Monday, December 19, 2011

What They Saved: Pieces of a Jewish Past by Nancy K. Miller 2011

"Although Nancy Miller calls this book a memoir, it is in many ways more a family detective story, tracking a set of clues back into the past and across the globe. Or, perhaps better, it exemplifies how writing a memoir can move an author onto the openly shifting grounds of memory. . . ."  from a review by Joanne Jacobson in The Forward 9/20/2011

Nancy K. Miller (born 1941), scholar and Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, has written a very useful memoir for those of us who are involved in genealogical research. This memoir is about the process of the search itself as well as the results.

Her mother’s large family – the Millers – were always a part of her life. Her father, Louis Kipnis, seemed not to have any close family. Because she was so disconnected from her Kipnis roots, and also because she was a committed feminist, she had elected, when she was younger, to relinquish a claim to the Kipnis name and adopted her mother’s Miller name as her last name. However, once both of Professor Miller’s parents died, she inherited the family archives – the letters, photos, and documents that had been stored in her parents’ dresser drawers. What she found concerning the Kipnis side of her family intrigued her: letters in Yiddish she needed to have translated, photos of presumed family members she could not identify, and documents that provided some answers but raised further questions.

She knew her father had had an older brother who had moved from New York to Arizona because his son had very bad asthma. She also knew she had never met her uncle and didn’t remember her father ever visiting him. Did anything happen that caused the brothers to be distant in ways that superseded geographical distance? Who were all these other relatives she had never met and why had she never even heard of them?

In trying to answer these questions she takes her readers on the same zigzag trail she ended up going on herself. She went straight ahead, became sidetracked, had to double back, got stalled, put the puzzle pieces aside, then started again after taking a fresh look. She met family members she never knew existed, consulted experts, hired researchers, and traveled to destinations all over the globe – to Tucson, Arizona, towns in the Ukraine, and to Israel - to follow clues.

During the course of the memoir she learned many important lessons which she passes on to her readers. For example, she learned that just because she was interested in uncovering her Kipnis roots, she couldn’t expect that others would be as interested or as enthusiastic or even cooperative. She learned that she often was working on erroneous assumptions. This involved a certain kind of tunnel vision that often impeded progress. And finally she learned that she had to come to terms with the fact that she couldn’t uncover every bit of information she was hoping to find, or that she expected to find. She had to concede that the wholeness of the past is finally irretrievable. Some questions would never be answered.

And she raises the important question about why she engaged in this quest at all. She devoted inordinate numbers of hours to the search which stretched over years, and she spent substantial sums of money on travel, on research, and on researchers. Although married, she has no children, neither does her one sibling, so there are no direct descendants to inherit or be enriched by what she uncovered. But she felt the need deep in her psyche – she craved a connection to her ancestors that was precipitated when she opened the dresser drawer. Perhaps, she suggests, it’s the preoccupation of an older person whose future is limited but whose past stretches back generations. She can now link her life to theirs.

To read an interview with Nancy Miller about her memoir, click here.
For more information on the Kishinev progroms, click here.

This memoir includes an extensive family tree, most of it reproduced in list form below. 

Author’s paternal grandfather’s side of the family
Harry Kipnis
    Moishe Mordecai Kipnis – son of Harry; married Zirel
        Raphael Kipnis – son of Moishe and Zirel; married Deborah (Dora) Cohen
            Chaim (Harry) Kipnis – son of Raphael and Deborah; married Sore (Sarah) Peak
                Raphael Kipnis – son of Chaim and Sore; married Sheindel (Sadie) Scholnick
                    Samuel Kipnis – son of Raphael and Sheindel; married Rose Epstein
                        Julian Kipnis – son of Samuel and Rose; married Billie Ruth
                            Sarah Kipnis – daughter of Julian and Billie Ruth; married Tillman Castleberry
                                Shannon Castleberry – daughter of Sarah and Tillman; married Joseph Davenport
                                Kelly Castleberry – son of Sarah and Tillman; married Stephanie Ware
                                    Kellan and Caiden Castleberry – children of Kelly and Stephanie
                    Louis Kipnis –  son of Raphael and Sheindel; married Mollie Miller
                        Nancy Kipnis (Miller) – daughter of Louis and Mollie; married Sandy Petry (author)
                        Ronna Kipnis – daughter of Louis and Mollie
                Zirl (Beckie) Kipnis – daughter of Chaim and Sore; married Louis Jacknis
                                        Rose Kipnis Jacobson – daughter of Zirl and Louis
                    William Kipnis – son of Zirl and Louis
                Itzock (Isidore) Kipnis – son of Chaim and Sore; married Beatrice Gordon
                    Frank Kipnis – son of Itzock and Beatrice; married Dorothy Sokol
        Israel Kipnis – son of Moishe and Zirel; married Esther   
            Abraham (Berel) Kipnis – son of Israel and Esther; married Sarah Greenstein; second marriage to Sarah Maidonick
                Feige and Sadie Kipnis – daughters of Abraham and Sarah           

Author’s paternal grandmother’s side of the family
Judah Scholnick – married Sarah Spack
    Shaindel (Sadie) Scholnick – daughter of Judah and Sarah; married Rafael Kipnis (see above)
    Sarah Scholnick – daughter of Judah and Sarah
        Gert Scholnick –daughter of Sarah; married Joseph Elieson
            Sarah Ann Elieson – daughter of Gert and Joseph
            Samuel Elieson – son of Gert and Joseph; married Nina
        Fredi Scholnick  – daughter of Sarah; married Tom Goldbloom
            Sam and Nathan Goldbloom – sons of Fredi and Tom
    Dvorah Scholnick Weisman – daughter of Juda and Sarah
        Etyushele Weisman – daughter of Dvorah

Author’s maternal grandfather’s side of the family
Willie Miller
    David Miller – son of Willie
    Abraham Miller – son of Willie
    Fay Miller – daughter of Willie
    Mollie Miller – daughter of Willie; married Louis Kipnis
        Nancy – daughter of Mollie and Louis (author; see above)

Family of author’s uncle Sam Kipnis’ wife Rose Epstein
Rachel (Ray) Epstein – Rose’s sister; married to Jack Ellison
    Brownie Ellison – daughter of Rachel and Jack; married to Joseph Ebner
        Michael Ebner – son of Brownie and Joseph
        Sarah Ebner – daughter of Brownie and Joseph; married to Bernard Frieden
            Miriam Frieden – daughter of Sarah and Bernard

Friends and Acquaintances
David R. Zaslowsky
David Linetsky
Max Meyerson
Fima Ephraim Rabinovitch
Yitzhaq Feller
Samuel Traub
Olga Sivac

DeWitt Clinton High School, NYC
Talmud Torah Anshe Zitomir, NYCZitomir Talmud Torah Darchei Noam, NYC        
New York City, NY
Kishinev, formerly capital of Bessarabia, now Moldova
Bratslav, Ukraine
Peschanka, Ukraine
Podolsk, Ukraine
Pechora (Dead Loop), Ukraine
Tulchin, Ukraine
Ein Hemed, Jerusalem, Israel

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Mirador: Dreamed Memories of Irene Nemirovsky by Her Daughter by Elisabeth Gille, published in French in 1992; published in English in 2011 (a novel)

"Although, of course, 'The Mirador' carries with it all the emotional weight of a daughter’s grieving monument to her mother, it also makes no effort to accuse or to apologize for Némirovsky’s fraught relationship with her Jewishness, a subject of which Gille is not only aware but one that she bravely confronts head-on." from a review by James K. McAuley in the Harvard Crimson, 11/15/2011
The Mirador, written by the younger of the writer Irene Nemerovsky’s two daughters, is an intriguing and largely successful literary experiment. Elisabeth Gille, who was five when her mother was deported, has written a fictional memoir. She has imagined her mother’s voice and has her mother tell her story, starting from her mother’s childhood in Russia up until she is seized by the Nazis from where she is living in a small town in France.

This fictional memoir is divided into two parts: In Part I the imagined voice of Nemerovsky narrates her privileged life growing up in Russia. Gille, who was born in France in 1937, conducted extensive research. She is wonderful at bringing to life the heady days of pre-Revolutionary Russia enjoyed by the elite which included her mother’s family. She paints pictures of engrossing cultural and political scenes, detailing how the Nemerovskys spent their time entertaining and being entertained. But times became difficult for Russian Jews; anti-Semitism lurked right below the surface and when there was any kind of economic pressure and political unrest, the lives of all Jews were restricted and they were often the victims of violence. Anticipating the difficulties for his family during the upheavals created both by World War I and the Russian Revolution, Nemerovsky’s very wealthy banker father managed to move his assets to Stockholm and smuggle his wife and daughter to France with their jewels sewed into the linings of their clothes.

