Thursday, April 29, 2010

Rachel Calof's Story: Jewish Homesteader on the Northern Plains by Rachel Calof, 1995

"This book was an eye opener for me. To begin with, I did not know that there had been Jewish homesteaders, and, in general, did not know anything about the lives of these pioneers, both Jewish and non-Jewish." L.Kamionkowski from a review on

Although this ninety-page memoir was published in 1995, it was written in Yiddish in 1936 when Rachel Calof was sixty, and found  by a grown daughter around 1980 at which point she had it translated.

Rachel Bella Kahn came to this country in 1894 to meet Abraham Calof, husband-to-be, and moved with him to the Northern Plains, to a homestead in North Dakota where they got married and raised nine children. They suffered through many disasters, but their farm flourished in the later years. In 1917 they left for an easier life in St. Paul, Minnesota.  There are wonderful scenes in Russia before she leaves for America that describe her arranged marriage, her overland trip to Hamburg, the ship’s journey, and her arrival at Ellis Island. But the manuscript is mostly about the very difficult conditions establishing a farm and raising a family in North Dakota. A part of this story which makes for fascinating reading is a description of their lives as practicing Jews.

There has been some dispute about the difference between the original Yiddish manuscript and the edited English version. It has been said that the original was much longer and that it has obviously been heavily edited. The original manuscript is owned by the family and has not been made available to researchers, so it’s impossible to verify what is in the original.  That being said, the pruning may have been judicious.

Published with the manuscript are several essays. An epilogue by her youngest son describes what his parents’ life was like once they gave up the farm and moved to St. Paul. An essay entitled “Jewish Farm Settlements in America’s Heartland” by J. Sanford Rakoon of the University of Missouri - Columbia describes the Jewish farm movement of the late nineteenth-early twentieth century. A third essay entitled, “Rachel Bella Calof’s Life As Collective History” by Elizabeth Jamison of the University of Mexico discusses Rachel Bella Calof as a Jew, as a woman, and as an immigrant farmer’s wife.

There are a few photos as well as explanatory endnotes and an index.

To read more about Jewish farming in America, click here.
To learn about a Jewish agricultural colony that was established in Cotopaxi, Colorado, click here.


The spelling of Calof varied amongst relatives: Kalof, Calof, Calov
Sholom and Charadh Calof
    Abraham Calof - son of Sholom and Charadh; married Rachel Bella Kahn, author
         Minnie Calof - daughter of Abraham and Rachel
         Hanna Calof - daughter of Abraham and Rachel
         Moses (Mac) Calof - son of Abraham and Rachel
         Isaac (Jack) Calof - son of Abraham and Rachel
         Bessie (Elizabeth) Calof Breitbord - daughter of Abraham and Rachel
         Alec Calof - son of Abraham and Rachel
         Celia Calof - daughter of Abraham and Rachel
         Jacob Calof - son of Abraham and Rachel       
        Two granddaughters are mentioned in the forward: Roberta Myers, Johann Smith

    Chaya (Ida) Calof - daughter of Sholom and Charadh
    Savol (Charlie) Calof - son of Sholom and Charadh; married to Faga
        Max, Oscar, Lily Calof - children of Charlie and Faga
    Moses Calof - son of Sholom and Charadh
    Saul Calof - son of Sholom and Charadh
Mordechai Calof, brother of Sholom (?),
     MaierCalof - son of Mordechai; married Doba Zaslavsky
     Leib (John). - son of Mordechai; married Sarah Zaslavsky (sister to Doba)

Molly Shaw – friend, translated the Yiddish
Abraham Greenberg – a neighbor
    Benyomin (Benjamin) Greenberg- his son; postmaster

Belaya Tserkov, Russia
 Charaievka, Russia
In the Northern Plains of the U.S.:
     Devil’s Lake, Ramsey County, Garske, Painted Woods, Burleigh County, North     Dakota

Hebrew Emigrant Aid Society
Jewish Agricultural and Industrial Aid Society (JAIAS)
Jewish Agriculturalists’ Aid Society of America (JAAS)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Maus: A Survivor's Tale by Art Spiegelman, Volume I, 1986; Volume II, 1991

 Winner of a special citation by the Pulitzer Prize Board in 1992 

Art Spiegelman’s award-winning graphic memoir introduces us to Art Spiegelman, author, and Vladek Spiegelman father and Holocaust survivor. Art Spiegelman interviewed his father over a period of many months, mainly at his father’s home in Rego Park, Queens, New York where Vladek lived with his second wife, also a survivor.

This work is many-layered: Art Speigelman has vividly drawn his father’s various situations in Poland as Vladek progressed from being a happy young man with prospects for financial success, partly due to his having been embraced by his well-established in-laws. He then moves on to discuss his extended family's progressively dire circumstances, to a description of his confinement at Auschwitz, to his release and his immigration to the US. 

 At the same time that we watch Vladek and his family’s situation unfold, we also learn about the complicated relationship Art Spiegelman had with his father as he was growing up. The graphic memoir is constructed of panels that weave together the past and the present. The story doesn't always unfold in a strictly chronological order. Sometimes we are in the present and see Art interviewing his father in Rego Park, sometimes we see reenactments of his father's past, sometimes we see reenactments of the author's childhood. This all serves to reinforce the idea that the present and the past are inextricably intertwined. This is a particularly apt approach for a story of a survivor and the child of survivors.

