Monday, December 16, 2013

Hanns and Rudolf: The True Story of the German Jew who Tracked Down and Caught the Kommandant of Auschwitz by Thomas Harding 2013

"Le Carré is quite correct. The last section of Harding’s book does indeed read like a gripping thriller, no less so because we know how the pursuit of Höss is destined to end." from a review in the Spectator by Miranda Seymour, 9/21/2013

Thomas Harding, grand-nephew of Hanns Alexander, has written this highly readable and thoroughly researched book to honor Alexander who was part of the British War Crimes Investigation Team which was assembled to find Nazis who had fled at the end of World War II. The author knew nothing about his uncle’s service during the war, only learning about it at his funeral.

Harding constructs his narrative by alternating chapters. He writes a chapter about Hanns Alexander and follows it with a chapter about Rudolf Hoess (not to be confused with Rudolf Hess), an important figure in the building and administration of Auschwitz who Alexander was charged with capturing. The book starts at the beginning of both of their lives in Germany, recreating the culture, atmosphere and circumstances out of which they emerged and follows both to their deaths.

Harding describes in interesting detail Alexander’s life as a member of an affluent Jewish family who lived in very comfortable circumstances in the Jewish section of Berlin. His father was a highly regarded doctor who had in his possession what became known as the Alexander Torah commissioned in 1790 by Hanns’ great great great grandfather. Hanns Alexander's mother came from two prominent Jewish families: the Picards and Schwarzchilds. Notables like Albert Einstein came to their house for dinner.

After establishing the family’s background, the author then narrates the rise of Hitler and how incremental restrictions affected German Jews. Luckily, all of Hanns Alexander’s immediate family eventually escaped to England in the late 1930’s when he was a young man. When the war broke out Hanns enlisted, wanting to fight against Germany, a country he had loved but whose ruling party he hated. He was not happy when the British would only take him into the Pioneer Corps, a division which had been recently created for Austrian and German refugees. They were not allowed to have rifles. But once he proved himself more than capable and certainly loyal, he was asked to join the War Crimes Investigation team. The fact that he spoke fluent German helped him immeasurably.

Harding takes us through Alexander’s suspenseful capture of Hoess, the interrogation, the Nuremberg trials and Hoess’s trial in Poland to where he was transported because Auschwitz, where he had committed crimes, was on Polish soil. Throughout, the author describes post-war Europe  - its physical devastation, but especially the scrambling that went on, with very few resources, to set up a system to bring Nazis to justice. His great-uncle Hanns Alexander was an important part of that process. Alexander’s getting Hoess to confess was crucial as his testimony provided information needed to prosecute other perpetrators.

Having conducted interviews with family members and having access to family papers helped Harding flesh out the character of his great uncle. Documents in the public domain that Harding consulted add to the reader's understanding of what Hanns Alexander contributed to the post-war effort to bring Nazis to justice.

This book includes many photos, maps, useful endnotes, a family tree, an end note on Research Sources and an annotated Bibliography.

To see photos of the Alexander family's torah go to the author's website here.
To watch a short video of Rudolf Hoess's testimony at the Nuremberg trials, click here.

People and Places
Moses Alexander – married Sophie Neustein
     Herman Alexander – son of Moses and Sophie; married Bella Lehmaier
     Sophie Alexander – daughter of Herman and Bella; married Albert Simon
     Paula Alexander – daughter of Herman and Bella

                       Alfred Alexander – great-great grandson of Moses; married Henny Picard
                             Bella Alexander – daughter of Alfred and Henny; married Harold Sussmann; 2nd marriage to Julius Jakobi
                                  Peter and Tony Sussmann – sons of Bella and Harold
                                  Julian Jakobi – son of Bella and Julius; married to Fiona
                                  Stephen Jakobi – son of Bella and Julius
                             Elsie Alexander – daughter of Alfred and Henny; married Erich Hirschowitz (Eric Harding)
                                  Frank Harding – son of Elsie and Eric
                                           Thomas Harding – son of Frank; married to Debora;  author
                                                   Kadian and Sam Harding – children of Thomas and Debora
                                           Amanda Harding – daughter of Frank
                                  Michael Harding – son of Elsie and Eric; married to Angela
                                  Vivien Harding – daughter of Elsie and Eric
                            Hanns Hermann (Howard Harvey) Alexander – son of Alfred and Henny; married to Ann Graetz
                                   Jackie and Annette Alexander – daughters of Hanns and Ann
                            Paul Alexander – son of Alfred and Ann (twin of Hanns); married to Elisabeth Heymann; 2nd marriage to Tamara Lesser
                                   John and Marion Alexander – children of Paul

Family of author’s paternal great-grandmother
Moritz Lazarus Schwarzchild – married Clementine Schwab
Lucien Picard – married Amalie Schwarzchild
      Henny Picard – daughter of Lucien and Amalie; married Alfred Alexander (see above)
Cacilie Bing – great-aunt of Hanns Alexander; exact relationship not clear

Author’s great-uncle Hanns Alexander’s wife Anneliese's family
Sarah Graetz
     Paul Graetz – son of Sarah; married Kate
            Anneliese Graetz – daughter of Paul and Kate; married Hanns Alexander (see above)
            Wolfgang Graetz (Grey) – son of Paul and Kate; married Antonia

Friends and Acquaintances
Edmund Dreyfus
Robert Serebrenik
Anita Lasker
Lucille Eichengreen
Bernard Clarke
Karl Abrahams
 Stephen Abrahams – son of Karl
Gustave Gilbert
Leon Goldensohn
Leo Genn
Herbert Levy

Thalmassing, Germany
Berlin, Germany
Wilmersdorf, Berlin
Neue Synagoge, Berlin, Germany
Frankfurt, Germany
Gross Glienicky, Germany
Basel, Switzerland
Sachsenhausen camp
London, England
Belsize Square Synagogue, London

Monday, December 2, 2013

Once We Were Brothers by Ronald H. Balson 2013 (fiction)

"Ben Solomon's tale is gripping . . . Balson's first novel is hard to put down." from a review by Miriam Bradman Abrahams posted on the website of the Jewish Book Council

This engrossing novel, focusing on the intertwined life of a Polish Jew and a Nazi, was privately published in 2010 and sold 120,000 copies. Because of its popularity, St. Martin’s Press has published what is described as “a different version,” probably a reworked version, of the novel.

Set in Chicago in the year 2004, Ben Solomon is convinced that the philanthropist Elliot Rosenzweig, also a resident of Chicago, is really Otto Piatek who grew up with him in Zamosc, Poland and who later became a Nazi officer. The bulk of the novel, though anchored in 2004, takes place in the years 1933 through 1944 where we read about the lives of Ben Solomon and his childhood friend, Otto Piatek.  Has Otto Piatek disguised himself as Elliot Rosenzweig? What are the clues? What is the evidence? Are Solomon and his lawyer going to be able to put together a convincing case and expose him?

The chronological history of the Holocaust in Poland is no mere background in this suspenseful, highly readable novel. In order to construct a historically accurate novel, the author, a lawyer who has made a number of trips to Poland, has included a lot of conscientiously researched material about World War II and about what happened in Poland, in particular. It is clear that Balson is attempting to reach out to a broad audience to educate them about the Holocaust that goes beyond a familiarity with Anne Frank and Auschwitz.