Part II, which takes place in France where the family arrived in 1919 when Nemerovsky was 16, starts with Nemerovsky’s education, and moves on to her gradual triumphs as a writer, her marriage to Michel Epstein- a fellow émigré from Russia who had the means to maintain the very comfortable lifestyle Nemerovsky was accustomed to - and the birth of their two daughters. In the 1930’s as Hitler’s threats increased, Nemerovsky saw no reason to leave France. She considered herself French, never having identified as a Jew. And felt well-placed amongst the intellectual elite.She felt no connection to the poor foreign Jews flooding into France from Easter Europe.  But gradually she was forced to acknowledge the threat of Hitler’s reign in neighboring Germany. Gille gives an interesting and useful historical overview of encroaching Nazism in France, and she shows how Nemerovsky finally saw herself being hemmed in more and more by the government’s pronouncements against Jews. In July of 1942, in the midst of writing the novel Suite Francaise (which was finally published posthumously in its unfinished state in French in 2004 and  in English in 2006), the Nazis seized Nemerovsky and she died in Auschwitz at the age of 39.

Gille’s experiment of creating her mother’s voice and re-creating her life gave Gille the opportunity to get to know the mother she never really knew. She gleaned information from all of her mother’s writing, conducted interviews, and consulted historical sources in order to re-create her mother and her family as well as her life in Russia in the first two decades of the twentieth century and in France in the next two decades. 

Gille creates a layered structure that works to intensify the tragic outcome. Each chapter starts with a page that contains a date followed by a paragraph in italics. These preliminary paragraphs are about the author – Elisabeth Gille. The first is about her birth, and each subsequent paragraph at the beginning of each chapter details a moment in her life that take the reader right up to 1991. These paragraphs act both as a parallel condensed memoir and as commentary on the larger story of her relationship to her mother and her mother’s premature death.

Although it reads like a memoir, we must think of this as a novel. We cannot assume that every scene, every characterization, is exactly as Irene Nemerovsky herself would have rendered it. It’s impossible for a reader to sort out fact from fiction. But it seems that Gille was aiming for accuracy – she was trying to explain her mother to herself and to a larger audience. In forcefully recreating her mother's short life, she ably depicts a personal and public tragedy.

This English translation published by the New York Review of Book also includes an Afterword by Rene de Ceccatty in which he discusses, amongst other topics, the challenges Gille took on in writing in her mother's voice. It also includes an interview de Ceccatty conducted with Gille.

To learn more about Irene Nemerovsky, her writing and her family, as well as to see photos, click here.

Irene Nemerovsky’s father’s family
Boris Nemerovsky – married Eudoxia Korsounsky
    Leon Borosovich Nemerovsky – married to Fannie
        Irene Nemerovsky - daughter of Leon and Fannie; married Michel Epstein; author
            Denise Nemerovsky-Dauple – daughter of Irene and Michel
            Elisabeth Epstein Gille – daughter of Irene and Michel

Irene Nemerovsky’s mother’s family
    Jonas Margoulis – married Bella Chtchedrovitch
        Assia Margoulis – daughter of Jonas and Bella
        Fannie - daughter of Jonas and Bella; married Leon Borosovich
            Irene Borosovich – daughter of Leon; marries Michel Epstein (see above); author

Irene Nemerovsky’s husband’s family
Efim Epstein
    Samuel Epstein – son of Efim;  married to Alexandria Ginzbourg
        Natasha Epstein– daughter of Samuel and Alexandria
    Paul Epstein – son of Efim
    Sophie (Mavlik) Epstein – daughter of Efim
        Victor ? – son of Sophie
    Michel Epstein – married to Irene Nemerovsky (author)
Rhaissa Epstein – sister of Effim Epstein; married Alfred Adler

Boris Kamenka
    Daria Kamenka – daughter of Boris
    Hippolyte – son of Boris
Mila Gordon
Helene Gordon – sister of Mila; married to Pierre Lazareff   
Harry Baur
Daniel Halevy
Emmanuel Berl
Tristan Bernard   
Kiev, Ukraine
    Podol neighborhood of Kiev
Odessa, Russia   
    Moldavanka ghetto, Kiev
Moscow, Russia
St. Petersburg (Petrograd), Russia
Paris, France
Issy-L’Eveque, France
Auschwitz, Poland

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Arrogant Years: One Girl’s Search for Her Lost Youth, from Cairo to Brooklyn By Lucette Lagnado 2011

"'The Arrogant Years' . . .  [is] a paragon of memoir writing, a story about the complex swirl of people and events and forces out of which individual lives are made — some, like Ms. Lagnado’s, more painfully, but also more fully, than others." from a review by Alana Newhouse  in the New York Times 9/8/2011

This sequel to Lagnado’s first memoir, “The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit,” follows the same trajectory as the first – the memoir starts in Cairo where the Legnados lived as members of a large, prosperous Jewish community before they immigrated to Brooklyn, New York. But this second memoir shines the spotlight on different family members. This time around Lagnado spends very little time on her father who was the subject of her first memoir. Instead, she focuses on both her mother’s life and her own. 

She starts by recounting what she has learned about her mother’s childhood, describing in detail her mother’s mother and the life and culture of Jewish women in the Levant. She relates how her mother, highly educated with a satisfying career, felt obligated to give it up when she married. The marriage was problematic from the start. The author’s father felt free to do what he wanted whenever he wanted to; her mother became a passive, depressed housewife and mother.

Once Nasser came into power most members of the Jewish community fled, many going to Israel and the United States.  Lagnado’s father resisted leaving until conditions were just about impossible and they  immigrated in 1963 when the author was 7,  settling in Bensonhurst in Brooklyn, New York amongst other Jewish immigrants from the Levant.

In subsequent chapters the author elaborates on growing up in Brooklyn in the midst of a socially conservative, insular, transplanted immigrant Jewish community from the Levant where the cultural ties to their home countries were strong. Like in many immigrant groups, parents tried to keep the old ways, replicating customs they grew up with, including founding both religious and educational institutions that were designed to mirror those they left behind. Lagnado notes that some children stayed close to their parents, happy to abide by their wishes, choosing mates from within the community and settling close by. But in some families, like in her own, there was an ongoing tension between conducting their lives the way they had in the past versus embracing American customs and values.

Her father, partly because of a fall and botched surgery in Cairo, never attained the stature he had in Cairo, and sat by, a tired old man, while his family defied him. His children went to American schools and colleges, and his wife decided to go back to work. But although the author’s mother enjoyed her work at the Brooklyn Public Library, it was clear that the cultural shift was difficult and wearing on her. Especially upsetting was that Suzette, their oldest daughter, although still unmarried, moved away shortly after they arrived in America never to live with them again.

The author was very close to her mother who allowed her some freedom, but not enough. She would not let her mother's and the community’s old-world values stand in the way of what she wanted - the chance to embrace America, and to take advantage of what it had to offer. She succeeds in this struggle, becoming a well-established journalist and writer, but toward the end of the memoir she looks back. She revisited old friends from the community now dispersed, some living in Israel. She found many of them living lives very similar to the lives they led when they were growing up in Bensonhurst. While she cannot imagine living the lives they lead, she envies their feeling rooted in their traditions and clear-headed about the choices they made. She feels especially sorry about the tragedy of her mother's life: being caught between two worlds, not comfortable in either one.

To read the post in this blog reviewing Lagnado's The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit, click here.

To read an article about the displacement of Jews from Arab countries, click here.

Descendants of father’s side of Laniado rabbinic dynasty of Aleppo, Syria
    Shlomo Laniado – rabbi in 17th century

Leon Lagnado - married Edith Lagnado
    Suzette Lagnado – daughter of Leon and Edith
        Sasha – son of Suzette
    Cesar Lagnado – son of Leon and Edith; married Monica
        Carolyn and Evelyn Lagnado – daughters of Caesar and Monica
    Isaac Lagnado – son of Leon and Edith
    Lucette Lagnado – daughter of  and Edith; married Douglas Feiden

Maternal family
Selim Dana – married Rachel Dana (his niece)
    Alexandra Dana – daughter of Selim and Rachel married Isaac Matalon
        Edith Matalon – daughter of Alexandra and Isaac; married Leon Lagnado (see above)
        Felix Matalon – son of Alexandra and Isaac
Edgar Dana – Alexandra’s brother; married Marie
    Rachel Dana – daughter of Edgar and Marie
Farida – half-sister of Alexandria
Rosee – half-sister of Alexandra
    Lily – daughter of Rosee
Edouard  – half-brother of Alexandra
Lily Halawani – cousin of mother (daughter of Rosee, above?) exact relationship not clear

Salomone Silvera – relative, relationship to side of family unclear; married Sally
    Davide Silvera – son of Salomone and Sally
Rachel and Pico Hakim – relatives, relationship to side of family unclear
    Rosette Hakim – daughter of Rachel and Pico

