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