter of Berthold
           Robert Lubetkin – son of Berthold
     Zivia Lubetkin – cousin of Berthold
Aaron Lubetkin – brother of Roman
    Mira Aaronovna Lubetkin – daughter of Aaron

St. Petersburg, Russia
Warsaw, Poland
Brooklyn, NY


Monday, October 6, 2014

Terezin: Voices from the Holocaust by Ruth Thomson 2011

"[A] varied and fascinating account—for readers over age 8—of what was, in truth, a brutal transit camp." from a review by Meghan Cox Gurdon in 2/19/11

This slim, picture-book size volume was conceived for young readers, but that should not put off adults who will find this book beautifully executed and worthy of their attention if they are interested in the Holocaust or the Theresienstadt concentration camp, in particular.  The author has assembled the text from primary sources, using mostly quotes from journals, oral histories, works of art and photos of artifacts like records of an identity card of those who had been deported to Theresienstadt. Also, she has included photos of the camp, some of its buildings and prisoners, and current memorials.

The history of Hitler’s rise and the building and set-up of Theresienstadt are laid out simply. The written, oral and visual records provide the emotional impact inherent in eye-witness accounts. Some of these accounts were created during the lives of the prisoners simultaneous with their being in incarcerated. Some were written as recollections by survivors.

We learn about overcrowding, illness, deportations - mainly to Auschwitz, and the role of the Jewish Council of Elders. Since so many artists and intellectuals were incarcerated in Theresienstadt, the role of culture and education are stressed: lectures, classes, and the creation and/or performance of literary, visual, musical and theater arts, both those activities sanctioned and those that took place in secret.

Thomson spends important time on the visit to Theresienstadt by a committee of the Red Cross at the request of the King of Denmark. In anticipation of being found out, Nazi leadership retrofitted the camp in an effort to deceive the Red Cross committee. We hear how deportations for Theresienstadt before the visit helped to reduce crowding, and how keeping the elderly and ill far away from the planned route lowered the risk of exposure. And we learn about the cultural activities that were set up to entertain the visiting committee.

Ruth Thompson’s judicious choice of material as well as the layout in 60 plus pages makes this book of interest to a reader of any age. The Thereseinstadt concentration camp is movingly evoked in this volume.

This book includes several maps, a timeline from 1934-1945, a glossary of terms, sources, an index, and photo acknowledgements.

To read an article about the importance of music in Theresienstadt, click here.
To read an obituary of Joza Karas who recovered and helped publicize music performed in Theresienstadt, click here.

Edih Baneth
Henriette S. Beck
Ferdinand Bloch
Frank Bright
Charlotte Buresova
Friedl Dicker-Brandeis
Jakob Edelstein
Zdenka Ehrlich
Raja Englanderova
Pavel Fantl
John Fink
Lily Fischl
Peter Frank
Steven Frank
John Freund
Jana Renee Friesova
Bedrich Fritta
 Tommy Fritta – son of Bedrich
Kurt Gerron
Leo Haas
John Hartman
Ben Helfgott
Mayer Hersh
Hans Hofer
Albert Huberman
Arnold Jakubovic
Alfred Kantor
Helga Kinsky
Freddie Knoller
Rma Laushcherova
Berdrich Lederer
Zdenek Lederer
Peter Lowenstein
George Mahler
Eva Meitner
Frantisek M. Nagl
Josef Polak
Helga Pollak
Hana Pravda
Gonda Redlich
Paul Aron Sandfort
Malvina Schalkova
John Silberman
Alice Sittig
Aron Sloma
Joseph E. A. Spier
Gerty Spies
Norbert Troller
Otto Ungar
Charlotte Veresova
Helga Weissova-Hoskova

Theresienstadt, Czechoslovakia

Monday, September 1, 2014

Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart  2014

"Hilarious as it often is, Little Failure is a record of existential homelessness, of living in a limbo between two different countries and identities." from a review by Peter Conrad in The Guardian March 2, 2014

For those of you who have read any of Gary Shteyngart’s novels, the settings, “characters” and laugh lines in this memoir will be familiar. Born in 1972 in the Soviet Union, he immigrated with his parents to the United Stated in 1979 and settled in Queens, New York. In this memoir he takes us back to what he remembers about his early childhood in Leningrad as Igor, then to his growing up in America as Gary.