Friends, Acquaintances and Members of the Jewish Community Past and Present
In U.S.A.
Rabbi Harry Rubin
    Miriam, Deborah, Rebecca, Rochelle and David Rubin – children of Harry
Abraham and Adele Cohen
    Leah, Gracie, Esther, Margarita Cohen - daughters of Abraham and Adele
    Rebecca Cohen Choueka – daughter of Abraham and Adele; married Eric Choueka
Rita Douek
Karen Alter
Marlene and Avi Ben Dayan
Celia Garzon Weinstein - Moshe Garzon's sister
Moshe Garzon – Celia Garzon Weinstein's brother
Joseph Hannon
Sarah Menachem
Rabbi Baruch Ben Haim
Rabbi Saul Kassin
Lillian Mosseri
Carin Roth
Eugene Gold
    Wendy – daughter of Eugene
Henry Finkelstein
Cyrus Wolf
    Laurie Wolf Bryk– daughter of Cyrus; married to Eli Bryk
        Lanie and Jackie – daughters of Laurie
    Trudy Wolf – daughter of Cyrus
Dr. Sydney Diamond
Rabbi Sam Horowitz
Fortune Cohen
Gladys – sister of Fortune; married Saul
Rabbi Rafael Benchimol
Kim Amzallag
Leah Iny
Stella Issever

In Egypt (or roots in Egypt)
Alice Suarez – married Yussef Cattaui
    Indjii, Aslan, and Rene,  – children of Alice and Yussef
        Nimet Cattaui – granddaughter of Alice and Yussef
            Michel Alexane – son of Nimet
        Stephane Cattaui – grandson of Alice and Yussef; married Maria Livanos
        Indjy Cattaui-Dumon – granddaughter of Alice and Yussef
    George Cattaui – nephew of Yussef
                Florence Sutter – gggranddaughter of Alice and Yussef (exact relationship unclear)
Moise Cattaui
Odette Harari
    David Harari – son of Odette
Yussef “Sousou” Makar
Sarah Naggar Halawani
Desi Sakkal
Ninette Toussoun
Rabbi Haim Nahum
Dr. Baroukh Kodsi
Maggie Wahba
Carmen Weinstein
Victor, George, and Haim Haboucha

        neighborhoods: Garden City, Sakakini, Haret-el-Yahood, Heliopolis, Zamelek, Maadi, Fustat
        L’Ecole Cattui – Sakakini
        Le Sebil Jewish school
        Cicurel Department store
        Orozdi-Back Department store
        Shepheard Hotel
        L’Hopital Israelite
        Temple Hanan
        Ben Ezra Synagogue
        Gazira Sporting Club
        Villa Cattaui
        Neighborhoods: Sporting, San Sefano, Sidi Bishr
    Ras el-Bar, Egypt
        Aslan Hotel

    Brooklyn, New York
        Neighborhoods: Bensonhurst, Brighton Beach, Park Slope, Ocean Parkway
        Shield of Young David Synagogue (David Magen)
        Ahaba ve Ahava synagogue
        House of Jacob Academy (Beis Ya’akov)
        Berkeley Institute
    Five Towns, Long Island, NY –areas: North Woodmere, Hewlett Harbor
    Gates of Prayer Synagogue, Manhattan
    Fifth Avenue Synagogue, Manhattan
    Deal, New Jersey

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Invention of Solitude by Paul Auster 1982

"'What really struck me was the purity of his tone. As a publisher, you're always looking for tone and he had that in blinding amounts, a faintly detached, very cerebral tone,' [Robert] McCrum says." Quoted in an interview with Hadley Freeman published in The Guardian on 10/25/2002

The writer Paul Auster’s two-part memoir deals in the first half with his relationship with his father. The second part is more a philosophical meditation and intellectual inquiry into the author’s role as both father and as grandson.  It also deals with the interplay between memory, the role of language in apprehending memories and the nature of solitude. 

The first section of Auster’s memoir, called “Portrait of an Invisible Man,” is about his father’s absence when he was growing up. Samuel Auster, who was born in around 1911, worked long hours, leaving the house before his two children awoke and returning home after they were asleep. But more to the point, even when the author spent time with him on the weekends and holidays, he was remote and emotionally unavailable. Auster recounts vivid examples of how his father failed him, puzzling over his father’s behavior, longing for a way to reach him.

When he was adult, the frustration of having such an unsatisfactory relationship with his father drove him to learn more about him. Eventually the author was able to piece together a narrative from several sources that revealed his father’s very difficult childhood, which included a rather nomadic existence. His grandparents, Jewish immigrants from Austria, started a business in Lawrence, Kansas that failed. Eventually they settled for a while in Kanosha, Wisconsin where his father, the youngest of five, was raised during his early years. When the author was already an adult an old man from Kanosha who happened to sit next to his cousin on a plane, told a horrifying story about the Austers and  directed her to newspaper articles from 1919  in the Kenosha Evening News for details.

What he learns about his father’s upbringing may help him intellectually to better understand his father’s remoteness, but does not wipe away the longing he had for a meaningful relationship. The poetic intensity of Auster’s prose heightens the effect, leaving the reader with a powerful image of a relationship that was never whole.

Although family relationships have a place in the second half of the memoir, “The Book of Memory” is a more extended meditation on life, on life cut short, on presence and absence, on the function of memory. The author writes about his own absence in his son’s life once he and his wife divorced, and also about his caring for his dying maternal grandfather which of course triggers vivid memories of their life together. Auster’s style of writing in this section is not typical of a memoir. It is both intimate and ruminative. He probes and poses difficult questions.

To watch an interview with Paul Auster discussing his writing, click here

Samuel Auster – brother of Harry Auster; author’s great-uncle
Harry Auster – brother of Samuel Auster; married Anna; author’s paternal grandparents
    Samuel Auster – son of Harry and Anna; married Queenie
        Paul Auster – son of Samuel and Queenie; author
            Daniel Auster - son of Paul Auster
Elizabeth Grossman - Anna Auster's sister

Friends and Acquaintances
Fanny Koplan
Rabbi M. Hartman
Gregory Altschuller

Lawrence, Kansas
Kenosha, Wisconsin
Chicago, Illinois
Weequahic section of  Newark, New Jersey
New York City, New York


Monday, October 17, 2011

Life With a Star by Jiri Weil published in Czech in 1949, published in English in 1989 (a novel); introduction written by Philip Roth

"[Josef Roubicek's] story stands as one of the most powerful works to emerge from the Holocaust; it is a fierce and necessary work of art." from a review in the New York Times by Michiko Kakutani on 6/9/1989

Jiri Weil (1900-1959) was a Jewish Czech writer who lived in Prague, and, according to Philip Roth’s lauditory introduction to this novel, lived a life in some ways similar to his main character Josef Roubicek. When the Nazis came to deport Weil he disappeared with the help of the resistance.

In the novel, which takes place in Prague, Roubicek at the time of the Nazi occupation is a young man who had been a bank clerk, but because of the restrictions placed on employing Jews, he has lost his job and lives starving in a garret where he’s burned most of his furnishings to keep himself warm.

Weil recreates an absurd and cruel world which takes on a surreal quality governed by Roubicek’s terror. The prose is spare and matter-of-fact, which has the effect of highlighting the horror. Roubicek knows he has been condemned even though he is innocent,  and we watch with mounting tension as he obsesses about what will happen to him next. When will his destroyers finally close in? When will he be selected to be deported?

Weil is also very adept at recreating the "Community," the part of the nightmare version of everyday life when Jew turned against Jew.The group of Jews in Prague who the Nazis designated as a governing body to enforce Nazi rules and regulations  are a terrifying presence. Roubicek lives in dread of  a message from them or a knock on the door.

Weil convincingly plumbs the psyche of his main character, his alter-ego. He also recreates the streets and neighborhoods of Prague filled with officials, as well as Roubicek's friends, acquaintances and many fellow sufferers. All of these various threads contribute to the novel's texture of reality.

Jiri Weil - author

Prague. Czechoslovakia
Stresovice neighborhood of Prague

To read an article about the History of the Jews in Prague, click here.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Shlemiel Crooks by Anna Olswanger, illustrated by Paula Goodman Koz 2005

"The best thing here ... is Olswanger's Yiddish storyteller's voice, particularly the hilarious curses she weaves into the story ... Great for reading aloud." Reviewed by Hazel Rochman in Booklist

 A recent very entertaining children’s book awarded the designation of Sydney Taylor Honor Book is Anna Olswanger’s Shlemiel Crooks, colorfully illustrated by Paula Goodman Koz. Olswanger’s story which takes place in the first decade of the 20th  century is about Jewish immigrants in St. Louis. Why St. Louis?  Anna Olswanger based her children’s story on real events; she is recreating and joyfully embellishing an incident in the life of her great-grandfather when his saloon was nearly robbed.

In a short postscript in her book she tells the reader  that she only learned of the names of her great-grandparents, Elias and Dora Olschwanger, when, in 1982, she “started to research her family tree” which took her to St. Louis where they had lived. Part of the results of that research are two documents from the St. Louis Jewish Record that she reproduces at the end of her book in their original Yiddish along with English translations.