One literary strategy Balson uses is to make Ben Solomon’s lawyer, Catherine Lockhart, a non-Jew which creates an opportunity for the author, through his character Solomon, to explain many terms that he assumes she and many readers may not know, like Judenrat, Aktion Rheinhardt, kapo, the Nuremberg Laws, and the Anschluss. Sometimes he has Lockhart ask questions for clarification which prompt informative answers. For example, Solomon explains what ghettos were really like; he differentiates between slave labor camps, transit camps, and exterminations camps; and he creates scenes that involve the theft of property, the means of escape and the geography of escape routes, the existence and strategies of the Polish resistance, the danger in encountering informers, and the presence of helpful Catholic priests and nuns. Balson also introduces readers to the complications inherent in post-war prosecutions of Nazis and the strategies lawyers use to litigate these cases.

Although, as stated above, this is a suspenseful novel and is easy to read, it does feel a little like the plot is contrived to teach a history lesson. Balson deserves credit for having succeeded in presenting a number of aspects of the Holocaust, and in doing so he provides a useful and credible overview of the plight of Jews in Poland. However, Balson is less successful in the area of character development – his characters are not complex. That being said, the novel is a worthy addition to stories about the Holocaust. Interestingly, it joins Michael Lavigne’s Not Me in its shocking premise. In each novel the author imagines a Nazi posing as a well-respected Jew. Whether this is just a literary device or has its roots in reality is not clear.

To read an interview with the author in the Chicago Tribune, click here.
To read an article about Poles who have been honored for helping Jews during World War II, click here.

Ronald Balson - married to Monica; author
     David and Matthew Balson- sons of Ronald
Linda Balson - sister of Ronald

Friends and Acquaintances
Rabbi Victor Weissberg

Zamosc, Poland
Krasnik, Poland

Monday, November 18, 2013

I Kiss Your Hands Many Times: Hearts, Souls, and Wars in Hungary by Marianne Szegedy-Maszak 2013

"A magnificent World War II love story and family saga--it is epic history, finely wrought and deeply  personal." from a review posted on the website of the Jewish Book Council

This memoir is about the life of Marianne Szegedy-Maszak’s large extended family. Starting with the author’s great-grandfather, Manfred Weiss, the founding industrialist of a manufacturing conglomerate in Budapest, she demonstrates how his wealth and connections catapulted the family into positions of economic and political power and prestige. Two of Manfred Weiss’s daughters married into other powerful families which enlarged the extended family’s sphere of influence: the author’s grandmother married Moric Kornfield who was from a prominent banking family, and her sister Daisy married Ferenc Chorin, a prominent industrialist who served in the Hungarian parliament.

All of those named above were Jewish. In fact, Ferenc Chorin was the great-grandson of a rabbi. But when, in the early twentieth century, nationalist anti-Semitic Hungarians started restricting admission of Jewish students to universities, many assimilated Hungarian Jews converted. In the generation following Manfred Weiss, the author’s family began converting to Catholicism and marrying non-Jews. In fact, many became more than just nominal Catholics: they attended Mass regularly and went to confession. Conversion, of course, did not save them from the terrors of Hitler’s regime. Nor did being born Christian necessarily protect Hungarian citizens. The author's father, a Christian Hungarian diplomat with a conscience, bravely took an anti-Nazi stand and ended up a political prisoner in Dachau.

The author provides the reader with much of the contemporary politics of Hungary which contextualizes her family’s situation.  Many Hungarians did not know which external threat was worse: a takeover by the approaching Soviet Union army or an invasion by the Nazis. Many Hungarians sought to punish Hungarian Jews for either their perceived Communist sympathies or what they saw as their rapacious capitalist behavior. But most of her family members, overly optimistic about the duration of the war, and not wanting to leave their business interests and property behind, decided to wait it out.

How her extended family got out of Hungary (some to Switzerland, most to the United States via Portugal) makes for very interesting reading and raises vexing questions about privilege. Yes, they had to leave some family members behind as hostages - insurance that the Nazis got what they wanted. Yes, their factories, their mining interests, and their property were nationalized. And they lost most of their fortune. But they were lucky that their prominence and their former positions of power worked in their favor: they were able to negotiate a way out.

The author ends with some chapters about their early years in America. Predictably, the generation of the author’s grandparents felt displaced; they yearned to return to Budapest, but, barring that option, they became citizens of the world and traveled constantly. Marianne Szegedy-Maszak lived within a large circle of Hungarian refugees who carried their past lives in Hungary in their hearts.

To read an article about a branch of Manfred Weiss's family's efforts to reclaim art stolen by the Nazis, click here.
To read a current New York Times article about rising anti-Semitism in Hungary click.

Author’s mother’s mother's family
Manfred Weiss – married Alice de Wahl
     Elsa Weiss – daughter of Manfred and Alice; married Alfred Mauthner
           Maria Alice Mauthner – daughter of Elsa and Alfred
           Ferenc Mauthner – son of Elsa and Alfred
           Annus Mauthner – son of Elsa and Alfred
           Christine Mauthner – daughter of Elsa and Alfred
           Hansi Mauthner – son of Elsa and Alfred
           Istvan Mauthner – son of Elsa and Alfred
          Gabriella Mauthner – daughter of Elsa and Alfred
    Eugene Weiss – son of Manfred and Alice; married Annie Geitler
          Alice Weiss – daughter of Eugen and Annie
          Annie Weiss – daughter of Eugen and Annie
          Gyorgy Weiss – son of Eugen and Annie
   Marianne Weiss – daughter of Manfred and Alice; married to Moric Kornfield
         Maria Kornfield – daughter of Marianne and Moric
         Hanna Kornfield – daughter of Marianne and Moric; married Aladar Szegedy-Maszak
              Aladar Szegedy-Maszak – son of Hanna and Aladar
              Andy Szegedy-Maszak – son of Hanna and Aladar
              Peter Szegedy-Maszak – son of Hanna and Aladar
              Marianne Szegedy-Maszak – daughter of Hanna and Aladar; married to Stephen N. Xanakis; author
                        Joanna LaRoche – daughter of Marianne Szegedy-Maszak
             Thomas de Kornfield – son of Marianne and Moric; married Helen
                       Thomas  and James de Kornfield – sons of Thomas and Helen
            Gyorgy (George) Kornfield – son of Marianne and Moric; married Elsie Kavalski
                       Stevie Kornfield – son of Gyorgy and Elsie
  Alfons Weiss – son of Manfred and Alice; married to Erzsebet Herczeg
      Gabor Weiss – son of Alfons and Erzsebet
      Marta Weiss – daughter of Alfons and Erzsebet
      Maria Weiss – daughter of Alfons and Erzsebet
      Janos (John) de Csepel – son of Alfons and Erzsebet
  Daisy Weiss – daughter of Manfred and Alice; married to Ferenc Chorin
      Erzsebet (Elizabeth) Chorin – daughter of Daisy and Ferenc
      Daisy Chorin von Strasser – daughter of Daisy and Ferenc
      Ferenc (Francis) Chorin – son of Daisy and Ferenc
  Edith Weiss – daughter of Manfred and Alice

Author's mother's father's family
Zsigmond Kornfeld – married Betty von Frankfurter
    Gyorgy Kornfeld – son of Zsigmond and Betty
    Mitzi Kornfeld – daughter of Zsigmond and Betty
    Moric Kornfeld – son of Zsigmond and Betty; married Marianne Weiss (see above)
    Pal Kornfeld – son of Zsigmond and Betty
    Ferenc Kornfeld – son of Zsigmond and Betty

