Monday, December 17, 2012

The Girls of Room 28: Friendship, Hope, and Survival in Theresienstadt by Hannelore Brenner, published in German in 2004 and in English in 2009

"A deeply sympathetic account of a group of concentration-camp dorm mates who stayed in touch years after their release."  from a review in Kirkus Reviews 7/15/2009

This book focuses on a group of young teenage girls and their leaders who lived in Room 28 of the Girls Home in the Theresienstadt concentration camp from 1942-1944 in what is now the Czech Republic. The author, Hannelore Brenner, interviewed many of those who survived and read journals written by them and others who were deported to Theresienstadt. She quotes extensively from many entries from these journals, especially from the journals of Helga Pollak and her father Otto where they reveal the heartbreaks and stresses of day-to-day life in the camp. Helga’s entries chronicle the life of an undernourished child who was frequently sick, but who dreamed about the future and worked at becoming a contributing and supportive member of Room 28. Otto Pollak, who lived in another area of Theresienstadt, wrote about his concern for the welfare of his daughter.

In an introductory chapter we meet some of the girls of Room 28 in the present and learn about their annual reunion. In subsequent chapters the author goes back in time and uses these girls’ experiences to describe the early round-ups and deportations to Theresienstadt and the daily life at the camp. Several chapters deal with the production of the children’s opera Brundibar, the sham visit by the International Red Cross, and the filming of  Nazi propaganda at the camp. Finally, the author follows the deportation of some of the girls from Theresienstadt to camps like Auschwitz and then the death marches the Nazis forced on survivors as the Allies approached. She ends the main section of the book with the liberation of the camps and the girls’ search for survivors.

The author efficiently presents background material about the strategy of the Nazis to present Theresienstadt as a model Jewish town. So in that sense, this transit camp was a better place to be than some others. The camp was overcrowded, and prisoners were hungry, plagued by bed bugs and lice, and many were sick and died from typhoid and encephalitis as well as other communicable diseases. But children and adults were also were able to take advantage of many educational and cultural activities. Concerts and plays gave the many gifted artists and musicians opportunities  to participate as actors, singers, composers and musicians. Audiences sat in rapt attention and many commented about how attending or participating in such events was a transcendent experience that allowed them moments when they could forget where they were.

Journal entries and interviews reveal that for the children there were two particular beacons of light in an otherwise grim existence. The gifted artist Freidl Dicker-Brandeis created a rich art program that involved the children in drawing and painting. And the decision to mount a production of the children’s opera Brundibar allowed the children to throw themselves into an exciting, enriching activity. First they auditioned, then rehearsed, and then performed. The opera, written earlier by the composer Hans Krasa who became a prisoner in Theresienstadt, was performed in the camp over fifty times to packed houses.

The cumulative effect of the multiple stories we read is powerful. Over the course of the book we have come to know the girls and their leaders, and their family and friends through their writing, and through the author’s research and interviews. One tragic story is hard enough to bear; multiply it by the number of prisoners we follow in this book, and it’s overwhelming.

An Epilogue includes contemporary photos of most of the survivors of Room 28 and short narratives. The survivors went on with their lives; they picked up the pieces, married, and settled in Israel, New York, California, Sweden, Moscow, West Germany, Vienna, Prague and elsewhere. Some, due to the cruel fate of politics, became citizens of the Soviet Union and for many years were cut off from the West. Like other survivors of the Holocaust, the girls of Room 28 felt that only other survivors really understood their trauma. And they knew that their past was better understood by the girls who had lived together in Room 28 than by anyone else.  Living in very close quarters under very difficult conditions in Theresienstadt helped them to forge strong bonds that hold those who are still alive together still.

To learn more about the book and a traveling exhibition click here.
To see a short clip from a production of Brundibar filmed by the Nazis in Theresienstadt as a vehicle for their propaganda click here.
To go to a very informative site about music and the holocaust where you find biographical sketches of many of the musicians who were prisoners in Theresienstadt, and which also has a lengthy discussion of Brundibar, click here.
To read a post on this blog about a cookbook put together by women in Theresienstadt click here
To read a post on this blog about a memoir written by Gonda Redlich, also a prisoner in Theresienstadt, click here.
To read a post on this blog of a memoir written by Petr Ginz, also a prisoner in Theresienstadt, click here.
To read a post on this blog about Madeleine Albright's memoir Prague Winter which has several chapters on Theresienstadt, click here.