The first document is an ad placed by Olswanger’s great grandfather in February of 1918: It reads in part: “Eliyahu Olschwanger wishes to make known to all his friends that he has a fine and large stock of full and half-bottles of Carmel wines and cognacs. He has also purchased a large stock of Manischewitz from Cincinnati,…slivovitz, and … pesach’dik mead… Come in and order in time before the rush…” His name, address and phone number follow.

The second article reproduced was published a year later in 1919 (in Yiddish) under the heading “Reb Eliyahu Olschwanger Almost Robbed.”

“Shlimazel crooks, their work was unsuccessful. Last Thursday at 3:00 a.m. in the middle of the night, several men drove to the saloon of Reb Eliyahu Olschwanger at the corner of 14th and Carr streets. They opened the saloon and removed several barrels of brandy and beer. Mr. Mankel who lives on the second floor, upon hearing what was going on in the saloon, opened the window and began shouting for help. Benjamin Resnik from 1329 Carr Street, hearing the shouting, shot his revolver from his window. The band of crooks got scared and left everything, including their own horse and wagon and ran away. Police immediately came and took everything to the police station.”

 Out of these details and her imagination Olswanger has created a vibrant children’s book. The narrator tells this story in an animated “Guess what happened - Reb Olschwanger was almost robbed” tone of voice which pulls us right in. The story is dotted with Yiddish words, for example, “Such a tummel they were making!” And enhancing the animated narration are the colorful drawings by Paula Goddman Koz, many of them full-page. We see tenements where the wash is strung out across buildings. Another is a re-creation of what the storefront of Reb Olschwanger’s saloon might have looked like with men, women, boys and girls in period clothing, and another is of men studying Talmud.

The documents would, of course, thrill a family researcher. They are “only” a business advertisement and a report of an “almost” robbery but there is significant information to be gleaned. Reading these documents Anna Olswanger would have learned what her great-grandfather did for a living, that he was an enterprising business man serving his community and that he most probably spoke Yiddish. She would have found out his home address and his business address and phone number and of course she would have noticed that he spelled his name differently from the way she spells hers. She also would have learned the names and addresses of several of his neighbors which seems to indicate that he lived in a Jewish neighborhood.

Anna Olswanger has honored her great-grandfather by writing a children’s book based on an incident from his life which helps us to experience aspects of early immigrant life in America. Paula Goodman Koz's illustrations contribute a great deal to our experience.

To learn more about the genesis of this book and more about the Olschwanger family, click here.

Elias (Eliyahu)and Dora Olschwanger - author's paternal great-grandparents
          Anna Olswanger - author
Benjamin Resnik - neighbor   
Paula Good Koz - illustrator

St. Louis, Missouri

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Neppi Modona Diaries: Reading Jewish Survival through My Italian Family by Kate Cohen 1997

 "The voices of the Neppi Modona family are interwoven with their discussions with the author. The frequent shift of focus enlightens rather than obscures. Four stories that remind us of the human dimension of history." from a review from Kirkus Reviews 11/1/96

Kate Cohen wrote this book with the financial help for foreign study from the Dartmouth College Committee on Graduate Fellowships. The award financed a trip to Italy so that Cohen could interview relatives of her father - Rachel Neppi Modona and her daughter Lionella, the two surviving members of their immediate family of four. The entire family had survived World War II, but Rachel’s husband Aldo and their son Leo, both of whom had kept diaries during the war years, died before the author began working on this book.

Having access to the two diaries and being able to interview the surviving women gave the author a window into how the family and many of their fellow Jews survived during World War II, first under Mussolini and then Hitler. The memoir is divided into four sections. In a general introduction we meet these Italian family members and learn some of their history. The next two sections consist of excerpts from the two diaries, first Leo’s rather short one, then his father’s longer diary. Throughout both sections Cohen intersperses diary entries with conversations she had with both Rachel Neppi Modona and her daughter Lionella who clarify and expand upon some of the circumstances discussed in the diaries. In the fourth section the author contextualizes their World War II experience and discusses the effects of the trauma of uncertainty, fleeing and hiding had on family members during the war and in post-war Italy. 

Some of what we learn from reading this memoir is that the Neppi Modona family whose home city was Florence was financially well off, well educated, and part of a large social circle. Aldo Neppi Modona’s family had lived in Italy for many generations and he was not at all an assimilated Jew. He was traditionally Orthodox and his religion and observance were very important to him. He was a fervent Italian patriot who had served in World War I and, in fact, was a member of the Fascist party. He could not believe that he would become a pariah. Little by little his status was eroded. Eventually he lost his teaching position, had to leave his home, and with his family wandered from one town to the next boarding with relatives, friends, and friends of friends in order to evade detection.

In reading the excerpts from these diaries, the discussions with the survivors, and the author’s commentary, we learn about the specific situation of the Neppi Modonas during World War II as well as the situation of Italian Jews in general. The author ends by explaining how reading the diaries and conducting the interviews helped her to gain insights into her own upbringing as a post-war Jewish American.

To read an article in the New York Times about recent research that deals with Jews in Italy during World War II, click here.

Leone Neppi Modona – married to Ada
    Aldo Neppi Modona – son of Leone and Ada; married to Rachel Fintz
        Lionella Neppi Modona – daughter of Aldo and Rachel; married to Guiseppi Viterbo
            Ada Viterbo – daughter of Lionella and Guiseppi
                Tal – daughter of Ada
            Emanuele Viterbo – son of Lionella and Guiseppi; married to Lia
        Leo Neppi Modona – son of Aldo and Rachel

Carlos Alberto Viterbo – father of Guiseppi Viterbo (married to Lionella Neppi Modona)

Family relatives – exact relationships unstated
Valentina Neppi Modona
Leone Ambron – cousin of Aldo Neppi Modona
Bettino and Luisa Errera
Matilde Nissim
Ernesta Neppi Modona
Amalie Cohen
    Ralph Cohen – son of Amalie; married to Judy
        Kate Cohen – daughter of Ralph and Judy;  married to Adam Daniel Greenberg; author
        Amy Cohen – daughter of Ralph

Friends and Acquaintances
Alfonso Pacifici
Enzo Bonaventura
Alfredo Forti
Siebzehner family
Costanza Salmon
Segre family
Viterbo family
Riccardo Dallo Volta
    Enrico Dalla Volta – son of Riccardo
    Margherita Dalla Volta – daughter of Riccardo
D’Urbino sisters
Nathan Cassuto – married to Anna
    David Cassuto – son of Nathan

Anghiari, Italy
Florence, Italy
Galluzzo, Italy
Rome, Italy
Patmos, Greece

Monday, September 5, 2011

We Are On Our Own: A Memoir by Miriam Katin 2006

"Even as fiction it would be one of the best stories I've read in the last year, but as a memoir it leaves you speechless." from a review by Andrew D. Arnold in Time magazine 6/1/06

Miriam Katin, born in 1942 in Hungary, is a graphic artist who has lived and worked in the United States and Israel. This graphic memoir tells the story of her and her mother’s flight from Budapest in 1944. They fled to the countryside where with forged papers her mother sought work disguised as a peasant and lived with the constant fear of being discovered as a Jew.

In 1968, Miriam Katin was herself a young mother and is remembering her own childhood during World War II. A number of times she interrupts the story of her childhood to present a scene of her interacting with her young child. The contrast between the two time periods and the two mother/child situations is stark, and one way aesthetically Katin makes this point is to draw the scenes from her childhood (which take up most of the book) in pencil with no color except for the bright red of the Nazi flag. The scenes of her and her child are colorful and drawn with more detail.

This book is called a memoir – it is not presented as fiction – but Katin has chosen not to use her and her mother’s real names. Although she provides no stated reason for this, it is most likely because, as she explains in an epilogue, she was only two at the time of their flight and has no independent memories. She is relying on the stories her mother told her whose details she cannot verify, but she can depend on her own emotional memory of fear and displacement. She illustrates though a number of contemporary scenes how the trauma of both her and her mother’s wartime experiences affected their postwar lives.

In an epilogue Katin reveals that she relied on information she found in letters her mother sent to her father when they were in hiding and he was a soldier at the front. On one page she makes a collage of several letters and a postcard her mother sent her father that reached him. On another she reproduces a photo of her and her mother taken in 1946.

To read a short article about the siege of Budapest in 1944 click here.

Budapest, Hungary
New York City, NY

Monday, August 29, 2011

Bending Toward the Sun: A Mother and Daughter Memoir by Leslie Gilbert-Lurie 2009

"Bending Toward the Sun is a powerful memoir about survival and family. . ." from a review written by Anna Horner in the Baltimore Examiner 10/2/09

Leslie Gilbert-Lurie has written a memoir that captures her mother’s experience as a hidden child during World War II and how that trauma affected her mother’s life and the lives of her children and grandchildren. Gilbert-Lurie divides her story into three sections. The first she calls “In Mom’s Voice (1937-1960),” the second is “My Own Voice (1960-1997),” the third is A Joint Venture (1997-2008).