In many ways this is the classic immigrant story.The Shtayngarts had come from a country and a culture where they had had deep roots. He dramatizes his parents’ clinging to their Russian ways and the Russian language in America, and the confusion he feels trying to become an American amongst the American born. At the same time that he and his parents marvel at the riches and possibilities America has to offer, they also are discomforted at what they see as an intellectually impoverished environment compared to what they left behind. They are quite perturbed at a far inferior education system in America and constantly push their son to be the best. Hence the title: Little Failure – a nickname his mother bestows on their only child because she’s not satisfied with how much he is achieving.

One of the great strengths of this memoir is Shteyngart’s ability to re-create how he felt and what he understood as a youngster. He deftly sketches in the economic and political climate - the  actualities of Soviet life, including the debilitating anti-Semitism that they experienced.  And he writes with compassion about the terrible choice his mother had to make in deciding she would emigrate, having to leave behind her sick mother in the care of her older sister. He writes lovingly about the influence that both of his grandmothers had on his life, and he conveys his father’s fervent attachment to his Jewish religion here in America which he wasn’t allowed to practice in the Soviet Union. Throughout he adds authenticity and color by sprinkling Russian language phrases into the ongoing family conversations and declarations.

Like most immigrant families who leave their homelands, the Shteyngarts immigrate so that the next generation will have more opportunity. The author understands and appreciates their motives, but the story he tells reveals that what drove them came at a cost. At the same time they were rescued from a hostile environment, they were displaced and had to start in an alien environment with nothing. His mordant, dark humor drives these points home.

This memoir includes many family photos.

To watch a video of Gary Shteyngart reading from his memoir and discussing his life, click here.
To read an article about Soviet Jewish immigration to the United States click here.

Author's mother's family
Seina Nirman
   Gayla  – daughter of Seina; married Dmitry Yasnitsky
       Lyusya Yasnitskaya – daughter of Gayla
          Victoria – daughter  of Lyusya
      Nina Yasnitskaya – daughter of Gayla; married Semyon Shteyngart
             Igor (Gary) Shteyngart – son of Semyon and Nina; author
      Tanya Yasnistskaya – daughter of Gayla
   Aaron – son of Seina 

Author's father's family
 Isaac Shteyngart (formerly Steinhorn)-  married Polya Miller
    Semyon Shteyngart – son of Isaac and Polya; married Nina Yasnitskaya
Igor (Gary) Shteyngart – son of Semyon and Nina; author
Fenya Miller – sister of author’s paternal grandmother, Polya Miller (see above)

Chemirovets, Ukraine
Dubrovno, Belarus
Orinino, Ukraine
Olgino, Russia
St Petersburg, Russia
Queens, New York

Monday, August 4, 2014

Zagare by Sara Manobla 2014

"A superb storyteller, Manobla draws the reader in brilliantly as she herself transforms from someone disconnected with her past into a kind of Jewish Sherlock Holmes, uncovering the horror of the Holocaust and the heroism of a few families while harboring a sense of hope for the future." Steve Linde, Jerusalem Post, Weekend Magazine

This interesting memoir focuses on Zagare (Zhager in Yiddish), a town in Lithuania on the border of Latvia, the place of origin of the author’s father’s family. The author, who was raised in England, knew only that her father was from Russia and she never inquired more specifically about her roots. She saw herself simply as a British Jew. Later when she moved to Israel in 1960 where she worked for the English department of Radio Israel, she incorporated "Israeli" into her identity. It wasn’t until a paternal cousin started to investigate their past that she became interested in finding out more about exactly where her father’s family had come from. Together, she and her cousin Joy became intimately acquainted with the town of Zagare, its past and its present. After much research and exposure to the history of Lithuanian Jews, she added Litvak to her identity.