Art Spiegelman  seamlessly integrates dialogue and illustration. He includes maps and a diagram of Auschwitz and a few family photos. You can see from the drawing on the cover that he uses the symbolic technique of drawing the Jews as mice and the Nazis as cats.

To listen to an interview with Art Spiegelman and about the process of creating Maus and to see family photos and  some of his artwork, click here.

To read a subsequent post on this blog of Art Spiegelman's MetaMaus: A look inside a modern classic, click here.

Mr. Spiegelman - Vladeks’ father; the author’s grandfather
    Vladek Spiegelman – author’s father
    Fela Spiegelman – Vladek’s sister
    Markus Spiegelman – Vladek’s brother
    Moses Spiegelman – Vladek’s brother
    Leon Spiegelman – Vladek’s brother
    Pinek Spiegelman – Vladek’s brother; married Sarah from Lemberg;
    Zosha Spiegelman - Vladek's sister
   Yadja Spiegelman – Vladek’s sister

   Jakov Spiegelman - Vladek’s cousin
   Haskel Spiegelman– Vladek’s cousin
   Pesach Spiegelman – Vladek’s cousin. Haskel’s brother; wife - Rivka
   Miloch Spiegelman – Vladek’s cousin; Haskel and Pesach’s brother; wife Gutcha

Mr. and Mrs. Karmio -  grandparents of Anja Zyberberg Vladek’s 1st wife
Mr. and Mrs. Zylberberg; Anja’s parents
Tosha Zylberberg– his daughter; married to Wolfe
            Bibi- Tosha and Wolfe’s daughter
Anja (Anna) Zylberberg – Vladek’s 1st wife; author’s mother
            Richieu – first son of Vladek and Anja;
            Arthur – author, son of Vladek and Anja Zylberberg
        Mala – Vladek’s 2nd wife
Herman  Zylberberg -  Anja’s brother; married to Hela   
    Lolek Zylberberg; son of Herman and Helen
    Levek Zyberberg - relative

Friends and Acquaintances
Lucia Greenberg – Vladek’s first serious girlfriend
Mr. Ilzecki – tailor form Katowice
Nahum Cohn - owner of a dry goods store in Sosnowiec
Szklarczyk – owner of big grocery on Modrzejowska St.
Moniek Merin – head of Srodula ghetto
Mandelbaum – owned sweets shop in Sosnowiec
    Abraham – his nephew
Gelber – family, owners of bakery in Sosnowiec
Edgar and Mrs. Karp – neighbors in Catskills at bungalow colony; survivors

Czestochowa, Poland
Sosnowiec, Poland
Bielsko, Poland
Radomsko, Poland
Nurenberg, Germany
Lublin, Poland
Katowice, Poland
Dabrowa, Poland
Srodula, Poland
Szopienice, Poland
Auschwitz, Poland
Lodz, Poland

Monday, April 26, 2010

Leaving a Doll's House by Claire Bloom 1996

"She [Claire Bloom] also thinks that being Jewish in postwar London, where the word 'Jewish' was muttered under the breath of non-Jews, encouraged her to 'push myself up'." From an article based on an interview with Claire Bloom by Damian Whitworth in THETIMESONLINE, 12/09

In the early chapters of this memoir, the actress Claire Bloom who was born in 1931, talks in some detail about her family background and describes what it was like to grow up poor and Jewish in England. She also describes vividly the stress of the bombing during World War II and their temporary escape to America where they stayed with relatives in Florida.

Other than the family history which is covered mostly in the early chapters, this memoir deals with Claire Bloom’s development as an actress and with the many men in her life. The last third is dedicated to her eighteen years with the writer Philip Roth which is why the memoir received the attention it did in the press.

Includes photos
To read the first chapter, click here.

Author’s father’s side of the family
Blumenthal grandfather from “greater” Russia
Caroline – author’s paternal grandmother, born in Riga, Latvia
Bertha – second wife he married in South Africa
    Edward Blume (originally Blumenthal) – author’s father, born in Liverpool
    Isadore – Edward’s brother
    Dolly – Isadore’s wife
        Erica and Michael – Isadore and Dolly’s children
    David and Estelle Bloom– Edward’s brother and sister-in-law
        Richard and Shirley Bloom– David and Estelle’s children
    Freida – Edward’s sister in South Africa

Author’s mother’s side of the family
Henry and Paula Griewski – author’s maternal grandparents
    Elizabeth Grew – author’s mother, called Alice
         John and Sheila Blume – author’s brother and sister-in-law
    Mary and Victor Sheridan– author’s mother’s sister and brother-in-law
        Norma Sheridan – Mary and Victor’s daughter
London – east end, Cricklewood
New Milton
Forest Hills, Queens
Sharilawn – camp in Massachusetts

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Jew Store by Stella Suberman 1998

"Like the store, which is practically a character in its own right, the people in The Jew Store linger in the mind." From a review by Marisa Kantor Stark in the New York Times

Stella Suberman, has written this engaging memoir about her immigrant parents’ migration from New York in 1920 to a small town in Tennessee where her father opened up a dry goods store, called by his southern customers, The Jew Store. The store was successful; the family was integrated into the community despite encounters with ignorance and anti-Semitism.