The girls in room 28, including their leaders in bold print; others are family members not in Room 28 or not in Theresiendstadt
Rita Bohm – cousin of Lily Reich Wertheimer (see below)
Marianne Deutsch
    Peter – son of Marianne
Eva Eckstein – married Hermann Vit
Hana and Herta Eckstein – sisters of Eva
Hana Epstein
Eva Fischl

Leo Flach – married Elisabeth Kober
    Anna Flach (Hanusova-Flachova) - daughter of Leo and Elisabeth; married to Viteslav Hanus
        Tomas Hanus – son of Anna and Viteslav
    Michael Flach – son of Leo and Elisabeth
    Alice Flach – daughter of Leo and Elisabeth
    Irena Flach – daughter of Leo and Elisabeth
    Lizzie Flach – daughter of Leo and Elisabeth
Leopold Frohlich
    Marta Frohlich (Mikul) – daughter of Leopold
    Ruzenka Frohlich – daughter of Leopold
    Zdenka Frohlich – daughter of Leopold
    Jenda Frohlich – son of Leopold
    Jarda Frohlich – son of Leopold
Lilly Gross
Irena Grunfeld
Ruth Gutmann
Eva Heller
Marte Kende

Nathan and Ernestine Klein
    Ilsa Klein – daughter of Nathan and Ernestine; married Nathan Landa
        Eva Landa (Nimarkova) – daughter of Emil and Ilsa
            Viktor Nimark – son of Eva
        Leisl Landa – daughter of Emil and Ilsa; married to Franz Petschau
Hanna Lissau
Olga Lowy
Zdenka Lowy
Lenka Lindt
Ruth Meisl
Helena Mendl
Maria Muhlstein

Hermann Nath – married Elisabeth Kolb
    Vera Nath (Kreiner) – daughter of Hermann and Elisabeth
    Hana Nath – daughter of Hermann and Elisabeth
Eugen Kolb – brother of Elisabeth
Vojtec Polecek
    Bohumila Polacek – daughter of Vojtec
    Jiri Polacek – son of Vojtec
    Hanus and Hanna Lederer – cousins of Bohumil  and Jiri (exact relationship unclear)
Eva Pollak
Karel and Alice Pollak
    Handa Pollak (Drori) – daughter of Karel
Hanicka Pollak – sister of Karel
Sophie Pollak
    Otto Pollak – son of Sophie – married to Frieda
        Helga Pollak (Krinsky) – daughter of Otto and Frieda
    Karl Pollak – son of Sophie; married to Maria
Marta Pollak – daughter of Sophie; married to Fritz
    Josef – son of Marta and Fritz   
    Trude – daughter of Marta and Fritz; married Hermann
        Lea – daughter of Trude and Hermann
Freida Freud – paternal aunt of Otto; exact relationship unclear
Mimi Sander – Otto’s girlfriend
Gustav Deutsch – cousin of Karel
    Walter Deutsch – son of Gustav
Karel Ancerl – cousin of Alice
Ella Pollak
Ruth Popper
Miriam Rosenszweig
Ruth Schatchter
Alex Schatchter – Ruth’s brother
Julius and Charlotte Schwartzbart
    Judith Schwartzbart (Rosenzweig)– daughter of Julius and Charlotte
    Ester Schwartzbart – daughter of Julius and Charlotte
    Gideon Schwartzbart – son of Julius and Charlotte
Pavla Seiner
Ruth Shachter
Laura Simko
Alice Sittig

Anton Krauss
    Marketa Altenstein – niece of Anton (exact relationship unclear); married Max Stein
        Ela Stein (Weissberger) – daughter of Marketa and Max
        Ilona Stein – daughter of Marketa and Max
    Otto Altenstein – nephew of Anton; brother of Marketa; married to Anna
    Kamilla Korn – aunt of Ela and Ilona (exact relationship unclear)
Jirinka Steiner
Eva Stern

Doris Stern – sister of Eva
Erika Stranska
Emma Taub
Ella Weiss
Eva Weiss
Fritz Wertheimer – married to Lily Reich
    Hanka Wertheimer – daughter of Fritz and Lily; married to Abraham Weingarten
    Miriam Wertheimer – daughter of Fritz and Lily
Adolf and Wilma Rosenblatt
    Edith Rosenblatt – daughter of Adolf and Wilma; married Fritz Winkler
        Eva Winkler (Sohar) – daughter of Fritz and Edith
        Jiri Winkler – son of Fritz and Edith
        Pavel Winkler – son of Fritz and Edith

