Monday, March 28, 2011

The Inextinguishable Symphony: A True Story of Music and Love in Nazi Germany by Martin Goldsmith 2000

"An intensely moving memoir of personal discovery of family history, and a chilling story of increasing repression, persecution, and eventual mass-murder in Nazi Germany." from a review by Fred Child for National Public Radio.

Martin Goldsmith, the former National Public Radio’s host of Performance Today, recreates in this memoir the life his parents led growing up in Nazi Germany and the fascinating story of the Judische Kulturbund Orchestra where his father played the flute, his mother the violin. Having escaped in 1941 and settled in the United States, his parents rarely talked about their lives in Germany, but finally the author prevailed upon his 79-year-old widowed father to tell him the details of his experiences. Fascinated by all that his father had to say, Goldsmith fleshed out his father’s story with research about Nazi Germany and the Judische Kulturbund, The Jewish Cultural Society, an entity founded by Jewish artists.

Goldsmith tells many engrossing stories. He starts with his father Gunther’s family in Oldenburg, Germany where his grandfather Alex owned a prominent department store. Then he moves on to introduce his mother Rosemarie’s family who lived in Dusseldorf where his grandfather Julian Gumpert was a violinist who ran a well-respected music academy. These two threads merged when the children in these two families, Gunther and Rosemarie, met in Frankfurt where they both were asked to join the Kulturbund orchestra. They fell in love and married.

Goldsmith tells us a great deal about the Judische Kulturbund, about its formation in 1933, the importance of its leader and spokesperson - the charismatic Kurt Singer, its programs, its greatest triumphs, its faltering, and its demise in 1941. The formation of the Judische Kulturbund was initiated with the permission of the Nazis by Jewish artists in Berlin to provide work for unemployed Jewish artists. The proposal was that these artists would entertain the Berlin Jewish community whose members faced increasing restrictions in their daily lives. At its peak in 1936, there were branches of the Judische Kulturbund in 49 cities across Germany.

But despite the triumphs, there were many stresses. After 1936 more and more German Jews, artists included, emigrated. Others “disappeared,” or were sent to labor camps or prison. Morale eroded. In addition, the Nazis kept placing more and more restrictions on performances. Brownshirts attended performances and sat in the front row. Eventually the lecture series offered by the Judische Kulturbund was cancelled. Finally, the groups outside of Berlin were shut down and only the Berlin group was functioning when the Nazis shut it down in 1941. As Goldsmith notes: In 1941 the Germans no longer had a need to divert or placate the Jews. They had decided to implement the final solution.

Goldsmith spends some time toward the end of the memoir discussing some of the interesting controversies surrounding the existence of the Judische Kulterbund. Some of the questions that have been raised are: Were the Jewish leaders of the Kulturbund na├»ve in thinking there was an advantage to working with the Nazis? Was the existence of the Kulturbund worth the cover it provided the Nazis?  Did the existence of the Kulturbund and its successes make it easier for some who could have emigrated pass up emigration opportunities? Goldsmith seeks answers to these questions from his father, other survivors, and scholars.

All along he narrates events in his family’s life – how his parents thrived as members of the Kulturbund Orchestra and how they miraculously escaped Germany through the offer of sponsorship from a former pupil of Rosemarie’s father who had already immigrated to the United States. And he traces the tragic stories of both sets of grandparents, none of whom ultimately were able to escape the Nazis’ clutches.

This memoir includes family photos and reproductions of documents.