But her mother, especially, felt at first homesick for her large extended family in the Bronx, then isolated as an observant Jew. She agonized over the celebration of Jewish holidays and the need to arrange a bar mitzvah for her son, and then worried about the social life that the rural south offered her two growing daughters. So they returned north to the Bronx in 1933.

There are extensive discussions of the establishment and running of her father’s store, and Suberman writes about her father’s connections to the St. Louis Jewish wholesalers, itinerant Jewish peddlars, and a few Jewish families who owned other dry goods stores in the rural south. This is an interesting memoir to read if you are interested in American Jews in the South, in this case an American Jewish dry goods merchant and his family, living far from major centers of Jewish life.

Note: Suberman chose to fictionalize the names of her family and her southern neighbors to protect their privacy.

For a reading list of book on Southern Jewish History compiled for an American Studies class at the University of North Carolina, click here.

Podolska – her father’s shtetl south of Kiev;
Nashville, Tenn.,
St. Louis, Mo

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl -The Definitive Edition, 1995

"Like most of Anne Frank's readers, I had viewed her book as the innocent and spontaneous outpourings of a teenager. But now, rereading it as an adult, I quickly became convinced that I was in the presence of a consciously crafted work of literature." Francine Prose in Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife

For anyone who has only read the edition originally edited by Anne’s Frank's father in 1947, it is time to read this definitive edition, which, according to the book's foreward, adds about 30% more material to the originally published edition.  It also contains more material from a reworked version of her diary that Anne was preparing with the hopes of getting it circulated – inspired to do so by a Dutch official in exile who on the radio stated that he’d like to make diaries and letters written during the war available to the public after the war.

Anne Frank’s diary is a rarity – it’s the voice of a Jewish adolescent speaking from the grave. Anne had serious aspirations to be a writer, so the blank diary was an apt gift to her from her parents for her 13th birthday in June of 1942. She made her first entry right after her birthday when she was still living with her family at their home in Amsterdam, but a month later, in July of 1942, the family went into hiding in an annex connected to her father’s office. The rest of the entries, a little over two years’ worth, Anne writes when she is in hiding; they stop abruptly when Anne and her family and the others hiding with them were discovered and sent on a transport to Westerbork where they were then transported to Auschwitz. They were then split up, and all were either gassed or died from hunger or disease except for Anne’s father, who returned after the war and claimed the diary.

Anne was already a gifted writer as can be seen in her diary entries. She creates vivid portraits of the “characters” who, along with her, were at one and the same time condemned to be cooped up in hiding, and were very lucky to have a place to hide. She dramatizes skillfully, recreating dialogue to help a scene come alive. She describes in vivid detail how they tried to live as “normally” as possible. They prepared meals together. They celebrated every birthday, they played chess, and circulated books. And she bares her soul, so that we feel we know her intimately.

Through her artfulness we can see and hear their petty squabbles, feel the tension, the anxiety, the despair, the camaraderie and the rivalries that took place over the two years they all lived in hiding. We find their hope tragic because we know, as they didn’t, that they were sent to their deaths.

We stare at Anne Frank's very familiar picture on the cover and on pages of photos. We owe an incredible debt to Miep Gies, the non-Jewish worker who risked her own life to bring food and library books to the annex and who found Anne’s diary after the residents of the annex were arrested. She saved it, with the hope that survivors would return.

This definitive edition has a foreward that explains this particular version of the diary and an afterword that details what is known about the fates of the eight people who hid in the annex. It also includes pages of photos.

To see a preview of the Virtual Anne Frank House which will be on-line on 4/28/2010, click here. 

Michael Frank – Anne’s paternal grandfather
Alice Stern – his wife, Anne’s paternal grandmother
            Otto Frank – Anne’s father
            Edith Hollander Frank – his wife; Anne’s mother
                        Margot –Anne’s sister
                        Anne – the author of the diary
            Elfriede Makovits Geiringer - Otto Frank's second wife

The Van Pels family (called van Daan in diary)
Auguste – his wife
            Peter – their son

Fritz Pfeffer – eighth person in annex; called Albert Dussel in diary

Frankfurt am Main

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Tale of Love and Darkness by Amos Oz 2005

" His memoir, in a translation that preserves the author’s gorgeous, discursive style and his love of wordplay, is a social history embedded within an autobiography." From a review in the New York Times by Boris Katchka

This panoramic memoir is a must-read for anyone interested in the daily life of Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe who settled in Palestine before statehood and lived there during the early years of Israel. Amos Oz, one of Israel’s greatest writers, uses the various configurations of his family to reveal their preoccupations, their interests, and their political arguments. The scenes he paints of them and their friends serve to introduce us to an important group of settlers, but the scenes also help to explain the world out of which Amos Oz, the child, the Israeli, and the writer emerge.