Others in Theresienstadt
Juliette Aranyi
Heda Aronson-Lindt
Adolf Aussenberg
Jiri Bader
Yehuda Bacon
Karel Berman
Dasa Bloch
Felix Bloch
Bedrich Borges
Hana Brady
Jirka Brady – brother Hana
Jirk Broll
Zdenka Brumlikova
Gustav and Ettel Heller
        Horst Cohn – grandson of Gustav and Ettel
Ottla David-Kafka
Peter Deutsch
Freidl Dicker – married Pavel Brandeis
Kurt Dreschler
Jakob Edelstein
    Arye Edelstein – son of Jakob
Alice Ehrmann
Paul Eppstein
Rosa Englander
Walter Eisinger
Zdenka Fantlov
Anita Fischer (Frankova)
Karl Fischer
Jindrich Flusser
Ota Freudenfeld
    Rudolf – son of Ota
Walter Freund
Anny Frey
Bedrich Fritta (born Fritz Taussig) – married Heini
    Tommy – son of Bedrich and Heini
Karel Frohlich
Norbert Fryd
Renee Gartner-Geiringer
Honza Gelbkopt
Kurt Gerron
Jana Gintz
Petr Ginz
Eva Ginz – sister of Petr
Franta Goldschmidt
Markus Mordechai Groag
        Wilhelm (Willy) Groag – grandson of Markus; married Miriam
            Chava Groag – daughter of Willy and Miriam
    Heinrich Fleischmann – uncle of Willy (exact relationship unclear)
David Grunfeld
Kurt Hacek
Hanus Hachenberg
Eva Herrmann
Alice Herz-Sommer
    Stephan Sommer – son of Alice
Leo Haas
Pavel Haas
Fredy Hirsch
Hans Hofer
Greta Hofmeister (Klingsberg)
Micha Honigwachs
Luzian Horwitz
Yehuda Huppert
Karel Huttner
Leo Jannowitz
Hanus Jochowitz
Bernard Kaff
Ilse Kalinof
Erich Kessler
Peter Kien
Gerty Kersten
Israel Kestenberg
Eliska Klein
Franz Eugen Klein
Gideon Klein
Rudolf Klein
Paul Kling
Paul Kohn
Jiri Kotouc
Else Krasa
Hans Krasa
Harry Kraus
Stepan Krulis
Ilse Landa
Rudolf Laub
Egon Ledec
Wolfi Lederer
Pavel Libensky
Leopold Lowy
Josef Lustig
Franta Maier
Thomas Mandl
Freddy Mark
Licka Mautner
Margit Muhlstein
    Maria Muhlstein – daughter of Margit
    Pint’a Muhlstein – son of Margit
    Eli Muhlstein – son of Margit
Benjamin Murmelstein
Zdenek Ohrenstein
Franta Pick
Marion Podelier
Walter Pollak
Paul Rabinowitsch (took the name Paul Aron Sandfort)
Gonda Redlich
Eva Reiser
Kamilla Rosenbaum
Miriam Rosenzweig
Dita Sachs
Milos Salus
Eva Seger
Rafael Schachter
Vlasta Schonova
Coco Schumann
Resinka Schwarz
Ze’ev Shek
Kurt Singer
Ruth Steiner
Edith Steiner-Kraus
Walter Stern
    Eva Stern – daughter of Walter
Felix Strassman
Oscar Strauss
    Leo Strauss – son of Oscar
Romouald Sussmann
Karel Svenk
Carlo Taube
Honza Treichlinger
Viktor Ullmann
Otto Ungar
Hana Vohryskova
Ilse Weber
Sary Weinstein
Ben-Zion Weiss
Edith Weiss
Fritzek Weiss
Helga Weiss
Magda Weiss
Fritz Winkler
Frantisek Zelenka
Otto Zucker

Others mentioned who were not in Theresienstadt
Adolph Hoffmeister
Ruth Iltis
Seppl Lichtenstein
Suse Pick
Dov Revesz
Zuzanna Ruzickova
Eva Schlachet
Franz Singer
Gita Torbe

Hagibor Athletic Field, Prague-Strasnice, Czechoslovakia
Brno, Czechoslovakia
Prague, Czechoslovakia
Vienna, Austria
Kyjov, Moravia
Olomouc, Moravia
Telc, Moravia
Znojmo, Czechoslovakia
Chrastany, Bohemia
Kocise, Slovakia
Opava, Czechoslovakia
Liberec, Czech Republic
Louny, Szech Republic
Pisek, Bohemia
Olbramovice, Czechoslovakia
Achen, Germany
Hamburg, Germany
Sopron, Hungary
Novy Bydzov, Moravia
Bergen-Belsen, Germany
Auschwitz-Birknau, Poland
Kibbutz Hachotrim, Israel

Monday, December 3, 2012

Paper Kisses: A true love story by Reinhard Kaiser translated by Anthea Bell in 2006 (originally published as Konigskinder in Germany in 1996)

"Interweaving excerpts from their letters with information he gathered from relatives, ... [Kaiser's] gem of a story provides readers with a fresh, intimate angle from which to view the devastating effects of Hitler's war on the world." from a review in Publisher's Weekly 3/20/2006

When Reinhard Kaiser looked through a box at a stamp auction in Frankfurt, Germany in 1991, he noticed that some of the stamps were on envelopes still stuffed with letters written between 1935 and 1940, all addressed to the same woman, Ingeborg Magnusson in Stockholm, Sweden. Once Kaiser’s curiosity was piqued, his high bid secured the lot, and after he read the letters which were from 26-year-old Rudolf Kaufmann to the love of his life, he started on a journey to fill in the missing pieces. This short volume is the result of that journey.