The author’s mother’s story is the most emotionally compelling of the three sections because of her traumatizing experiences during World War II. During 1942-1944 Rita Gamss and more than a dozen of her extended family lived in the attic of a Polish farmer’ house. She was five years old when they moved in and she remembers many details vividly. The ceiling was so low the adults could not stand upright, and there was no plumbing, heating or electricity in the attic. They could not talk above a whisper and had to keep their movements to a minimum. They had to rely on the farmer and his wife for food which became very scarce, and the farmer often pleaded with them to leave because in sheltering Jews he was jeopardizing the safety of his own family. Life was so difficult during their confinement in the attic that some family members became ill and died.

When, in 1944, they were able to leave, the children who had survived in the attic had stunted growth. Many of them crawled out and had to re-learn how to walk upright. Rita Gamss  returned with what was left of her family to her home but it was clear they could not stay - the family was not safe because the hostilities between the Russians and Germans were still being played out. What started then was a journey through many displaced persons camps where they scoured lists of survivors to find their relatives and where they tried to plan a future.

Eventually they made it to The United States from their last camp in Italy. Life in the states was difficult. Rita Gamss’ father was an Orthodox Jew and refused to take a job that required him to work on Saturdays. Rita was miserable at home with a step-mother she felt wasn’t interested in her. Eventually she met her future husband, married, moved to California and raised a family, but suffered from anxiety and depression, what many researchers now say are aspects of post traumatic stress disorder.

Leslie Gilbert-Lurie’s section is primarily about her relationship with her mother and her conviction that having grown up with a mother who had been so traumatized had affected her own sense of well-being. At various times both mother and daughter went into therapy and Leslie was most interested in the term her therapist used to describe the family life she described to him: he called her family “enmeshed.” The author's mother was always worried about her family's safety. Leslie grew up not wanting to leave home because she learned from her mother not to feel safe. She also lived with a lot of guilt and felt she had to protect her mother whose life had been so full of suffering.

In part III Gilbert-Lurie discusses her inquiries and research. She reports on her daughter's anxieties and  her interviews with her siblings and with cousins of her mother, including those who were still alive who had hid in the attic with her. Gilbert-Lurie and some of her relatives went to Poland to visit their families' homes and to meet with the wife of the farmer who had hidden them. 

This memoir includes many family photos as well as a family tree.

To listen or to read a transcript of an interview on National Public Radio with Rita Lurie and Leslie Gilbert-Lurie, click here.

Author Leslie Gilbert-Lurie’s mother’s father’s family
Ruchel Schiffman
     Paya Neshe Schiffman – daughter of Ruchel; married Aharon Gamss
        Tsivia Gamss – daughter Paya Neshe and Avrahom; married Libish Engleberg
            Lola Engleberg – daughter of Tsivia and Libish; married Mike Goodstein
                Barbara and Debbie Goodstein – daughters of Lola and Mike
            Miriam Engleberg – daughter of Tsivia and Libish; married Herbie Silver
                Sheryl  and Lori Silver – daughters of Miriam and Herbie
            Sally Engleberg – daughter of Tsivia and Libish; married Ken Frishberg
                Leslie Frishberg Wolfowitz – daughter of Sally and Ken
            Feigla Engleberg – daughter of Tsivia and Libish
            Paya Neshe Engleberg – daughter of Tsivia and Libish
        Benziyhon (Benny) Gamss – son of Aharon and Paya Neshe; married Dora
            Linda and Eddie Gamss – children of Benny and Dora
        Mordche (Max) Gamss – son of Aharon and Paya Neshe; married Sonia
            Benny Gamms – son of Max and Sonia
        Nachum (Norman) Gamss – son of Aharon and Paya Neshe; married Helen
            Josh and Arthur – sons of Norman and Helen
        Blima Gamss- daughter of Aharon and Paya Neshe
        Avraham Haim (Henry) Gamss – son of Aharon and Paye Neshe; married Chana
        Chaya Shaindl Gamss – daughter of Aharon and Paye Neshe; married Peretz
        Itzhak (Isaac) Gamss – son of Aharon and Paye Neshe; married Leah Weltz; second marriage to Clara Friedman
            Sandra (Sara) Gamss – daughter of Itzhak and Leah; married Milton Weiss
                Lauren Weiss Schneider – daughter of Sandra and Milton
                Karen Weiss – daughters of Sandra and Milton
            Rita (Ruchel) Gamss – daughter of Itzhak and Leah; married Franklin Lurie
                Leslie Lurie – daughter of Rita and Franklin; married Clifford Gilbert; author
                    Mikaela and Gabriel Gilbert – children of Leslie and Clifford
                Gwyn Lurie – daughter of Rita and Franklin; married to Les Firestein
                    Sydney and Noa Lurie Firestein – children of Gwyn and Les
                David Lurie – son of Rita and Franklin – married to Leila
                    Elijah Lurie – son of David and Leila
            Nachum Gamss – son of Itzhak and Leah
            Sam  Gamss – son of Itzhak and Clara; married to Pam
                Mike  and Karen Gamss – children of Sam and Pam
            Brad Gamss – son of Itzhak and Clara; married Nancy
                Ryan Gamss – son of Brad and Nancy

Author Leslie Gilbert-Lurie’s mother’s mother’s family
Nuchem Weltz – married Surah Welz; second marriage to Simma
    Lea Weltz – daughter of Nuchem and Surah; married Itzhak (Isaac) Gamms (see above)
    Masha (Miriam) Weltz – daughter of Nuchem and Surah; married Abraham Seidelbach
        David Seidelbach – son of Masha  and Abraham

Author Leslie Gilbert-Lurie’s father’s family
Leo Lurie – married Gertrude
    Franklin Lurie – son of Leo and Gertrude; married Rita Gamss (see above)
    Buddy – son of Leo and Gertrude; married Renee
Rose – sister of Gertrude; married Rudy

Urzejowice, Poland
Rzechow, Poland
Przeworsk, Poland
Kanczuga Jewish Cemetery, Poland
Humenne displaced person’s camp, Slovakia
Linz Bindermichl displaced person’s camp, Austria
Cremona displaced person’s camp, Italy
New York City, NY
Chicago, Illinois



Monday, August 22, 2011

Mother and Me: Escape from Warsaw 1939 by Julian Padowicz 2008

"Here, Padowicz painstakingly details how his Jewish mother, an unlikely leader if there ever was one, fled the Nazi invasion and guided her family to safety."  from a review by Douglas Lord in Library Journal 5/6/2010

When Hitler invaded Poland, Julian Padowicz was a seven-year-old growing up in Warsaw, the privileged son of a well-connected family. Immediately his step-father and uncles joined the Polish army and before he knew it his mother gathered him up, and along with her two sisters-in-law and their children they fled Warsaw in a truck commandeered from the family factory. They took food and money and they sewed their jewelry into secret compartments in their clothes.

Padowicz, who finally immigrated to the U.S. with his mother, tells this story with great skill, telling it as a seven-year-old would have experienced it: his fears, his confusion, the alternating love and disdain he had for his mother. He has included comic moments that remind us that despite the hardships they endured, he was, after all, only seven and not totally aware of the precariousness of his situation. Part of his confusion and humor has to do with his being Jewish but his having been brought to church and taught Catholic prayers by his beloved governess who spent more time with him than his mother did. His being Jewish in a Catholic country is a thread throughout the story and he is constantly trying to sort this out.

His use of dialogue reflects a talent for fiction; it is clear he is dramatizing scenes he remembers and fleshes them out with believable dialogue. He says in the beginning that he doesn’t remember everyone accurately and since he experienced those he met along the way the way a seven-year-old would have experienced them, he has changed the names of characters who are important to the story he is telling, but who are not fully formed figures in his mind.

One of the points his story demonstrates is that leaving Warsaw was the right choice, but that leaving in and of itself did not guarantee survival. Money went only so far when there was little or no food to be had. You get the sense that his mother and his aunts did everything they could to protect their children and to keep them  from being scared, but they often were desperate for food and firewood. Padowicz overheard conversations between his mother and other adults that helped him to know more than he was being told.

This memoir is a tribute to his mother who took risks that paid off for both of them, risks her sisters-in-law were not ready to take. When she needed to deal with the Russians they encountered everywhere, she spoke to them in perfect Russian, telling them her mother came from Moscow. Befriending, flattering and flirting with all authorities who she thought might be able to help her, she also tried to play on their sympathy for a mother and child traveling by themselves. In this way, along with her cash, she got them out of Ukraine and into Hungary which was still free. This is where this part of the story ends. The continuation of their story is in Ship in the Harbor which was published in 2009.

To read an obituary of  the author's mother Barbara (Basia) Rozenfeld Padowicz Weisbrem Gabard click here.

