Monday, December 20, 2010

Memories of Survival by Esther Nisenthal Krinitz and Bernice Steinhardt 2005

Winner of the Sydney Taylor Honor Award for Older Readers in 2006, awarded by The Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee of the Association of Jewish Libraries

Memories of Survival is a book of fascinating artwork and narration created by the Holocaust survivor Esther Nisenthal Krinitz (b. 1927) to present to viewers and readers scenes from her life between the years 1937 to 1949. In the Introduction, her daughter Bernice Steinhardt writes that her mother felt compelled to tell the stories of what happened to her family repeatedly, even trying to write them out in English and Yiddish. But it wasn’t until she turned to art at the age of 50 that she was really able to convey what happened in a way that is suitably dramatic and emotionally engaging.

Bernice Steinhardt writes that her mother learned how to sew at the age of eight and was expected to become a seamstress. Because of her training and talent, she brought to her artwork a skill in needlework that she exploited to the fullest, using the techniques of embroidery and fabric collage to create each intricately detailed panel.

The panels narrate the story of the round-up of the Jews in the small town of Mniszek in Poland and how she, at the age of 13, and her younger sister fled into the forest and disguised themselves as Christian peasants. When they were liberated by the Russians, they lived in a displaced person’s camp where each of the two sisters, the only survivors in their family, married survivors. Esther Nisenthal Krinitz and her family came to America in 1949 and settled in New York where she died in 2001 at the age of 74.

This book is published under the imprint of Hyperion Books for Children. The School Library Journal has classified it as a Young Adult book suitable for grade 6-9, and on one level this is a picture book with limited text which makes it easy for children to read. Esther Nisenthal Krinitz hand-stitched a date and a few sentences to describe each panel and the book reproduces those captions for each panel in larger print  with commentary written by her daughter that fleshes out some of the details. However, like in all books for young readers, you do not get the larger complex historical picture.

The art work is also accessible to young readers, even though the panels are sophisticated works of art and would appeal to viewers of all ages. Though intricate in their construction, they have a primitive quality that recalls the Eden-like innocence of childhood. Early scenes from before the war recreate the bucolic setting of her childhood - family and community immersed in farm activities and seasonal Jewish holiday celebrations. But even as the evil of Nazism takes over, the vibrancy of the country setting is ever present. The Nazis were agents of death and destruction. They destroyed the Jewish community and tainted the landscape with their concentration camps (the panel that depicts the Maidenek concentration camp has almost no vegetation), but they did not destroy the artist’s memory of the vibrancy of the natural surroundings and the nature-centered human activity that stand in opposition to the unnatural, monstrous acts of the Nazis.

The family has set up an organization that circulates the artwork for educational purposes. To read about the goals of the organization and more about Esther Nisenthal Krinitz as well as to see all of the panels, click here.

Chaim  – author/artist’s  grandfather (It’s not clear whether maternal or paternal)
    Hersh Nisenthal – married Rachel Prizant
        Esther – Hersh and Rachel’s daughter; married Max Krinitz; author/artist
            Bernice – daughter of Esther and Max; married to Bruce Steinhardt; author/writer
                Rachel and Simon – children of Bernice and Bruce   
            Helene – daughter; of Esther and Max; married Jack McQuade
                John Henry – son of Helene and Jack
        Mania  – Hersh and Rachel’s daughter; married Lipa
            Harry and Rachel - children of Mania
        Ruven Nisenthal – Hersh and Rachel’s son
        Chana Nisenthal – Hersh and Rachel’s daughter
        Leah Nisenthal – Hersh and Rachel’s daughter

The following places are all in Poland:
Janiszow prison camp
Maidenek concentration camp

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Diary of Mary Berg: Growing up in the Warsaw Ghetto 2007 An annotated, revised edition with a new introduction

"Unlike the [Anne] Frank diary ... [Berg's] Warsaw notebooks ... contain firsthand reports of humiliations, sufferings and killings that shaped the experiences of millions of Eastern European Jews as they were herded into ghettos before being sent to death camps." from a review written by Michael Kaufman of a dramatization of  The Diary of Mary Berg , published in the New York Times on May 18, 1986

Mary Wattenberg first published this diary in the United States in 1945 as Warsaw Ghetto: A Diary, shortening her last name to Berg presumably to protect the privacy of her family. She had just turned 15 years old when she wrote her first entry in October of 1939 from Warsaw. She wrote her last entry at the age of 19 ½ in March of 1944 when she, along with her parents and sister, were on board the ship that took them to America. Because her father had been a wealthy art dealer in Lodz, but primarily because her mother had been born in America, Mary and her family were able to survive in the ghetto without extreme deprivation, and to make it to America. Of course ingenuity and luck also  helped the family survive intact.

Mary Wattenberg at one point said that she had hoped to be a novelist. Her writing talent is evident throughout the diary where she describes in vivid detail the life of the ghetto and its social structure.  A lot of the time she is proud of what she reports. She writes that in large part the Jewish community pulled together and operated within the ghetto as a community, defying the Nazi orders when possible. They organized underground schools, smuggled in goods to augment the little they had, did what they could to help the destitute, kept each other informed by circulating banned newspapers and the news from banned but hidden radios, and created vibrant cultural institutions.

But she also reports quite candidly about the chasm between rich and poor, and who within the Jewish community had power and who didn’t. There were governing bodies whose members gave out jobs, jobs that ghetto residents hoped would protect them from deportation. Jobs went to those who were well connected or who had the money to bribe officials. But in the end, access protected very few. Many died doing back-breaking labor. Others were deported to the death camps when the Gestapo decided they didn’t need them anymore.

Wattenberg describes in horrifying detail the deteriorating conditions from year to year. Each year she wrote a special entry about what she did on her birthday, comparing the previous birthdays in the ghetto to the one she’s writing about at the moment. Much of diary consists of the graphic details of what she witnessed when she watched the streets from her apartment window and when she made frightening forays into the streets to go to classes or to meet with friends.

Wattenberg felt guilty that her father’s money and her mother’s status offered her family a measure of protection. Eventually they became part of a contingent of ghetto residents with American, British and South American passports (many forged or bought) who were exchanged for German prisoners-of-war. Miraculously, they left on the train out of the Warsaw ghetto one day before the start of the ghetto uprising which, though valiant in its effort, brought death to most of those who were still in the ghetto.

Publishing history: In the diary Mary Berg despairs. She wonders where the foreign correspondents are. Why is no one reporting on what’s going on? Where are the Allies? She wrote the diary in Polish in an abbreviated form so that if it were seized it would not reveal itself for what it was. S.L Schneiderman, a fellow Polish Jew already in the United States, met her when she arrived and helped her reconstruct her diary. A Yiddish version was serialized in a Yiddish periodical; the English translation was published in 1945 before the war was over and gained a lot of publicity. In the 1950’s it fell out of print. This 2007 edition brings back into circulation an important memoir written by a prisoner of the Warsaw Ghetto.

This edition includes the original introduction written by S.L. Schneiderman as well as a new and informative introduction by Susan Pentlin.  There is also a helpful timeline and an index.      .

To read an article that discusses the evolution of the publication of the diary and its reception, written on occasion of the publication of this recent edition, click here.
To read a short history of the Warsaw Ghetto and to follow other relevant links, click here.
To read a New York Times article published on 11/10/14 about the disposal of some of Mary Berg's effects click here.

Family members
Shya and Lena Wattenberg – author’s parents
    Mary Wattenberg (Berg) – daughter of Shya and Lena; author
    Anna Wattenberg – daughter of Shya and Lena
Abe – Lena’s brother
Percy – Lena’s brother; married to Lucia
Felicia Markusfeld – a cousin

Friends and Acquaintances in the Warsaw Ghetto
Edzia Piaskowska – married Zelig Zylberberg
Roman Kantor – Edzia’s uncle by marriage
Michael Brandstetter
Harry Karczmar
Bolek Glicksberg
Romek Kowalski - relative of Engineer M. Lichtenbaum listed below
Marysia Kowalski – sister of Romek
Edek Wolkowicz
Tadek Szajer
Olga Szmuszkawicz
Stefan Mandeltort
Misza Bakszt
Dolek Amsterdam
Mietek Fein
Manfred Rubin
Mark Unger
Lola Rubin
Mickey Mundstuck
Roma Brandes
Tatania Epstein
Stanislawa Rapel
Janina Pruszycka
Wladislaw Spielman
Stefan Pomper
Diana Blumenfeld
Michal Znicz
Aleksander Borowicz
Wladislaw Gliczynski
Franciszka Man
Noemi Wentland
Marysia Eisenstadt (daughter of director of ghetto symphony orchestra)
Vera Neuman
Zdzslaw Szenberg
Joziek Fogelnest
Kazik Kestenberg
Bolek Szpilberg
The brothers Leibermann (nephews of Max Leibermann)
Inka Garfinkel
Josef Swieca
Nina Wygodzka
Janette Natanson
Lutka Leder
Mickie Rubin
Kazik Briliant
Haniek Grynberg
Eva Grynberg – Haniek’s sister
Majer Balaban
Zosia Zakheim
Ola Szmuszkiewicz
Bronka Kleiner
Irka Bialokorska
Stefania  Grodzienska
Aleksander Minowicz
Max Bekerman
Zelig Silberman
Marceli Tarnowski
    Julia Tarnowska – his daughter
Kuba Kohn
Anka Laskowska
Stefa Musskat
Rachel Perelman
Eva Pikman
Bola Rapoport
Zycho Rozensztajn
Jurek Leder
Jurek Jawerbaum
Heniek Zylber

