Monday, December 20, 2010

Memories of Survival by Esther Nisenthal Krinitz and Bernice Steinhardt 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 13, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 6, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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