Moses Rosenfeld
    Pavew Rozenfeld – son of Moses
    Basia (Barbara)  Rozenfeld – daughter of Moses; married to Natan Padowicz; second husband Lolek (Leon) Weisbrem
        Yulek (Julian) Padowicz – son of Basia and Nathan; author; married to Donna
            Karen, Joanne, Nadine Padowicz – daughters of Julian 

Edna Tishman – sister of Lolek Weisbrem
    Fredek Tishman – son of Edna and Lolek
Paula Herbstein – sister-in-law of Basia
    Sonya Herbstein – her daughter

Lodz, Poland
Warsaw, Poland
Budapest, Hungary
Lvov, Ukraine


Monday, August 15, 2011

Memory by Philippe Grimbert published in French in 2004 with the title The Secret; published in English in 2007

"Memory, deserved winner of the Prix Goncourt, may well take its place among the best of the "autofictions," that particular French genre that combines the tenets of autobiography with the freedoms afforded by the novel." from a review by Alexis Soloski  in the Village Voice 2/26/08

Philippe Grimbert (b. 1948), a psychoanalyst and novelist born to Jewish French Holocaust survivors, wrote this spare but powerful autobiographical novel based on his own  life and what he learned about his parents’ lives. Like many children of survivors, he both knew and did not know the story of his family’s past. It was not discussed, but it was in the air.

As Grimbert tells the story, when he turned fifteen he inadvertently found a “clue” in the attic and from then on the story of his family’s past unraveled. Some of what he learned was that his athletic father identified more as a Frenchman than as a Jew; he did not believe until it was too late that he would suffer at the hands of the Nazis. His father was sure that the Nazis were only interested in rounding up those Jews who were foreigners, those who had fled Eastern Europe ahead of the Germans and had poured over the borders into France.

Much of the novel is the story of the extended family’s flight from Paris in France’s occupied zone south to France’s free zone. First the men of the family fled; then the women and children followed. Grimbert tells the story with much insight, and also with much suspense.

Grimbert’s psychoanalytic training seems put to good use, though it is not obtrusive. It is quite clear that he feels knowing the story helped him better understand his parents and it also helped him form a more authentic identity.

He ends the story with a contemporary anecdote about finding himself in a pet cemetery with his daughter. The beloved pets eulogized on gravestones by relatives of Laval, a collaborator in the Vichy government, elicit an anger in him that is informed by what he knows about his family’s past.

To see a trailer for the French film made from the novel, click here.
To read an interesting article in which Grimbert talks about why he wrote his family story as fiction and in which he discusses what is fictionalized, click here.

Grimbert says he has changed names in the novel. He also says he father changed the family name from Grinberg to Grimbert.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Boy: A Holocaust Story by Dan Porat 2010

"[The Boy] is a gripping, harrowing Holocaust story," from a review entitled, 'The Ghetto, the Nazis, and One Small Boy,' by Joseph Berger on Lens, a New York Times blog 10/12/2010

Dan Porat, whose parents fled Germany before the war, is a professor at Hebrew University. Because his specialty is visual representations of the Holocaust, he became especially interested in the iconic photo of a young Jewish boy being rounded up by the Nazis in the Warsaw ghetto.This photo is on the cover of this book.

This book is not a memoir, but Porat read many memoirs as part of his research.  His original intention was to try to uncover the identity of the young boy, a task others have attempted as well, but he states in his introduction that after completing all the research, he has no definite answers to the boy’s identity. But he uses this picture to examine some of the history of the Warsaw ghetto through the lives of five people: three Nazi agents and two Jewish ghetto residents.

The most important of the three Nazi agents he focuses on is SS General Jergen Stroop who was sent by the Nazis to deal with the ghetto uprising. After leveling the ghetto, he wrote what came to be known as the Stroop Report for which Stroop provided the title: “The Warsaw Ghetto Is No More.” The report included many photos to document Stroop’s accomplishments, including the one of the little boy. The report was sent to Himmler, and Stroop was awarded the Iron Cross which he coveted.

Porat also tells the story of Austrian SS officer Franz Konrad who was in charge of the appropriation of Jewish property in the ghetto and instrumental in its liquidation. And he tells the story of the only one of the three who actually appears in the photo: SS soldier Josef Blosche can be seen in the background aiming his gun at the little boy who has his hands raised.

The two Jewish residents whose stories he tells are Rivkah Trapkovits Farber and Tsvi Nussbaum. Rivkah Trapkovits Farber’s connection to the photo is tenuous. She wrote a memoir which has been published in Israel that suggests to the author that she might have been a witness to the roundup documented in the photo. Rivkah Trapkovits Farber’s story is one version of many such lives lived in the ghetto and in hiding. Her story is remarkable, starting with her active membership in Kibbutz Lodz-Borochov. When Lodz was invaded, she and other members fled to a similar Kibbutz in the Warsaw ghetto, but before long those who congregated in the ghetto kibbutz were living a precarious life which included hiding from Nazis who were searching for resisters and violators of ghetto rules. Their hiding place eventually exposed, she and others were herded onto cattle cars destined for the Majdanek concentration camp. But Rivkah jumped off the train and lived by her wits, posing as a peasant woman until the war was over.

There has been much debate over the years about whether Tsvi Nussbaum, now living in New York City, is the boy in the photo. Porat tells the story of the Nussbaum family, how Tsvi came to be orphaned when his parents were sent to death camps, how he went with an aunt to the Hotel Polski on the Aryan side of Warsaw where they were promised exit visas, how the Nazis had tricked them, rounded them up and carted them away, how he managed to survive the rest of the war, how after the war he was one of 186 orphans who sailed to Palestine on the Mataroa.

In Porat’s slim, well documented, book he gives a textured account of the convergence of a number of disparate people in the Warsaw ghetto. The significance of the photo is that the unidentified Jewish boy represents all of the innocent victims of Hitler’s Final Solution.

This memoir includes A Glossary of Terms, A Prologue, and an essay called On Photographs, History, and Narrative Style, It also includes a lot of documentation which appear in endnotes which list many memoirs, especially in Hebrew that Porat consulted. There is also a very helpful Index.

To watch a discussion with Dan Porat about his book that took place in Skokie, Illinois, click here.
To read an interesting article that researches the various possibilities surrounding the identity of the boy, click here.

To view the photos of the Warsaw ghetto included in the Stroop report, click here.

Hannah Blumenthal Porat – author’s mother
Dan Porat – son of Hannah; author

Erna Hamlet
Felix Fechenbach – married to Irma
Shmuel Trapkovits – married Devorah; second wife Sheindal
Dina Trapkovits – daughter of Samuel and Devorah
Nissan Trapkovits – son of Samuel and Devorah
Baruch Trapkovits – son of Samuel and Devorah
Rivkah Trapkovits – daughter of Samuel and Devorah; married to Fischel Farber
Haim and Jacob Farber – sons of Rivkah and Fischel
Zelda and Ephraim Trapkovits – children of Samuel and Sheindal
Haim Farber
Fischel Farber – Haim’s son; husband of Rivkah Trapkovits (see above)
Itzhak Katzenelson
Peshka Harman
Shmuel Greenberg
Moshe Rubenchik
Tsvi Kutzer
Chaim Kaplan
Emmanuel Ringelblum
Antek (Itshak) Zuckerman
Lunka Kozibrodzka
Aron Schultz
Jozio Schultz – son of Aron
Jacob and Ziporah Nussbaum
Yosef Nussbaum – son of Jacob and Ziporah; married to Chana
Tsvi Nussbaum – son of Yosef and Chana
Ilan Nussbaum – son of Yosef and Chana
Chana Nussbaum – daughter of Jacob and Ziporah; married to Shulim (Ziporah’s brother)
Tsivyah Lubetkin
Antek Zucherman
Zacharia Artstein
Malka Hornstein
Bluma Wiszogrodski
Rukhele Lauschvits
Thaddeus Stabholz
Helik Birenbaum
Halina Birenbaurm – sister of Helik
Lolek Skosowski
Adam Zurawin
David Guzik
Jan Rolnik – married to Ella Sendowska
Artur Rolnik – son of Jan and Ella
Danusia Rolnik – daughter of Jan and Ella
Helena Goldberg
David and Sophie Goetzel-Leviathan
Heinz Schenk
Heinz Galinski
Mark Berkowitz
David Margolick
Lucjan Dobroszycki
Sue Fishkoff
Aron Glanz-Leyeles

Frankfurt, Germany
New York City, NY
Hamburg, Germany
Berlin, Germany
Hillersleben, Germany
Kibbutz Lodz-Borochov, Lodz, Poland
Lomza, Poland
Grochow, Poland
Sandomierz, Poland
Warsaw Ghetto, Poland
Hotel Polski, Warsaw, Poland

Walbrzych, Poland
Kibbutz Mishmar ha-Sharon, Israel

Monday, August 1, 2011

A Film Unfinished: The Warsaw Ghetto as Seen Through Nazi Eyes written and directed by Yael Hersonski 2010 (documentary)

In “A Film Unfinished,” the Israeli director Yael Hersonski embarks on a critical analysis of “Das Ghetto” that is remarkable as much for its speculative restraint as for its philosophical reach.  from a review in the New York Times by Jeannette Catsoulis 8/17/2010

Most of this documentary, by the Israeli writer/director Yael Hersonski, is archival footage shot in the Warsaw Ghetto  filmed by photographers working for the Nazis but never released.  Discovered in a warehouse in 1954, various clips have circulated and been incorporated into other documentaries. There are scenes of the Jewish head of the ghetto Adam Czerniakow receiving Orthodox Jews in his office, and scenes of an elaborate dinner held in his home. There is a segment that shows a circumcision. Also included are street shots of impoverished, emaciated Jewish children and adults begging, while well-dressed residents of the ghetto walk by seemingly ignoring them. And there are shots of corpses lying unclaimed in front of shops and in gutters as ghetto residents go about their business.