Jewish officials and other personnnel in the Warsaw Ghetto mentioned, some with only title and last name:
Colonel Szerynski, Hendel, Lejkin, Firstenberg, Commissar Szternfeld, Ganewajch, Roland Szpunt, Szajer (has son Tadek), Engineer Stickgold, Professor Hilf, Professor Griefenberg, Professor Engineer Goldberg, Janusz Korczak ( ) Engineer Czerniakow, Engineer Jaszunski,  Abraham Gepner, Vera Gran, Engineer Mieczyslaw and Marek Lichtenbaum, Professor Kellerman, Engineer Plonskier, Engineer Sapoczynski, Kohn and Heller, Rigelski, Dr. Poznanski, Kramsztyk, Gepner, Police Commissioners Leikin and Czerniakow, Rumkowski (Lodz), Dr. Miechowski (Treblinka), Mr. Rakow, Mrs. Minc, Police Captain Hertz, bakers Epstein and Wagner, Blajman, Mr. Przygoda, Administrator Chaskelberg, First, Erlich, and Markowicz

People with Mary in the Vittel Internment Camp
Gutta Eisenzweig
Jean Levy
Madeleine Steinberg
Hillel Seidman
Rosl Weingort
Adam Wentland

Those active in publishing Mary Berg’s memoir and their family members mentioned in the acknowledgements and in Susan Pentlin’s introduction
Samuel L. Schneiderman – married to Eileen Szymin
    Ben Schneiderman and Helen Sarid – their children
David Seymour – brother of Eileen Schneiderman
Sylvia Glass Goldfrank
    Walter and David Goldfrank – her sons
Norbert Guterman
    Moira Hyle

Warsaw ghetto, Poland
Lodz ghetto, Poland
Cracow ghetto, Poland
Lowicz, Poland
Sochaczew, Poland
Okecie, Poland
Lublin ghetto, Poland
Treblinka Concentration Camp, Poland
Majdanec Concentration Camp, Poland
Pawiak prison, Poland
Vittel Internment Camp, France
SS Gripsholm

Monday, December 6, 2010

Annie's Ghosts: A Journey into a Family Secret by Steve Luxenberg 2009

A Michigan Notable Book, awarded by the Library of Michigan 2009 

Shortly before Steve Luxenberg’s mother died he was shocked to learn that his mother, who had always characterized herself as an only child, had had a sister. Luxenberg, a senior editor for the Washington Post, with the training and instincts of an investigative reporter, was profoundly disturbed by this revelation and was driven to learn as much as he could about his aunt and to see if he could understand why his mother would have kept the secret from her children her whole life.

It didn’t take the author long to learn that his aunt had spent all her years since the age of twenty in mental institutions in the Detroit area where the family had made its home. He was astounded to learn that she had died in 1972 when he was in college. Neither he nor his siblings had had an inkling of her life, her death or burial.

Luxenberg wanted to know what her diagnosis was and spent some time petitioning for her records as next of kin. This led him to do research on the history of mental institutions, and on the specific institution, known as Eloise, where she spent most of her life. To try to understand why his aunt spent most of her life institutionalized, he interviewed many professionals about the evolving ideas of mental illness and the institutions where those who exhibited a certain set of symptoms were placed.

The more he wanted to know about his aunt the less he realized he knew about his mother’s family. He remembered his grandmother as frail, his grandfather as taciturn. He had no idea where in Europe they had emigrated from. So he embarked on a genealogical investigation, searching for them in US census data, on ship’s manifests, in city directories, and in other public documents. He wanted to draw as complete a picture of the family as possible to see what he learned that might help him understand an immigrant Jewish family living in Detroit in the first half of the twentieth century. 

What was particularly helpful is that he found a cousin of his mother who had come to this country after World War II, having lost all of her family in the Holocaust. She had met Annie and was able to help the author better understand the dynamic between Annie, her sister (his mother) and their parents. 

Luxenberg’s background as a journalist adds immensely to the richness of the story. First of all, as his investigation proceeds, he is constantly figuring out the questions he needs answered. He uses his professional credentials to get certain documents not easy to obtain from the bureaucracy and he knows how to interview subjects – both professionals and family members. An interesting aspect is that he is constantly worried about his dueling roles of journalist and son. As a journalist he just wants to get the facts; as a son he wants to find facts that will exculpate his mother’s role in keeping her sister a secret.

To read an excerpt from the book that appeared in the Washington Post magazine in March of 2009 that deals with how his mother's cousin Anna survived the Holocaust, click here.

Author's mother's family
Nochim Korn – great grandfather of author
    Hyman (Chaim) Cohen (Korn) -  his son; married Tillie Schlein;
        Bertha (Beth) Cohen – Hyman and Tillie’s daughter; married Julius (Jack) Luxenberg
            Evie Luxenberg Miller – daughter of Jack Luxenberg and 1st wife Esther Golde; author's half-sister
            Marsha (Sash) Luxenberg Rosenberg - daughter of Jack Luxenberg and 1st wife Esther Golde; author's half-sister
            Michael Luxenberg – son of Beth and Jack; author's brother
                Toni Luxenberg – Michael’s daughter
            Steven Luxenberg – son of Beth and Jack; married to Mary Jo; author
                Josh and Jill Luxenberg – their children
            Jeffery Luxenberg – son of Beth and Jack; author's brother
        Anne Cohen – Hyman and Tillie’s daughter

Nathan Schlein – relative of Tillie
    Anna Schlein Oliwek – Nathan’s niece- her mother is a Korn (Cohen). Related to author’s grandparents on both sides
        Bella – Anna’s daughter
        David Oliwek – Anna’s son
        Dori – Anna’s daughter
    Mendel – Anna Oliwek’s brother
    Esther – Anna Oliwek’s sister
    Millie Schlein – Nathan’s daughter
    Medji Golde – sister to Esther
Author’s father’s family
Ida – author’s grandmother
    Jacob (Jack) Luxenberg – Ida’s son; married Esther (they divorced); married Beth Cohen
    Manny  Luxenberg – Ida’s son; second wife Shirley
    Rose Boskin - Harry and Ida's Luxenberg's daughter
Bill Luxenberg – brother of Jack; married to Lil
    Hy and Hank – brothers; cousins of Jack Luxenberg
Hinde Donofsky – aunt  to Jack Luxenberg
    Hy Donofsky – first cousin of Jack Luxenberg; married to Fran Rumpa

Friends and Acquaintances
Elaine Klein
Milton Arm
Fred Garfinkel – married to Barbara
Sid Frumkin – married to Marilyn; Fred Garfinkel’s brother-in-law
Ann Black – Sid Frumkin’s sister
Faye Levin Emmer
Molly – Faye’s sister
Jacob and Kay Robinson
    Irene Robinson – their daughter; married David Doren (second husband)
    Sylvia Robinson – their daughter
    Millie Moss Brodie – Irene and Sylvia’s first cousin
        Laurie Brodie Green – Millie’s daughter
    Marty Moss – Millie’s brother
    Julie Reisner
        Ellen – her daughter
    Sam Reisner – Julie’s brother
        Neil Reisner – his son

Detroit, Michigan
Northern High School, Detroit
Eloise Hospital,(Wayne County General Hospital and Infirmary, Michigan
Hebrew Memorial Park Cemetery, Clinton Township, Michigan
Radziwillow, Ukraine
Brody, Ukraine
Lomza, Poland
Novomoskovsk, Ukraine

Monday, November 29, 2010

Living a Year of Kaddish by Ari L. Goldman 2003

"...Goldman, with his seasoned journalist's ear for the telling quotation...brings the stalwart regulars at his New York synagogue, Ramath Orah, to life with brio, as he does those who attend the far-flung congregations where he prays in Israel, Chicago, the Catskills, Paris." from a review in the New York Times by Esther Schor, October, 2003

Ari Goldman, a professor of journalism at Columbia University and a former writer for the New York Times, has written an engaging memoir about the year he said Kaddish for his father. Kaddish is recited within the religious community in memory of a family member. This is a story about the power of the age-old ritual and how it reinforces family and community ties.

Goldman writes about how comfortable he feels at his Orthodox synagogue, Congregation Ramath Orah, which was founded in 1942 by Jewish refugees from Luxembourg and is near Columbia University on the upper West Side of Manhattan. There he feels close to the spirit of his father who was also a practicing Orthodox Jew. He writes about how important his synagogue community is to him, especially those who are also saying Kaddish, and using his skills as a journalist he records many conversations with fellow mourners which contribute to a fuller discussion of the significance of saying Kaddish. When he traveled and sought out synagogues where he could say Kaddish, he describes the local synagogue communities and their customs.