Having escaped Eastern Europe before WWII, Oz’s father’s family, the Klausners settled in Jerusalem; they were highly educated Zionists as well as scholars and poets. His mother’s family, the Mussmans, who arrived about the same time, chose to live in Haifa and Tel Aviv. They valued education as well (his mother and one of her sisters went to the University in Prague) but they had a different sense of themselves; they identified more as members of the proletariat and their Zionist politics were to the left of the Klausners. The two sides barely mixed.

Oz is a family historian, retelling many of the stories about his ancestors that he heard from family members on both sides. And then he tells his own stories: what it was like growing up as an only child in a family and community of multi-lingual refugee intellectuals. He describes what he remembers about both sets of grandparents and aunts and uncles. He gives us details of his education and his teachers, and what it was like to live amongst Arab residents.  He pays careful attention to his surroundings, describing in detail the streets and neighborhoods of the Jerusalem of his youth. And of course he details the political scene, including the drama surrounding statehood.

In the last part of the memoir he introduces us to Kibbutz Hulda where he persuaded his father to let him live after his mother died. That coincided with his changing his name from Klausner to Oz. Both contributed to his perceived need to break with the European refugee past that had defined his early upbringing and helped to redefine his identity as an Israeli.

Oz is a gifted writer. In this memoir he relies on photographs (not published except for one) to re-create scenes, and he quotes letters and journal entries. The memoir has an encyclopedic feel that is breathtaking. It has its comic moments as well as those that are deeply tragic. Amos Oz, observer and participant, provides many insights and pleasures for the reader in his skillful recreation of a world long gone.

To hear an interview with Amos Oz discussing his memoir click here.

Father’s Great grandmother’s Braz family
Rabbi Alexander Ziskind – author’s gggg  grandfather
    Rav Yossele Braz – his son; author’s ggg grandfather
        Alexander Ziskind Braz – his son; author’s gg grandfather
        Menahem Mendel Braz – his son; author’s gg uncle; wife Perla
            Rasha-Keila Braz – their daughter; author’s g grandmother

Author’s Klausner  family
Rav Gedaliah Klausner-Olkienicki
    Rav Kadish – his son
        Ezekiel Klausner – his son
                Yehuda Leib; his grandson– wife Rasha-Keila Braz;
                    Joseph – their son; author’s g uncle
                    Aunt Zippora  (Fanni Wernick)– Joseph’s wife
                        Haya Elitsedek – Joseph’s sister-in-law
                            Ariel – her son
                    Alexander-their son; author’s grandfather;
                    Shlomit Levin, Alexander’s wife; his 1st cousin
                    they had 6 children:
                        David (Zyuzia) –wife Malke (Macia)
                            Daniel (Danush) , their son
                            Yehudah Arieh (Lonia)– author’s father
                                Amos – author; his children:
                                    Daniel Yehuda Arieh
                            Marganita –author’s half-sister
                            David – author’s half-brother
                        Daria (Dvora) – husband Misha
                        Yvetta Radovskaya
                                Marina – her daughter
                                    Nikita – her son
Mother’s father’s family
Herz and Sarah Mussman, author’s gg grandparents
    Ephraim – married Haya Duba; author’s g grandparents
        (Naphtali) Hertz (Gertz Yefremovich)– author’s grandfather
        Fania (Rivka, Zippora, Feiga, ) Mussman – author’s mother
        Haya (Nyusya)– married Tsvi Shapiro– author’s aunt and uncle
            Yigal – their son
        Sonia (Sarah) - married to Avraham (Buma) Gendelberg
        Jenny – married to Yasha
        Mikhail (Michael) – married Rakhil

Mother’s mother’s family
    Gedalia Shuster married Pearl Gibor – author’s great grandparents
        Itta Gedalyevna – author’s grandmother; married Naphtali Herz Mussman

Not relatives, but play a part in the story Oz tells
Mala and Staszek Rudnicki
Dr. Krumholtz
Dr. Issachar Reiss
Menahem Gelehrter
Zelda Schneersohn – married Chayim Mishkowsky
Matya and Gita Miudovnik
    Grisha - their son
Yakov-David and Zerta Abramski
    Yoni - their son
Israel and Esther Zarchi
    Nurit – their daughter
Hertz Meir Pisiuk
    Arie Leib- their son; married Rucha
        Hemi (Nechemia) – their son
Samuel Hugo Bergman
Oizer Huldai

Olkieniki, Lithuania
Trakai, Lithuania
Popishuk (Papishki), Lithuania
Rudnik, Poland
Trope, Ukraine
Rovno, Ukraine
Tachkemoni  school, Israel

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Death in the Family: The 19th century scandal that ended the reign of New York's Sephardic aristocracy by Joshua Nathan-Kazis published on line on 1/13/2010 in Tablet

This fascinating article, published in the online journal Tablet which describes itself as “A new read on Jewish life,” is written by a descendant of the prominent New York City Sephardic Nathan family and focuses on the unsolved murder in 1870 of the author Joshua Nathan-Kazis' ancestor Benjamin Nathan, a member of the New York Stock Exchange. The author presents an interesting portrait of the life of this large influential Sephardic Jewish aristocratic family in the second half of the 19th century in New York and brings us up to date about more recent generations as well. In the article, which both spells out the influence and the intrigue, we also get a good sense of time and place.