Kaiser's quotes from the letters, and his subsequent research and interviews give us a wider context to help us understand the insurmountable obstacles standing in the way of a meaningful future for Ingerborg Magnusson and Rudolf Kaufmann. Kaufmann was a native of Konigsberg, Germany. A geologist with a PhD who had serious research ambitions, he had been unable to find employment in his field in Germany because of his Jewish background even though Kaufmann didn’t consider himself Jewish. His physicist father became an Evangelical Christian and had Rudolf baptized. But Rudolf soon realized that no matter what his stated religion, according to Nazi ideology he was a Jew and was to be treated as a Jew.

We don’t learn why Rudolf’s father converted and became an Evangelical Christian, whether his conversion was heart-felt or was meant to serve as much as it could as an inoculation against the rising Nazi threat. Rudolf Kaufmann never wrote in the many letters of any religious or spiritual feelings but at one point when he first learns that he has secured employment as a teacher at  Preacher [Rabbi] Hirsch’s Jewish boarding school in Coburg, a position which he ends up enjoying very much, he mentions that he does not want to have to become a Jew and he also says that he does not want to give up being an Evangelical Christian.

But as the years pass, we see through his letters that Kaufmann, whose lot has been thrown in with a group he knew little about, became more interested in Jews and Judaism. Once a Protestant German to the core, he now considered migrating to Palestine based on the advice of one his brothers, and with that goal in mind, started to study Hebrew. He wrote to Ingeborg that it upset him that the parents of his students were having to sell their businesses for pennies and he also wrote that many Jews have been very good to him, hiring him, housing him, and looking out for his welfare.

It is hard not to despair when reading the letters. With the benefit of hindsight we can see that Rudolf was an optimist and naive. Ingeborg and Rudolf met in 1935 in Bologna, Italy where he’d gotten a temporary position in his field. But his love for Ingeborg influenced his next choice: He decided to re-settle in Germany, assuming that the worst was over and that in Germany he would be closer to Ingeborg in Stockholm. Rudolf returned to a sobering reality, and as the years passed it was harder and harder to imagine a normal life as husband and wife, certainly not in Germany. And it got harder and harder for him to get out. He wrote that he sent out inquiries and applied for visas and positions in countries all over the world, from Australia to Persia. His siblings who have already fled try from abroad to do what they can. The last letters to Ingeborg are from Lithuania to where he has escaped and where he has managed at last to get a research position from the Soviets in his field. Now he confronted the reality of the effects of the war as it continued to engulf Europe. Over the course of several letters, five years after they had met,  he wrote to tell Ingeborg that at this point they must go their separate ways, stressing that, given his status, a future involving the two of them was doomed.

In the last several pages Reichart takes us through his search to find out as much as he could about Ingeborg and Rudolf, seeking out and interviewing survivors in Sweden, Germany and America. His search, in and of itself, is fascinating and what he discovered certainly illuminates the letters and brings these two lovers to life.

To read an article about the conversion of the prominent German Jewish Mendelssohn family, as a representative example of conversion from Jew to Christian, click here.

Walter Kaufmann – married Frieda Kuttner; second marriage to Else Bath
    Albert Kaufmann – son of Walter and Frieda; married Helene
    Hans Kaufmann – son of Walter and Frieda; married to Vera
    Liese Kaufmann – daughter of Walter and Frieda
    Trude Kaufmann – daughter of Walter and Frieda; married to Curt Teichert
    Rudolf Kaufmann –son of Walter and Frieda; married to Ilse
    Raimund Ludgwig Kaufmann – son of Walter and Else

Friends and Acquaintances
Hermann Hirsch
Max and Helene Holzman
    Marie Holzman – daughter of Max and Helene
    Margarete Holzman – daughter of Max and Helene

Kronenberg, Germany
Cologne, Germany
Coburg, Germany
Freiburg, Germany
Copenhagen, Denmark
London, England
Amberg, Germany
Geissen, Germany
Bologna, Italy
Kaunas, Llithuania
Vilnius, Lithuania

Monday, November 19, 2012

Rutka’s Notebook: A Voice from the Holocaust by Rutka Laskier 2008

"More than 60 years after the teenager wrote it, the diary vividly describes the world crumbling around her as she came of age in a Jewish ghetto." from an article by the Associated Press published in the New York Times on 5/5/07

Rutka Laskier, a teenager growing up in Bedzin, Poland during World War II, kept a journal for a very short time - from January 19 to April 24, 1943. At that point her family was forced to move to the ghetto in Kamionka, so she hid her journal under the floor boards and told a Polish friend to retrieve it if she didn’t return. Her friend found it two years later and kept it hidden until 2006. Its tragic brevity mirrors Rutka’s life which ended in Auschwitz to where she was deported in August, 1943. (Note: Though often called a “diary,” the more correct term in English is journal – writing used not just to record dates and events, but to reflect on perceptions, feelings, and daily events.)