On Shabbat he made sure his children came to the synagogue with him and observed him reciting Kaddish for their grandfather. He hopes his children will continue the tradition and will say Kaddish for him. Continuing the tradition of the daily ritual prompted Goldman to think about his father and his relationship with him, and during that year of saying Kaddish, he came to realize that in many ways his father was a role model for how he lives his Jewish life.

To read an interesting personal essay on saying Kaddish, click here.

Father’s family
Ephraim Finkelstein- author’s great-grandfather
    Nettie – his daughter; married Samuel H.L. Goldman
        Marvin Goldman – Nettie and Samuel's son; married and divorced unknown first name Mehler; married Teme,  his  second wife; author’s father
            Shalom Goldman – son of Marvin
            Dov Goldman – son of Marvin
            Ari Goldman – son of Marvin; married to Shira Dicker; author
                Adam, Emma, Judah – the children of Ari and Shira
        Ruth Goldman – Nettie and Samuel's daughter

            David Miller – author’s cousin
            Zalman Deutsch – author’s cousin
            Elise Goldman – author’s cousin; married to Murray
                Shanna – their daughter
            Ian Goldman – author’s cousin; Elise’s brother
            Donna – author’s cousin
            Debbie Kram – author’s cousin
            Debra Kolitz – author’s cousin

    Henry and Rochelle Dicker – parents of Shira
        Mordi Dicker – brother of Shira

Mother’s family
Tillie Mehler – author’s grandmother
    Author’s mother – married and divorced Marvin Goldman
    Mindy – mother’s sister; married to Norman Lamm
Minnie, Paulie and Bracha – sisters of Tillie

Friends and Acquaintances
Michael Paley
Eliezer Simonson
Irving Koslowe
Steven Friedman
Joseph Chester
    Leo Chester – his son; married Henrietta
    Randolph Chester – his son
Jack Nelson
Enrique Levy
Robert Serebrenik
Manfred Tauber
Jeffrey Kobrin
Barry Wimpheimer
Shamir Caplan
James Schmeidler
Allan Kozinn
Deborah Norden
Archie Green
Benjamin Migdal
        Ariela Migdal – Benjamin’s granddaughter
Deb Kovsky – married to Chris Apap
Yair Silverman
Sam Shachter and Evelyn Musher
Michael Frank
Avi Weiss
Ben Strauss
Philip and Pauline Sandberg
    Louis Sandberg – their son
Elie Spitz
Yosef Eliyahu Hankin
    Louis Henkin – his son
Steven Greenberg
Daniel Kurtzer
    Yehudah Kurtzer – his son
Fay and Reuven Weiss
Tibor Herdon
Saul Berman
Shimon Kurtz
    Mordecai Kurtz – his son
Simcha Bunim Cohen
    Eli Shlomo Cohen – his son
            Simcha – Eli Shlomo’s grandson
Norbert Abenaim
Rumi Gerard-David
Zvi Vorhand
    Moshe Vorhand – his son
Amy Silver
Bryan Bramley
Sam Domb

Jerusalem, Israel
Congregation Ramath Orah, NYC
Har HaMenuchot, Jerusalem, Israel
Congregation Hechal Moshe, NYC
Hartford, Connecticut
Upper West Side, New York City
Great Neck, New York
Rosmarin’s, Monroe, New York
Camp Monroe, Monroe, New York

Kiryas Joel, New York

Monday, November 22, 2010

I Have Lived A Thousand Years: Growing up in the Holocaust by Livia Bitton-Jackson 1997

"Hers is a story of unimaginable brutality, but also of faith, hope, and courage, exemplified by her closing message: Never give up."  from a review by Kathryn Berman on the Yad Vashem International School for Holocaust Studies site.

Livia Bitton-Jackson was thirteen in 1944 when she was deported with her mother and brother from her hometown of Somorja (which had been part of Czechoslovakia, then was occupied by Hungary, then reverted to Czechoslovakia after the war) to a ghetto in the town of Nagymagyar in Czechoslovakia. Her father had already been arrested and sent to a forced labor camp. With great specificity the author describes the next two years as she, her mother and brother were moved from camp to camp.

The memoir opens with a foreword that describes a scene in Seeshaupt, Germany in 1995 when the author attended the fiftieth reunion of her liberation which had occurred in that town. It was an emotionally difficult reunion and one that made her think about the passage of time. She worries that with the aging of Holocaust survivors and the birth of subsequent generations, memories of the Holocaust will fade. To address those concerns she has written this memoir for a young adult audience, what she calls the third generation. 

Despite the fact that it’s written for young adults, all readers will be interested in her story which, although it has the same arc of many Holocaust memoirs, still has details that make important points and distinguish her story from others. Bitton-Jackson (whose name then was Elvira Friedmann) focuses on cruelty and starvation and also on luck and kindness, but she especially focuses on courage. 

In clear direct prose she starts by discussing restrictions such as the forced closing of businesses, including her father’s, and then moves on to the forced wearing of the yellow star and the crowding in the ghetto. She describes the burning of books and Torah scrolls, the old men rending their garments and reciting psalms. She writes about the inhuman conditions under which they were made to assemble and were then transported, the crying babies, the food, water and sleep deprivation. But she was lucky, too. Even though she was underage, which normally would have meant that she would have been gassed with the other children,when she arrived at Auschwitz she was singled out for work because she had golden blond hair.

But mostly she writes about the terrible conditions and the cruelty: the unbearable cold, the unbearable heat, the illnesses, the blisters and sores, the beatings, the starvation. She talks about how whenever they arrived at a new camp the current inmates swarmed  around new arrivals, asking where they had come from, what had they seen, what did they know. Each group sought information about loved ones they had been separated from. She was determined to save her mother and endangered her own life on more than one occasion to keep her mother alive and next to her. She pleaded, she hid, she stood up to authorities. She is especially adept at describing what the emaciated inmates looked like, including herself, her mother and her brother. She paints an indelible picture of horror.

The memoir includes a useful map of the camps where Bitton-Jackson  had been interned and a chronology.

To see a web-based brochure on former Jewish synagogues (including in Somorja) and some cemeteries in Slovakia, 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.

Markus and Laura  Friedmann – author’s parents
    Ellie (Elvira) L. Friedmann – author
    Bubi – her brother
Perl Friedmann – sister of Markus; married to Abram Schreiber
    Hindi, Suri, Layi, Breindi – their daughters
    Benzu and Elyu –their sons
Celia ? – sister of Laura
    Imre – Celia’s son
Serina - sister of Laura  

Bonnie Adler
Gyuri Kardos
Ilse Grunwald
Yitu Singer
Lisa Kohn
Beth Stadler
Misi Lunger

Somorja (Samorin), Slovakia
Budapest, Hungary
Nagymagyar, Slovakia
Komarom, Hungary
Dunaszerdahely, Slovakia
Auschwitz, Poland
Satoraljaujhely, Hungary
Plaszow, Poland

Landsberg Concentration Camp, Germany
Muhldorf - a satellite of Dachua Concentration Camp, Germany
Waldlager Forest Camp, Germany
Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp, Germany
Seeshaupt, Germany
Brataslava, Slovakia

Monday, November 15, 2010

Enemies of the People: My Family's Journey to America by Kati Marton 2009

“Enemies of the People, Kati Marton’s seventh book, [is]a powerful and absolutely absorbing narrative of her parents’ journey — a series of escapes, from Hitler, from Stalin, eventually to America.” From a review in the New York Times by Alan Furst in October, 2009.

When the Hungarian √©migr√© journalist Kati Marton (b. 1949) was working on her first book on Raoul Wallenberg she discovered through an off-hand remark made by an interviewee that Marton’s mother’s parents had been murdered in Auschwitz. Marton was shocked to hear this and to learn that she had Jewish roots.

Marton’s highly educated parents – they both had PhD’s and spoke several languages including English – were totally assimilated and had each converted to Catholicism. They were upset when she confronted them and they refused to talk about their Jewish backgrounds. Both parents insisted upon looking forward, not backward. Her father was a patriotic Hungarian and an Anglophile who had been part of a triple gold-winning fencing team that had represented Hungary in the 1936 Olympics. When she tried to talk about the death of her grandparents at Auschwitz with her mother, her mother’s eyes would well up with tears and the conversation never took place.

This memoir recounts Marton’s early life in Budapest when her two parents were journalists employed by important American entities: the United Press and the Associated Press. Once the Soviet Union made Hungary a satellite Soviet state shortly after World War II, her westernized parents who had befriended American Embassy personnel became more and more suspect. Eventually each was arrested and sentenced to multiple years in jail, but they were released in 1956 during what turned out to be a temporary thaw in relations between the Soviet Union and the West. When the Hungarian revolution followed months later, but was violently suppressed by the Soviets, her parents then applied for refugee status and fled to America where her father continued to work for the Associated Press. 

