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

Monday, July 4, 2011

An Exclusive Love: A Memoir by Johanna Adorjan

“'Perhaps you live a longer, happier life if you don’t look back so much,' the author writes at one point. The reader can be thankful that Johanna Adorj√°n didn’t quite believe her own counsel." from a review by David Michael in Book, an online review of the New Republic 6/22/11
This slim but powerful memoir by Johanna Adorjan (b. 1971) is an investigation and meditation on the double suicide of her paternal grandparents, Veronika and Istvan Adorjan, Jewish Hungarian refugees who lived in post-war Denmark. They were both survivors of the Holocaust and the Soviet invasion of Hungary and ended their lives in October of 1991 when the author’s grandfather was approaching death due to heart disease.

There are many interesting pieces to this story. Neither her grandmother nor her grandfather would ever talk about their lives during the war. Adorjan describes her grandparents as having been assimilated Jews who lived in Budapest when Hitler invaded Hungary. Her grandfather was deported to Mauthausen; her grandmother survived because she had forged papers, but both her grandmother’s parents were shot. Despite conversations with her father, other relatives, and interviews with many surviving friends from before and during the war, she learned virtually nothing about their wartime experience.

Another interesting aspect of this memoir is that it is as much an investigation into aspects of the author's identity as it is an attempt to understand her grandparents. Adorjan relates that she herself had never thought much about her Jewish heritage. Adorjan’s mother is not Jewish which made Adorjan’s connection to her Jewish identity even more remote. She was amazed that a trip to Israel had such a strong emotional impact on her, surprised at how at home she felt there.

Throughout, Adorjan asks herself insightful questions. For example, since her grandparents were unwilling to talk about their experiences during the war, what gives her the right to try to learn about their experiences by talking to relatives and friends? Is it an invasion of privacy even though her grandparents are dead?  Is it possible to ever understand another person? She cites statistics of Jewish suicides during the war in Budapest. She talks about the suicides of survivors after the war and puzzles over her grandparents’ double suicide 45 years later, hoping that what she might learn about their lives, especially their wartime experiences, will provide explanations, will help her to know them better.

To read an article in Haaretz about a study of suicide rates amongst Holocaust survivors in Israel, click here.


Sandor Adorjan (formerly Samuel Adler) – married Frida Mayersberg
            Istvan Adorjan – son of Sandor and Frida; married Veronica (Vera) Fellner
                                    Johanna Adorjan – granddaughter of Istvan and Frida; author
                                    David and Gabriel Adorjan – grandsons of Istvan and Frida
Josef Adorjan – brother of Sandor
            Istvan Adorjan  - son of Josef
Elemer and Gizella Fellner – parents of Veronica Fellner Adorjan (see above)

Budapest, Hungary
Zalaegerszeg, Hungary
Charlottelund, Denmark
Melbourne, Australia
Munich, Germany
Berlin, Germany
Mauthausen, Austria
Gunskirchen Lager, Austria