It was clear that many scenes, especially the indoor ones, were staged. Adam Czerniakow took part in the staged scenes but kept diaries which are quoted in the documentary explaining the fraud that that was being filmed. In 1998 more definitive evidence that confirmed the staging was found on a reel languishing in a warehouse that shows multiple takes of some scenes, demonstrating that some were rearranged and re-shot so that the Nazis could maximize the effect they were after.

At the same time that we are watching the film and the outtakes, five Warsaw ghetto survivors who now live in Israel are also watching. The archival film is stopped occasionally to get their reaction to what they are seeing. Some add details that they remember.

Although the film was shot for propaganda purposes and much of its contents cannot be trusted, the roving camera allows you to get see many of its residents in close-ups and in crowd scenes and it's possible to get a sense of what parts of the ghetto looked like.

To watch a very interesting Public Broadcasting Interview with the writer/director, Yael Hersonski, who discusses the making of her film, click here.

Hanna Avrutzki
Luba Gewisser
Aliza Vitis-Shomron
Jurek Plonski
Shula Zeder
Adam Czerniakow
Emanuel Ringelblum
Chaim Kaplan
Abraham Lewin
Rachel Auerbach
Jonas Turkow
Ben Shem
Hersh Waser

Warsaw Ghetto

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Seamstress: A Memoir of Survival by Sara Tuvel Bernstein 1997

"A striking Holocaust memoir, posthumously published, by a Romanian Jew with an unusual story to tell." from Kirkus Reviews August, 15, 1997

Introductory chapters in this memoir about Seren (Sara) Tuvel’s early years set the scene for what is to come. Seren was the seventh of her father’s eleven children. Her mother, who was the widower Abraham Tuvel’s second wife, raised his six children and the two of them had five more. Their home was a gathering place for all of the children and grandchildren.

Seren was a good student who won a scholarship to continue on at the gymnasium in Bucharest but her father, a traditional observant Jew, said no. She defied him and moved to Bucharest but she was not happy in school and quit, apprenticing herself to a dressmaker where she learned how to sew intricate high-end fashion bought by the nobility. This skill, as well as her intelligence, foresight and resourcefulness, served her well as she fought to stay alive both in the years before and during World War II. 

With the steady march of Hitler into neighboring countries, the bucolic setting of Valea Uzului in Romania, the site of her father’s job managing a mill, soon became a memory. Jews living near the border were accused of spying and while Seren was home she and her father were arrested and jailed in Bucharest. When she was eventually freed, she made her way to Budapest, Hungary where she and other relatives thought they’d be safer. However in March of 1944 she and her sister were captured and forced to join a labor detail. The author eventually ended up in Ravensbruck, amongst the first group of Jewish women in this camp that the Nazis had set aside for common criminals, gypsies, Communists, and others who they saw as political agitators. She was 26 years old.

Four months later she and the small group of women who still survived the punishing conditions of Ravensbruck were moved to Turkheim, a division of Dachau, then to Bergau where they were eventually rescued by the Red Cross. She describes the terrible conditions she worked under when she was a member of a forced labor detail. The conditions got only worse as she was transported from camp to camp. She was sent to recuperate at St Ottelein Convent which had been turned into a post-war hospital and then volunteered to teach sewing to displaced women at an ORT school in the next town. There she met her future husband who was teaching tailoring.

She concludes with their unsuccessful search for surviving family members, but then describes a joyous reunion with relatives who were living in Israel after she had assumed they had all been killed. By this time she and her husband were living in Montreal. A final chapter by her daughter, Marlene Bernstein Samuels, provides information about the later years of her mother’s life including the writing of her memoir.

To read an article about Romania and the Holocaust, click here.

Abraham Tuvel
    Herman Tuvel – son of Abraham and first wife; married to Tamara
        Miksha Tuvel – son of Herman and Tamara
            Herman Tuvel – son of Miksha
        Ernie Tuvel – son of Herman and Tamara
        Joseph Tuvel – son of Herman and Tamara
    Meyer Tuvel – son of Abraham and first wife; married to Lottie
    Mendel Tuvel – son of Abraham and first wife
    Berta Tuvel – daughter of Abraham and first wife; married Morris
        Yosef – son of Berta
    Louise Tuvel – daughter of Abraham and first wife; married Bela
    Rose Tuvel – daughter of Abraham and first wife, married Eugene
        Emma, Alfred (Yakov), Magda, Elena, Estelle – children of Rose and Eugene
    Shlomo Tuvel – son of Abraham and Miriam; second wife Zella
    Eliezer Tuvel – son of Abraham and Miriam; married to Sylvia
        Judith and Rivkah Tuvel – daughters of Eliezer and Sylvia
    Seren (Sara) Tuvel – daughter of Abraham and Miriam; married Meyer Bernstein; author
        Jacob Bernstein – son of Seren (Sara) and Meyer; married Linda
            Rebecca Bernstein
        Marlene Bernstein Samuels – daughter of Seren (Sara) and Meyer
    Zipporah Tuvel - daughter of Abraham and Miriam
    Esther Tuvel – daughter of Abraham and Miriam; married Sidney (Sigmund)

Ira Bergman
    Ruth Bergman
Reuben Handler
    Leah Handler – daughter of Reuben
Samuel Stein
Joshua Stein – Samuel’s brother
Ellen (Helen) Weise
Lily Cohen
Zora Cohen – Lily’s sister

Lunca de Mijloc, Romania
Bucharest, Romania
Valea Uzului, Romania
Reghinal-Sasesc, Romania
Brasov, Romania
Miercurea-Cuic, Romania
Satu-Mare, Romania
Ravensbruck Concentration Camp, Germany
Turkheim, Dachau, Germany
Bergau, Austria
St. Ottelein Abbey, Emming, Germany
Feldafing, Germany
Schwabhausen, Germany

Monday, July 18, 2011

In My Mother’s House: A Daughter’s Story by Kim Chernin, first published in 1983; HarperPerennial edition with new forward by author 1994

"It is the ideological aspect that distinguishes this memoir from more familiar stories of daughter-mother resentment."  from a review by Diane McWhorter in the New York Times 8/21/1983

Kim Chernin (b. 1940) spent seven years writing this fascinating memoir whose focus is her mother Rose’s life as an active and prominent member of the Communist Party and the author's relationship with her mother. To tell their story, the author covers four generations of Chernin women: Rose’s mother Perle, Rose, Kim herself, and Kim’s daughter Larissa.

Kim Chernin’s mother Rose told stories about her life that the author recorded in discrete chronological chapters. However, interspersed are chapters that take place in the “present” in which mother and daughter rehash and sort out the various strands of Rose’s stories, some of which Kim had never heard. The early chapters describe Rose's early life, how she and her family were part of the mass migration of Jews from Eastern Europe who came to America seeking a better life. Rose crossed the Atlantic with her mother and three younger siblings when her father, who had migrated several years earlier, sent for them.  

But life wasn’t easy. Their father mistreated their mother and then abandoned them. Perle barely learned English, hardly ever left the house, and, as is typical in many immigrant families, depended on her children, especially her oldest, Rose, to negotiate life in the United States for her. Perle suffered from depression and was institutionalized several times.

Rose was attracted to learning and loved school. When it was time for Rose to enter high school World War I was being fought. Luckily the high school day started early and ended early so that high school students could work in the factories. Rose was able to go to high school and work after school to help support the family. In school she met her future husband, Paul Kusnitz, who introduced her to socialism.

The memoir is then taken up with Rose’s long involvement with the Communist party, the committees she formed and ran, her travels and her speaking, and the time she spent in jail in the 1950’s. A major emphasis is the effect her work had on her family, especially her daughter, Kim, who grew up in the party but later became disillusioned. Rose’s  lifelong devotion and single-minded commitment to the Communist Party made it very difficult to accept her daughter’s turning away.

In order to write the book the author conducted extensive interviews with her mother. The memoir delineates their difficulties but the interviews and subsequent conversations allowed them the opportunity to listen to each other. Kim Chernin paints a picture of her mother as a strong woman who always kept in mind the difficulties her immigrant mother faced. Writing the memoir provided the author with the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of her mother’s roots and the external events that helped shape her world view.

