Monday, August 30, 2010

The Net of Dreams: A Family's Search for a Rightful Place by Julie Salamon 1996

 New York Times Notable Book and winner of Ohioana Book Award 1997

In this engaging memoir written by a journalist who is the child of Holocaust survivors, the author seeks to understand more about her parents who she felt she never really knew. Like the children of many survivors, Julie Salamon grew up in an environment of silence. Her father never talked to her about his experiences and her mother never went below the surface in telling abbreviated versions of what happened to her. What confused Salamon in particular was her mother’s cheerfulness in the face of having been a prisoner in Auschwitz where she had lost both of her parents as well as having lost other relatives in the war.

The memoir opens with Julie Salamon and her now-widowed mother and her mother’s second husband, also a survivor, making a trip to Auschwitz and to her mother’s childhood home in Huzst, formerly in Czechoslovakia, coincidently when Steven Spielberg was filming Schindler’s List. Salamon is concerned the entire time that the trip would be too traumatic for her mother, that her mother will be sorry she came, but the trip does prove to be a catalyst for conversation and the author taped her mother as she narrated in bits and pieces the story of her life, both while they were in Europe and once they were home.

Her mother’s story includes her father’s story. She had known him before the war in Huzst when he already was a doctor and married to another Huzst girl. He lost his first wife and young daughter in the war, a fact that Julie Salamon found out by accident when she was a child. Throughout his life his father never mentioned it. Her mother described their stay in post-war Prague and then their trip to America, only made possible because an uncle was already established in New York. Her mother explained how they ended up in Seaman, Ohio, south of  Cincinnati near the Kentucky border where they were the only Jews in town and where Salamon was born and lived for the first eighteen years of her life. There her father had a rewarding career as a small town doctor. Her mother liked small-town living as well; they felt safe. They felt they had a future.

It’s clear that through learning more about her parents’ lives the author has gained a better understanding of what they had been through. This in turn helped her to better understand her upbringing and seems to have brought her closer to her widowed mother.

For information about the Jewish history in Khust click here.

To read a 2/18/11 New York Times article on current thoughts about the need for new kinds of exhibitions at Auschwitz written by Michael Kimmelman, click here.



Author’s mother’s family
Julia Weiss – author’s great-grandmother
    Berthe Weiss – Julia’s daughter; married Nathan Rapaport; author’s grandmother
    ? Weiss – Julia’s daughter; married ? Frischmann
    Herman Weiss – Julia’s son
    Matyi (Marty) Weiss – Julia’s son; married Anna
Gedalya Rapaport – Nathan’s father; author’s maternal great-grandfather
        Erzsi Rapaport – Berthe and Nathan’s daughter; married Laci
        Rozsi Rapaport – Berthe and Nathan’s daughter; married Franz Winkelsberg
            Ilana Siman-Tov– Rozsi and Franz's  daughter
        Gyula Rapaport – Berthe and Nathan’s son
        Lilly “Szimi” Rapaport – Berthe and Nathan’s daughter; author’s mother;
        Alexander (Sanyi) Salamon – Lilly’s first husband
            Julia Marlene – Lilly and Alexander’s daughter; married Bill Abrams; author
                Roxie and Eli – their children
            Suzanne Eva – Lilly and Sanyi’s daughter; married Alan Einhorn
                Alexandra and David – their children
        Joseph (Hilu) Rapaport – Lilly’s brother
    Arthur Salcmon – second husband of Lilly Rappaport; author’s step-father
    Zhoffka Salcmon – Arthur’s sister; author’s step-aunt
        Otto –her son; married to Marcella
Olga Krofta – a cousin

Author’s father’s family
Marcus Salamon – married Sally Salamon; author’s grandparents
    Louis Salamon– Marcus and Sally's son
        Pityu Salaway (formerly Salamon)– Louis’ son
    Jani Salamon – Marcus and Sally's son
    Bela Salamon–  Marcus and Sally's son
        Mark Salamon - Bela's son
    Fanci Salamon – Marcus and Sally's daughter
        Erzsika – Fanci’s daughter
    Alexander (Sanyi) Salamon – married Anna Lazarovics (1st wife)
            Eva – their daughter
    Lilly Rapaport – married Alexander Salamon; author’s parents (see above)
        Aliska – Alexander Salamon’s niece
            Marsha – Aliska’s daughter
        Miki Hermel – Alexander’s nephew; married Erzsi
        Baba Feierstein– Alexander’s niece (daughter of a sister); married to Michael Schlanger
            David and Tommy–their sons