The author’s education and research took place over many years. Her first trip to Zagare was in 1995. It culminated 17 years later in 2012 in a visit to attend the ceremony honoring the descendant of a Lithuanian family who had hid a Jewish family of Zagare during the Holocaust. The author used her training as a journalist to track down the only Jewish survivor to verify the bravery of this Lithuanian family during the war. She then passed the information on to Yad Vashem who designated  the family as rescuers honored as The Righteous Among Nations.

This memoir is exceedingly useful as a guide to the process of galvanizing support for a cause beyond one of Manobla's priorities - making sure that the Lithuanian rescuers were honored. The author and others worked very hard at getting the local population of Zagare to acknowledge their citizens’ active participation and complicity in the rounding up and the killing of the Jews of Zagare in 1941. The author read the history, interviewed current residents, and consulted with historians and other descendants who have dealt with these issues. She learned that the conventional bureaucratic historical narrative is one that is based on the premise that there was a double genocide in Lithuania which essentially equates Soviet persecution of Lithuanians with German persecution of Jews. She lays out the many ways she and others, both Jewish and Lithuanian, worked at chipping away at this mentality that reveals latent anti-Semitism and indifference. And they found that because the beliefs were so entrenched, changing them was a very slow process. But they were successful in making sure signage was mounted in more central locations and that signage specifically mentions that Jews were buried in mass graves and Lithuanian neighbors had been collaborators.

There are many lessons to be learned from this book that can be applied to other communities, especially those communities which were in countries that were part of the former Soviet Union.

Included is a useful list of sources as well as photos.

To see the Zagare Facebook page where there are lot of old photos of Jewish residents of Zagare, click here.

To read about the role of Lithuanians in the extermination of the Jewish community during World War II, click here.

Israel Friedlander
Myer Israelovich
David Towb – brother of Israel and Myer; married Batya (Berthe) Moeller; second wife Rose
   Ya’akov (Jack) Towb – son of David and Batya
   Harry Towb – son of David and Berthe
   Rebecca Towb Landau – daughter of David and Berthe
   Leah Towb Landau – daughter of David and Berthe
   William Towb – son of David and Berthe; married Sylvia Jacobs
       Ursula Sara Towb Manobla – daughter of William and Sylvia; author
           Ze’ev – son of Ursula
                 Rona Gabrielle Abadi – granddaughter of Ursula
       Elizabeth Towb – daughter of William and Sylvia
   Massie Towb Brodie – daughter of David and Berthe
    Louis Towb – son of David and Berthe; married to Elsie
       Joy Towb Hall – daughter of Louis and Elsie; married to Maynard
          Jessica – daughter of Joy and Maynard
    Suki Towb Pay – daughter of Louis and Elsie

Lena Jackson Jacobs – mother of Sylvia Jacobs (see above)
Yitzhak Moeller - grandfather of Batya Moeller (see above) )
     Ze’ev Wolf – son of Yitzhak