Goldsmith's father's family
Moses Goldschmidt – married Auguste Philipssohn
    Alex  Goldschmidt – son of Moses and Auguste; married Toni Behrens, daughter of Ludwig Behrens and Jeannette
        Bertha Goldschmidt – daughter of Alex and Toni
        Gunther Ludwig Goldschmidt – son of Alex and Toni; married Rosemarie Gompert
            Peter Goldsmith – son of Gunther and Rosemary
            Martin Goldsmith – son of Gunther and Rosemary; author
        Eva Goldschmidt – daughter of Alex and Toni
        Helmut Goldschmidt – son of Alex and Toni

Goldsmith's mother’s family
Julian Gumpert – married Else Hayn
    Rosemarie – daughter of Julian and Else; married Gunter Goldschmidt (see above)
Friends, Acquaintances and Contemporaries
Ruth Anselm
Julius Bab
Leo Baeck
Hans Bassermann
Kurt Baumann
Lawrence Berenson
Bert Bernd
Henry Bloch
Martin Brandt
Martin Brasch
Lotte Breger
    Nina Breger – Lotte’s daughter
Wolfgang Brettschneider
Franz Calvelli- Adorno
Adolf Cohen
Arthur Cohn
Heinz Condell
Richard Dresdner
Ernst Drucker
    Eugene Drucker – his son
Nathan Ehrenreich
Manfred Epstein
Albert Ettlinger
Emanuel Feuermann
Herbert Fischer
Werner Golde
Milton Goldsmith
Max Greenbaum
Herschel Grysszpan
Igo Guttmann
Willhelm Guttmann
Mauritz Henschel
Heinrich Hirschberg
Otto Hoffmann
Jascha Horenstein
Fritzi Jokl
Hilda Klestadt Jonas
Liesl Joseph
Walter Kapell
Richard Karp
Kurt Katsch
Alexander Kipnis
Alena Klein
Otto Klemperer
Max Kowalski
Leo Kreindler
Hannah Kroner
Max Lehrmann
Werner Levie
Walter Liebling
Arthur Lilienthal
Paula Salomon-Lindberg
Erich Liepmann
Max Loewe
Fritzi Merley
Henry Meyer
Fred Michaelis
Walter Olitzki
Joachim Prinz
Julius Pruwer
Joseph Rosenstock
Dolly Salkind
Georg Salzburger
Arnold Schoenberg
Franz Schreker
Rudolf Schwarz
Rudolf Serkin
Moritz Singer
    Kurt Singer - his son
Nellie Solms
    Sigfried Solms - her son
Martha Sommer
Kurt Sommerfeld
Heinrich Stahl
Hans Wilhelm Steinberg
Margot Stern
Walter Sulzbach
Bruno Walter (Schlesinger)
Michael Taube
Gerti Totschek Colbert
Leo Trepp
Morris Troper
Fritz Wisten
Hans Zander

Sachsenhagen, Germany
Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp
Oldenburg, Germany
Bremen, Germany
Deutsch-Eylau, West Prussia
Dusseldorf, Germany
Gumpert Conservatory of Music, Dusseldorf, Germany
Berlin, Germany
Hosel, Germany

Monday, March 21, 2011

Last Days in Babylon: The History of a Family, the Story of a Nation by Marina Benjamin, 2006

"This is a history unknown even to most Jews. Benjamin narrates it fluently and passionately." from a review by Moris Farhi published in the Independent  3/27/07

In this very informative memoir, Marina Benjamin (born in 1964), a British journalist, focuses on the life of her maternal grandmother, Regina Sehayek Levy, whose life spanned most of the twentieth century. Born in Iraq in 1905 toward the end of the rule of the Ottoman Empire, she lived out her last years in England where she died in 1992.

The author divides her story into three parts: The Lost World, Changing Times and Coming Full Circle. In each section she gives us a crash course in the politics that were in play at the time and with that background as context, she discusses how the Jewish community as a whole as well as members of her family in particular were affected by the Iraqi leader of the moment, the shifting British presence, and Arab world politics.

Benjamin starts by recreating old Iraq and Baghdad, giving us a crash course in early Iraq history, both Arab and Jewish. She notes that Jews had lived continuously in Iraq for 2700 years, living most of the time in harmony with their fellow Arab Iraqis. Early in the twentieth century one third of Baghdad’s residents were Jewish. Jewish men were successful merchants and traders and were also well represented in various departments in government offices. The author explains that they were successful because they were multi-lingual and had family and co-religionist outposts around the world that facilitated their business transactions. 