This murder was front page news at the time, but pretty much forgotten today. Benjamin Nathan Cardozo, the murdered Benjamin Nathan's grandnephew, an esteemed past member of the United States Supreme Court, is a much more well known member of the Nathan family.

To access the article click here.

Benjamin Nathan – murdered in New York City in 1870
     Frederick Nathan – one of the 7 children of Benjamin
     Washington Nathan – one of the 7 children of Benjamin
Robert Nathan – brother of Benjamin
    Edgar Joshua Nathan – nephew of Benjamin; married 1st cousin Sarah
    Sarah Nathan Solis – niece of Benjamin; married her 1st cousin Edgar
               Joshua Nathan-Kazis – author; great-great grandson of Edgar and Sarah
Rebecca Nathan Cardozo – sister of Benjamin Nathan
Albert Cardozo – married Rebecca
       Annie Nathan Meyer – daughter of Rebecca; founder of Barnard College   
       Benjamin Nathan Cardozo – son of Rebecca and Albert; Supreme Ct. judge

Places and Institutions
Shearith Israel

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi. First published in Italian in 1958. Published in English with an afterword: Primo Levi and Philip Roth in Conversation, 1986

"By the early 1980's the literary establishments of the West realized that Primo Levi, an industrial chemist from Turin, was also one of the great European writers of the 20th century." From a book review by Anthony Grafton in the New York Times

Primo Levi’s memoir, first published in English with the title If This is a Man (an accurate, but not immediately revealing translation of its original title in Italian), has reached the status of a classic. Levi, at the age of 24 was rounded up along with other partisans by the Fascists at the end of 1943 in the mountains outside of Turin, Italy, and was sent to a detention camp and then transported to Auschwitz where he remained eleven months until the camp was liberated by the Soviets. He spent his time in the section of Auschwitz called Monowitz-Buna which was a slave labor camp.

Levi, trained as a chemist, is also a gifted writer. He is a moral philosopher in his discussions of what went on in the camps between human beings reduced to their bestial nature. These included acts of unspeakable brutality on the part of the oppressors and acts of self-interest by prisoners who were propelled by their will to survive.

His powers of observation help us to see what he describes: the strategizing that took place if a prisoner wanted to survive - who to seek out, who to avoid, how to do your work, how to avoid as best you could back-breaking work that would kill you. He describes the selection process, the power structure in the camp, the underground economy that flourished amongst the prisoners, their guards, and civilians. This economy included trading for bread, soup, spoons, clothing, shoes.

This is not a family story. Levi was the only one of his immediate family to spend time in a concentration camp. His mother and sister remained in hiding during the war. It is interesting to compare this memoir to Elie Wiesel’s memoir Night (a separate post). Wiesel was also in the Monowitz-Buna section of Auschwitz, but was with his father. At the end of the war Wiesel and his father, who left the infirmary to leave the camp, were part of the grueling death march the Germans forced on the prisoners. At the time of the death march Levi was in the infirmary with scarlet fever where he remained. The story of Levi’s last ten days after the Germans abandoned the camp but before the Soviets liberated it is the fascinating subject of the last chapter of this memoir where he dramatizes the desperation of the patients to survive and what they did to try to hold on.

To listen to a BBC interview with Primo Levi, click here.

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, 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.

To read about the Primo Levi Centre at the Museum of Jewish History in New York City, founded to study "the history and culture of Italian Jewry" click here.

The following were prisoners Levi mentions:
Gattegno and family, Aldo Levi and daughter Emilia, Flesch, Bergmann, Wachsmann, Resnyk, Templer, Elias Lindzin, Iss Clausner, Wertheimer, Sattler, Schenck, Alcalai, Kuhn, Gounan, Kraus Pali, Brackier, Kandel, Silberlust, Towarowski, Lakmaker, Piero Sonnino (See the post on This Has Happened: An Italian Family in Auschwitz by Piera Sonnino, who is not directly linked to Piero Sonnino in her memoir, but there is mostly likely a family connection.)

Turin, Italy

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit: A Jewish Family's Exodus from Old Cairo to the New World by Lucette Lagnado 2007

Winner of the 2007 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature. Awarded under the auspices of the Jewish Book Council, “The Prize honors an emerging author in the field of Jewish literature who has written a book of exceptional literary merit that stimulates an interest in themes of Jewish concern.”

Lucette Lagnado (born in 1956), an award-winning investigative reporter for the Wall Street Journal and the author of Children of the Flames: Dr. Josef Mengele and the Untold Story of the Twins of Auschwitz, has divided this engrossing memoir into two parts. The first is the story of her large extended family, members of the thriving Cairo Jewish community before the military coup toppled King Farouk in 1952 and foreigners were harrassed, including Egyptian Jews who had lived in substantial numbers in Cairo for centuries and had contributed to its prosperity.

The second half of the memoir is the story of her immediate family’s difficult life in exile. They stayed on in Cairo until 1963 after most Jews had left, primarily because her father refused to leave. After leaving became the only option, they first moved to Paris where they received aid from COJASOR and then to the United States where they settled in Brooklyn, aided by resettlement agencies HIAS and NYANA. Following the trajectory of many immigrants forced to leave the country they considered their homeland, Lagnado’s family left prosperity and became mired in poverty.