In her writing Rutka records events and reflects on her past, her present, and her future. One minute she is full of life and excitement, discussing her friends, both boys and girls, and, like many teenagers everywhere, she critically evaluates her physical appearance. The next minute, with no transition at all, she describes her terror at witnessing beatings and murders. She recalls in vivid detail the horrifying sequence of events that had taken place during the Aktion of August 12, 1942, called the Hakoah after the sports field in the neighboring town of Sosnowiec where the Jews were forced to congregate. Her family, sent to the sports field, managed a reprieve. She also writes about her job working in one of the factories owned by Alfred Rossner who tried to protect his Jewish workers. She is tormented by day-to-day waiting for she knows not what. One minute she’s convinced the war will be over soon. The next, she despairs and expects to die.

This volume of the English translation called Rutka’s Notebook which was co-published by Yad Vashem, includes very interesting short essays. Much attention has been paid to illustrate the journal and the essays with historical photographs both of public scenes and of Rutka and family members.

Rutka’s half-sister, Zahava Laskier Scherz, is the author of two of the supplemental essays. The first one is an introduction in which she describes how she came to learn that her father had had a previous family before he married her mother and that they had been killed in the Holocaust. She then writes about how she came to learn, many years later, that her half-sister Rutka had kept a journal and that it had survived.

In her second essay, called “The Three Lives of Yaacov Laskier,” she describes her father’s early years as a Zionist member of D’ror, an early trip he made to Palestine, and a return to Poland when he became ill. Resettling in Bedzin, he became a banker and was raising a family when the Germans invaded Poland.  She describes how when he was deported with his family to Auschwitz he learned that the Germans were looking for people with experience working with money. He volunteered and was transferred to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp where he became a member of Operation Bernhard, which was set up to make counterfeit money. (Recently Operation Bernhard has been the subject of books and of the Austrian movie, The Counterfeiters.) She then describes his post-war life when he remarried and settled in Israel.

Another essay, written by Menachem Lior, a former Bedzin resident now living in Israel, details the search for Rutka’s surviving family once the the journal was made public. The next essay provides information about Bedzin and the Holocaust, and the last essay discusses journals by other teenagers who wrote about their lives during the Holocaust. The volume also includes an annotated bibliography of a selected list of teenage journals.

To read the memorial (yizkor)  book written to commemorate Bedzin's Jewish community pre-World War II, click here.

David Laskier- married to Golda Zisman
    Yehezkel-Yosef – son of David and Golda
    Ester Laskier-Rodel – daughter of David and Golda
        Lily Rodel – daughter of Ester
    Zila Laskier – daughter of David and Golda; married to Josef Abramson
        Lipman Laskier – son of Zila and Josef
    Yisrael Laskier – son of David and Golda; married to Sara Prawer
        Yehoshua Laskier – son of Yisrael and Sara
    Gutsha (Gustawa) Laskier-Rottner – daughter of David and Golda
        Yosef Rottner – son of Gutsha
    Mania Laskier – daughter of David and Golda; married to Yitzhak Zilberscaz
    Emanuel (Moniek) Laskier – son of David and Golda; married to Bronia Oppenheim
        David Laskier – son of Emanuel and Bronia
    Yaacov Laskier – son of David and Golda; married to Dvorah (Dorka) Hampel; 2nd marriage to Hanna Weiner
        Rutka Laskier – daughter of Yaacov and Dvorah; author
        Joachim-Henius Laskier – son of Yaacov and Dvorah
        Zahava Laskier – daughter of Yaacov and Hanna; married Avigdor Scherz
            Yishai and Ruth – children of Zahava and Avigdor

Emanuel Laskier – relative, relationship unclear
Jonathan Laskier – brother of Emanuel; married to Else Lasker-Schuler

    Mordechai Hampel – sister of Dvorah
        Dalia Hampel Mercazi– daughter of Mordechai

Friends and Acquaintances
Natek Aleksandrowicz
Herko Brukner
Paulinka Gold Kleinlehrer
Hanka Granek
Menachem Lior
Luba Prawer
    Genia Prawer – daughter of Luba
Heniek Lewin
Salek Goldzweig
Niania Potocka
Haka Zelinger
Rozka Rechnic
Salek Saper
Heini Wajnsztok
Dasha Rittenberg   

Bedzin, Poland
Kamionka, Poland
Zaglembie, Poland
Auschwitz, Poland
Sachsenhausen concentration camp, Germany
Givatayim, Israel
Migdal settlement, Israel
Magdiel, Israel
Rishon LeZion, Israel

Monday, November 5, 2012

Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948 by Madeleine Albright

"Too young to have known her relatives beyond the odd childhood memory, Albright pieces together what she can, with letters, family recollections and a few photographs. She embeds these fragments in a well-wrought political history of the region, told with great authority." from a review by Carolyn Kellogg in the Los Angeles Times 5/13/2012

Margaret Albright, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and former Secretary of State, was born in 1937 in Czechoslovakia to Czech Jewish parents who fled to England in 1938 shortly after the German invasion of Czechoslovakia. In London her father, a diplomat who spoke many languages, was part of the exiled Czech government until after the war when he returned first to Prague, and then to his post as Czech ambassador in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. Shortly after the Soviet army invaded Prague in May, 1945, he and his family returned to Prague and stayed until 1948 at which point they immigrated to the U.S.

