Monday, June 28, 2010

My German Question:Growing up in Nazi Berlin by Peter Gay 1998

"Gay's story could hardly be other than interesting . . ." From a New York Times review of My German Question by Frank Kermode, October, 1998

Peter Gay, retired Sterling professor of History at Yale, who, amongst his many scholarly works has written a highly regarded biography of Freud, decided to write this memoir to answer a vital question. How should he feel, how does he feel, about contemporary Germany and its German citizens? He narrates the story of his family’s Berlin years – he was born in 1923 - in order to provide a context for that vital question.

This memoir provides us with a vivid picture of Berlin up until war was declared. Gay, whose family’s last name had been Frohlich, grew up the precocious only child in a largely assimilated extended family who enjoyed the economic and cultural life Berlin had to offer. His teachers recognized his abilities, and he would have had many intellectual successes in Germany, but as a Jew he was shortly closed out of opportunities along with all German Jews who lost their livelihoods and their property. Many, of course, also lost their lives. Gay describes the 1936 Olympics which he attended with his father and Kristallnacht from the point of view of someone who was there. He then details the subsequent scramble to get out. His family was lucky with the help of German friends to get visas to Cuba and only later immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba.

In filling out his early life story the author deals with some issues that he has thought a lot about. For example as a German Jew he feels the need to defend himself and other German Jews against the charge that their mistake was being too “German.” He also deals with questions he is frequently asked: Why didn’t your family and others leave sooner? Didn’t you see what was happening?

All this leads up to his question about his attitude toward contemporary Germany and its German citizens. It is not an easy question with an easy answer. He discusses the slow evolution of his feelings, from early hatred and rage to an acceptance of a new generation whose members were not responsible for the actions of their parents’ generation, though he does say that in encountering members of the post-war generation, he often wonders what their grandparents/and/or parents were feeling and doing during the war.

This memoir includes many photos.

To read a copy of the speech Gay delivered in Munich in November, 1999 on the occasion of his being awarded the Geschwister-Scholl prize for the German translation of My German Question, click here.

Author's father's family
Moritz Frohlich (Morris Gay) – author’s father
    Peter Jack Gay (Peter Joachim Frohlich) – their son; married Ruth; author of this memoir
Esther – author’s father’s sister; married Moritz Jaschkowitz
Recha – author’s father’s sister
    Werner – her son
Siegfried – author’s father’s brother
Max – author’s father’s brother

Author’s mother’s family
Albert and Regina Kohnke – author’s maternal grandparents
    Hedwig – mother’s sister; married to Samuel Frohlich, author’s father’s uncle (families intermarried)
        Hanns (Jack Gay)– son of Hedwig and Samuel
        Edgar – son of Hedwig and Samuel; married Comer

    Siegfried Kohnke – their son
    Willy Kohnke – their son; married Gertrude
    Alfred Kohnke – their son; married Grace
        Albert- son of Alfred and Grace
    Author's mother (unnamed) - married Moritz Frohlich
        Peter - their son

 Jacob Wolfsohn - distant cousin

Berlin, Germany
Podjanze, Poland
Quincy, Florida
Denver, Colorado
Hahn, Germany
Havana, Cuba

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Patrimony: A True Story by Philip Roth 2006

Winner of the 1991 National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography

Philip Roth, the current dean of Jewish American writers, has written a slim but moving tribute to his father, Herman, who was born in 1901 at the dawn of the twentieth century and died near its end in 1989. The son of immigrants, Roth praises his stamina and his devotion to supporting his family. He includes an important section on his father’s employment at Metropolitan Life Insurance, making a clear and convincing case that his father never moved up in the company because of corporate anti-Semitism.

The father/son roles are now reversed and as the author tends to his aging father he recounts their family life in Newark and Elizabeth NJ. He talks about their relationship to extended family, their businesses, and their enthusiasms. There is a lengthy discussion of a large family association made up of his paternal grandfather’s mother’s line first started in 1939. And he writes about how he and his father enjoyed listing and reminiscing about the many Jewish boxers who they had followed when both father and son were younger. Some of the boxers his father had known personally.

Though his widowed father eventually moved to Bal Harbour, Florida, the locus of their life had been in Newark, New Jersey, a city which appears in many of Roth’s novels. Here Roth vividly recreates scenes of the Jewish immigrants and their progeny getting a toehold in America. Roth movingly narrates the decline and illness of a once vital man. And with his death and those of his generation went an early twentieth-century way of life. The best way to describe it is to resort to the cliché: It was the end of an era.