Stefan Mauthner – cousin; relationship not clear
Vera, cousin of author’s grandmother, Marianne – married to Janos Zwack
     Peter Zwack – son of Vera and Janos

Friends and Acquaintances
Vilmos Bohm
Miklos Buk
Leo Goldberger
Vilmos Billitz
Pal Fodor
Jolie Gabor
   Magda Gabor – daughter of Jolie
   Zsa Zsa Gabor – daughter of Jolie
   Eva Gabor – daughter of Jolie
Jacques Kanitz – cousin of Farenc Chorin (husband of Daisy Weiss - see above)
Zoltan Friedman (changed to Merszei)
Bela Kuhn
Matyas Rakosi

Budapest, Hungary
Ireg, Hungary
Oberlanzendorf Camp, Austria
Mauthausen Concentration Camp, Austria
Dachau Concentration Camp, Germany
Curia, Portugal
Lisbon, Portugal
Estoril, Portugal
Basel, Switzerland
Zurich, Switzerland
Rakovik, Slovakia

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Tiger in the Attic: Memories of the Kindertransport and Growing Up English by Edith Milton 2005

"In a series of vignettes, [Edith Milton] describes adolescent challenges both universal and unique to her displacement ..." from a review by Alana Newhouse in the New York Times 10-16-2005

Edith Kohn Milton, who was the daughter of a young German Jewish widow, was sent in 1939 at the age of 7 with her older sister on the Kindertransport to England. There they lived with an English Protestant family for the duration of the war. This memoir recounts those years: what it was like for seven-year-old Edith to separate from her mother and be brought up by a loving couple who became surrogate parents. And what it was like to grow up in England during World War II. The author writes about how memories of being brought up by her mother faded and how, despite feeling foreign and like an outsider, she absorbed the English way of life.

She and her sister spent seven years in England, finally reuniting with their mother who had made it to America and wrote to them regularly. The author's powers of observation are keen in her descriptions of growing up in England, a country suffering during the war. She vividly describes scenes in America as well: visits to Vineland, New Jersey where relatives had started a chicken farm, and her growing up in Great Neck, New York in a neighborhood of other German Jewish refugees. In America she also felt like an outsider, but she managed to find a place in a country of immigrants.

Milton’s discussion of her reuniting with her mother is interesting even though predictable. They are strangers to each other and had to feel their way toward a genuine mother/daughter relationship. Milton reports that it took many years. She realizes that during the years she was growing up in England, her mother had her own difficulties. The author had, in fact, created an entire fantasy about what her mother looked like and what her life in the United States was like. When she and her sister arrive in New York she was surprised to find her mother living in reduced circumstances.

This memoir does not deal with the history or the logistics of the Kindertransport. Nor does it deal in any depth with life in pre-war Germany or the Holocaust, although she does report her reactions to a trip she took back to her hometown of Karlsruhe, Germany many years after the war. She discusses her Jewish identity and how that did and did not shape her life, but this is not a large theme in her memoir. Its primary focus, as stated above, is what it was like to be plucked out of the  German Jewish culture she was nourished on for the first seven years of her life and then to be planted in an English one for the next seven, only to be displaced again and have to adjust to America and its culture.

To see a press release and film clips about a film called Nicky's Children which is about Nicholas Winton, the son of German-Jewish immigrants who was behind the rescue of so many children who took part in the Kindertransport, click here.

To read about the Kindertransport Association, click here.

Family on her mother’s side
Wilhelm Heidingsfeld – married Henrietta Willstatter (related to Richard Willstatter and Kurt Weill)
     Liesel Heidingsfeld – daughter of Wilhelm and Henrietta; married to Julius
         Clare – daughter of Leisel and Julius
         Kurt - son of Leisel and Julius
     Helene Heidingsfeld – daughter of Wilhelm and Henrietta; married Bruno Cohn
         Ruth Cohn – daughter of Bruno and Helene; married to Harry
                Dickie- son of Ruth and Harry
                      Max – son of Dickie
         Edith Cohn – daughter of Bruno and Helene; married to Peter Milton; author

Fred Reichenberger – distant cousin of mother – married to Andree
     Dorothy and Bernice Reichenberger – daughters of Fred and Andree

Friends and Acquaintances
Helen Westheimer
Ludi Kohn
Joe and Ellen Steinhardt
      Roger and Carol Ann – children of Joe and Ellen

Karlsruhe, Germany
Swansea, Wales
Leeds, England
Kracow, Poland
Great Neck, NY
Nirvana Avenue, Great Neck, NY
Vineland, New Jersey

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Last Jew of Treblinka by Chil Rajchman translated from Yiddish by Solon Beinfeld, published in the U.S. in 2009 with a preface by Samuel Moyn

"Rajchman’s searing story, frequently narrated in the present tense, has a powerful authenticity and should not be forgotten." from a review in Kirkus Reviews 10/25/2010
Chil Rajchman’s memoir of his incarceration in Treblinka is an important eye-witness account of the workings of a deadly camp set up not as a clearing house or a labor camp, but strictly as a site for killing all Jews who were transported there. In spare prose that highlights the horror, Rajchman describes in short vignettes the geographical layout, the personnel, and the daily activities that were arranged and monitored so that the camp worked as efficiently as possible.
That Rajchman survived is astounding because so few did. He was young, in good health when he arrived, and had his wits about him. He knew that he had the best chance to survive for some length of time if he could work, especially in a capacity that didn't involve backbreaking physical labor, so when they needed barbers, he stepped forward and said he was a barber, though he wasn’t. When they needed dentists he stepped forward and said he was a dentist, though he had no such training.

He relied on those more experienced than he to teach him what he needed to know so he could perform these tasks. But what he learned in the camp from others that was most important were general lessons about how to survive. He learned that he needed to do what he could not to anger guards and other officials, he needed to keep his head down and to work quickly,  to not make mistakes or in any other way call attention to himself. He could not let officials know if he got sick, and he needed to avoid getting beaten on his face where a visible wound would prompt someone in charge to shoot him.

Rajchman’s matter-of-fact style conveys the reality of the camp with all its terror where the abnormal was quickly normalized. His job as a barber was to cut off the hair of women who were about to be gassed. He worked as a dentist removing gold from the mouths of gassed corpses on their way to the burial pits.

The end of Rajchman’s memoir describes a revolt he and many of his co-laborers planned and carried out. Many were caught and killed, but luckily he escaped and hid in the nearby woods. He eventually made his way to Warsaw where a Polish friend provided him with Aryan identity documents.

This memoir includes an informative Preface by historian Samuel Moyn who places Treblinka in the context of concentration and extermination camps. He also discusses the importance of the memoir as the recording of an eye-witness account of Treblinka where very few lived to report about it.

This memoir also includes a map of the camp and family photos.

To watch a clip of a documentary that includes interviews with Chil Rajchman click here
To read an interview in 2012 with the two last survivors of Treblinka (Rajchman died in 2004) click here.

Abraham and Java Froim
   Yekhiel (Chil) Rajchman son of Abraham and Java; author
         Jose, Andres, Daniel Rajchman – sons of Chil
Rivka – daughter of Abraham and Java
Monek – son of Abraham and Java
Ratza – daughter of Abraham and Java
Ruska – daughter of Abraham and Java
Isaac – son of Abraham and Java

Wolf Ber Rojzman
Leybl Goldfarb
Moyshe Ettinger
Zhelo Bloch
Rudolf Masarek
Yankel Wiernik

Ostrow Lubelski
Treblinka, Poland

Monday, October 7, 2013

Journey to Poland by Alfred Doblin translated by Joachim Neugroschel from German, published in English in 1991

"Compelling Journey to a Vanishing World" the headline of a review by Ron Grossman in the Chicago Times 5/15/1991.