Albright tells the story of what happened to her family and her birth country during World War II mostly through research; she was, after all, born in 1937 and was far too young to remember or understand deeply most of what happened. Her description of England’s experience of the war is quite vivid. And she does have specific early memories, such as when she and her family and neighbors huddled in the cellar of their apartment building south of London as German bombs landed with loud explosions. Though she has many memories of having been sent off at the age of 10 to boarding school in Switzerland, it wasn’t until many years later that she realized that her parents sent her to Switzerland to protect her from the difficulties and tension of living in post-war Soviet-occupied Prague.

Albright discusses her Jewish roots at some length. An article detailing the fact that both sets of grandparents were Jewish was published in the Washington Post shortly before she became Secretary of State. Albright stated that she had never been told about her grandparents’ religion but she comes to learn to her horror that aside from her maternal grandfather who died before the war, her three grandparents and other close relatives were all killed by the Nazis. In this memoir she writes about trying to imagine why her parents had converted to Catholicism and she is sorry she had never asked her parents about her grandparents. She also wonders about  how her father's sister Greta and her husband died in the war. They were parents of a first cousin who lived with her family for a time in England and in post-war Prague.  

Because the Nazi concentration camp Theresienstadt was in Czechoslovakia which was where many of her relatives were imprisoned, Albright made a visit, read extensively about it, and wrote two chapters on its existence. She details its history and describes daily life in the camp, including its rich educational and cultural offerings, quoting from some of the memoirs written by prisoners in the camp. You can sense her outrage in the chapter she devotes to the carefully orchestrated inspection visit by Red Cross officials to the camp which was transformed for the occasion into a seemingly benign place to live, its residents well-fed and content. She is astounded that the Nazis succeeded in “fooling” the outside world for so long.

This memoir is very strong in its narration of the fate of Czechoslovakia. Albright is obviously well versed in the language, conventions, and machinations of diplomacy and tells the story of the rise of Hitler and the German invasion into Czechoslovakia by introducing us to its leaders. She takes us through meetings that sealed Czechoslovakia’s fate in Munich, Yalta, and Paris. She also spends some time discussing the Marshall Plan and the Truman Doctrine and she brings the story of Czechoslovakia up to date with a mention of the Prague Spring of 1968 and the Velvet Revolution of 1989. And she feels some regret that 1993 saw the official demise of Czechoslovakia as a country. One country became two: The Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Albright is well aware that with hindsight it is easy to see how everything went so wrong. Her experience as a diplomat primes her to apply the plot points of history to current world problems – especially genocide, and she discusses the lessons that world leaders should have learned.

This memoir includes photos of public figures and family. It also includes an index.

To read an article that questions Albright's assertion that she didn't know about her Jewish ancestry, click here.
To read an article about the visit by Red Cross officials to inspect Thereseinstadt click here
To read a previous post of a review of a memoir whose subject is Thereseinstadt, Petre Ginz 1941-1942, click here
To read a previous post of a review of a memoir whose subject is Thereseinstadt, The Terezin Diary of Gonda Redlich, click here
To read a previous post of a review of a cookbook compiled by women in Thereseinstadt that was an earlier blog post, click here.   
Author’s father’s family
Arnost Korbel – married to Olga
            Josef Korbel – son of Arnost and Olga; married to Anna (Mandula) Spiegelova
                        Marie Jana (Madeleine) Korbel Albright – daughter of Josef and  Anna; (author)
                                    Anne, Alice, and Katie Albright – daughters of Madeleine
                        Kathy Korbel – daughter of Joseph and Anna
                        John Korbel – son of Joseph and Anna; married to Pamela
            Jan(Horza) Korbel – son of Arnost and Olga; married to Ola
                        Alena and George Korbel – children of Jan and Ola
            Margarethe (Greta) Korbelova – daughter of Arnost and Olga; married to Rudolf Deiml
                        Dasa (Dagmar) and Milena Deimlova – daughters of Margarethe and Rudolf
Irma Korbelova – sister of Arnost; married to Oscar Pater
            Herta Paterova – daughter of Irma and Oscar
Karel Korbel – brother of Arnost
            Gert Korbel – son of Karel
Marta Korbelova – sister of Arnost

                        Pedro Mahler – grandson of oldest sister of Arnost Korbel (sister not named)

Author’s mother’s family
Alfred Spiegel – married Ruzena
            Anna Spiegelova – daughter of Alfred and Ruzena; married to Arnost Korbel (see above)
            Marie Spiegelova – daughter of Alfred and Ruzena
Gustav Spiegel – brother of Alfred; married Augusta

Friends and Acquaintances of the Korbel family
Jaroslav Stransky
Jirina Smolkova – married Vilem Holzer
                        Mica Carmio – granddaughter of Jirina and Vilem
Frantisek Kraus
            Tomas Kraus – son of Frantisek