To read an article in the New York Times about Philip Roth's return visit to Newark and the role Newark played in his life, click here.

Father’s side of the family
Sender Roth – Philip Roth’s grandfather
Bertha Zahnstecher Roth – married to Sender Roth
    Charles – their son; married Fannie Spitzer; married Sophie Lasker
        Milton, Rhoda, Kenny, Jeannette – children of Charles
    Morris – their son; married Ella Klein
        Edward – son of Morris and Ella                    
            Florence – daughter of Edward  
    Milton – their son
    Bernard – their son; married Byrdine Bloch
    Betty – their daughter                
    Herman Roth – married Bessie;
        Philip – their son; married (and divorced) Claire Bloom; the author
        Sandy – their son; married Helen
            Seth – Sandy and Helen’s son; married Ruth
            Jonathan – Sandy and Helen’s son
Dr. Sandy Kuvin – Philip Roth’s cousin; married Michelle 

Author’s mother’s side of the family
    Millie Komisar –  sister of Roth’s mother Bessie; married Joe Komisar
        Ann Komisar – Millie and Joe’s daughter; married Peter

Sam Flaschner – original immigrant – “family pioneer”
Max Chaban – member of the family assoc.
Ida Flaschner
Harold Chaban – son of Max
Herman Goldstein - member of the family association
Bertha Leibowitz – niece; member of the family association
Celia - niece

Friends and Aquaintances
Lillian Beloff
    Kenny – Lillian’s step-son
Lenny Lonoff
Bill and Lillian Eisenstadt
    Howard Eisenstadt – son of Bill and Lillian
Abe Bloch
Max Feld
J.M. Cohen   
Louie Chesler
Milton and Ida Singer
Al Schorr
Al Borak
Charlie Raskus
Longie Zwillman
Walter Herrmann
Aaron Asher
David Rieff                  
Jewish boxers: Abe Atell, Battling Levinsky, Benny Leonard, Ruby Goldstein, Lew Tendler, Barney Ross, Bummy Davis, Slapsy Maxie Rosenbloom, Abie Bain
David Krohn
Harold Wasserman
Dr. Vallo Benjamin
Dr. Ira Flax
Isabel Berkowitz
Bill and Leah Weber
    Herbert Weber – son of Will and Leah Weber
Louis Dublin

Newark NJ
Federation Plaza in West Orange NJ
Galahad Hall, Bal Harbour, Fla

Monday, June 21, 2010

Crossing the River by Shalom Eilati, Hebrew edition1999, English edition 2008

"A piercing book" from a blurb by Amos Oz

This engrossing memoir is about the author’s experience, first as a resident of the Kovno ghetto, then as a hidden child, then as a young refugee who boarded a ship with other children to settle in Palestine shortly after the war.

The author, whose European name was Sholek Kaplan, was born in 1933, the son of a historian and a nurse, who, at the age of eight was forcibly moved with his parents and younger sister into the confines of the Kovno ghetto. Eilati remembers many details and he brings the experience of living in the ghetto to life: the conditions at the beginning, the successive purges of the Jewish population by the Germans and the strategies the residents of the ghetto devised to avoid being shot or put on a transport.

Eilati most specifically writes about his family's experience and in large part the memoir is a tribute to his mother. His father was shipped off to Latvia. His mother angled to be on the brigade to work at a factory outside of the ghetto. There she made connections with two local Lithuanians who each arranged to hide one of her children when it looked like the ghetto was going to be liquidated. Eilati writes movingly about the fear and the vigilance that was with him constantly, making the point that it is hard to shake those feelings over half a century later.

When Lithuania was liberated by the Soviet troops he was on his own again, barely 12 years old, looking to find his scattered family. Eventually he was contacted by an emissary from his father who was recuperating in a hospital in Germany and after many more terrifying days trying to surmount obstacles crossing out of Soviet territory, they were reunited.

The final chapter is an epilogue where Eilati describes two trips he took back to Lithuania, both to Kovno and to the shtetls where his extended family had lived. He writes openly about how he had buried his experiences for thirty years and then it took twenty years to write the memoir. It was only after he was immersed in writing it  that he felt motivated to revisit the country of his birth and he describes both the old and the new, the attempt to find documents, and the overwhelming grief he felt at seeing marked mass graves and knowing that there were many more mass graves unmarked.