For two months in late 1924 Alfred Doblin, a noted German Jewish novelist, made a tour of major cities in Poland to see what Polish Jewish life was like. Although Doblin’s family had been from Poland, he was raised in Germany and was a highly assimilated German Jew who lived and worked amongst the intelligentsia of Berlin. He sought a more “authentic” Jewish life than he was aware of in Germany, not necessarily to embrace it, but to better understand it.

He observed Jewish life in all the cities on his itinerary: Warsaw, Vilnius, Lublin, Lvov, Cracow, Lodz, and everywhere he had experiences that deepened his knowledge of Judaism. He walked through neighborhoods, listened to people tell stories – he loved folk tales, visited schools and synagogues, and sought meetings with important rabbis.

What he saw in Warsaw, his first stop, amazed him. He was totally unfamiliar with the appearance and the customs of very observant Jews which struck him as medieval. And he was appalled by their poverty and living conditions. He describes with great vividness his experience following the crowds to the cemetery the night before Yom Kippur and how many wailed at the graves of members of their families. In Wilno (Vilnus) he learned about the Gaon of Vilna and the Ba’al Shem Tov and their adherents. In Cracow he learned about the mysticism of Cabbalah through some of its texts and was fascinated.

Doblin characterizes as soulless and anemic the intellectualizing of Western Europe and extolls what he sees as the vibrancy and cohesion of the Jewish communities in Eastern Europe. For example, he cites his own educational experience as typical of Western Europe: What he remembers is that the teachers were authoritarian and focused on discipline. In Poland he seeks out the opportunity to observe classes in Jewish schools where he finds that learning is a communal affair and teachers and students work together to interpret the text.

Throughout this memoir Doblin expresses his strong feelings about borders, and he uses the line from Schiller, “For every border wields a tyrant’s power” as its epigraph. He expresses much frustration and despair about the deleterious effects of nationalism on all people and property.  In many places he visits he still sees evidence of unrepaired destruction that occurred during World War I. But he’s also alluding to other kinds of borders – the “border” between Christianity and Judaism, which he questions, and the various “borders” that separate the sects of Judaism. He advocates universalism in politics and religion.

One last border must be mentioned. In line with the dualities mentioned above, this highly intellectual writer appended a “Bibliography” to emphasize the border between the aridity of book research hardened into “truth” and the vitality of authentic experience. His “Bibliography” has three categories (borders, you might say). The first,  he labels “I Leafed Through” and is followed by a list of nine books in German. The second category called “I Read Very Carefully,” lists only one book: Bernhard Guttmann’s Tage in Hellas. The third category is called “I Neither Read Nor Leafed Through” and is followed by the phrase: “The national libraries in Berlin, in Warsaw, in Cracow, and in Lwow.”

Besides the bibliography there is an introduction by the translator, Joachim Neugroschel, a map of Doblin’s travels, and footnotes.

To read an article about the lives of  Polish Jews between the wars, click here.

Max Doblin
 Alfred Doblin, son of Max , author

Friends and Acquaintances
Artur Rubenstein
Yekhiel Kestenberg
Avrom Kashe – Lublin
Rebbe Jakob Pollack

Stettin (Szczecin), Poland
Posen (Poznan), Poland
Hamburg, Germany
Berlin, Germany
   Nalewky Street, Warsaw Jewish District
   Lubartowska Street
  Kazimierz Jewish District
  Esthera Street, Krakowski Street, Jozef Street
 Petrikow Street
 Ballut – Alexander Street

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Flat (Hadira in Hebrew) written and directed by Arnon Goldfinger 2011 (documentary film) In Hebrew and English

"Borne on the generational ripples of a painful history, Arnon Goldfinger's 'The Flat' is a true-life detective story that uncovers much more than the tangled roots of its maker's family tree."
from a review by Jeannette Catsoulis in the NY Times 10/18/2012

This documentary, primarily filmed at the flat of Arnon Goldfinger’s recently deceased widowed grandmother, focuses on issues having to do with the Holocaust that he and his family only start to confront when they start emptying her apartment.

Goldfinger’s grandparents were successful German Jews who lived in Berlin, but left for Israel before the war. As Goldfinger remarks, his grandmother, who died at the age of 98, lived her life in Israel as if she were still a citizen of Germany. She visited Germany yearly and held on to many possessions from Germany, including old newspapers, letters and photos.

Those artifacts from her past open up a world that the author did not know existed, nor did his mother, who had been born in Berlin. Goldfinger wants to understand what he has learned, so he travels to Germany to interview the German daughter of former friends of his grandparents. On a second trip he brings his mother along and they also visit a cousin who lives in Berlin who fills in more of the family picture.

The movie serves to demonstrate what is now a pretty well-established point: that those traumatized by the Holocaust often did not speak of it and that the children of the second generation most often respected those boundaries. Goldfinger himself is now puzzled as to why he and his siblings asked so few questions about his grandmother’s past.

What is very interesting are the conversations in Germany with the German daughter of his grandparents’ friends. Pressing her with information he has researched about her father, he finds she has maintained a willful ignorance of her father’s past. On both sides (although for different pschological  reasons), Goldfinger found the trauma of the Holocaust buried. On both sides, a veneer of normalcy prevailed.

To read an interview with Arnon Goldfinger, click here.
To read an article about another German Jew who fled Germany and settled in Israel published in Haaretz, click here.

Susanna and Heinich Lehmann
    Gerda Lehmann – married Kurt Tuchler
        Hannah Tuchler Goldfinger – daughter of Gerda and Kurt
             Arnon Goldfinger –son of Hannah; writer/director
             Noam Goldfinger – son of Hannah
             Yair Goldfinger – son of Hannah
             Gidi – of Hannah
             Orit Goldfinger-Mendel – daughter of Hannah Goldfinger
  Paula Lehmann Weinstein – sister of Heinich
     Manuel Trokes – grandson of Paula Lehmann
     Rani Eisenberg – cousin; exact relationship not clear

Tel Aviv, Israel
Berlin, Germany

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Enemy at His Pleasure: A Journey Through the Jewish Pale of Settlement During World War I by S. Ansky edited and translated by Joachim Neugroschel, published in English in 2002

"Ansky balances his tale among statistics (of depleted populations, refugees and destroyed property, for instance), telegraphed stories told to him by survivors and his own experiences cast in an unflinching reportage." from a review in the Jewish Daily Forward by Alyssa Quint, 2/25/2005

In the Introduction to this compelling memoir, editor and translator Joachim Neugrsoschel writes that S. Ansky, born Shloyme Zanvel ben-Aaron Rappaport in Vitebsk, who is now best known for his play, The Dybbuk, was a Russian Jewish intellectual who became fascinated with ethnographic research. He used that interest to observe and record Jewish customs and folktales as he traveled throughout the Jewish Pale of Settlement. But he had to cut short his research when World War I broke out.