The man in the white sharkskin suit of the title is Lagnado’s father, Leon, who had been born in Aleppo, Syria and who had migrated when we was a baby to Cairo. The author is her parents’ youngest child, her father’s pet, and she responded in kind - by adoring him. But that does not seem to cloud her vision, and she gives us a complex portrait of a man who felt honor-bound to support and protect his family, but who also lived the life of a man of the Levant – a mid-Eastern patriarch who called the shots, who lived by rules and rituals the author attributes to Halabi (Aleppo) Jews from a bygone era. How poorly those ways served him, how ill-equipped he was to flourish in NY, Lagnado reveals in her vivid descriptions of both his inability and unwillingness to adapt to living in America.

With some preliminaries about their backgrounds, the memoir starts in earnest with the courtship between her parents in Cairo in 1943 and ends with their deaths in the 1990’s in New York City. The author takes us through their early married life, the birth of their children, her father’s life outside the home, their various reactions to decisions about immigration, the scattering of the extended family, and the ways various family members coped in America. She describes the transplanted Sephardic community in Brooklyn, including the synagogue Heaven and Love whose rabbi and many congregants they knew in Egypt and rejoined in Brooklyn.

Because of the wonderful reception this memoir got when it was released, Lagnado has decided to work on a memoir that focuses more on her mother, Edith, which she expects to finish in 2011. The Man in the Sharkskin Suit has been optioned for a film.

The memoir includes family photos and a bibliography for further reading.

To read an interview with the author published in the Forward conducted by her niece, Caroline Lagnado, click here.

Author’s father’s family
Ezra Lagnado – author’s father’s father
Zarifa Lagnado – author’s father’s mother; from Aleppo; had ten children:
    Raphael – married to Henriette; had two daughters & a son
    Solomone (Pere Jean-Marie- became Catholic priest)  
        Siahou – her son
    Rebekah Ades
    Bahia- husband Lelio Silvera
        Salomone – her son; author’s first cousin; married to Sally
        Violetta – her daughter
    Leon –author’s father; born in Aleppo
    Marie – had six children

Author’s mother’s family
Isaac Matalon – author’s grandfather
    Edouard  - Isaac’s son from a previous marriage
    Rosee Hakim– Isaac’s daughter from a previous marriage
        Victor – her son; married to Rachel
        Son (unnamed) – married to Josette
Alexandra – author’s grandmother; Alexandra and Isaac’s children:
    Edith – author’s mother
    Felix – married to Aimee
Dana family- Alexandra’s wealthy Cairo cousins
Author’s immediate family
Leon Lagnado and Edith – author’s parents
    Zarifa  - (Suzette); married Alex; had son Alexander
    Cesar – married to Monica
    Lucette (author)

Rabbi Halfon – spiritual leader of Ahavah ve Ahaba
Simcha Allegra – midwife in Cairo
Elie Mosseri – neighbor in Egypt and Brooklyn
Baruch Ben Haim –  teacher in Brooklyn

Aleppo – Halab in Arabic
Synagogues in Cairo
   Ahavah ve Ahabah – synagogue in Cairo moved to Brooklyn
   Gates of Heaven – largest synagogue in Cairo
   Ganeh Tikvah
   Temple Hanan
   The Temple of the Great Miracles
   Shield of Young David

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Lost in Translation: Life in a New Language by Eva Hoffman 1989

"She doesn't shut off any side of her. Most people who are Polish-Jewish decide to be one or the other. She has decided to be both." Michael Ignatieff, historian, Canadian politician and long-time friend of Eva Hoffman

In 1959, at the age of thirteen, Ewa (Eva) Wydra arrived in America from Cracow and settled with her parents and younger sister in Vancouver, Canada. The author divides this memoir into three sections: Paradise, Exile, and The New World. In telling her story she paints a complex portrait of herself as an immigrant adolescent moving into adulthood in a culture she is trying to negotiate and absorb.

In the first section, Paradise, Eva Hoffman describes her childhood in Cracow, a city she loved. She was a post-war baby, totally integrated into post-war life in Cracow, with close friends and a serious interest in becoming a pianist. Hoffman describes in loving detail the geography of the city as well as its cultural life. But her parents, who originally lived in Zalosce and who lived out the war in hiding in Ukraine and miraculously survived when many of their family members were rounded up and killed, saw post-war anti-Semitism as a serious threat and watched as most of their Jewish friends left Poland. So Eva must leave behind all she treasures and move to a country where she knows no one and doesn’t speak the language.

In the section called Exile, Hoffman focuses on the “Lost in Translation” of the title: the difficulty she had as a teenage immigrant, how lost she felt in trying to make sense of the new, of recalibrating her identity, translating– idioms, geography, fashion, culture. As the daughter of immigrants, Holocaust survivors, she focused on achieving.