For more information about the Kovno ghetto, click here.

To view Shalom Eilati deliver a talk about his experience and his book at a meeting of the Jewish Genealogical Society of New York click here. (The talk is spread out over three videos.)

To watch a video clip of a trip to Kovno narrated in Hebrew that includes photos taken in the ghetto and at the burial site and memorial superimposed on the same buildings and spots today, click here.

Kaplan from Vidukle – a rabbi (author’s paternal father)
    Israel – his son; author’s father; married Leah Greenstein
    Libe – his daughter; married to Shmuel Sidrer
        Moisheles and Shloimeles – their sons
        Rivkeh  and Zionah– their daughters
    Rachel – his daughter; married to Ya’akov
Shalom Zvi Greenstein – author’s maternal grandfather
    Leah – his daughter; married to Israel Kaplan;  author’s parents
        Sholik – their son; author (took the name Sholom Eilati in Israel)
    Feige – his daughter
        Rochel – her daughter
    Cheina -  his daughter (Helen in America)
    Idel – his son
    Sarah – mother’s cousin

Friends and Aquaintances
    Mishka Kapulsky (his grandparents – Melzer)
    Bella, Eta, Noimele Gurvich (their mother was a doctor)
Mottel Podliash – married to Hinda (his second wife)
    Beila – his daughter
Ruchamah Kaplan
    Arke and Maimke – her sons
Izzia and Shulamit Rabinovitz
    Muki – their son
Boris Gerber
Misha Hoffmekler
Dr. Haim Nachman Shapiro
    Abrashke Klavansky
Wolf Luria
Haim Yellin
Nahum and Magna Diener
Bussi Yellin
    Channele Glushak
Yerachmiel Berman
Zipporah Heiman – husband Eliezer
Hannah Brava
Meir Yellin
Yaffa Braun
Yasha and Hasia Goldberg
Frieda Gorfinkel
    Yolik – her grandson
Yuri Levitan
Raphael Levin
Berl Kahn
    Michael Kaplan
Moishe Sheifer
Robert Kahn
Jean Pierre and Henrietta Kahn

Kovno (Kaunus)
Green Hill, Kovno
Schlachtensee Camp for Displaced Persons
Kozhi Forest
The Champollion
UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Upon the Head of the Goat: A Childhood in Hungary 1939-1944 by Aranka Siegal 1981

Designated Newbery Honor Book, 1981

This memoir by Aranka Siegal (born in 1930) is the story of the five years before the author and her family were transported to Auschwitz. Siegel, who was born Aranka Davidowitz and was called Piri, divides her memoir into three sections. The memoir opens in the summer of 1939 when the author is nine years old and is visiting her grandmother in the small farming town of Komjaty in Ukraine. The setting is bucolic, the days dictated by the cycle of milking the cow and enjoying the outdoors and the attention of her grandmother. But the world beyond the farm is disintegrating and when the author’s mother comes to visit, Siegal overhears her mother and grandmother have a conversation about perhaps sending the children to America.

The second section takes place in the town of Beregszasz where Aranka Siegal and her family lived. The town had been part of Czechoslovakia, but was now under the control of Hungary and Germany. Refugees from other towns roamed the streets and the author’s mother along with others, including her children, participated in a dangerous, clandestine organized scheme to shelter them. At this point goods were being rationed and the author goes into vivid detail explaining the lengths her mother went to keep her children clothed and fed, and she describes her mother’s baking their last loaf of bread.

The third and last section of the memoir takes place in the ghetto. The Germans moved all the residents of Beregszasz to the town’s brick factory where conditions were overcrowded and squalid. Again, the author focuses on her mother’s attempts to make their corner as livable as possible. The ghetto residents shared information and misinformation and waited, knowing trains were coming to take them to Germany. The memoir ends when the trains arrive.

Aranka Siegal exhibits great narrative skill. For example, throughout, she describes vividly the increasing deprivation and worry and she builds unbearable suspense as the residents of the ghetto await the trains. We are particularly horrified because we know with much more certainty than they do what awaits them once they board the trains.