Like the Arab Iraqis, the Jewish Iraqis were culturally conservative. For example, all marriages in the early part of the century were arranged. Dowries were routine. Marina's grandmother Regina Sehayek was betrothed to Elazar Levy, a well-established businessman, who was thirty years older than she was. An only son with a widowed mother, he delayed marrying until he had married off and provided dowries for all of his sisters.

Throughout the decades of the twentieth century life got gradually more difficult for Iraqi Jews. There were many signs of trouble. Iraq, ruled by the Turks who sided with the Germans during World War I, was subsequently occupied by the British. The Iraqi Arabs were resentful when the Iraqi Jews aligned themselves with the British. In addition, Pan-Arabism as a movement became a real force in Iraq at the same time that Zionism was emerging as a movement in the west.

Benjamin then discusses the Arab Iraqi reaction to the creation of the state of Israel and how that impacted the Iraqi Jews. Living in Iraq became intolerable, and in the early 1950’s  325,000 Iraqi Jews were airlifted to Israel. Regina Levy chose a different path. Widowed with three children, she managed to arrange passage to Calcutta where her sister Josephine lived. After several years there she became an Indian citizen, obtained passports for her and her children, and left for England.

At the end of her memoir the author writes about the reception the Iraqi Jews received in Israel. She quotes the largely European Ashkenazi leaders who disparaged the Iraqi Jews as hopelessly backward. And she ends her memoir with some thoughts on a visit she made to Iraq in 2004. She mourns the death of a community with a rich, proud and extensive history.

This memoir includes many family photos, notes identifying sources,  a bibliography for further reading, and an index.

To read an abbreviated version of Marina Benjamin's memoir in the form of an essay she wrote for Tablet, click here.

Author’s family on her maternal grandmother’s side
Yehesqail Nissan
    David Yehesqail Nissan – Yehesqail’s son
        Salman Nissan – David’s son
            Salha Nissan – married Ezra Sehayek (son of Shlomo Sehayek, son of Ezra Sehayek)
                Solomon Sehayek – son of Salha and Ezra
                Marcelle Sehayek – daughter of Salha and Ezra
                Josephine Sehayek – daughter of Salha and Ezra
                Nessim Sehayek – son of Salha and Ezra
                Regina Sehayek – daughter of Salha and Ezra; married Elazar Levy
                    Haron – son of Regina and Elazar; married Ann Hewitt
                    Marcelle – daughter of Regina and Elazar; married Sassoon Benjamin
                        Andrea – daughter of Regina and Elazar
                        Marina – daughter of Regina and Elazar; author
                    Bertha – daughter of Regina and Elazar; married Victor Nourallah
            Violet – sister of Salha Nissan Sehayek; married Victor Battat
                Gourji Battat – Violet and Victor's son
            Farah – sister of Salha Nissan Sehayek

Author’s family on her maternal grandfather’s side
Agha Elazar Levy
    Yaeer Levy, son of Agha Elazar
        Elazar Levy – son of Yaeer
            Haron Levy – son of Elazar; married to Simha
                Elazar Levy – son of Haron and Simha; married Regina Sehayek (see above)
                Khatoun Levy– daughter of Haron and Simha
                Habiba Levy – daughter of Haron and Simha
                Farha Levy – daughter of Haron and Simha
                Dola Levy – daughter of Haron and Simha
                Muzli Levy – daughter of Haron and Simha
        Shimoun Levy – son of Yaeer