Bernie Adler – Steven Spielberg’s step-father
Arnold Spielberg – Steven Spielberg’s father
    Steven Spielberg – married and divorced Amy Irving; married Kate Capshaw
        Max – son of Steven Spielberg and Amy Irving
        Sasha, Sawyer, Theo (adopted) - children of Spielberg and Kate Capshaw
Leopold Schragge
Miri Fabian
Branko Lustig
Bozsi Landau
Olga, Tibor, and Otto Mermelstein - siblings
Willie Schwartz
Nadia Heinrich
Zeldi, Baszi, and Jossi Schafar – siblings
Pityu Klein
Sam Gendelman


Auschwitz, Poland
Dachau, Poland
Mauthausen, Austria
Bergen-Belsen, Germany
Buchenwald, Germany
Birkenau, Germany
Huszt (Khust), now in Ukraine
Bratislava, Slovak Republic
Podkarpatska Rus, former Czechoslovakia
Skarzysko, Poland
Lager Novaky, former Czechoslovakia
Topolcany, former Czechoslovakia
Volove, Ukraine
Satu-Mare, Romania
Uzhhorod, Ukrain
Brno, former Czechoslovakia
Beregszaz, Ukraine
Prague, former Czechoslovakia
Kiskoros, Hungary
Kamenets-Podolski, Ukraine
Kassa, (now Kolice), former Czechoslovakia
Zittau, Germany
Szigetvar, Hungary
Homok, Hungary
Kis Begany, Hungary
Nagy Begany, Hungary
Long Beach, New York
Miami Beach, Florida
The Milky Way, Hollywood, California
Seaman, Ohio
Manchester, Ohio
Avondale, Cincinnati, Ohio
Lima, Peru

Monday, August 23, 2010

Walker in the City by Alfred Kazin 1951

"His criticism, his memoirs, have the narrative power of good fiction," stated by Morris Dickstein in an article in the New York Times in May, 1995 discussing the preparations for a celebration of  Kazin's 80th birthday.

This classic memoir was written by a literary critic who was brought up in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. Born in 1915 to immigrant parents (his mother was a seamstress, his father a house painter), Kazin spent his early years absorbing the sights, sounds, and smells of the Jewish neighborhood of Brownsville by immersing himself in it. In order to make the neighborhood come alive for his readers, he includes some Yiddish phrases that were a part of his upbringing as well as re-creating moments he remembers vividly, for example the vitality of the pushcart market in Brownsville and their small apartment where his mother’s clients came for fittings.

Kazin’s memoir takes place during the 1920’s and 30’s when he was a young boy, and then an adolescent. He walked or took the subway everywhere. He describes Brownsville as being very poor, at the bottom rung of neighborhoods where Jewish immigrants lived. For example, he writes that Brownsville Jews referred to those who lived in a different section of Brooklyn along Eastern Parkway as the “alrightniks.”

In its four chapters – “From the Subway to the Synagogue,” The Kitchen,” “The Block Beyond,” and “Summer: The Way to Highland Park,” he describes his neighborhood and community, his home, and then  his venturing further and further away from that world. He also describes his intellectual development: his early reading, some of his school experiences, and some of his intellectual and political friends who had a great influence on his development. And he writes about his listening to the arguments of the Socialists and the Communists and trying to sort out their overlapping but competing political philosophies.

As the child of immigrants Kazin had to find his way in the new world which was at one and the same time intoxicating and anxiety-provoking. Throughout the memoir he conveys his sense of feeling like a perpetual outsider. He was an American, but he was not like other Americans. He was Jewish, but he didn’t live as comfortably as other Jews. He understood that these factors contributed a lot to the man he became.

To read the New York Times obituary for Alfred Kazin click here.