The bulk of the information in the memoir was extracted from files on her parents Marton requested that had been kept by AVO, the Hungarian secret police. Marton was handed huge files of documents which revealed information about her parents that presented her with a much more nuanced and complex picture of them than she had realized.  Along with interviews she conducted with people who had known her parents in Hungary, she learned much that her parents had never told her. For example, she learned that before World War II because of increasingly restrictive laws against Jewish residents, they could not get the jobs in careers they were highly qualified for and tutored students in English to put food on the table. They survived the war because they had false papers and were hidden by Christian friends. And she learned that her father had had a connection to the Resistance.

But most revelations were about her family’s life under the Communist regime. She realized that informers had infiltrated their household staff. That when they went to restaurants the waiters were informers. That when her parents were in jail their jail mates were informers. And an informer in the American Embassy was the person who facilitated their arrest. What was most upsetting were the files about her parents’ time in jail – how they tried to break her father to get him to admit he was a spy. How they arrested her mother to put pressure on her father.

The documents were, in fact, a gift to Marton. Her parents’ lives were much more difficult during World War II and during the Soviet occupation than their children had ever suspected. Now she understood the difficulty they had talking about the past and their desire not to inflict that pain on their children.

America was a wonderful refuge for the family, but Marton found through the Freedom for Information Act that when her parents first arrived they were suspects here too. The FBI under J. Edgar Hoover conducted surveillance for ten years, concerned that maybe her parents were Soviet agents.

This memoir includes family photos and has an index.
 To read an interview with Kati Marton about the memoir click here.

Paternal side
Erno Marton – author’s grandfather
    Endre (Andrew, Andre) – Erno’s son; married Ilona Neumann; author’s father
        Juli – daughter of Endre and Ilona
        Kati – daughter of Endre and Ilona; married and divorced Peter Jennings; married Richard Holbrooke
            Elizabeth and Christopher Jennings – children of Kati and Peter Jennings
        Andrew Thomas Marton- son of Endre and Ilona
    Feri – Erno Marton’s son
Maurice Mandl – author’s great-grandfather; possibly original name before Magyarized to Marton

Maternal side
Adolf and Anna Neumann
    Ilona – their daughter; married Endre Marton; author’s mother
    Magda – their daughter; married Laszlo (Laci) Pless

Bethesda, Maryland
Budapest, Hungary
Miskolc, Hungary
Melbourne, Australia

Monday, November 8, 2010

I Will Plant You a Lilac Tree: a memoir of a Schindler’s list survivor by Laura Hillman 2005

"There are many YA Holocaust memoirs, but few of them deal with a teenager's survival in the concentration camps. That makes Hillman's affecting account particularly noteworthy." from a review by Hazel Rochman in Booklist

Although the intended audience for this memoir which is written in simple and direct prose is young adults, Laura Hillman (born in 1923) writes well and a reader of any age would be moved by her story which covers the period 1942-1945.

When the story opens Hannelore, (the author's German name) who is the third of five children, is at a Jewish boarding school on the outskirts of Berlin and her two younger brothers are at a school outside of Cologne. Her older sisters were already out of the country, one in England, one in Jerusalem. Her parents thought that boarding schools would better protect them from the wave of anti-Semitism that accompanied Hitler’s rise.  The author’s childhood home had been in Aurich in Northern Germany, and  Hannalore’s father could not believe he could be a target of German hate because he had been a decorated veteran of the German army during World War I.

In the Spring of 1942 Hannalore received two letters from her mother. The first informed her that her father had been arrested and taken to Buchenwald where he was murdered. The second one sent a few weeks later informed her that her mother and the boys had been served notice that they were going to be deported “east.”  Hannalore, not quite twenty years old, decided to leave school and join the transport with her mother and younger brothers because she felt they needed her help.

During the rest of the memoir the author narrates their journey from camp to camp. All in all she was in eight camps. She lost track of her brother Wolfgang early in their journey, then her mother, and then her brother Selly. When she was transferred to Budzyn she met her future husband, Dick Hillman who was a Polish Jewish prisoner of war who seemed well-connected and tried to do what he could to protect her. She later learned that he was working with the partisans.  Here she was also reunited with her very sick fifteen-year old brother Selly who died shortly thereafter in the camp infirmary.

Hannalore and Dick were then both transferred to Plaszow and both were on a short list to become workers at Oskar Schindler’s factory in Brunnlitz. But it took many difficult months for that to happen and, although conditions in Brunnlitz were much better, it was a tense time with rumors constantly circulating about what was happening in Europe. But soon they were liberated, got married and immigrated to the United States.

Laura Hillman wrote and published this book about her younger self sixty years after the experiences she narrates. It took her many years to come to terms with what she witnessed and what she endured. It is likely that part of her motivation for revisiting and writing about her past was the release of the movie Schindler’s List in 1993. Because it was written for a young adult audience a lot of potentially useful historical/political background information is missing, so we don't get a lot of complexity, but she does not shy away from writing about the horrors of the camps nor about the prisoner hierarchy.

The memoir includes some family photos and a very useful map that charts Hannelore’s journey from her home town through the various camps. It is dedicated to the memory of her parents and brothers who all perished.

Click here to access the Yad Vashem website which has detailed information about Schindler and Brunnlitz with links to survivors' testimony and to Schindler's speech to his workers when the Germans surrendered.

Selly and Rosette Wolff – author’s paternal grandparents
    Martin Wolff – Selly and Rosette's son; married Karoline
        Rosel – Martin and Karoline’s daughter
        Hildegard – Martin and Karoline’s daughter
        Hannelore (Laura) – Martin and Karoline’s daughter; married Bernhard (Dick) Hillman; the author
        Wolfgang – Martin and Karoline’s son
        Selly – Martin and Karoline’s son
    Hannah – Selly and Rosette’s daughter; married Karl

Salo Walden – a cousin

Henriette – author’s maternal grandmother (had twelve children)
    Karoline – her daughter; married Martin Wolff; parents of author (see above)

Erich Neuman
Eugen Heiman
Eva Suesskind

Brunnlitz, Czechoslovakia
Plaszow, Poland
Auschwitz, Poland
Buchenwald, Poland
Majdanek, Poland
Theresienstadt, Czechoslovakia
Fulda, Germany
Aurich, Ostfriesland, Germany
Weimar, Germany
Berlin, Germany
Cologne, Germany
Dr. Frankel’s Boarding School for Jewish Girls
Marienhafe, Germany

Monday, November 1, 2010

In My Brother’s Image: Twin Brothers separated by Faith after the Holocaust by Eugene L. Pogany, 2000

 "Pogany's haunting memoir of his Jewish father and Catholic priest uncle, the twins of the title, presents an intimate perspective on Jewish-Catholic relations over nearly a century in his family's native Hungary." from a review in Crosscurrents by Sally Walters, 2001

Eugene Pogany (born in 1951) has a fascinating family story to tell and this memoir reads like a novel. After World War I in Hungary Pogany’s Jewish paternal grandparents both converted to Catholicism and their children, identical twin boys and their younger sister, were raised as practicing Catholics. Their father, Bela, had converted to make it easier to get a civil service position, but the church became the focus of their mother Gabriella’s life. One twin, Gyorgy, grew up and became a priest; the other, Miklos, married a distant cousin who identified as a Jew. Miklos is the father of the author.

Pogany sets up this story in great detail to prepare the reader for what happened next: when World War II broke out the priest managed to get to Italy where he was protected by the church. Miklos, the author’s father, was originally forced to work in a labor detail made up of converts but was eventually transported to Bergen-Belsen where his wife was also a prisoner. The twins’ father, Bela, died before the war. Their mother, Gabriella was gassed at Auschwitz. Several witnesses said she was transported to Auschwitz clutching her crucifix.

The author’s parents miraculously survived the camp and eventually they moved to New Jersey in the 1950’s as did Gyorgy where he became a parish priest. By then the author’s father had reclaimed his Jewish religion, and the rest of the memoir deals with the tense relationship between the two adult brothers because of their opposing views on religion and their different experiences during the war. Neither understood the other. Miklos was bitter because he felt Gyorgy had been sheltered from the war in convenient ignorance of what was happening to the Jews and there was minimal outcry from the Church. At the same time Gyorgy could not get past the fact that his twin’s soul was in jeopardy because he no longer believed in Jesus as his savior.

The author, a practicing psychotherapist, makes insightful observations about the uneasy relationship between his father and his uncle. Their relationship fascinated him. He was especially troubled by what they did not talk about, the sorrow and tension that mysteriously hung in the air. This ties in to a discussion of aspects of his relationship with his father. Like the children of many Holocaust survivors, Pogany grew up in a house with many silences; he knew that certain subjects – like what happened to his grandmother - were off-limits.
Pogany concludes by delving into the subject of grief. He travels to Hungary first with his family and then just with his father, locating the site of his father’s grief in Svarzas, the small town where his father had last lived with his parents before the war.