Lizette Battat – a relative of Salha Nissan Sehayek
Yusef Elkabir – a cousin of Elazar Levy
Goorji Levy – a cousin of Elazar Levy
Albert Levy – a nephew of Elazar Levy
Reuben Zeloof – a cousin of the Regina Sehayek
Friends, Acquaintances, and Sources       
Sion Aboudi
Meir Elias
Menham Salah Daniel
Sasson Hesqail
Elly Kadoorie
Khedouri Zilcha
Claire Dellal
Violet Masri
Farah Nissan
Rosie Fattal
    Louise Fattal – Rosie’s daughter; married Freddy Shohet
Anwar Kedoori
Abraham Masri
Salima Joury
Sion Koubi
Enzo Sereni
Ezra Kadoori
Avraham Mordad
Ibrahim Lawee
Reuben Battat
Shafiq Ades
Heskel Shemtob
Yudke Tajer
Shalom Saleh Shalom
Yusef Basri
Elmer Berger
Sassoon Khedouri
Ezra and Sayeeda Levy
    Emad  and Saleh Levy – their sons
Marcelle Daoud
Samir and Jacob Shahrabani (brothers)
Edwin Shuker
Dora Qashqoush
Tawfiq Sofaer
Violet Tweg
Rachel Zelon
Meir Basri
    Carole Basri - Meir Basri's niece
Eli Amir
Khalida Mouallem
Places and Institutions
Baghdad, Iraq
Rashid Street, Baghdad, Iraq
The Shorja, Baghdad, Iraq
Laura Kadoorie School for Girls, Baghdad, Iraq
Frank Iny School, Baghdad, Iraq
Menahem Daniel School, Baghdad, Iraq
Bataween, Iraq
The Shurah
Baswa, Iraq
Ezra Daoud Synagogue, Baghdad, Iraq
Meir Tweg Synagogue. Batatweein, Iraq
Massouda Shemtob Synagogue, Baghdad, Iraq
Nes Ziona Camp, Israel

Monday, March 14, 2011

Anya’s War by Andrea Alban 2011 (young adult fiction)

"Based on the author’s life, it is a book with history, drama, and good writing."  from a review by Marcia Weiss Posner published in The Association of Jewish Libraries Reviews, Feb/March 2001

San Fransisco writer Andrea Alban has written an engaging young adult novel, based on a family story, that takes place in Shanghai, China in 1937. She explains in a post-script that her paternal grandparents fled from Odessa with their two children and settled in the Frenchtown section of Shanghai in China. The novel's main character, fourteen-year-old Anya, a young girl who is trying to puzzle out her place in a strange world, is modeled after Alban’s father’s sister Lily.

Anya’s story as it plays out over two days in 1937 provides an interesting look at three generations of a displaced Russian Jewish family living together in one house, living out their lives in an alien environment during this unsettling period leading up to World War II. The family members brought Odessa with them in their social codes, their dress, their food, and their religious observance, but like all immigrants, they had to work hard at maintaining their treasured old ways that seemed so “foreign” in the Far East.  Alban is very good at creating Anya’s character and voice which conveys the family tension – the bickering, the voices raised, the confusion and the moments of comic relief that helped to momentarily lessen the tension.
We accompany Anya as she negotiates purchases in the Chinese markets, we listen to her conversations with the Chinese cook who has learned how to make foods for them that they treasured from their life in Odessa, and we watch as her mother, a former opera singer, tries to manage the household help and raise her children the way she would have raised them in Odessa where the family had status and a secure place in their wider community. Also, along with Anya, we overhear the adults talking politics. For example, we hear about Victor Emmanuel and Mussolini and impending struggles between the Chinese and the Japanese for control of Shanghai as well as remarks about Hitler and “degenerate” art.

Alban’s family were early arrivals to Shanghai. In the years leading up to the war many more families fled Eastern Europe and settled there. Anya yearns to go to America. Shanghai is seen as a temporary stopping off point. Alban tells us in her postscript that Anya’s real-life model, her aunt Lily and Lily’s brother, the author’s father Yan Abramovitch, left for America after the war along with many of the Jews who waited out the war in Shanghai. Her father became a physician in San Fransisco.

To view a fascinating site that documents the uncovering and restoration of gravestones from four Jewish cemeteries that had existed in Shanghai, click here.