During the war he resumed travel, this time to aid Jewish communities who were adversely affected by the war. He became a driving force in alerting authorities, convening Jewish Welfare groups, requisitioning supplies, and requesting and doling out funds as he traveled back and forth between the countryside and Kiev and St. Petersburg. Ansky based this memoir on his notes from the field during the time he spent mostly in Galicia. He also reports on some locations he visited in Bukovina. He finished the memoir in 1920, the year he died.

Ansky felt deeply the tragic situation of the Jews, especially those in small shtetls with few resources. He notes that their outsider status, wherever they lived, made them vulnerable to all kinds of abuse, and it was easy for many different national and ethnic groups to scape-goat the Jews based on long-held anti-Semitism. In this case they were suspected by the Russians of aiding the Germans and Austrians, and at the same time, the Germans and Austrians suspected them of spying for the Russians. Advancing, occupying and retreating forces ravaged their businesses and set fire to their buildings, including synagogues where Ansky reported seeing desecrated torah scrolls and pages from prayer books littering the floors.

Often, when visiting a town or shtetl, Ansky noted that news of the war's progress had traveled. Aware of the approaching troops, fearing the worst, many Jews were hastily packing up what they could take with them and seeking out safer communities. But they frequently had no choice, and were expelled and resettled  with other Jews in designated locations. Ansky records in vivid detail the conditions he observed: Many displaced Jews were penniless, frequently homeless or living crammed in overcrowded rooms, wearing tattered clothing, starving, and often sick.

A master storyteller and an accomplished prose stylist, he recreates on the page conversations he had with Jews he encountered who told him graphic stories of what they had experienced and witnessed. Ansky was their tireless advocate. He then describes what he tried to do to alleviate their suffering: handing them an allotment of rubles and/or supplies and reporting their dire straights to those who were in charge. He paints vivid pictures of precarious lives lived in the midst of a war where danger was always present, and government administrators often expressed sympathy but did not or could not follow through. Ansky also spent much time and energy trying to work the system of Jewish religious groups, wealthy Jews who were potential benefactors, and Jewish social agencies.

This important memoir, as well as giving readers a window into the world of the Jews living in towns and shtetls in Galicia and Bukovina  during World War I, also provides an overview of Russian governance under the Czar during the war with its attendant bureaucracy, chaos, confusion  and violence. At the end of the memoir Ansky describes the overthrow of the Czar and the beginning of the Russian Revolution.  

To look at posts from a blog called Vanished World of a recent trip through what remains of Jewish Galicia, including artfully taken photos in its cemeteries, click here.

To read an earlier post from this blog about a priest's attempts to uncover Ukraine's Jewish past, particularly as it relates to World War II that is the subject of his memoir, The Holocaust By Bullets: A Priest's Journey to Uncover the Truth Behind the Murder of 1.5. Million Jews, click here.

Alexander Gintsberg
Oscar Gruzenberg
I. Nayditsh
B.Y. Ratner
Dovid Faynberg
Yekheskl Landa - Brody
Meyer Margolis - Brody
Abba Lev
M.A. Varshavsky - Petrograd
S.A. Grinberg - Kiev
Yisroel Razov
Itzik Rosenberg tells story of Yuzefov
Yekheil Litman - Yuzefov
Itzik Halberstam - Yuzefov
Itshe Fuks - Yuzefov
Leyzer-Yekhiel Englender - Yuzefov
Lippe Shenker - Yuzefov
Leybesh Cohen - Yuzefov
 Mayer Cohen – son of Leybesh - Yuzefov
Dr. Yankev Diamant – Lwow
Srulik Vaisbord - Suchostow
Aaron Savtsits – Malarito
Yitsik Nakht – Tarnopol
Lip Shvager – Khorostkov
Hirsh Rapaport - Czortkow
I.M. Perpikar
Marek Fish – Czernowitz
Yirmiye Sikopant – Czernowitz
Dovid Shekhner - Czernowitz
Shimen Sas - Czernowitz
Hersh Rimer - Czernowitz
Leo Hershman - Czernowitz
Leyb Retter – Sadagora
Aleykim Gastanter – Sadagora
Yitsik Shamatnik Sadagora
Shmuel Zagrebelsky – Sadagora
Shmuel Sender – Czernowki
Aaron Rat – Vaslutsk
H.D. Margolin – Kiev
Shaul Ginzburg - Kiev
Arnold Zaydenman - Kiev
H.B. Veynshlboym - Kiev

Warsaw, Poland
Yuzefov, Poland
Bloyne, Poland
Suchostow, Galicia
Gora, Galicia
Nowomiasto, Galicia
Brody, Galicia
Lwow , Galicia
Zheshov, Poland
Tarnow, Poland
Zolkiew, Galicia
Stri, Galicia
Przemysl, Galicia
Vilna, Lithuania
Kovno, Lithuania
Petrograd, Russia
Kiev, Galicia
Janow, Galicia
Javarov, Galicia
Magerov, Galicia
Mosti-Veliki, Galicia
Kovel, Galicia
Sokal, Galicia
Poretsk, Galicia
Vladimir-Volinsk, Galicia
Lutsk, Galicia
Vatin, Galicia
Tortshin, Galicia
Lokatsh, Galicia
Malarito, Galicia
Brest-Litovsk, Galicia
Kobrin, Galicia
Pinsk, Galicia
Luninets, Galicia
Homel, Galicia
Tarnopol, Galicia
Skolat, Galicia
Khorostkov, Galicia
Husiatyn, Galicia
Kopetshinyets, Galicia
Probuzhne, Galicia
Czortkow, Galicia
Yagelnitse, Galicia
Tlusti, Galicia
Zaleshtshik, Bukovina
Snaytin, Bukovina
Czernowitz, Bukovina
Sadagora, Bukovina
Kamenyets, Bukovina
Gora-Humara, Bukovina

Monday, August 19, 2013

Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness directed by Joseph Dorman 2011 (Documentary)

"The movie’s old photographs conjure the look and vitality of shtetl life so vividly you can almost feel yourself jostled in the crowded and dusty streets, hear the cries of peddlers and smell the pungent aromas of the cooking. The gnarly faces and hunched bodies of Jewish peasants, many dressed in rags, attest to decades of pain, hardship and stubborn endurance." from a review in the New York Times by Stephen Holden 7/11/2011

This interesting film traces the life and work of the great Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem who was born Sholem Rabinowitz in 1859 in a shtetl in Ukraine and died in 1916 in New York City.

The strength of this film is its historical context. Sholem Aleichem lived at a time of much upheaval amongst Jewish communities throughout the Pale of Settlement. This upheaval affected his life and became the subject of  his fiction. The Jews of the nineteenth century were mostly poor, insular, and religious. Laws promulgated by the czar and his government become more and more restrictive, and Russian peasants and local populations of Ukrainians were given license to perpetrate violence against the Jews. Pogroms become a threat and an actuality.

Also creating upheaval was industrialization which drove many of the children who had grown up in shtetls with their agrarian ways (thing Tevye, the milkman) to the cities where they were exposed to modernity. Many facets of this new way of life challenged the tenets of their early years. Such was the life of Sholem Aleichem who grew up in a religious family in Voronko and moved to Kiev where he was a successful writer of Yiddish tales who lived the sophisticated life of an intellectual. Like many others of his fellow Jews, he fled to America after a pogrom in 1905 seriously threatened his life and that of his family.

The film has terrific photos of life in the shtetls and in the cities, scenes of Jewish life at home, in religious school, Jews busy at work and relaxing in cafes. These photos of the elderly, married couples, school children, and babies, all of them dressed in their daily or religious or celebratory garb, bring to vivid life the world of our ancestors, a world that has vanished. The movie also includes interesting footage from Yiddish movies that recreate life in Eastern Europe.