Gita Feyge Kazin – from Dugschitzt, Poland; author’s mother
     Alfred Kazin - her son; author

Brownsville, Brooklyn, NY
Dugschitz, Poland

Monday, August 16, 2010

An Interrupted Life: The Diaries, 1941-1943 and Letters From Westerbork by Etty Hillesum, published in one volume in English 1996

"[B]y knowing and feeling so deeply and fully, an unknown young woman became one of the most exceptional and truest witnesses of the devastation through which she lived and of the suffering humankind whose fate she chose to join." Eva Hoffman from the preface to the 1996 one-volume edition of Etty Hillesum's diaries and letters

Etty Hillesum, a Dutch citizen and an assimilated Jew, was born in 1914 and died in Auschwitz three months after she arrived there from the Westerbork transit camp in 1943.  These bare facts are movingly fleshed out in the volumes of Etty’s diaries that she kept from 1941-1943 when she lived in Amsterdam and in letters she wrote to her friends in Amsterdam from the Westerbork transit camp.

In the Introduction J.G. Gaarlandt, who saw to the publication of the diaries and the letters in 1981, stated that Etty started the diary at the same time she became involved with Julius Spier, a German Jewish refugee who had trained with Jung. The diary was a place where Etty could reflect on her effort to be more conscious of her psycho-social development.

The backdrop to the diaries was obviously the war and the German occupation of Holland. But early in the diary Etty made a point to turn inward and focus on issues of body and soul. An intellectual who was studying Russian and tutoring students studying Russian, she had read widely in many philosophical, religious and literary texts – from St. Augustine’s Confessions to the Gospel of Matthew to Psalms to the poet Rilke and the novelists Tolstoy and Dosteovsky. She contemplated the meaning in these texts as she sought to live a spiritual life, a less selfish life, one devoted to others. She wrote a lot about what "God" meant; she spoke directly to God; she prayed for strength; she refused to hate.

The contents of the diary entries shifted in the later entries. Etty could not help but be preoccupied with the terrifying world outside her room in Amsterdam and spent some time planning for when she would be in a labor camp. It is heartbreaking to read about her plan to go to the dentist soon so that she would be in good physical shape to withstand the hardships of labor. And she also thought about what books she would bring with her.

In an act of defiance, despite the increasingly horrifying situation of Holland’s Jewish population, she continued to see beauty all around her – both in human nature and in her natural surroundings. She refused to go into hiding, despite the urging of her friends, choosing to volunteer to go on the first transport from Amsterdam to Westerbork where she worked for the Jewish Council and spent much of her time in the camp’s hospital. Having the privilege of postponing deportation because she was a worker made her very uncomfortable, but she used it to help keep her parents off of the weekly deportation lists. She wanted no dispensation for herself. Eventually, despite her position, she and her parents and a brother were deported. The last written communication from her was a postcard she threw from the train to Auschwitz.  Addressed to a friend, it was found by a Dutch farmer and mailed.

Her letters to her friends read like journalism: she reported in detail about the physical conditions in the camp as well as the tension and despair amongst inmates. She was very consciously bearing witness: she asked a friend to whom she entrusted the diaries to get them published.

Note: The combined volume that was published in 1996 that is widely circulated is an abridged edition of Etty Hillesum's diaries and letters.. The volume of the complete diaries and letters of Etty Hillesum, a more scholarly volume,  was commissioned by the Etty Hillesum Foundation at the University of Ghent and was published in 2002 as a joint venture with Novalis at St. Paul University.

The 1996 volume has a Preface by Eva Hoffman (author of Lost in Translation, subject of an earlier post) which focuses on the personality of Etty that emerges from her diaries and letters. An Introduction  by J.G. Gaarlandt focuses more on background material on the family and the war in the Netherlands. This volume also includes very helpful footnotes and photos.

To read a short biography of Etty Hillesum and to see family photos, go to the site of the Etty Hillesum Foundation, by clicking here.

To read an article about the leaders of the Jewish Council at Westerbork and the choices they made, click here.

Louis Hillesum – married to Rebecca Bernstein; author’s parents
    Jaap – their son
    Esther (Etty) – their daughter; author
    Mischa – their son

Friends and Acquaintances
Julius Spier – engaged to Hertha Levie
    Ruth Busse-Spier – Julius’ daughter by his 1st marriage
    Wolfgang – his son by his 1st marriage
Werner and Leisl Levie
    Miriam and Renate – their daughters
Sam de Wolff
    Leo de Wolff – his son
Joseph Isadoor (Jopie) Vleeschhouwer – married to Cato Cahen
Joseph and Hedwig Mahler
Werner Sterzenbach – married to Alice Sterzenbach-David
Max Witmondt
Paul Cronheim
Eduard Spier
Herbert Kruskal
Max Osias Kormann – married to Rosa Laufer
    Gerd – his son
Herman Boasson
Milli Ortmann
Grete Wendelsgelst – Milli Ortmann’s sister
Philip Mechanicus
Friedrich Weinreb
Renate Laqueur – married to Paul Goldschmidt
Julius Simon
Leo Krijn
Max Ehrlich
Clara (Chaya) Goldstein
Willy Rosen
David Cohen
Abraham Asscher
Simon van Gelder
Joseph Spier