Kysperk (Letohrad), Czechoslovakia
Podebrady, Czechoslovakia
Strakonice, Czechoslovakia
Prague, Czechoslovakia
London, England
Terezenstadt, Czechoslovakia
Pikwicka Forest, Latvia

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Forgetting River: A Modern Tale of Survival, Identity, and the Inquisition by Doreen Carvajal

A mesmerizing journey through time, across cultures and into one woman's rich personal history. from Kirkus' Review 6/15/2012

Doreen Carvajal, a journalist, had been approached in the past by scholars and strangers who asked her if she knew that people with her last name were frequently conversos: Jews living in Spain and Portugal in the 14th century forced to convert to Catholicism. Labeled the derogatory “marranos,” meaning “pigs,” and also “New Christians” by the Spaniards, many of those converted were only nominal Catholics and held on secretly to their Jewish faith.

Brought up as a practicing Catholic, the possibility that she might have Jewish ancestors intrigued her, and she says that despite having little to go on, the idea made sense. Her family seemed to have no history; she knew her father had been born in Costa Rica, and that his family had originally come from Spain, but she had trouble getting him to talk about his family’s past. She felt like his stance as well as that of others in generations of his family was an act of willful forgetting, so she decided to use her skills as a journalist to see what she could learn.

What unfolds, based on the author’s research, is fascinating, especially to readers who only know the broad outline of the impact of the Inquisition on the Jewish population in Spain, Portugal and Mexico. Carvajal spent a number of summers in the town of Arcos de la Frontera, about 100 miles from Seville in the heart of Andalusia which had had a thriving Jewish community. In learning about the specifics of the Inquisition and conversos, it was clear to her that an atmosphere of fear and distrust still hung in the air. The legacy of Franco’s reign of repression also added to the difficulty of getting people to think and talk about the past.
Carvajal employs a global approach to researching her family. Her training as a journalist pulls her in many different directions and occasionally she pauses to digress from her original quest to examine, more fully, the life of a converso. The thoroughness of her research yields lots of information. She learns about the importance of the saeta, a song/chant sung during holy week that dates back to the Middle Ages whose origins scholars see in the medieval chant of the Jewish Kol Nidre prayer. She learns to look at church decoration in a new way, having learned that some artists were conversos who included details that reveal their status if you know to look carefully. And she learns that food, what people ate and how they prepared it, often raised suspicion. She points out that to this day Spain is one of the leaders of countries in the world in pork consumption. During the years of the Inquisition, if you didn’t eat pork, you were obviously a Jew.

Carvajal employed many of the tools that are available to genealogists. She looked for old records, both in their original form and via the internet. She found that the Catholic church kept meticulous records during the time of the Inquisition (there were actually a number of Inquisitions) and is able to access a specific document that listed the name of every Jew in specific communities. She was also aided by being able to study a number of family trees that go back many, many generations. And she consulted researchers, both in their writings and in person. Through them she learned to look for clues for detecting conversos in historical records: some had Biblical first names, they were often merchants and traders, and they frequently practiced endogamy – the practice of marrying within the extended family group.

She discusses the potential and efficacy of tracing her roots through DNA and asks her father to submit swabs for analysis. She reads about immigration patterns and passes along interesting information about the early settlement of Sephardic Jews in Costa Rica. She writes about Christopher Columbus and other Spanish explorers who had conversos on board their ships. And she writes to and interviews relatives who still live in Costa Rica, pushing them to remember details. Part of what she was trying to get them to remember was what scholars say are tell-tale signs in the lives of conversos and their descendants. Often families hold on to an old ritual that would reveal, to those in the know, that they are doing something “Jewish”: the ritual slaughtering of chickens according to Jewish law, abstaining from eating pork, covering the mirrors when there is a death in the family, and/or reciting psalms at a funeral without the usual Christian prayers.

At one point she travelled to attend a ceremony commemorating an act of the Inquisition on the island of Mallorca. The ceremony was conducted by descendant of a former converso, now a rabbi who works with an organization called Shavei Israel whose mission is to reach out to “Crypto-Jews” all over the world who are interested in embracing Judaism.  It was in Mallorca where she heard most forcefully about the impact of being a Chueta and descendents of Chuetas, the Mallorcan term for converso –  which like “marrano” means pig, and which signified a pariah group. Cheuta families were shunned, and the stigma of being from a Chueta family held on well into the 20th century.

Carvajal’s memoir is ultimately about the act of forgetting and the importance of remembering. It pains her that Spanish Jews suffered so much and that in the act of expulsion, conversion, and execution they were pretty much obliterated. The Jewish corner in the old town of Arcos - made up of houses, shops and a remaining synagogue building - is not marked. Although DNA research reveals that almost 20% of Spanish men have Jewish markers, the level of latent anti-Semitism is high, a legacy of the Inquisition when people went out of their way to “prove” they were not Jews. She notes that the 1492 edict to expel the Jews was not officially revoked until 1968. From her research on trauma and its trickle-down effect she understands why Spaniards in general and conversos in particular chose to forget.  She wants to bear witness to the lives of the conversos of which she is convinced that her ancestors were members.

