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