Earlier in the story, to bring the characters to life, Pogany re-creates conversations and imagined motivations between ancestors he had never met (his grandparents, for example) that often seem self-consciously novelistic. He explains his motivation in his introduction, stating that though he was obviously not privy to the private moments of their lives, he felt comfortable re-creating them since he knew that the circumstances surrounding these conversations and private musings were not fiction. However, in these last chapters when Pogany becomes a character in the story, when, as an adult, he tries to get to know both his uncle and his father, the language flows, the emotions and conversations ring true.

Pogany has woven a lot of the history of the Jewish population in Hungary leading up to and during World War II seamlessly into his memoir as well as research on the role of the Catholic Church during World War II. He includes explanatory notes for each chapter and also includes photos.

To read an interesting article about Raoul Wallenberg and his mission to save Jews in Budapest click here.


Regina Pogany – Bela’s mother
    Bela Pogany (former Popper); married Gabriella Groszman; had grandfather named Adolph
        Gyorgy (Gyuri, George) Pogany – son of Bela and Gabriella;  twin of Miklos
        Miklos Pogany–son of Bela and Gabriella; twin Gyorgy; marries cousin Margit, daughter of Elizabeth
            Peter Pogany - son of Bela and Gabriella
            Eugene Pogany – son of Bela and Gabriella; married Judy; author
                    Ben and Elias Pogany - sons of Eugene and Judy
            Klari (Ellen) Pogany-daughter of Bela and Gabriella; married Max
    Laura Pogany –daughter of Regina; married to Karoly (Karl) Schneider
    Louie Pogany - son of Regina
    Koroli (Karcsi , Eddie) Pogany – son of Regina
Bertha – Regina’s sister; married to Henrik
    Elizabeth (Elza) – daughter of Bertha and Henrik; married to Laszlo (Lester) Deutsch
        Margit (Muci)- daughter of Elizabeth and Laszlo; marries cousin Miklos Pogany
    Rosi- daughter of Bertha and Henrik
    Josi – son of Bertha and Henrik; married to Mariska
        Laszlo (Laci) and Kroly (Kari) – sons of Josi and Mariska
    Charles – son of Bertha and Henrik; married Helen
Gyorgy Szanto – cousin of Miklos Pogany
Sigmund Popper – uncle from Vienna
Sigmund Berenyi - uncle
Robert Buday - relative

Morris Groszman –  married to Rosa (his second wife); Gabriella’s step-mother
David Deutsch – grandfather of Margit
    Laszlo – his son; husband of Elizabeth
   Alexander – his son; married to Munci
   Arpad – his son

Bela Kun
Tibor Szamuely
Miki Maier
Agi Gelb

Budapest, Hungary
Galgocz, Slovakian region of Austro- Hungarian Empire
Barand, Hungary
Kondoros, Hungary
Szarvas, Hungary
Szeged, Hungary
Vac, Hungary
Bor, Czech Republic
Szolnok, Hungary
Szentkiralyszabadja, Hungary
Bergen-Belsen, Germany
Auschwitz, Poland
Raguhn, Germany
Theresienstadt, Czech Republic
Neu-Hillersleben, Germany
Dresden, Germany
Gothenburg, Sweden
East Orange, New Jersey
Newark, New Jersey
Irvington, New Jersey
Sydney, Australia

Monday, October 25, 2010

Memorandum by Donald Brittain and John Spotton,1966, documentary

"[A]ll [scenes] examine the Holocaust from two perspectives - past and present - and they all remind the viewers of the character of the Holocaust as well as the deep feelings of its survivors, like Bernard Laufer ..." from the book The Technique of Film and Video Editing: history, theory, and practice, by Ken Dancyger, 2007

In 1965 Bernard Laufer, who had been born in Poland and after the war settled in Toronto, Canada, went with a group of thirty to revisit Bergen-Belsen, the last of many camps where Laufer had been a prisoner. Accompanying him was his son Joseph. The writer/director team of Brittain and Spotton made a one-hour documentary for the National Film Board of Canada on the occasion of this return visit.

The fact that this black and white documentary was made in 1965, forty-five years ago, and only twenty years after the war, points to its being part of a pioneering effort to focus on the Holocaust as a political/historical event that needed to be probed and investigated.

The creators of this documentary have embedded Laufer’s experience during the war and during his 1965 visit into the context of the larger war. They intersperse scenes of the trip and of on-going 1965 trials of Nazis with footage from WWII Nazi propaganda newsreels, with local street scenes in Germany, and with footage from WWII ghettos and concentration camps. Joseph Laufer, Bernard’s son, talks about his experience observing Germans in 1965 on their visit. He tries to reconcile the Germans going about their everyday business in 1965 with their counterparts in the 1930s and 40s..

The camera frequently trains its lens on Laufer as he contemplates Germany in 1965. The film ends up at the Bergen-Belsen memorial where the visitors say Kaddish. The camp itself was off-limits; in 1965 it was being used as a NATO artillery range. As the film shows newsreel footage of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen and the wasted bodies that lay everywhere, Laufer explains that he was one of them. He weighed seventy pounds when the camp was liberated.

He looks around at the memorial and is upset. He reads the markers on top of mounds of buried victims where are inscribed the numbers of the estimated dead. (The narrator mentions that Anne Frank’s remains are interred somewhere in one of the mounds.) Laufer is convinced the count has been intentionally underestimated. He worries that in time the numbers will shrink further. He envisions “revised” markers. He does not like that the camp now looks like a German Garden.

You can watch the entire one-hour documentary, Memorandum, on the National Board of Film of Canada website for free. Click here to access the documentary.

Click here for a link to the new Bergen Belsen Memorial opened in 2009.

Bernard Laufer
    Joseph – his son
Peter Weiss
Simon Weisenthal
Klara Silbernik
Josef Rosensaft
Erika Millay
Norbert Prager
Herbert Weichmann
Zenon Gotaszewski

Auschwitz, Poland
Buchenwald, Germany
Frankfurt, Germany
Hanover, Germany
Bavaria, Germany
Berlin, Germany

Monday, October 18, 2010

Speak You Also: A Survivor's Reckoning by Paul Steinberg, published in France in 1996, in English in 2000

“It's an unsettling book, from the first page showing Steinberg's fierce will to survive.” From Martin Arnold’s review in the New York Times in October of 2000.

In 1943, when Paul Steinberg was almost seventeen, he was picked up on the streets in Paris where he thought he could pass unnoticed since he was not wearing the required yellow star. He spent the next fifteen months in concentration camps, mostly in Buna (Monowitz), a part of Auschwitz.

Several aspects of Steinberg’s story make this memoir particularly interesting. The memoir serves as an interesting document about the effects of trauma.  He tells us that he made an attempt to write a memoir earlier in the 1960’s but that re-living the experience was too painful and anxiety-producing and he put the manuscript away. When, in the 1990’s he decided to have another go at it, he writes that he became interested in his selective memory: some moments were crystal clear and he remembered minute details. On the other hand, there were long stretches of time that remained blank.  He also recounts how he reacted to this second attempt at writing down his story. Although he got through it, many nights he didn’t sleep. He knows he withdrew emotionally from family and friends.

Another aspect of his story that is particularly interesting is that Steinberg was assigned to work in the same group as Primo Levi and it wasn’t until years after Levi wrote his memoir, Survival in Auschwitz (subject of an earlier post)  that he was willing to read Levi’s memoir at the urging of a friend, and he realized that he made an appearance in it as “Henri.”  He does not object to Levi’s characterization of him as a boy who would do anything to survive.

He describes in detail exactly what the conditions were like in the camp and what he had to do to survive. He describes the power structure and the rules, and then he describes what he did to make sure he could make the power structure and the rules work for him. It started the minute he got to the camp. It involved lying when asked his age – he said eighteen – and lying about what he knew about chemistry so he could get a “good” placement. He capitalized on the fact he spoke German fluently. (He came from a Russian Jewish family who lived in Berlin when he was born and then moved to Paris.)  He turned on his boyish charm and befriended those he knew could help him. At the same time he cared for others, getting extra soup, for example, for his friends when he could.

He also stresses that luck played a big role in his survival and the survival of others; sometimes bad luck turned into good luck. For example, when his number was tattooed on his arm, the needle was infected and he ended up in the camp hospital where he got enough food and was free to recuperate slowly. He thinks he might have been the only one to have survived who came down with hepatitis from that re-used needle.

This is a very interesting memoir about being a Holocaust survivor as well as the trauma of the war, recovering the memories and reliving the trauma.

If you would like to read a scholarly article about British Prisoners of War and their reaction to the Jewish inmates at Auschwitz published in the Journal of Holocaust and Genocide Studies  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.

Note: Steinberg spends very little time discussing family. No family names are mentioned. He does say that his mother died at his birth and is buried in Berlin. That he has an older brother and sister who survived the war, his brother in England, his sister in France with false papers. His father was Russian born and active in the Bolshevik revolution.