In the last section, The New World, we follow Hoffman through her years of college and university study and her early professional life as a writer. She met with great success at every level, but never felt totally of the New World. Having settled into the life of an intellectual in New York City, Hoffman end her memoir by describing two trips: one back to Poland eighteen years after she left to see Cracow and her old friends, including her piano teacher. The second trip was to Vancouver to visit her aging parents (in what she calls the shtetl-on-the-Pacific). Both visits helped her take stock and to come to terms with who she is, a product of two worlds, two distinct cultures.

To listen to a webcast with Eva Hoffman conducted at the University of California at Berkeley in 2000 as part of their Conversations with History Series click here.

Eva Hoffman has also written Shtetl: The Life and Death of a Small Town and the World of Polish Jews (1997) which focuses on the town of Bransk. More recently she has written After Such Knowledge: Memory, History, and the Legacy of the Holocaust (2004), about the Holocaust and memory from the perspective of the children of survivors.

Ewa (Eva) Wydra - author
Alina (Elaine) Wydra – her sister
Berg family – son Marek a good friend of author

Family friends:
Rotenberg, Taube, Leitner, Berenstein
Rosenberg, daughter Diane
Stefan and Rosa Steiner
    Elizabeth and Laurie – their daughters

Cracow, Poland
Zalosce, Poland
Vancouver, Canada

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Remind Me Who I Am, Again by Linda Grant 1998

[T]he other ... marvelously powerful story ... distinct from but connected to the story of Rose Grant's dementia . . . is the story of second-generation Anglo-Jewry, the generation whose parents were immigrants from Russia, Poland, or Romania, the ones who had to bridge the divide between the old life and the new." From a review by Rebecca Abrams in Independent on Sunday

In this wonderful memoir Linda Grant writes about coping with her mother’s progressive deterioration due to dementia. But in the process of telling that story, the author devotes considerable space to the lives of her parents, telling the stories of their each growing up with Jewish immigrant parents and many siblings in Liverpool, England. Her father became a successful salesman of wholesale beauty products and she places his success and the financial standing of the family in the context of a Jewish family close to their immigrant roots trying to find their place in the larger world.

This memoir, written by a British writer who is a successful journalist and novelist with a mordant sense of humor, moves from Liverpool, to Bournemouth, to Oxford and to London where she and her sister eventually place her mother  in a home run by Jewish Care. This memoir is interesting because of its Anglo-Jewish focus as well as its focus on a daughter's relationship with her aging mother.

Grant has included family photos.

 For an interesting interview with Linda Grant in which she talks in some detail about her Anglo-Jewish background click here. To read a list of the top ten Jewish books Linda Grant recommends click here.

Author’s father’s side of the family
Ginsberg – father’s family, probably not original name in Poland; changed to Grant - not sure when
Morris Ginsburg; author’s great-grandfather; married Rachel Berman
    Wolfe Ginsburg – son of Morris and Rachel; married Janey Walman
        Louis Ginsburg - son of Wolfe and Janey; married Dinah Rosenberg
            Sefton Ginsburg – son of Louis and Dinah; married Anne
        Israel (Issy, Lesley) Ginsberg – son of Wolfe and Janey; married Mollie
            Elka and Sonia  Ginsberg – daughters of Israel and Mollie
            David Ginsberg – son of Israel and Mollie
        Benny (Ginsberg) Grant –  son of Wolfe and Janey; married Bessie Cohen; married Rose Haft 
            Sonia Grant - daughter of Benny and Bessie
            Linda Grant - daughter of Benny and Rose; author
            Michele Grant - daughter of Benny and Rose
        Gertrude Ginsberg - daughter of Wolfe and Janey
            Joy Pond –  daughter of Gertrude
        Tillie Ginsberg Taylor - daughter of Wolfe and Janey
            Shaina Taylor – daughter of Tillie
        Gilday (Ralph) - son of Wolfe and Janey

        Saul Rosenberg – Louis’ wife Dinah’s brother
        Kirwans and Axelrods - cousins

Author’s mother’s side of the family
Haft – mother’s family from Kiev; but not Haft in Ukraine
Leah (Linda) – author’s maternal grandmother
    Abe Haft – son of Leah; 1st wife died; 2nd wife Betty
        Marina Haft Moss – daughter of Abe
            Jonathan Moss – son of Marina; married to Lynne
        Stewart Haft – son of Abe by 2nd wife
        Lorna Haft – daughter of Abe by 2nd wife
    Miriam Haft – daughter of Leah; later known as Milly
    Gertie Haft  – daughter of Leah
        Martin – son of Gertie
    Lillian Haft - daughter of Leah
    Herschel (Harry) Haft - son of Leah
    Morris Haft - son of Leah
    Rose Haft – daughter of Leah; author’s mother; married Benny Grant
        Linda Grant - author
        Michele Grant – author’s sister

Friends and Acquaintances
Francis Abelson – known as Frankie Vaughan


Thursday, April 1, 2010

Every Day Lasts a Year: A Jewish Family's Correspondence from Poland, ed. by Christopher Browning, Richard Hollander, and Nechama Tec, 2007

"It is hard to find a book that surprises us with new details about the Holocaust. This collection is such a book, adding significant detail to the individual stories that constitute the Holocaust . . . " Holli Levitsky from a review in the Journal for Holocaust and Genocide Studies

These moving family letters, covering the period from 1939-1942, are from members of the Hollander family who lived in Cracow, Poland, to Joseph Hollander, their son, brother, brother-in-law and uncle, who had escaped to the U.S. They were found in New York by Richard Hollander at the death of his father, Joseph Hollander, who was the only member of his immediate family to survive the Holocaust.

