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