Friends and Acquaintances
Victor Young Perez
Robert Levy
Philippe Hagenauer
Robert Frances
Jean Olchanski
Pierre Bloch
Albert Cases

Drancy, France
Auschwitz, Poland
Monowitz (Buna), Poland
Juan-les-Pins, France

Monday, October 11, 2010

Charlotte: Life or Theater?: An Autobiographical Play by Charlotte Salomon, work created 1940-1942

" [Charlotte Salomon's] intense fervor for life, which flamed up in the face of gradual processes of dehumanization, was also deeply political. It was an urgent assertion of her existence against the twin threats of suicide and annihilation." From a review by Leslie Camhi in the Village Voice in January, 2002 of a selection of Salomon's paintings that were being exhibited at the Jewish Museum in New York.

Charlotte Salomon (1917- 1943)  was born and brought up in Berlin, Germany, the daughter of accomplished, assimilated Jews involved in the rich intellectual life of Berlin before the war. But because of the war and the continued assault on the increasingly diminishing Jewish population, she fled in 1939 to the south of France to live with her grandparents who had moved there in 1933 when Hitler came to power. There Charlotte Salomon feverishly painted and dramatized her life in over 1000 gouaches which she completed and handed over to the village doctor for safe-keeping before she was deported and killed at Auschwitz.
Charlotte Salomon was a serious art student. She was an accomplished young artist, whose influences are apparent. She has presented her life as theater – theater of the absurd is what comes to mind. Her work is quite original – avante garde in conception and execution – consisting of painting as well as narration (often rhymed) with directions for musical accompaniment. It should be noted that she has created characters based on their real-life counterparts and given family members fictional last names.

The focus of her work is, on the surface, her family and its personal history – which caused her great pain and anxiety. There were multiple suicides on the maternal side of her family, including her mother’s sister Charlotte, after whom she was named. Her own mother took her life when Salomon was nine years old, and then her grandmother killed herself when Charlotte Salomon was living with her and her grandfather in the south of France. Knowing this family history, Salomon feared for her own mental stability.

Beneath that layer, intensifying the nightmare quality of the family story is the horror of the war and its immediate effect on her and her family. There has been some critical discussion about how in Theater or Life? Solomon blended fiction and fact. But however Salomon might have re-calibrated some events in her life to serve her art, there can be no question about her accuracy in portraying the war and its effect on her, her family and friends. The paintings that are specifically about the war have a documentary feel – the bare facts compromise a nightmare in and of themselves.

For example Act II starts with the April 1, 1933 Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses. She includes a rendering of a page from the Nazi newspaper, Der Sturmer, and then paints several pictures showing his father’s being fired from his medical position. She also builds a painting around a rendering of a 1938 page from a copy of Der Angriff, a Berlin Nazi newspaper full of anti-Jewish propaganda. What follows are family scenes of distress in reaction to the intensifying anti-Semitism. There’s a knock on the door – the Nazi police come for her father. His prominent wife, an opera singer, sets out to see if she can pull strings to get him released.

Salomon’s stated goal was to make an artistic creation of life as a way to reclaim her life. The tragic irony of course is that her immersion in this project did save her from suicide – but not from Auschwitz.

Note: As stated above, Charlotte Salomon changed the last name of family members and the full name of a close family friend. The Viking 1981 edition of Life or Theater has three introductory essays that, in giving us background information, use some of her characters’ real names. In the Preface, Judith C.E. Belinfante, the Director of the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam, explains how the paintings came to be a part of their collection and what they have done to preserve and display them. In the Foreword, Judith Herzberg fills out the circumstances of Charlotte Salomon’s life including the circumstances surrounding her marriage shortly before her death to Alexander Nagler, an autobiographical event that Salomon does not include in her work. In an Editorial note, Gary Schwartz discusses how this Viking edition was constructed out of her paintings. (The Viking edition is now out of print but is available in libraries and for purchase as a used book.)

Since Charlotte Salomon's work is owned by the Jewish History Museum of Amsterdam, you can often find pictures of Charlotte Salomon's work on their site, but the museum changes what they feature on their site.To go to the website of the Jewish History of Amsterdam click here.

Albert Salomon – married Franziska; 2nd marriage to Paula Lindberg
     Charlotte – daughter of Albert and Franziska

Kurt Singer
Alfred Wolfsohn
Alexander Nagler

Berlin, Germany
Villefranche, France
Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp
Gurs Internment Camp, France
Auschwitz, Poland

Monday, October 4, 2010

Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg, written and directed by Aviva Kempner, 2009 (documentary)

"The documentary Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg salutes Berg and her far-reaching influence." from a review by Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times in July, 2009

Gertrude Berg (the stage name of Tillie Edelstein 1898-1966), whose father owned a Catskills hotel in Fleishmanns, New York, became an early pioneer in radio and TV, creating and playing the character Molly Goldberg from 1929 into the 1950’s.

It is very interesting to hear Gertrude Berg talk in her own cultured voice about the character of Molly who spoke with a pronounced Yiddish-inflected voice. Berg did not only act the part, she wrote thoughtful but often humorous scripts, forging the way for the weekly situation comedy which was to become a staple of television programming, introducing what became a beloved character to all America. Through interviews with Gertrude Berg and others, as well as through excerpts from the shows, the film recounts how important and popular the Goldberg family became to a very large and varied audience. In fact, Berg received the first "lead actress in a comic series" Emmy award.

The documentary also deals extensively with the actor Philip Loeb who played her husband on the show but who was blacklisted and the insidious effect blacklisting had on writers and actors in the entertainment industry, many of them Jewish.

Mordechai Edelstein –Tillie Edelstein’s grandfather
    Jacob Edelstein – his son; Tillie’s father
    Dina Edelstein – his wife; Tillie’s mother
        Tillie Edelstein (Gertrude Berg who played Molly Goldberg) – their daughter
        Cherney Edelstein – their son
        Lewis Berg – Gertrude’s husband
            Harriett Berg Schwartz – their daughter
            Dr. David Schwartz – their son-in-law
                Adam Berg – her grandson
                Anne Schwartz – her granddaughter
                Henry Schwarz – her grandson
Philip Loeb – actor on show
Anna Berger – actress on show
Fannie Merrill – her secretary/friend
    Judith Abrams – Fannie Merrill’s daughter

To learn more about the film and see family pictures click here.
To see a twelve minute trailer click here.

Fleishmanns, New York
New York City, New York

Monday, September 27, 2010

Two Cents Plain: My Brooklyn Boyhood by Martin Lemelman, 2010

”… a classic coming of age story set in Brooklyn in the 1950s and ’60s.” from a review by  Zara Raab  in the Sacramento Book Review, August 2010.

Two Cents Plain by Martin Lemelman (born in 1950) is a “sequel” to his earlier memoir Mendel’s Daughter (the subject of an earlier post) which was the story of his mother’s experience hiding in Poland during World War II. Two Cents Plain starts with a recap of his mother living in a hole in the ground in Poland with her siblings. When the war was over she made her way to the Neu-Freiman Displaced Person’s Camp in Germany where she met Tovia Lemelman who had spent the war as a soldier in the Soviet Army only to return home to find no one alive. They married in the camp. She pointed out many did because they were all in a hurry to start anew. Soon they made their way to America and eventually settled in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn where they bought a candy store. They worked in it day and night.

The family lived in a very small apartment in the back of the store and it is the setting of Brownsville, the store and the family that is focus of this memoir. Because Lemelman is an artist/illustrator by profession – he has illustrated many children’s books - the memoir is rich in detailed illustration of the neighborhood and fellow small merchants, of the store, of the egg creams and sundaes his father made, and of the cramped and insect-infested apartment.  It is not a conventional graphic memoir in that Lemelman does not draw cartoons, but rather, black and white illustrations, often superimposing photographs and images of actual documents. In “quoting” his parents, he replicates immigrant speech that is full of Yiddish vocabulary and inflection. He also includes Yiddish sayings along with their translations at the beginning of chapters.

Lemelman describes his parents as exhibiting some of the classic behavior of Holocaust survivors and immigrants. They threw themselves into their work; they were morose and hard to please. His father’s goal had not been to own a candy story. He had tried to be a chicken farmer in Youngsville, NY, but it didn’t work out financially in the short term and his wife hated not being in a city in the middle of a Jewish community. He felt diminished. In Poland he had been the respected manager of a mill.

Each of Lemelman's two memoirs, Mendel's Daughter and Two Cents Plain, stands alone, but they are more interesting read together.

To see photos taken at the Neu-Freiman Displaced Persons Camp in the collection of the US Holocaust Museum click here.
To watch a video of an interview with Martin Lemelman about Two Cents Plain click here.

Note: A more complete genealogy can be found in the post on Mendel’s Daughter

Author’s family on maternal side 
Mendel and Malka -  author’s grandparents
    Simon – Mendel’s son by first wife
    Jenny – married Fievel
        Eli – their son
    Regina – their daughter
    Gusta (Goldie) – married Tovia (Teddy) Lemelman
        Bernard – their son
        Martin – their son; married Monica; author

Germakivka, Poland
Radziwill, Poland
Brownsville, Brooklyn, New York City
Youngsville, New York

Monday, September 20, 2010

Shalom Y’All: Images of Jewish Life in the American South, Photographs by Bill Aron, text by Vicki Reikes Fox 2002

This large-format book was created as an adjunct to the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience in Utica, Mississippi to document through large black and white photos the history of Southern Jewish communities.  The five chapters focus on geography, food, work, religious practice and family.