To watch a short video of the author introducing her memoir that includes photos, click here
To watch a video of family photos, click here.

To watch two YouTube videos of saetas, click here and here. The first is part of an actual procession during Holy Week. The second seems to be a "performance" in a church. Notice in the second video the six-pointed star in the grill work to the left behind the altar.

To watch two YouTube videos of performances of Kol Nidre, click here and here. No traditional synagogue where it is actually chanted  as part of the service would allow it to be recorded during the service.

Author’s paternal grandfather’s family
Hermengildo Alvarado – married Juana Solis
            Petronilla Alvardo – daughter of Hermengildo and Juana; married Jose Carvajal (Rodrigues)
Jose Francisco Carvajal – son of Petronilla and Jose; married Angela Chacon
                        Eugenia Carvajal– daughter of Angela and Jose
                        Arnoldo Carvajal – son of Angela and Jose; married Carol Ann Roach
                                    Doreen Carvajal – daughter of Arnoldo and Carol;  married to Omer; author
                                                Claire – daughter of Doreen and Omer
                                    Arnold Carvajal – son of Arnold and Carol
                                    Patricia Carvajal – daughter of Anoldo and Carol; married to Dennis
                        Lyjia Carvajal – daughter of Jose and his 3rd wife
                        Roy Carvajal – son of Jose
Luz Carvajal de Llubere– daughter of Petronilla and Jose
                        Cecelia Valverde – daughter of Luz
Albertina Perez Mora Carvajal – author’s paternal great grandmother; mother of Jose

Author’s paternal grandmother’s family
Don Berndardo Sarmiento de Sotomayor y Ponce de Leon – early ancester
            Santiago  Moya - author’s great-great grandfather
            Anais Moya – daughter of Santiago; married Julio Chacon
                        Angela Chacon – daughter of Julio and Anais; married Jose Francisco Carvajal (see above)
Melchor Xiquez – married to Carmen Jimenez; Angela’s maternal great grandmother
            Angela Xiquez – daughter of Melchor and Carmen; married Santiago

Other family names in author’s grandmother’s family: Alcazar, Sarmiento, Policar, Umana.          
Rafael Mogeizmes Farjado – relative in Costa Rica
Alonso Farjado – ancestor of Angela Chacon
Antonio de Carvajal – married to Ana (likely converso and relative)
Luis de Carvajal – Mexico
Francisca de Carvajal
            Gaspar and Luis Rodriguez Carvajal – sons of Francisca and nephews of Luis
            Isabel,  Leonor, Catalina and Anica Carvajal – daughters of Francisca and nieces of Luis

Jews and Conversos and descendants of Conversos and Jews:
D. Anton Lopez
Isaac Cardozo – Arcos, then Verona, Italy
Andres Valasquez – Arcos (likely converso)
Isahak Actosta - Arcos
            Pedro Acosta – son of Isahak - Arcos
Catalina Acosta – Arcos (likely converso)
Luis Alberto Monge – Costa Rica
            Gisell Monge-Urpi – his daughter
Dona Beatriz Pacheco – granddaughter or rabbi – Arcos
Antonia Josefa Montanez (likely converso) - Arcos
Diego Alvarez (likely converso) – Arcos
Diego Nunez de Castilla - Arcos
Maria Munoz Huerto (likely descendent of converso)
                        Francisco Saboridido – grandson of Maria
Ferand Martinez – Seville
Aguilo, Bonnin, Cortes, Forteza, Fuster, Marti, Miro, Pico, Pina, Pomar, Segura, Tarongi, Valenti, Valleriola, Valls – converso family names on Mallorca
Jafuda Cresques
Miguel de Cervantes (likely converso)
Abraham de Salinas – Zaragoza
Juan de Levi – Zaragoza
Miguel Jimenez - Zaragoza
Martin Bernat – Zaragoza
Juan Sanchez de Toledo
            St. Teresa de Avila – granddaughter of Juan Sanchez
Ferdinand de Aguilar – Barcelona
Ralph Benito Tarongo  – Mallorca
Catalina Tarongo – Mallorca; sister of Ralph
            Nicolau Aguilo (Nissan Ben Avraham) – Mallorca; descendent of Catalina
Raphael Valls – Mallorca
            Joseph Wallis – descendent of Raphael
Aina Aguilo Bennassar – Mallorca
Catalina Pomar - Mallorca
Raphael Agustin Pomar - Mallorca
Bernat Pomar – Mallorca
Bernat Aguilo Siquier – Mallorca

Andalusia, Spain
Arcos de la Frontera, Spain
Majorca, Spain
Costa Rica
Lafayette, California