The memoir includes photos.

To read a piece that Rose Chernin wrote in 1949 about organizing the unemployed in the Bronx in the 1930's, click here.

Perle Chernin
    Rose (Rochele) Chernin – daughter of Perle; married Paul Kusnitz
        Nina Chernin – daughter of Rose and Paul
        Kim Chernin – daughter of Rose and Paul; marrried David Netboy; author
            Larissa Chernin – daughter of Kim and David
    Celia (Zipora, Sylvia) Chernin – daughter of Perle; married Harry Horowitz
        Ethel Horowitz – daughter of Celia and Harry
        Pim and Sandor – twin sons of Celis; half brother of Ethel
        Michael – son of Celia; half brother of Ethel
    Gertrude (Gita) Chernin – daughter of Perle
        Vida – daughter of Gertrude
    Milton (Mikhail) Chernin – son of Perle
    Lillian Chernin – daughter of Perle; marries Norman
        Terry and Paulie – children of Lillian and Norman
Gita Chernin – father’s sister
Sonia Chernin – father’s cousin

Paul Kusnitz – married to Rose Chernin (see above)
Barney Kusnitz – Paul’s brother; married to Sara
Sol Kusnitz
Sam Kusnitz
Max – brother of Paul; married to Anne

Sonia Bloom
Peter Blume – Sonia’s brother
Sarah Kahen
    Jesse Kahen
Ben Gold
Sam Kichle
Al Levy   
David Thorne
August Thorne – David’s brother

Chasnik, Russia
Staten Island, NYC
Bronx, NYC
Waterbury, Conn.
Canonsville, New York
Los Angeles, Calif.
Boyle Heights, Los Angeles, Calif.
Berkeley, Calif.
Binghamton State Hospital, Binghamton NY
Camp Wo-Chi-Ca, Port Murray, New Jersey

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family's Century of Art and Loss by Edmund de Waal 2010

"[T]he intelligence and creativity with which de Waal constructs a family history are what make this special book so supremely ­winning." from a review by Megan Buskey in the New York Times 1/28/2011

Edmund De Waal (b. 1964) was raised in the Anglican Church. But he knew that he had one Jewish grandparent: his paternal grandmother, Elizabeth, had been a Jewish Ephrussi. Her great-grandfather Chaim Efrussi moved from Berdichev to Odessa where he raised his family and made his fortune.  Chaim (whose name became Charles Joachim Ephrussi) traded mainly in wheat, but eventually his sons, who set off for Paris and Vienna, went into banking and became powerful and influential businessmen. 

De Waal is fascinated by the large colorful Ephrussi family. Joachim’s grandson Charles became an influential art collector in Paris and had a collection of 264 netsuke, miniature Japanese carvings. De Waal traces the journey of the netsuke as a way to tell the story of the Ephrussis who were citizens of the world. The collection moved amongst family members from Japan to Paris to Vienna, back to Japan, and then to England when the author inherited them.

We read about six generations of Ephrussis. De Waal spends one section on some of the Paris Ephrussis where he recreates the zeitgeist of the second half of nineteenth century Paris. He describes the Rue de Monceau with its large mansions owned by wealthy Jewish families, the Ephrussis being one of them. We see Joachim’s grandson Charles immersed in the art world, a friend and business associate of now-famous Impressionist painters. De Waal vividly demonstrates how Charles's being Jewish, no matter how assimilated, affected his life. And we also read about his acquisition of the netsuke collection.

Viktor Ephrussi is the author’s great-grandfather. Because this is the author’s branch of the family, he spends a lot of time on the Vienna Ephrussis. The counterpart to the Rue de Monceau in Paris is the Ringstrasse (often referred to as Zionstrasse) where the Ephrussis lived in a imposing mansion. He paints a detailed portrait of Viktor and Emmy and the cultured, affluent life they lived in Vienna, a city hospitable to Jews during the reign of Kaiser Franz Josef. But always there was anti-Semitism just below the surface. Soon they were embroiled in World War I, and as the author notes, they were in the wrong country; they were on the losing side. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was dissolved.

De Waal takes us through the build-up to World War II, the rising anti-Semitism, the Anchluss, and the effects of the war on his branch of the Vienna Ephrussis. We read about the fate of his extended family members who scattered, if they could get out, to all corners of the globe ahead of Hitler’s murderous intentions. He sketches in the post-war life of his grandmother who married a de Waal, and the memoir ends where it started - in Japan where his grandmother's brother Iggy lived, the last owner of the netsuke. Great uncle Iggy bequeaths them to de Waal.

What we have in this carefully researched memoir is European history of the late nineteenth century and first half of the twentieth as seen through the lives of the wealthy, privileged members of the Ephrussi family. We see them at the height of their power socializing with prominent artists and writers, businessmen and titled nobility. But then we see that their wealth did not protect them; that being Jewish was their defining trait no matter how much influence or assets they had had, no matter that many Ephrussis had assimilated, had married Christians or had converted.

To watch Edmund de Waal discuss the process of writing this memoir, click here.

To read a very interesting in-depth article from the Economist about the process and the consequences of  writing of this book, click here.

Author’s father’s family   
Charles (Chaim) Joachim Ephrussi (Efrussi) – married Belle (Balbina) Levenson; second marriage to Henriette Halperson
    Leon (Leib) Ephrussi – son of Charles and Belle; married Mina Landau
        Jules Ephrussi – son of Leon and Mina; married Fanny Pfeiffer
        Ignace Ephrussi – son of Leon and Mina
        Charles Ephrussi – son of Leon and Mina
        Betty Ephrussi – daughter of Leon and Mina; married Max Hirsch Kann
            Fanny Kann – daughter of Betty and Max; married Theodore Reinach
                Leon Reinach – married to Beatrice de Camondo
    Ignace (Eizek) von Ephrussi – son of Charles and Belle; married Emilie Porgees
        Stefan von Ephrussi – son of Ignace and Emilie; married Estiha
        Anna von Ephrussi – daughter of Ignace and Emilie; married Baron Herz von Hertenreid
        Viktor von Ephrussi – son of Ignace and Emilie; married Emmy Schey von Koromla
             Elisabeth von Ephrussi – daughter of Viktor and Emmy; married Hendrick de Waal
                Victor de Waal – son of Elisabeth and Hendrick; married Esther Moir
                    John de Waal – son of Victor and Esther
                    Alexander de Waal – son of Victor and Esther
                    Edmund de Waal – son of Victor and Esther; married to Susan Chandler; author
                        Benjamin de Waal – son of Edmund and Susan
                        Matthew de Waal – son of Edmund and Susan
                        Anna de Waal – daughter of Edmund and Susan
                    Thomas de Waal – son of Victor and Esther   
            Gisela von Ephrussi – daughter of Viktor and Emmy; married Alfredo Barr
            Ignace von Ephrussi – son of Viktor and Emmy; in a relationship with Jiro Sugiyama
            Rudolf von Ephrussi – son of Viktor and Emmy; married to Virginia Bailey
                Constant Hendrik de Waal – son of Elisabeth and                
    Michel Ephrussi – son of Charles and Henriette; married Lilliane Beer
    Maurice Ephrussi – son of Charles and Henriette; married Charlotte Beatrice de Rothschild
    Therese Ephrussi – daughter of Charles and Henriette; married Leon Fould
    Marie Ephrussi – daughter of Charles and Henriette; married Guy de Percin

Alphonse de Rothchild – father of Beatrice, who is the wife of Maurice Ephrussi (see above)
Joseph Reinach – brother of Thomas who is the husband of Fanny Kann (see above)

Family members of Emmy Schey von Koromla who married Viktor von Ephrussi (see above)
Paul Schey von Koromla – married to Evelina Landenaur; parents of Emmy
    Philippe (Pips)Schey von Koromla – son of Paul and Evelina; brother of Emmy; married to Olga 
    Eva Schey von Koromla – daughter of Paul and Evelina; sister of Emmy; married Thuroczy de Also-Korosteg et Tuocz-Szent-Milhaly
    Gerry Schey von Koromla – daughter of Paul and Evelina; sister of Emmy; married Baron Weiss von Weiss und Horstenstein
Arthur Schniztler – cousin of Emmy Schey von Koromla
Herman and Witold Schey von Koromla – twin brothers; cousins of Emmy Shey von Koromla
Anna von Leiben – Emmy’s great aunt
Fritz von Leiben – a cousin of Emmy’s children
Marie-Louise von Motesiczky (Piz) – cousin of Emmy
Frank and Mitzi Wooster – cousins of Emmy

Bernhardt Altmann
Louise Cahen
Egon Friedell
Rudolf Gutmann
    Marianne Gutmann – Rudolf’s daughter
Karl Kraus
Fanny Loewenstein

Berdichev, Ukraine
Leopoldstradt, Vienna, Austria
Vienna Austria
Kovecses, Czechoslovakia
Rue de Monceau, Paris
Paris, France
Odessa, Russia