Monday, August 9, 2010

The Peddler's Grandson: Growing Up Jewish in Mississippi 1999

Winner of the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters nonfiction award in 2000

Edward Cohen (born in 1948) has written an interesting memoir about what it was like growing up as a Jew in the South, specifically, in Jackson, Mississippi. His was a large, close-knit extended family most of whom worked in the family business, Cohen Brothers, a men’s clothing store.

The original brothers, his grandfather Moise and great uncle Sam, married two sisters, and the two families set up housekeeping together in a house they built that came to be known as “The Big House.”  Cohen felt safe and loved there where all of the five children of Sam and Moise and their spouses and their children went every Sunday without fail for dinner. He felt protected from the Christian world outside the front door; he was never totally at ease with a culture and lifestyle that seemed markedly different from his own.

Cohen discusses the small Jewish community, their temple - Beth Israel, and their practice. He describes how assimilated the Jewish community was, whose members wanted to blend in  rather than stand out. He also discusses at length the relationship between the black and white communities in the still-segregated South, and the behavior and attitudes within the Jewish community toward race relations and civil rights when the 60's and 70's were upon them and there was social upheaval. 

In large part this memoir is about the author’s figuring out who he is – the grandson of immigrant Jews who had left everything behind in order to start a new life in a new country and who settled in the South.  He tries to calibrate how crucial his Jewish identity and Southern identity are to who he is, two parts of him that often were at war with each other.

This memoir includes photos.

For a short biography of Edward Cohen on the Mississippi Writers page click here.

Gershon Cohn - father of Etta, Nell, and Ida Cohn; author’s maternal great-grandfather
    Moise (Kahane) Cohen – married Etta Cohn; author’s grandparents
        Leonard Cohen – married Pauline Weltman; author’s parents
            Edward Cohen – their son; author
        Pearle Cohen – married Melvin
            Roslyn Frank – Pearle and Melvin’s daughter
            Janice Knowles – Pearle and Melvin’s daughter
    Isaac Lazar Cohen – Moise’s brother
    Sam Cohen – Moise’s brother; married Nell Cohn (Etta’s sister)
        Lazar Cohen – married Lolita Stein
            Gary Cohen – their son
        Bernard Cohen – Sam and Nell’s son; married Anne
        Marvin Cohen – Sam and Nell’s son; married Helen
            Harriet, Debbie, Marilyn Rothstein, Marci – 1st cousins of author; either the children of Bernard or Marvin
    Ike Levy – married Ida Cohn

Mother’s family
    Ben Weltman -  married to Rae (author’s grandparents
        Pauline – their daughter; married to Leonard Cohen (author’s parents)
            Edward – their son; author
        Louis Weltman – their son; married to Marcia

Friends and Acquaintances
Ralph Salomon
Eva Sussman
Rabbi Perry E. Nussbaum
Max Berman
    Walter Berman – his son
Victor Glick
Phyllis, Bea, and Celeste Lehman
Ellis Hart
Henry Kline

Vaslui, Romania
Jackson, Mississippi
Rochester, NY
Memphis, Tenn.
Shreveport, Louisiana

Monday, August 2, 2010

Where She Came From: A Daughter's Search for Her Mother's History by Helen Epstein 1997

"[T]his book is more than a family history. It is a moving evocation of an old world and its destruction." from a review by Ruth Gay in the New York Times, November, 1997

In this very readable, and extensively researched memoir, Helen Epstein focuses on three generations of women who preceded her: her mother, her grandmother, and her great-grandmother.

Epstein, born in 1947 in Prague to parents who were both survivors of concentration camps, started writing this memoir after her mother died in New York where the author grew up.  She had felt incredibly close to her mother at the same time that she sought distance and a better understanding of her mother’s early years. That led her to want to know more about the lives of her grandmother and great-grandmother.