Scholars interviewed supply the historical context. They talk about the flowering of the Yiddish language and culture. But they also talk about its demise. Despite being widely considered the beloved Jewish Mark Twain, Sholem Aleichem never hit his stride in America. Jewish strivers in America were looking forward to succeeding in the new country; they were less interested in looking back at scenes from the old country.

It is particularly interesting to hear Sholem Aleichem’s granddaughter Bel Kaufman, who is interviewed in the documentary, talk about some of what she remembers about her grandfather.

To read a recent article in the New York Time about some of the politics surrounding Yiddish click here.
To read a history of the shtetl click here.

Sholem Rabinowitz – married to Olga Loev
     Bel Kaufman – granddaughter of Sholom Aleichem (exact connection not clear)

Scholars interviewed
Hillel Halkin
Aaron Lansky
Dan Miron
Avrom Nowerstern
David Roskeis
Ruth Wisse

Voronko, Ukraine
Kiev, Ukraine
New York City, NY

Monday, August 5, 2013

Stuffed: Adventures of a Restaurant Family by Patricia Volk 2001

“The mishpocheh that Volk celebrates here was connected to New York in all sorts of ways.” from a review by Daniel Mendelsohn in New York Magazine

The writer Patricia Volk has written an engaging memoir about her enterprising, sometimes eccentric, mostly endearing, large, extended immigrant family who lived and made their mark in New York City. The daughter of successful owners of a restaurant in New York City’s garment district, her parents “lived” at the restaurant, managing, hosting, keeping the books, and eating. She and her sister frequently joined them, and it is clear that the family business was a home-away-from-home.

Each chapter of the memoir, which is named after a particular food that has emotional resonance for the author, is a portrait of a relative who prepared or served it and who Volk recreates on the page in loving detail. These include great-grandparents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, all working to find their place in the New World as they continue to serve and enjoy foods of the Old Country, like chopped liver and sturgeon.

As a family they were amazingly successful. The author sketches in her early relatives’ savvy business moves. One restaurant spawned many others, each providing an opportunity for a family member to work hard and thrive. Jacob Volk, the author’s paternal grandfather, the family patriarch, became an entrepreneur and major presence in the commercial wrecking business. The author describes in vivid detail the homes in which these various relatives lived out their prosperous dreams. Many of them lived in large apartments on the Upper West Side of Manhattan (some in the same building) with maids who helped raise the children and helped cook and serve meals, often to four generations during holiday celebrations like Thanksgiving and Passover.

But despite their financial success, Volk describes how they followed a fairly typical immigrant pattern, complete with tension between the generations. Having arrived in this country as the children of religiously observant parents, they gradually assimilated. Some held on to the ways of the Old Country longer, but most abandoned strict religious observance and assumed the mantle of American culture. Like many others of their generation, the author’s family eventually moved to the suburbs and after giving up the restaurant, her parents  retired to Florida.

The author includes many family photos as well as a family tree. At the end of the memoir she also includes a list of extracts from New York City Directories and New York City telephone books of members of her family that gives us a window into their upward mobility. The first entry is from 1897 of her maternal great-grandfather, Louis Lieban, whose business is recorded as “furs” and whose home address is on Delancey Street. In the 1940's Louis Lieban's son is a dentist, and family addresses are on West End Avenue, Riverside Drive, and Central Park West. The last entry, dated 2001, has names of family members the author has assembled to demonstrate how far away from New York some members of this family are now: Aside from Florida, they live as far away as Canada, Arizona, and Hawaii.

To read the New York Times obituary for Sussman (Cecil) Volk, father of the author, click here.

Author’s mother’s family
Louis Leiban – married Jenny Geiger
     (Elias) Al Leiban – son of Louis and Jenny; married Lillian Berger
     Jerome Leiban – son of Louis and Jenny; married Helen
      Leopold Leiban – son of Louis and Jenny
     Gertrude Leiban – daughter of Louis and Jenny; married Dike Schultz
              Wally – son of Gertrude
     Ruth Leiban – daughter of Louis and Jenny; married Albert Wolko
     Polly Leiban – daughter of Louis and Jenny; married Herman Morgen (see below)
              Robert Morgen – son of Polly and Herman; married Barbara Krass
                      Joan Morgen – daughter of Robert and Barbara
                     Marcy Morgen Dulberg – daughter of Robert and Barbara
             Audrey Morgen – daughter of Polly and Herman; married Sussman (Cecil) Volk
                     Jo Ann Volk – daughter of Audrey and Cecil; marries Alan Lederman
                                Elizabeth Lederman – daughter of Jo Ann and Alan
                                        Daniel and Matthew Lederman – sons of Elizabeth
                                John Lederman – son of Jo Ann and Alan; married to Tonya
                               Michael Lederman – son of Jo Ann and Alan; married Kelly
                     Patricia Volk – daughter of Audrey and Cecil; author
                               Peter and Polly – children of Patricia
           Lou and Fay Krass – parents of Barbara (see above)

Mark Morgenbesser – married Gertrude
          Leopold Morgenbesser – son of Mark and Gertrude
          Herman Morgen(besser) – son of Mark and Gertrude; married Polly Leiban (see above)
          Julius Morgenbesser – son of Mark and Gertrude
          Broncha Morgenbesser – daughter of Mark and Gertrude
          Helen Morgenbesser – daughter of Mark and Gertrude
Leopold Morgenbesser – married Anna (a cousin - precise relationship to author’s immediate family not clear)
         Hank Morgen(besser) – son of Leopold and Anna; married Hedy
         Mundek Morgenbesser – son of Leopold and Anna
         Josef Morgenbesser – son of Leopold and Anna
         Brunek Morgenbesser – son of Leopold and Anna
         Nella Morgenbesser – daughter of Leopold and Anna

Author’s father’s family
maternal side
Max Shure – married Anna
         Frances Shure – daughter of Max and Anna
         Alice Shure – daughter of Max and Anna
         Lily Shure – daughter of Max and Anna
         Rose Shure – daughter of Max and Anna
         Eva Shure – daughter of Max and Anna
         Ethel Edythe Shure – daughter of Max and Anna; married Jacob Volk (see below); 2nd husband – Charles Wolf
               Helen Volk – daughter of Ethel and Jacob
               Sussman (Cecil) Volk – son of Ethel and Jacob (see above)
               Harriet Volk – daughter of Ethel and Jacob

paternal side
Albert Volk – brother of Sussman (see below)
Sussman Volk – brother of Albert; married to Sarah
       Jacob Volk- son of Sussman and Sarah; married Ethel Edythe Shure (see above)
       Ettie Volk – daughter of Sussman and Sarah, married to Nathan Stavin; 2nd husband ? Weiss
             Cecil (Sussman), Maurice, and Steven Stavin – sons of Ettie and Nathan
      Hannah Volk  Fleschner – daughter of Sussman and Sarah
             Cecil (Sussman) Fleschner – son of Hannah
      Anna Volk Joseph – daughter of Sussman and Sarah Volk
             Cecil (Sussman) Joseph – son of Anna
      Albert Volk – son of Sussman and Sarah
      Leonard Volk – son of Sussman and Sarah

Friends and Acquaintances
Robert Shapera (Evans) – Ali McGraw
Alice Shapera – sister of Robert

Nowy Targ, Poland
Vilnius, Lithuania
New York City, NY
Boca Raton, Florida
Kings Point, NY

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Watchmaker's Daughter by Sonia Taitz

"Though the author focuses mostly on her experiences, it is Simon and Gita’s perseverance that truly shines—the former a respected watchmaker who began life anew more than once, the latter a concert-level pianist whose dreams were thwarted by war and who rescued her own mother from the Nazis' infamous selections." from a review in Kirkus Review 7/30/2012

Sonia Taitz, the daughter of two Lithuanian Jewish Holocaust survivors, has written an engaging memoir that gets at the essence of what was for her, the challenge of growing up the daughter of survivors whose grief and refugee status defined who they were.