Note: This memoir has been marketed to young adults but its content is certainly informative and of interest to adults. What makes it suitable for young readers is an unadorned writing style and unintimidating vocabulary. And of course, its biggest draw for young readers is that the story is about the author when she was a young adult.

To read a short biography of the author as well as to see a picture and see a list of her other books, click here.

 Fage Rosner – author’s maternal grandmother
    Rise  – Fage's daughter;  first husband, Mayer; second husband Ignac Davidowitz
        Etu -  Rise's daughter (living in Budapest)
        Lilli – Rise's daughter; married Lajos (from Salank)
            Manci – their daughter
        Rozsi - Rise's daughter
        Aranka - Rise's daughter; author
        Iboya- Rise's daughter      
        Sandor - Rise's son
        Joli - Rise's daughter
    Srul Davidowitz – Ignac’s brother
    Lujza Davidowitz – Ignac’s sister
    Sanyi Davidowitz – Ignac’s brother

Aunt Helen ( in Sozolos)

Komjaty, Ukraine
Sozolos, Czechoslovakia
Salank, Czechoslovakia
Budapest, Hungary

Monday, June 14, 2010

Classic Italian Jewish Cooking by Edda Servi Machlin 2005

"Machlin’s recipes are an illustration of how a bygone community ate day-to-day." From a review by Jonathan Dixon in Tablet, October 9. 2009.

This cookbook, an updated version of three earlier cookbooks is, of course, worth reading because of its interesting kosher Italian Jewish recipes, many of which have been handed down for generations in Jewish families from the town of Pitigliano in Tuscany.

But another important feature is commentary written by the author, particularly an approximately thirty-page essay called “Pitigliano, the little Jerusalem” that Edda Servi Machlin (who was born in 1926) wrote as part of the introductory material. This essay serves as a tribute to the town where she was raised that she explains had a vibrant, close-knit, highly educated Jewish community. Jews had lived in the town for more than 600 years. She describes what daily life was like when she was growing up, especially the importance of cooking, how and where they got their meat, poultry, fish, vegetables, olive oil and bread. She also has a fascinating description of the communal Passover oven and the baking of matzo.

Additional commentary is included in an Introduction and in introductory material before each chapter and even in the introduction to each recipe. Especially worth noting is the commentary preceding the recipes in the last chapter, Holiday Menus.

 Mussolini’s pact with Hitler ended her idyllic childhood and she details the progressively desperate life of the Jewish community during World War II.  At seventeen she and some of her siblings joined the partisans. At the end of the war her family was reunited, but the town had been heavily bombed, other Jewish families had not survived, and those who did, moved to larger cities for more opportunities. The author’s family moved to Florence. In the post war years Edda Servi Machlin followed her sister to America where they both married Americans. She worked at preserving the legacy of Italian Jewish cuisine by recreating and publishing these treasured recipes.

Note: Edda Servi published a memoir in 1995 called Child of the Ghetto: Coming of Age in Fascist Italy: 1926-1946. It is out of print and not widely available.
To read an article about the Fascists and the Italian Jews written by Benjamin Ivry and published in the blog of the Forward on June 8, 2010 click here.

Solomone Servi – author’s grandfather
Debora Lattes – his wife; author’s grandmother
     Azeglio (Baruch)  Servi  - their son; author’s father
           Edda Servi Machlin – author; husband Gene
           Marcella Siegel – author’s sister
                     David – her son
           Gino Servi – author’s brother; married Metella
                     Mario – her brother
Dante Lattes – grandmother’s cousin

Pitigliano, Tuscany

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Mendel’s Daughter by Martin Lemelman 2006

"[A] stirring memoir for Gusta's own grandchildren and everyone else's" in a review by Joe Estkenazi in, 4/07

Martin Lemelman, an illustrator and a professor in the Communications Design Department at Kutztown University in Pennsyvania, has written and illustrated with black and white drawings the story of his mother’s experience during the Holocaust. The son of survivors, Martin Lemelman videotaped his mother telling her story in 1989 and revisited the tape many years later. This book is essentially his mother’s memoir – his writing and illustrating the story of her growing up in Germakivka in what was then Poland. She starts by describing her family, her home, the town and their way of life , then goes on to describe the invasion first by the Russians and then by the Germans.