Epstein went to Central Europe – to Prague and Vienna and to the villages where her family had lived earlier and spent time in archives at town halls and in cemeteries, tracing her family in those records that she was able to find. Of course it helped immeasurably that she could speak and read Czech although she had much help from archivists, friends, and relatives she tracked down in Europe, Israel, and America. 

What’s particularly interesting in this memoir is the historical background and cultural history Epstein includes which situates each generation in its time and place. We see how they spent their leisure and work time. Her mother and her grandmother were both expert seamstresses, her grandmother having established a business, Salon Weigert , that attracted a wealthy clientele until the Nazis forced them to give it up and then deported them. 

In telling their story Epstein spends considerable time talking about the status of being a Jew throughout the generations in Prague and the surrounding areas, commenting about how assimilated her parents and many in their generation were. She examines their reaction to the advance of Hitler and their having to confront the fact that they were not like other Czech citizens, however much they had always felt they were.

This memoir includes photos and an extensive bibliography.

To read a July, 2010 interview with Helen Epstein about her family history with particular reference to her book Children of the Holocaust, click here.

Maternal grandmother’s family
Abraham ben Samuel – assigned name Furcht; great great great great grandfather of author
        Jakub – grandson of Abraham
        Lazar – grandson of Abraham; married Josephine; author’s great great grandfather
            Therese Furcht – his daughter; married to Judah Sachsel; author’s great-grandparents
                Heinrich – Therese’s son; perhaps not Judah’s
                Rudolf – son of Therese and Judah
                Leopold – son of Therese and Judah
                Emil – son of Therese and Judah
                    Peter Scott (changed from Sachsel)– their son
                Josephine (Pepi) – daughter of Therese and Judah; married to Oskar Weigert and then Emil           Rabinek; author’s grandmother
                    Frances (Franziska) – daughter of Josephine and Emil; married to Pepik (Joe) Schon (Solar); 2nd husband Kurt Epstein
                        Helen – author, daughter of Francis and Kurt; married to Patrick Mehr
                            Daniel and Samuel – her sons
            Joachim Sachsel – brother of Judah; author’s great uncle
            Rosalia Sachsel – sister of Judah; author’s great aunt
                    Gisela Saudek – distant cousin of Frances

Maternal grandfather’s family
            Israel and Franziska (Fanny) Rabinek
                Gustav – their son
                Leo – their son
                Gisela Kremer– their daughter
                    Erna, Berta, Clara, Felix – Gisela’s children
                Gabriela Roger– their daughter
                        Margaret – married Alphonse Hirsch
                Emil – their son; married Josephine Sashsel; author’s grandparents (see above)
                Helena Rissova – distant cousin of author
            Lev Vohryzek – father of distant cousin Kitty
                Kitty Egererova; his daughter – distant cousin of author
                    Miki – her son
 Ilse Aichinger -a Rabinek cousin of the author
 Lily Hearst (Emil Rabinek’s niece)
    John Hearst -  Lily’s son; married to Jean
Vava Schon (Nava Shan) – cousin of Pepik (Joe) Shon (author’s mother’s 1st husband)
Franzi Petschek – relative of Kurt Epstein (author’s father)

Friends, Acquaintances, and sources
Jiri Tichy
Charlotte Janu
Jakob Kaufmann
Leopold Kompert
Dorothea Schlegel
Rahel Varnhagen
Henriette Herz
Fanny Lewald
Fanny Neuda
Sigfried Kapper
Stefan Zweig
Leopold Hilsner
Moric Schiller
Frantisek Langer
    Jiri Langer – Frantisek’s son
Franz Kafka
Ernst Pawel
Hermine Hanel
Jan Zidek
Bertha Fanta and Ida Freund - sisters
Zuzana Nagy
Leo Oppenheimer
Honza Pollak
Margot and Arthur Korbel
Dr. Karel Steinbach
Rabbi Richard Feder

Places and Institutions

Brtnice, the former Czechoslovakia
Iglau, Germany (becomes Jihlava, the former Czechoslovakia)
Vysocina, the former Czechoslavakia
Prague                            “
Kolin                               “
Brataslava                        “
Barrandov,                        “
Roudnice-nad-Labem        “
Breslau, Germany
Celle, Germany
Vienna, Austria       
Salon Weigert, Prague
Concentration Camps: Terezientadt, Auschwitz, Bergen-Belson, Birkenau