Friends and Aquaintances
Shimon Alperovitz
Roza Bieliauskiene
    Julius Bieliauskas – son of Roza
Werner Braun
Mendy Cahan
Roger Cohen
Jacob Gens
Gil Kessary
Haim Tal
Viktor and Irina Brailovsky
    Loenid Barilovsky – son of Viktor and Irina
    Galia Barilovsky – daughter of Viktor and Irina
Yuli Kosharovsky
Yosef Begun
Vladimir Prestin
Pavel Abramovich – brother-in-law of  Vladimir Prestin
Ilya Lempert
Benjamin Levich
Alexander Lerner
Eliahu Essas
Benjamin Fein
Rod Freedman
Katya Gusarov
Mark Azbel
Anatoly (Natan) Sharansky
Miriam Schneider
    Edmundas Tiesnesis – son of Miriam
Aba Taratuta
Yevgeny Arye
Valentinas Kaplunas
Dovid Katz
Isaac Mendelssohn
    Vidmantas Mendelsonas – son of Isaac
Cliff Marks
Len Yodaiken (Judeikin)
Wolf and Rose Zwi
Bertha Taubman
Solomon Teitelbaum
Batya Trusfus
    Riva Trusfus Yoffe – daughter of Batya
         Ruth Yoffe- daughter of Riva
             Ya’akov – son of Ruth
        Misha Yoffe – son of Riva
    Eta Trusfus Kolodnaya – daughter of Batya
    Irle Trusfus – daughter of Batya
Allan Blacher – relative of Batya Trusfus
Jacob Kagan
Liat Wexelman
Raymond and Gill Woolfson
Hazel Woolfson
Alter Zagorsky
Ephraim Zuroff

Zagare, Lithuania
Baisogala, Lithuania
Siauliai ghetto, Lithuania
Vilnius, Lithuania
Antwerp, the Netherlands
Swansea, Wales
Newcastle, England
South Africa
Kazan, Soviet Union

Monday, July 7, 2014

Burned Child Seeks the Fire by Cordelia Edverson published in 1984 in Swedish, in 1997 in English

"Even readers who think they have become inured to the pain of Holocaust memoirs will be sucked in and beaten down by the brutal honesty of Edvardson's words." from a review in Kirkus Reviews 5/20/2010

In this carefully composed, concise memoir, Cordelia Edvardson (1929-2012) tells us what it was like to be “born” Catholic but to be labeled a Jew because her father, who did not live with her, was a Jew. Also, her mother’s father was born Jewish but converted to Catholicism. She remembers feeling different from the time she was very little, before she even understood the concepts, the ideology, the politics. This feeling of being "other" is reinforced, for example, when her mother and step-father will not let her join the Union of German Girls where she hopes to become part of a group of kindred spirits. They do not explain why.

 As she gets older she confronts the gradual imposition of restrictions which lead up to the wearing of the yellow star and she tells us that because her mother thinks it is dangerous for her to live at home, she is constantly changing addresses although she often risks sneaking home during the day. Like so many others who were looking for safety for her children, the author’s mother constantly seeks for ways to protect her daughter. She arranges for Cordelia, then fourteen, to become a Spanish citizen, but the scheme backfires and Cordelia is deported first to Theriesenstadt and then to Auschwitz.

Before being deported she is assigned to live in the Jewish Hospital in Berlin, a place for Jews with “connections” – having a non-Jewish parent, for example. Edvardson describes it as a version of Hell. Residents know their lives could end at any time and do just about anything to protect themselves in order to stay alive. They trade sexual favors for comfort and protection, and many raid the hospital’s supply of drugs. Edvardson is relieved to be deported to Theresienstadt which she and her mother understand to be a work camp.

Her descriptions of life and death in Auschwitz are searing. She understands that to survive she has to appear strong and ready to work. And the work she is assigned to do is devastating.. She sits in Mengele’s presence and records the numbers read off of arms of those who are about to be gassed.

After the war she is sent to Sweden where she recuperates and decides to live. After reuniting with her mother, she becomes a journalist and moves to Israel where she was the Middle East correspondent for a Swedish newspaper. Edvardson, a child growing up in Nazi Berlin, paints a vivid picture of herself as the "burned child" of her title, whose life is forever scarred by her wartime experiences.

To read an obituary in the Jerusalem Post of Cordelia Edvardson, click here.
To read a review in the Forward of a book about the Jewish Hospital in Berlin, click here.

Elisabeth Langgasser
    Cordelia Edvardson –daughter of Elisabeth

Sylvia Krown

Berlin – Grunewald
Berlin – Eichkamp
Stockholm, Sweden
Jerusalem, Israel