She narrates their hardships and fear and describes the life and fate of each member of her family. She escaped into the forest in Maravinitz with her half-brother Simon and her younger brother Isak where they hid for three years. Her story is both horrifying and fascinating. They dug what she called graves – deep pits in the ground and lived underground to avoid detection. Eventually her sister Yetala joined them and the four of them survived the war due to their ingenuity, the help they got from a number of compassionate Christians, and sheer luck.

This is not a graphic memoir. Lemelman has not drawn cartoons. But because he is an illustrator by profession, the drawings are front and center. He also includes many family photographs, including documents from the family's immigration to America. All are artfully placed on their pages. They become integrated into the illustrations.

To see previews of Lemelman's book For Two Cents Plain about growing up in Brooklyn in the 1950's to be published in September 2010, click here.

Bashi Spitzer – author’s great grandmother
    Menachem Mendel; her son – first wife is Chanah; author’s grandfather
    Malkah – his second wife; sister of first wife; author’s grandmother
        Simon and Chunah –Mendel and Chanah’s sons; author’s half-uncles
        Jenny – Mendel and Malkah’s daughter; married to Fievel
            Eli – their son
        Regina – Mendel and Malkah’s daughter
        Yetala – Mendel and Malkah’s daughter; marries Kalman
        Gusta Schaechter – Mendel and Malkah’s daughter; author’s mother
        Toviah Lemelman – married Gusta; author’s father
            Bernard – their son; married Diane; author’s brother
            Martin – author; married Monica
                Jonathan, David, Benjamin, Sam – their sons
        Isak (Isia) Schachter – Mendel and Malkah’s son
Zlateh – Menachem Mendel’s sister
Shmil Rosenblatt – her husband
    Chantze – their daughter

Germakivka (formerly Poland)
Ivana Pusta
Neu-Freiman Displaced Person’s Camp, Germany


Monday, June 7, 2010

My Father's Paradise: A Son's Search for his Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq by Airel Sabar 2008

Winner of the National Book Critic Circle Award for Autobiography, 2008

Although on the surface this fascinating memoir is about Ariel Sabar and his father Yonah and their relationship, it is so much more. The author is a journalist born in California to an American mother and a Kurdish Jewish father who is a professor of Aramaic at the University of California at Los Angeles. Ariel Sabar has had a difficult relationship with his father who was unlike any of the fathers of his Los Angeles friends; the author was both irritated and embarrassed by his father’s “foreign” ways.

It is only at the birth of his own son that the author thinks long and hard about generations and continuity and reaches out to his father in a gesture to patch a frayed relationship and to try to understand him. Out of that attempt at understanding comes this memoir. It involved many interviews with his father, trips back to his father’s home town of Zakho in Northern Iraq, trips to visit his father's friends and relatives in many places, especially in Israel where Yonah Sabar had immigrated with his family when he was thirteen.

In addition to conducting interviews, Ariel Sabar has done a lot of research to bring his father and the experiences that molded him to life. To give his father’s life context, he recreates Zakho in the early part of the 20th century where Muslim, Christians, and Jews intermingled. Zakho was so isolated it was as if time had stood still. The Jewish community spoke a version of Aramaic that scholars had assumed had died long ago. The author successfully weaves together his family story along with an informative history of Jews in Iraq, Kurdish Jews in Iraq, and a concise history of the Aramaic language.

The author’s father was the last Kurdish Jew to be a bar mitzvah in Zakho and the family fled with most other Kurdish Jews to Israel. To provide context for this phase of his father’s life, Sabar explains the relationship between the Ashkenazi founders of Israel and the Sephardi immigrants. He then goes on to describe the living conditions of immigrants in Israel in the 1950’s, his father’s education, his interest in languages, and how he was steered by professors to study the neo-Aramaic he grew up speaking.

His father’s background was certainly unusual. The contrast between the conditions into which he was born with its high rates of illiteracy and the status he attained in the scholarly world makes for an interesting story. But this memoir transcends its specifics: it has the universality of a story of the lives of many immigrants – of having to leave their homeland and make their way in a world that never really feels like home. Like these others, he feels he has been cast out of paradise.

To see a color picture of Ariel and Yonah Sabar in Zakho in 2005, click here.