In many ways Taitz’s story is not different from many other memoirs written by the children of survivors. But her ability to animate for us her relationship to her parents and to describe her parents so that we feel we know them allows us to get a clear and vivid picture of their family life which, though universal in its oultine, is specific in its detail.

Much of Taitz’s story focuses on the relationship she had with each of her parents. Her father, an accomplished watchmaker whose skills helped him survive Dachau, admired her independent spirit and her academic abilities and he pushed her to succeed.  Her mother, an accomplished pianist whose potential career was destroyed by the Holocaust, struggled with her rebellious daughter whose personality and interests she often did not understand.

The young Sonia felt very different from the children who were growing up alongside her in post-World War II America, and she was embarrassed by her circumstances. Her parents spoke Yiddish at home and lived in a two-bedroom apartment in Washington Heights in upper Manhattan where her brother slept in the living room. Her mother wore floral housedresses, shopped for bargain merchandise and cooked the foods she knew from Europe. When it came time for the author to go to college her parents insisted she stay close to home and go to Barnard, not to Radcliffe where she had also been accepted.

The end of the memoir deals with the death of each of her parents. At this point the author is a mother of three children and as an adult has come to terms with how the Holocaust had shaped their lives. She has come to understand them in ways she couldn’t possibly when she was a child, teenager and young adult, trying to establish her own identity, free of their burdens. Now, more than ever, she has become their parents - taking care of them, trying to hold on to them as they each succumb to cancer, despairing that after the early experiences they had suffered through, they each had to suffer so horribly again.

To read an article about the effects of Holocaust trauma on subsequent generations click here.
To read an article about the psychological profile of Holocaust survivors click here.

Father’s family
Sonia Taitz
    Aaron Taitz - son of Sonia
    PaulaTaitz - daughter of Sonia
    Simon Taitz – son of Sonia; married Gita Wery-Bey
          Emmanuel Taitz – son of Simon and Gita
                Jennifer and Michelle Taitz – daughters of Emmanuel
         Sonia Taitz – son of Simon and Gita; married Paul; author
                Emma, Gabriel, Phoebe – children on Paul and Sonia

Mother’s family
Menachem Mendel Wery-Bey- married Liba Davidow
       Gita – daughter of Menachem Mendel and Liba; married Simon Taitz (see above)
David Wery-Bey – brother of Menachem Mendel

Kaunas, Lithuania
New York City, NY
Washington Heights, NY
Stutthof Concentration Camp, Poland
Dachau Concentration Camp, Germany

Monday, July 1, 2013

Helga’s Diary: A Young Girl’s Account of Life in a Concentration Camp by Helga Weiss

"...[T]he diary reads with refreshing immediacy, describing how a smart, spirited young girl negotiated increasingly desperate circumstances." from a review by Julia M. Klein in the Jewish  Daily Forward April 27, 2013

Helga Weiss, who was born in 1929 in Prague, Czechoslovakia, survived to see the journal she kept during and after World War II published in 2013. Her story is similar to others who were moved from camp to camp, each time not knowing where they were going and what their fate would be when they arrived.

As a young child she was deported with her parents to Terezin (Theresienstadt) where she spent most of her imprisonment. From there she was moved to Auschwitz, then to Frieberg, a satellite work camp connected to the Flossenburg concentration camp. When it didn’t seem like their situation could get much worse, it got even worse. She and her mother barely survived a sixteen-day trip to the Mauthausen concentration camp where they were finally liberated.

One of the most moving pieces of this memoir is the family dynamic. The author, an only child, was separated from her father early because once in Terezin males and females were sent to separate living quarters. But she did manage to see him during the day. Her father got work in the financial office and had power to delay the deportation of family members – many of their relatives ended up in Terezin. But eventually they are all deported. There is much agony: Should she and her mother insist on going on the same transport he is assigned to? He insists not.  Mother and daughter are deported the day after he is, and Helga hopes against hope that she will see her father when she arrives wherever they are being sent.

It is only in hindsight that the author comes to realize that incarceration in Terezin was bearable compared to what happened once they were deported. Her descriptions of Terezin encompass both the good and the bad. The closeness that developed amongst her and other teenagers, their birthday celebrations and parties are contrasted to the overcrowded conditions, the serious outbreaks of diseases like typhus, the annoyance of bedbugs and lice, the constant worry about being selected for a transport. Once they are on a transport, as they move from place to place, food supplies dwindle; in the weeks before the Germans surrender there is barely any food. Helga’s mother becomes so weak that Helga, still a young teenager, has the added burden of making sure her mother survives.

Helga Weiss and her mother had been imprisoned for three and a half years. The author was released when she was 15 ½, one of a small number of children from Terezin to have survived.

This edition of the memoir includes:
A map of Helga’s journey
A map of Terezin
An Introduction - Francine Prose places this memoir in the context of other Holocaust memoirs.
An Author’s Note – Helga Weiss writes about the writing and re-writing of this memoir
An Interview with Helga Weiss – the author answers questions posed by the translator Neil Bermel about her experience during the war and about the writing of her journal.
A Translator’s Note – Neil Bermel writes about Helga Weiss’s writing style and how he worked with the mix of the German and Czech languages.
A Glossary of German terms not translated into English

To watch an interview with Helga Weiss which also includes photos and some of her artwork representing scenes during her imprisonment, click here.
To read a previous post of a review of a cookbook assembled by women in Theriesenstadt, 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.
To read a post on this blog about a book that takes place in Terezin called "The Girls of Room 28," click here.

Sofie Weiss
    Otto Weiss – son of Sophie; married to Irena Fuchsova
         Helga Weiss – daughter of Otto and Irena
                      Dominika, Natalie, and Sarah – granddaughters of Helga
    Josef Polak – uncle of Helga; exact relationship unclear

Friends and Acquaintances
Eva Vohryzeks
Fredy Hirsch
Laska and Ruza Vogelova
Jakob Edelstein

Prague, Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic)
Terezin concentration camp, Czechoslovakia
Auschwitz  concentration camp, Poland
Frieburg, Germany
Mauthausen concentration camp, Austria

Monday, June 17, 2013

Who She Was: My Search for My Mother’s Life, by Samuel Freedman 2005

"A son’s story, a Jewish story, an American story." from a review in Kirkus Reviews

The journalist Samuel Freedman (b. 1955) lost his mother to breast cancer when she was 50 during his sophomore year of college. He felt he never knew her very well, preoccupied as he was, first with his life as a teenager, then as a college student in Wisconsin, quite a distance from his home in New Jersey. He decided to do the research and write this memoir in an attempt to better understand her, by conducting extensive interviews with friends and family and by investigating other sources like letters, diaries, photos, and newspapers.