The book is made up of several short introductory essays by the playwright Alfred Uhry (Driving Miss Daisy) who grew up in Atlanta, Vicki Reikes Fox, the writer of the text accompanying the photos who grew up in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and the photographer, Bill Aron, who grew up in the Northeast.  It has many quotes from the residents commenting on Jewish life in their various communities.

Note:  This book includes photos and commentary only from the states of Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and South Carolina.

To read about an itinerant rabbi ministering to Jews who live in small towns in the South, click here.
To read about an annual deli-luncheon fund-raiser for Hebrew Union Congregation in Greenville, Mississippi and hear a podcast about it, click here.

Bill Aron – married to Isa
    Hillel and Jesse – their children
Alfred Uhry - Atlanta, Georgia
Eli Evans
Marci Cohen Ferris
Vicki Reikes Fox - Hattiesburg, Mississippi
Max Signoff – Hattiesburg, Mississippi
Macy B. Hart – Winona, Mississippi
Meyer Gelman – Greenwood, Mississippi
    Joe Martin Erber – Meyer Gelman’s nephew; Greenwood, Mississippi
Morris Grundfest - Cary Mississippi
         Betty Lee  - Morris Grundfest’s granddaughter; married Ben Lamensdorf; Cary, Mississippi
              Deborah Sue Lamensdorf – their daughter; married to Louis Howard Jacobs
              Ike Morris Lamensdorf – their son; married to Mary Jane Lindsey
Grace Grossman
Mary Ann Jacobson
Mark Greenberg
Sam Eichold
Dale Rosengarten
Sheila Rodin-Novak
Benedict Rosen
Ron and Anne Krancer
Robert and Nancy Lyon
Rebekkah Farber
Steven A. Fox
Abrom Kaplan – Kaplan, Louisiana
         Connie Kaplan – Abrom’s great-nephew
Adolph, Isaac, Sidney, and Lee Felsenthal - Felsenthal, Arkansas
Leopold Marks - Marks, Mississippi
Simon and Rose Weil – Joe’s Dreyfus Store – Livonia, Louisiana
Betty Goldstein – Greenville, Mississippi
Ernest L. Stanley – Levy, Arkansas
Morris Levy
David Poliakoff – Abbeville, South Carolina
Ilsa Goldberg – Greenwood, Mississippi
Jacob Kantor – Greenwood, Mississippi
    Sol Kantor – Jacob’s son
Harry Phillips – Dumas, Arkansas
Charles Dante – Dumas, Arkansas
Sam Stein – Greenville, Mississippi
         Jay Stein – Sam’s grandson
Melissa Samuels – Jackson, Mississippi
Rabbi Wolli and Sarah Kaelter – Hot Springs, Arkansas
    Baruch and Judy Kaelter – their children
Rabbi Matt Friedman – Hot Spring, Arkansas
Mary Klompus, Betty Kleinman, Elaine Wolden, Olivia Silverman – Hot Springs, Arkansas
Peter Gartenberg – Hot Springs, Arkansas
    Leo Gartenberg – his son; Hot Springs, Arkansas
         Robert Gartenberg – his son; Hot Springs, Arkansas
Henrietta Levine – Pine Bluff, Arkansas
Meyer Drexler – Wynne, Arkansas
    David Drexler – his son; Wynne, Arkansas
Larry Brook – Birmingham, Alabama
Rose Rotenstreich – Birmingham, Alabama
Meyer Newfield – Birmingham, Alabama
Joe Schwartz – Dauphin Island, Alabama
Delores Loeb – Mobile, Alabama
    Leslie Miller – her daughter
Milton Brown – Mobile, Alabama
Bob Zeitz – Mobile, Alabama
Andrea and Michelle Dorfman, sisters – Long Beach, Mississippi
Carolyn Lipson-Walker – grandmother had lived in Marks, Mississippi
Bess Seligman – formerly of Shaw, Mississippi (moved to Boca Raton, Fla.)
Jake Aranov – Columbus, Georgia
    Aron Aranov – Montgomery, Alabama   
         Jake and Owen Aronov – his sons; Montgomery, Alabama
Mortimer Cohen – Montgomery, Alabama
Raymond Cohen, Montgomery, Alabama
Jeanette Capouya – Montgomery, Alabama
Sarah Shumaria – Montgomery, Alabama
Jimmy Sabel – Montgomery, Alabama
Jacob and Getta Waterman Weil – Montgomery, Alabama
              Gloria  - their great-granddaughter; married to Kalman Shwarts
Harry Lebovitz – Montgomery, Alabama
James Loeb – Montgomery, Alabama
    James, Loeb Jr. – his son
Irving and Judy Feldman – Jackson, Mississippi
Celeste Lehman Orkin, Dea Lehman Gotthelf, Phyllis Lehman Herman – sisters; Jackson, Mississippi
Barbara Edisen – Morgan City, Louisiana
Gaston Hirsch – Donaldsonville, Louisiana
I.A. Kamien – Cleveland, Mississippi
Mannie Krouse – Natchez, Mississippi
Jerry Krouse – Natchez, Mississippi
Marty Nathanson – Natchez, Mississippi
Zelda Millstein – Natchez, Mississippi
Jay B. Lehmann – Natchez, Mississippi
Elaine Lehmann – Natchez, Mississippi
Rosalie Beekman – Natchez, Mississippi
Lawrence Chiz – Shaw, Mississippi
Aaron Kline – Alligator, Mississippi
Robert Hirschberg – Friar’s Point, Mississippi
Billy Rosenberg – Selma, Alabama
Noah and Gerry Barkovitz – Hayti, Missouri
Abe Barkovitz – brother to Noah
Joseph Goldberg – Belzoni, Mississippi
    Charlie – Belzoni, Mississippi
Dotty London Stetelman – Hattiesburg, Mississippi
Henry Friedman – Franklin, Louisiana
Harold and Lucille Hart – Eudora, Arkansas
Rabbi Sam Stone – Greenwood, Mississippi
Goldie Fleischer – Shaw, Mississippi
Louise Weisman Levi – Dermott, Arkansas
Sam Epstein – Lake Village, Arkansas
         Sam Epstein Angel – his grandson
              Sammy – his son
Henry Galler – New Orleans, Louisiana
Henry Stern – New Orleans, Louisiana
Alan and Sandra Jaffee – New Orleans, Louisiana
Jerry and Jack Friedlander - Mobile, Alabama
Ron Hoffman – Mobile, Alabama
Joy Grodnick – Mobile, Alabama
Sam Strauss – Little Rock, Arkansas
Milton Waldoff – Hattiesburg, Mississippi
Sam H. Kirsch – Hot Springs, Arkansas
    Laura – his daughter; married Mark Fleischner
Joe and Suzi Rosenzweig – Hot Springs, Arkansas
Bob Cahlman – New Orleans, Louisiana
I.A. Rosenbaum – Meridian, Mississippi
Joel Lourie, Isadore E. Lourie, Hyman Rubin, Sylvia Dreyfus, David Taub, Irene Krugman Rudnick, Arnold Goodstein, Richard Moses, Harriet Keyserling, William Keyserling, Leonard Krawcheck – South Carolina Jewish legislators and mayors
David I Bruck – South Carolina
Michael Shackleton – New Orleans, Louisiana
Klara Koock – Ocean Springs, Louisiana
Roy Hoffman – Mobile, Alabama
Paul Greenberg – Pine Bluff, Arkansas
Jack Cristil – Tupelo, Mississippi
Archie and Ruth Bernstein – Columbus, Mississippi
Betty Kohn and Barbara Edisen – cousins; Morgan City, Louisiana
Mark Perler – Tupelo, Mississippi
Eliot Copen – Tupelo, Mississippi
Rabbi Seymour Weller – Little Rock, Arkansas
Elliott Dorman – Long Beach, Mississippi
Freeda Ritman – Shreveport, Louisiana
Sol Astrakan – Kennett, Missouri
Avram Aizenman – Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Stephen and Julie Ziff
Rueben Greenberg – Charleston, South Carolina
Jerry and Anita Zucker – Charleston, South Carolina
Edwin S. Pearlstine Jr. – Charleston, South Carolina
Patty Levi Barnett and Wendell M. Levi, Jr. – twins; Sumter, South Carolina
Harry Nowalsky – New Orleans, Louisiana
Jacob Bodenheimer – norwestern Louisiana
Ralph Friedman – Oxford, Mississippi
Louis Friedman – Oxford, Mississippi
Vinnie Prochilo – Oxford, Mississippi
Rabbi Eric and Laura Gurvis – Jackson, Mississippi
    Benjamin and Sarah – their children
Vivian Levingston – Cleveland, Mississippi
Jeanette Gorden – Itawamba County
Gerald Posner – Opelousas, Louisiana
Joe Pasternack, Jr. -  New Orleans, Louisiana
Lisa Pollack
Abraham and Fannie Isaacs Block – Washington, Arkansas
    Isaac Block – their son
Louis  and Sarah Kasten – Fort Smith, Arkansas
Leopold Levy – buried in Port Gibson, Mississippi
Jacob Cohen - Mississippi
Jacob Schwartz - Mississippi
Henry Burgance – buried in Jewish cemetery in Woodville, Mississippi
Cliff and Wilma Abrams – Brookhaven, Mississippi