People (Author's paternal grandparents were first cousins.)
Author’s father’s paternal grandfather’s side of family
Ephraim Beh Sabagha – married to Hazale (second wife); author’s great grandparents
    Rachel – their daughter
    Eliyahu*- their son
    Israel* – their son; married Naima
    Rahamim – their son; married to Miryam Beh Naze (his first cousin); author’s grandparents
        Yonah – their son; author’s parents
    Murdakh – cousin of Rahamim

Author’s father’s paternal grandmother’s side of family
    Rifqa – married to Menashe; author’s great grandparents
        Shmuel – their son
        Yusef – their son
        Miryam; their daughter; married to Rahamim Sabagha (her first cousin)
            Rifqa –  daughter of Miryam and Rahimim
            Yonah – son of Miryam and Rahimim; married Stephanie Kruger; author’s parents
                Ariel – son of Yonah and Stephanie; married Meg; the author
                       Seth and Phoebe – their children
                Ilan – son of Yonah and Stephanie
            Sarah – daughter of Miryam and Rahimim
            Avram- son of Miryam and Rahimim
            Shalom – son of Miryam and Rahimim; married to Rina
                Noa and Nadav – their children
            Uri – son of Miryam and Rahimim
                Lee – his son
            Ayala – daughter of Miryam and Rahimim
        Saleh – cousin of Miryam
    Aribe – Menashe’s second wife
        Zaki, Yosef and Naim, Shoshana, Salim – children of Aribe and Menashe
    Hazale – Menashe’s sister; married to Ephraim Beh Sabagha (see above)

Zaki Levy
Moshe Gabbay
    Shmuel – his son
Rabbi Samuel Barzani
    Asenath – his daughter
Rabbi Sassoon Kadoori
Menahem Salih Daniel
Ezra Haddad
Yosef El Kabir
Shafiq Ades
Zacharia Shmaya
    Tzion and Reuven – his sons
Shlomo Bar-Nissim
Abraham Zilkha
Yosi Elati
Yosef Sagi
Baruch Givati
Avigdor Shemesh
Moshe Hillman
Yona Gabbay   
* The author states in his “Note on Method” that “he changed the names of people who were involved in a family controversy in Israel, because they are dead and did not have a chance to defend themselves.” It seems likely that Rahimim’s brothers were given the pseudonyms Israel and Elyahu.

Zakho, Iraq
Mosul, Iraq
Basra, Iraq
Nineveh, Iraq
Habur River, Iraq
Amadiya, Iraq
Arbil, Iraq
Nippur, Iraq
Kirkuk, Iraq
Westwood area of Los Angeles
Katamonim section of Jerusalem
The Ben-Zvi Institute at Hebrew University
Department of Near Eastern Languages and Literatures, Yale University, New Haven, Conn.
Department of Near Eastern Languages, University of California at Los Angeles


Thursday, June 3, 2010

My Father's Roses: A Family's Journey from World War I to Treblinka by Nancy Kohner 2006

"[A]n evocative story of three generations, a portrait of a lost age, and a loving tribute to her father and her grandparents, Heinrich and Valerie." From a review by Micheline Wander in the Jewish Chronicle, July, 2008

Nancy Kohner, born in 1950, grew up in Bradford, a city in Northern England, the daughter of a Protestant English mother and a Jewish central European immigrant father. Kohner was always fascinated by her father’s background. When she was young she did not know he was Jewish, but eventually she learned that he was and that he and his brother were refugees from Czechoslovakia who arrived in 1939. She also learned that her grandmother had died in a concentration camp.

After her father died Kohner methodically went through a treasure trove of documents left behind. Besides legal and business documents, her father Rudi and his brother Franz kept all the family letters they had received as well as copies of the letters they had sent. In addition, Kohner was lucky to have family diaries and family photos. In preparation for writing this book she also traveled with her daughter to her father’s hometown of Podersam, Czechoslovakia.

Kohner uses the letters sent back and forth between members of the family to tell their story. And she includes her own commentary which is a combination of her own feelings about and reactions to the material, her suppositions and her analysis.  Kohner’s grandparents had sent their children off to school outside of their small town, so she has letters to draw on from the time the children were barely in their teens. The first letter she includes is one from 1909 to Franz who has just gone away at school. The last letter she includes is from her grandmother to her sons Franz and Rudi in England, written July 12, 1942. She was transported to Theresienstadt on July 16. She was gassed in Treblinka.