The letters reveal a family whose only hope is Joseph Hollander who managed to leave Poland in 1939. Their letters become more and more desperate. We learn about the increasingly harsh conditions under which they lived and their attempts to make contact with friends and relatives elsewhere to try to find a route out. We learn about others in their situation as well, who tried to use any means they could to leave Cracow and to communicate with relatives who left before they did.

At the same time that Joseph is trying to find a way to get his family out of Cracow, we learn about Joseph Hollander's "statelesss" status here in America and his struggle to avoid deportation. His case became celebrated and the ongoing court proceedings covered in the daily newspapers.

The letters are preceded in the book by three essays. The first, an essay entitled “Joe” by Richard Hollander, focuses on his father’s arrival in the States and gives us an overview of his family’s situation in Poland when the war broke out. His essay is followed by one by Christopher Brown a professor/ Holocaust scholar called “The Fate of the Jews of Cracow Under Nazi Occupation.” The third essay, “Through the Eyes of the Oppressed,” is by Nechama Tec, also a professor/Holocaust scholar. The essays by Brown and Tec contextualize the letters by filling in historical background about the German occupation, the creation of the Cracow Ghetto, and the proliferation of transport, labor and extermination camps.

The memoir contains family photos and an index.
To search the Cracow Ghetto Register on the site click here

Sol and Berta (Beila) Hollander
    Amalia (Mania) - their daughter; married to Salo (Gabryel) Nachtigall;
        Ignacy  - Amalia and Salo’s son
    Klara – their daughter; married to Dawid Wimisner;
        Eugenia (Genka)  and Lusia (Dola) -  Klara and Dawid’s daughters
    Dola  – their daughter; widow of Henek Stark; married Munio Blaustein (Brandsdorfer)
    Joseph (Joziu) Arthur Hollander – their son; escaped to US; receiver of letters
    Felicia (Lusia) Schreiber – his first wife; divorced & re-married; 2nd husband – Julius Deutsch
    Vita Fischman– Joseph’s second wife
         Richard Hollander – son of Richard and Vita; inherited letters; editor of book
             Hillary and Craig – his children
    Paul Schreiber – cousin of Joseph Hollander’s 1st wife Felicia
    Emile Deligtisch – cousin of Joseph Hollander’s 1st wife, Felicia
    Janek Schreiber – cousin of Joseph Hollander’s 1st wife, Felicia;
Rosa Weiss Kohn – sister of Joseph’s mother; had 4 married daughters;
    S. Sidney Goodman – a son-in-law of Rosa Weiss Kohn;
    Leo Hollander – Joseph Hollander’s cousin; married with a son
    Paula – Leo’s wife
Paula . . . – Leo Hollander’s sister; divorced with a son, named Curt
Adele . . . cousin of Joseph Hollander’s 1st wife Felicia; sister to Leo and Paula
Franka – Joseph Hollander’s wife Felicia’s sister;
Arthur Blaustein – brother of Joseph’s sister’s husband Munio;
Regine Hutschnecker – Joseph Hollander’s brother-in-law Munio Blaustein’s sister, a widow; has son, Kurt

Refugees from Cracow already in US known to the Hollanders:
Leo Kauffman; Mr. Zimberknopf; Dr. Nalu Stein; S. Bilki; Emmanuel Birnbaum, NY (cousin of Birnbaums in Cracow who sent two daughters Ursula and Ruth on the Kindertransport to England); Mack Liebeskind; Dr. and Mrs. Tertlebaum

Arnold Spitzman – unrelated 14-year old boy who escaped to US with Joseph and Felicia; son of Maximilian; married twice; had two daughters.
Henrik and Felicia Spitzman – aunt and uncle of Arnold and Anita Spitzman

Jacob Lesser – the lawyer representing stateless Joseph, Felicia and Arnold in the US
Sol Bloom – a US congressman helpful with the Hollanders’ illegal status in the US
Archibald and Ida Silverman – philanthropists from Rhode Island who lobbied on Hollanders’ behalf

Samuel Mandelbaum – judge in NY involved in the Hollanders’ petition to stay in the US
Alexander Gross – involved in legal case brought by a third party against Joseph Hollander

Richard Abramowicz and wife –refugees from Poland with passports for Honduras;

Cracow survivors mentioned: Felicja Schachter-Karay; Miriam Akavia;
Hela Schupper-Rufeisen  (resister); Szai Dreiblatt, (resister)
Cracow residents mentioned who were killed: Mordechai Gebirtig, poet; Szymek (Malek) and Gusta (Justyna) Draenger, resisters;Aaron Liebeskind , a resister;
Hela Schupper-Rufeisen – a resister in Cracow, a survivor

Cracow, Poland
The Jewish ghetto in Cracow
Various transit, labor and extermination camps