Places and Institutions

The Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience in Utica, Mississippi
The Fleischer Store – Shaw, Mississippi
Kaplan and Liberty Rice Mills - Kaplan, Louisiana
Kaplan Herald, Kaplan, Louisiana   
Felsenthal Land and Timber Company - Felsenthal, Arkansas
Grundfest and Klaus – Cary, Mississippi
Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society
Dante and Son – Dumas, Arkansas
Stein Mart – multiple locations
Agudath Achim – Shreveport, Louisiana
B’nai Zion – Shreveport, Louisiana
Congregation Bikur Cholim – Donaldsonville, Louisiana
Beth Israel Congregation, Jackson Mississippi
Congregation Beth Shalom – Oxford, Mississippi
Ohel Jacob Synagogue – Meridian, Mississippi
Hebrew Union Congregation – Greenville, Mississippi  
Gemiluth Chessed – Port Gibson, Mississippi
Congregation House of Israel – Hot Springs, Arkansas
B’nai Israel – Fort Smith, Arkansas
Ahavah Achim – Wynne, Arkansas
Anshe Emeth – Pine Bluff, Arkansas
Temple Meir Chayim – McGhee, Arkansas
House of Israel – Hot Springs, Arkansas
Agudath Israel - Montgomery, Alabama
Temple Beth El – Birmingham, Alabama   
Springhill Avenue Synagogue – Mobile, Alabama
The Old Church St. Graveyard – Mobile Alabama
Temple Mishkan Israel – Selma, Alabama
Temple Beth El – Anniston, Alabama
Temple B’nai Israel – Little Rock, Arkansas
Agudath Achim Synagogue – Little Rock, Arkansas
Temple B’nai Israel – Tupelo, Mississippi
Temple Beth Israel – Biloxi, Mississippi
Temple Beth El – Lexington, Mississippi
Congregation Ahavath Rayim - Greenwood, Mississippi
Congregation Shaarey Zedek, - Morgan City, Mississippi
Touro Synagogue - New Orleans, Louisiana
Anshe S’fard – New Orleans, Louisiana
Temple Emanuel – Opelousas, Louisiana
Temple Shalom – Lafayette, Louisiana
Temple Beth El – Birmingham, Alabama
Temple Emanu-El – Birmingham, Alabama
    Hannah Lazarus Sewing Guild
Temple Emanu-El – Charleston, South Carolina
Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim – Charleston, South Carolina
Temple Beth El – Camden, South Carolina
Temple B’nai Israel – Natchez, Mississippi
Jewish Cemetery – Natchez, Mississippi
Blytheville Temple – Blytheville, Missouri
Anshe Chesed Cemetery – Vicksburg, Mississippi
Jewish cemetery in Plaquemine, Louisiana
The Old Magnolia Cemetery – Mobile, Alabama
James Loeb and Son  - Montgomery, Alabama
Epstein Land and Gin Company – Lake Village, Arkansas
Krouse and Company – Natchez, Mississippi
Dixie Tobacco and Candy Co. – Shaw, Mississippi
The Whale Store, Alligator, Mississippi
Hirshberg’s Drug Store – Friar’s Point, Mississippi
Boston Hardware and Locksmith – Selma, Alabama
Goldberg’s Department Store – Belzoni, Mississippi
Friedman and Sons – Franklin, Louisiana
Leo Kahn Store – Morgan City, Louisianna
Gartenbergs – Hot Springs, Arkansas
Mr. Henry’s Tailoring – New Orleans, Louisiana
Henry Stern Antiques – New Orleans, Louisiana
Mobile Rug and Shade Company – Mobile, Alabama
Hoffman Furniture Company – Mobile, Alabama
Waldoff’s Department Store – Hattiesburg, Mississippi
Lauray’s Jewelry Store – Hot Springs, Arkansas
Aranov, Realty - Montgomery, Alabama
Ruth’s Department Store – Columbus, Mississippi
Palmetto Pigeon Plant – Sumter, South Carolina
Deep South Jewish Voice – Birmingham, Alabama

Monday, September 13, 2010

Strange Haven: A Jewish Childhood in Wartime Shanghai by Sigmund Tobias, 1999

[T]he cold, calculated, disciplined, and controlled violence of the SS ... is what historians know. It is ever more vivid when seen through the eyes of a six year old child."  From the introduction by Michael Berenbaum.

Sigmund Tobias (b. 1932), was six years old when, shortly after Kristallnacht, he and his family fled Berlin, Germany for Shanghai. Tobias’ parents were originally from Poland. When they wanted to leave Germany, his father, who had no papers, tried to escape to Antwerp but he was picked up at the Belgian border and sent to Dachau. When his mother learned that they could go to Hongchew, the Japanese -occupied section of Shanghai, without a visa, she bought her husband a ticket which secured his release from Dachau. She and her son followed five months later.

Tobias, in a memoir of little more than 150 pages, gives a vivid account of life in Shanghai which housed over 16,000 Jews in the Hongchew neighborhood, including several group of Yeshiva students and their rabbis. Living conditions, including no in-door plumbing, were a particular shock to the Tobias family after having lived in Berlin. Life was very difficult, but the refugees were thankful to be alive, despite the additional problems of little income, overcrowding, severe food shortages, and bombing by the Allies. Of course they all worried about the relatives they had left behind and they were alert to any news they could get from the west about the progress of the war. They read the Shanghai Jewish Chronicle and copies they were sent of the Aufbau, which was published in German in the U.S.

Tobias describes the various Jewish groups: the German,  Austrian, Polish and Russian Jews, as well as Sephardic Jews and then he writes about their synagogues, and how they did or did not interact with each other. He spends considerable time discussing his time as a student at the Merrer Yeshiva. The Yeshiva students and their rabbis were able to immigrate from Lithuania because of the actions of the compassionate and heroic Japanese Consul-general Chiune Sigihara in Lithuania where the Yeshiva had re-constituted itself after fleeing its home in what was then Belarus. Because the Yeshiva received funds from the American Joint Distribution Committee,  the Yeshiva students and their rabbis did not suffer deprivation to the extent the other refugees did. In fact that was one reason that the author’s parents as well as refugee parents of other children enrolled their children at the Yeshiva, even though these families were often not as religious as the Yeshiva students who had arrived with their rabbis.

After the war the Mirrer Yeshiva moved to Brooklyn. The author left Shanghai for New York in 1948 at the age of 15 alone because he had clearance as a German citizen. His parents followed in 1949 when their visas came through. In the last few chapters the author writes about his return to Shanghai many years later. There are only traces of the refugee community left, and Tobias had trouble finding them.

This memoir includes photos, an index, and an introduction by Michael Berenbaum, a professional colleague and friend.
To read an in-depth article on the Jewish refugee population in Shanghai written by Dr. Peter Vamos and published in the Pacific Rim Report click here.
To read an article in the Los.Angeles Times about the emerging interest in the WWII Jewish community if Shanghai, click here.

To read an interesting article about  tours of Jewish Shanghai click here.

Moses and Frieda Tobias
    Sigmund Tobias – their son; married to Lora; author
      Susan and Rochelle - their children
             Daniel and Jessica Shapiro - Sigmund and Lora's grandchildren
Solomon Windstrauch – Frieda’s father
    Malka – daughter of Solomon; sister of Frieda; married Philip Jaffe
        Sigi and Max – children of Malka and Philip; first cousins of author
    Sarah – daughter of Solomon; married ? Baufeld; sister of Frieda
        Sol and Puppe – children of Sara Baufeld; author’s first cousins
    Aaron Windstrauch– son of Solomon; brother of Frieda
    Melech Windstrauch – son of Solomon; brother of Frieda
    Ida – daughter of Solomon; married Herman ?; sister of Frieda
    Rachel – daughter of Solomon; married David Reiner; Frieda’s sister

Horace Kadoorie
Isaac Atterman
    Willi – his son
Rita Atterman Feder
Meyer Frankel
Yechezkel Lowenstein
Meir Ashkenazi
Norbert Seiden
Siegfried Loebel
Moshe Fastak
Lucy Hartivich
Leo Meyer
Robert Knopp
Joseph Tukachinsky
Abraham Aaron Kreiser
Morris Gordon
Alfred “Laco” Kohn
Max Buchsbaum

Places and Institutions
Berlin, Germany
Shanghai, China
Hongkew section of Shanghai
Szendiszov, Poland
Beth Aharon
Oihel Moshe
Mirrer Yeshiva