Reading the letters provides us with a very intimate portrait of a family who were well-educated, cultured, German-speaking Podersam merchants. It is a valuable social history of the times. A fascinating section of the story is devoted to Franz’s service in World War I. Through the letters we get a glimpse of what it was like in the trenches and at the Italian front, and what provisions his parents were sending him. In his letters he sought to allay their fears. We read in detail about happy times too: Rudi’s bar mitzvah and Franz’s engagement. And many letters are about the business – and business problems during both wars having to do with limited merchandise and, during World War II, restrictive laws imposed on Jewish residents.

This book includes a very interesting prologue by Nancy Kohner’s daughter Bridget McGing who is a historian who became totally absorbed in this family material her mother shared with her. She explains that her mother lived with this material for many years and finally managed to finish the last chapter one month before she died of breast cancer in 2006.

To read a short history of the Jews of Czechoslovakia, click here.

Author's family on paternal grandfather's side
Moises – author’s paternal great great grandfather
    Abraham Kohner –his son; married Marie; author’s great grandparents
    Mann – Marie’s brother; lived in Nachod
        Heinrich Kohner -  Abraham and Marie's son;  married Valerie Herrmann; author's grandparents
            Franz Kohner – their son; author’s uncle
            Rudolph Kohner – their son; author’s father
        Eduard – son of Abraham and Marie; married Luisa
        Anna – daughter of Abraham and Marie; married to Max
            Hans and Victor – their sons
        Emma – daughter of Abraham and Marie
        Julie - daughter of Abraham and Marie

Family on author's paternal grandmother's side
    Jakob Herrmann – married Berte; author's great grandparents
           Valerie (Walli) – daughter or Jakob and Berte; marries Heinrich Kohner; author’s grandmother
                 Franz Joseph Kohner – oldest son of Heinrich and Valerie; married Edith Geduldiger
                       Dinah, Ruth, William - children of Franz and Edith
                 Berta Elise – daughter of Henreich and Valerie; married Adolf Girschick
                       Elsbeth Maria Valerie - their daughter
                 Rudolph  Oscar (Rudi) – son of Heinrich and Valerie; married Olive Britton ; author’s parents
                       Nancy – author
                           Daniel, Bridget McGing, Grace - author's children
           Oscar - son of Jakob and Berte
           Kamill –  son of Jakob and Berte; married to Friederike
                Heinrich and Elizabeth – the children of Kamill and Friederike
          Adele – daughter of Jakob and Berte; married Herrmann Mandl
          Franz - son of Jakob and Berte
          Anna - daughter of Jakob and Berte
          Karl –son of Jakob and Berte; married Else
          Ida – daughter of Jakob and Berte; married Otto Robitschek
    Anna Ehrlich – Berte’s sister
          Hugo - her son

Olga Krafft – Valerie Herrrmann Kohner’s cousin; married to Rudolf  
 Klara – Valerie’s Herrmann Kohner’s cousin; married to Alfred Kraus
Karolina – grandmother of Edith Geduldiger, wife of Franz Kohner
Marketa and Zdenka – aunts of Edith Geduldiger, wife of Franz Kohner

Friends and Acquaintances
Karl Kussi
Rabbi Rudolf Rychnovsky – married Marie
    Ernst – their son
Annie Wiener
Walter Mulstein
Friedrich Lowy
Rabbi Ignatz and Charlota Duschak
Rabbi Deutsch
Moritz Bandler
Victor Gruenwald
Anna Pick
    Hansi  and Suse – her daughters
Gustav Hirsch
Ida Hirsch
Alois and Emilie Kohn
Adolf Kohn
Wilhelmine Pollak
    Alice and Edita – her daughters
Moritz Popper
Hugo and Alice Muhlstein
Anna Stein

Libotschan, Bohemia
Podersam, Bohemia (Czechoslovakia)
Saaz, Czechoslovakia
Prague, Czechoslovakia

Teutschenrust, Czechoslovakia
Bad Gastein, Austria
Habrovan, Czechoslovakia
Kolpenice, Czechoslovakia
Koldichev, Belarus
Baranovichi, Belarus
Tachau, Czechoslovakia
Bilin, Czechoslovakia
Brux, Czechoslovakia
Grafenberg, Germany
Piwana, Czechoslovakia
Pilsen, Czechoslovakia
Nachod, Czechoslovakia
Trautenau, Czechoslovakia
Bela, Czechoslovakia