Israel Orjich
    Asya Orjich; married Issai Abromovitch; they divorced;
        Yan Abromovitch – son of Asya and Issai and Asya
            Andrea Alben – daughter of Yan; author
                Lily – daughter of Andrea
        Lily Abromovitch – daughter of Issai and Asya; married Bernard Gross
    Zelik Zelikovsky – second husband of Asya Orjich

Shanghai, China
San Francisco, USA

Monday, March 7, 2011

When Memory Comes by Saul Friedlander, first published in French in 1978, published in English in 1979, reissued in 2003

"There is so much that is fascinating about Saul Friedlander's life, it is hard to know where to begin or how, even, to define him. Historian. Teacher. Author. Policy-maker. Survivor. It is the last, in fact, that defines all the rest." from a feature article written by Roberta Wax published in UCLA Magazine, Fall of 1999
Saul Friedlander, noted historian of the Holocaust and winner of a MacArthur “genius” award in 1999, wrote this memoir about his early years while living in Israel, Born into a totally assimilated Jewish family in Prague in 1932 four months before Hitler took power, he remembers the solidly comfortable, cultured middle class life his family led until panic set in as Hitler rose to power and his parents tried to escape over the Hungarian border. But they soon realized they would not be better off in Hungary, so they went back to Prague.

The desperate attempt by his parents to find a safe place continued. They fled to Paris in 1939; they wanted to go to Palestine but there was a wait of a year, and they didn’t have the proper papers. They stayed in Paris until the war broke out at which point they fled to Neris-les-Bain, a spa town in central France full of hotels with Jewish refugees in similar circumstances.

In 1942 when foreign Jews in France started to be rounded up, in an attempt to save their son, Freidlander’s parents placed him in a Catholic boarding school where, at the age of ten, he took on a new name and was baptized. He had a very difficult time adjusting to a whole new way of life and the disappearance of his parents was traumatic. But after a health crisis – the nuns told him he nearly died – he developed a new frame of mind and became a devout Catholic. He seriously considered becoming a priest.

When the war was over and his parents didn't return, a priest mentor talked to Friedlander about what had happened to them. It was at this point that Friedlander found out all about the war; he had no idea what Auschwitz was. He now understood the implications of his having been born a Jew and he immediately took back his real name.

 Friedlander became an ardent Zionist after being sent to a Zionist camp at Lake Chalain. He writes that it gave him a sense of community and purpose, and he subsequently added two years to his age so that he could join Betar, the youth group affiliated with the Irgun led by Menachem Begin. The youngest refugee aboard, he sailed to the new state of Israel on the Altalena, a ship loaded with arms, ready to defend Israel. He ends his memoir with the drama surrounding the arrival of the Altalena, and his eventual sailing into port where he would start the next chapter of his life.

Friedlander does not tell his story in strictly chronological order. Much of the retelling of his early years is deliberately interwoven with illustrations from his later life in Israel. When he is writing in 1977 about World War II, he thinks back to the 1973 Yom Kippur War and how much the trauma of that war changed Israelis. He continues to make many links between the conflicts and wars in Israel and the feelings of being under siege, the yearning for self-definition and peace that Jews have felt many other times in their history.

To read an interview with Friedlander in Der Spiegel, click here.
To read more about the arrival of the ship the Altalena, click here.

Gustav and Cecile Glaser
    Elli Glaser, daughter of Gustav and Cecile; married Hans Friedlander;
        Pavel (Saul) Friedlander – son of Elli and Hans; married to Hagith;  author
            Eli, David, and Michal – children of Saul and Hagith
    Paul, Hans, Willy – sons of Gustav and Cecile

Aunt Martha – relationship not clear

Prague, Czechoslovakia
Rochlitz, Germany
Lemberg, Galicia
Nira, Israel
Beit Itzhak, Israel
Shaar Hefer, Israel
Ben Shemen, Israel
Natanya, Israel
Bubenec, Prague, Czecheslovakia
Paris, France
Montmorency, France
Neris-les-Bains, France
La Souterraine, France
Montucon, France
Rivesaltes Concentration Camp, France