Through his research he recreates the Bronx of his mother’s youth, early adulthood, and young married life. He explores her home life, her Morris High School experiences, her work life and her social life. His skills as a journalist help him to place her life in historical context. He fleshes out the Jewish immigrant experience in the Bronx with the attendant tension between the immigrant parents and their American children. And he explores the social and economic impact of the Depression, World War II, and the post-war preoccupation with Communists in America. He also discusses what the cultural expectations were for a woman in his mother’s time and how those often unspoken restrictions played out in her life.

One of the most significant threads Freedman explores is the antagonistic relationship that existed between his mother and her mother which stemmed mostly from his grandmother’s insistence on the importance of living a traditional Jewish life. The author’s mother, a very bright student, spent much of her energy in rebellion. It is not surprising that the author, having delved as deeply as he could into their relationship and the circumstances surrounding it, develops a more nuanced understanding of both his mother and his grandmother.

But finally the author realizes that, despite having done a yeoman's job of recreating the past and having learned a great deal about his mother, he can never really know her completely. The fuller picture can never bring her to life, it can never completely fill the emotional gap created by her early death and his early loss.

To read an excerpt from this memoir, click here.
To read an article about the history of Jews in the Bronx, click here.

Author's mother's father's family
Sarah Hatkin
    Samuel Hatkin – son of Sarah
    Sol Hatkin – son of Sarah; married Rachel (Rose) Markiewicz
        Eleanor Hatkin – daughter of Sol and Rose; married Leonard Benjamin Schulman; second marriage to David Freedman
               Samuel Freedman - son of Eleanor and David; married Cynthia Sheps
                        Aaron and Sarah Freedman - children of Samuel and Cynthia
        Fannie Hatkin – daughter of Sol and Rose; married Danny Schlomkowitz (Stevens)
              Joel Schlomkowitz (Stevens) – son of Danny and Fannie
    Seymour Hatkin – son of Sol and Rose; married Evelyn
    Jacob Hatkin – son of Sarah; married Rachel Gartenberg, cousin of Rachel Markiewicz
    David Hatkin – son of Sarah

Mildred Schlomkowitz – sister to Danny (see above)
Jack and Hilda Schulman
     Leonard Schulman - son of Jack and Hilda (see above)
    Alan Schulman – son of Jack and Hilda
Leonard Hatkin – cousin of Eleanor; exact relationship unclear; married Thelma
Harry Schneer – cousin of Sol Hatkin; relationship unclear
Elaine Sheps - mother of Cynthia (see above)

Author's mother's mother's family
Yehuda Ariyeh Markiewicz – father of Rachel Markiewicz
 Rachel (Rose) Markiewicz – daughter of Yehuda Ariyeh; married Sol Hatkin (see above)
 Ester Dina Markiewicz – daughter of Yehuda Ariyeh; married Alter David Kaczkowicz
      Judis Kaczkowicz – daughter of Esther Dina and Alter David; married Jaime Prusky
      Julius Kaczkowicz– son of Ester Dina and Alter David; married Rebeca Kaganas
 Menuchi Markiewicz – daughter of Yehuda Ariyeh
 Avram Markiewicz – son of Yehuda Ariyeh
 Shifra Markiewicz – daughter of Yehuda Ariyeh

Shai Gartenberg – uncle of Rose Markiewicz – exact relationship not clear
Minnie and Morris Osder – Minnie is a cousin of Rose Markiewicz – exact relationship unclear
Rebeca and Guillermo Bronstein - relatives in Uruguay - exact relationship unclear
Dina Berlinblau - relative in Uruguay - exact relationship unclear
Pinhas Kaczkowicz – cousin of David Kaczkowicz (married to Ester Dina Markiewicz – see above)

Author's father's family
Samuel and Rose Freedman
    Ziggy Freedman – son of Samuel and Rose
    Clara Freedman – daughter of Samuel and Rose
    David Freedman – son of Samuel and Rose; married Eleanor Hatkin Schulman (see above)

Friends and Acquaintances
Regina and Monikou  Adler – sisters
Clare Abramowitz – married Hy Dickman
Leon Becker
Vicky Behar – married Dave Fried
Artie Bernfeld
Ralph Betstadt – married Lillian Golden
Miriam Beyman
Shirley Binenstock
Bruno (Bernie) Brenner – brother of Ignaz
Ignaz (Irving) Brenner – brother of Bruno; married Fannie Povodator
Florence Brodsky
Harry Ceitlin
Maxwell Cohen
Sid Cozin
Bern Dibner
Bernie Dunetz – married Anita Rosenhoch
 Sandy Dunetz – child of Bernie and Anita
Stanley Feldman – brother-in-law of Herman Keltz
Jerry Ferber
Bea Flesichman
Artie Fluger
Stanley Frank
Rudy Friedlander
Lou and Murray Glass – brothers; cousins of Vicky Behar
Al Glazer
Sol and Sidney Goldfarb – brothers
Mel Goodman
Howard Gropper
Dick Gumerov
Florence Herzog
Marion Herzog – daughter of Florence; married Saul Maidens
Max Kagan
Herman David Keltz
Mildred Keltz – sister of Herman
Rose Klekman
Hy Kraft
Abe Kronenfeld
Ruth Liebowitz
Morris Laitman
Joe Lempert
Leon Mandelbaum
Ted Millon
Bernie Murowitz
Harriss Pacter
Bernard Pacter – son of Harriss
Noach Pacter – brother to Harriss; married to Fannie
Sam Pacter – son of Noach and Fannie
  Ruth Pacter – daughter of Noach and Fannie; married Al Taylor
Estelle Pacter – daughter of Noach and Fannie
Simmy Plansky
Buddy Rashbaum
Neil Rosenberg
Bill Rosenhoch – sister of Anita; married Naomi Gruder
Pauline Rubenstein
Selma Rubenstein – daughter of Pauline
Hilda Saltzman Wachtenheim
George Slayton – cousin of Claire Abromowitz
Bernie Solomon
Jack Steinglass
Flo Zipkin

Kolno, Poland
Bialystok, Poland
Morrisania, The Bronx, New York
Morris High School, The Bronx, New York
Brownsville, Brooklyn, New York
Montevideo, Uruguay
Stelton, New Jersey
Highland Park, New Jersey

Monday, June 3, 2013

Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay: Reflections on Art, Family and Survival by Chrisopher Benfey, 2012

"The later pages of the book’s first section trace the Jewish thread of family history; the meditative aspect of Benfey’s journey sends off 'if only' reverberations, suggestions of identity compromised and spiritual treasure lost."  from a review by Philip K. Jason posted on the blog of the Jewish Book Council

This memoir has a global reach. The author, a professor of English literature, a writer and a critic, is the son of a father who was a German Jewish refugee who was born in Berlin and a Quaker mother born in America.

The author’s father, O. Theodor Benfey, the son of a prominent judge, married Lotte Fleischmann, a daughter in the Ullstein family, the founders of a large European publishing house. Both sides of the author’s assimilated German Jewish family converted to Lutheranism.  They felt that they were German to the core, but they soon learned that Hitler felt otherwise. In 1933 the Nazis seized the Ullstein family’s publishing company. Fearing for their ten-year-old son's future, in 1936 Otto Theodor’s parents sent him to England to live with family friends.

Several years later O. Theodor Benfey's parents also fled to England and then to the U.S. where Lotte’s sister Anni, a textile artist married to the artist Josef Albers, had already fled. They had left after the Nazis closed the Bauhaus in Berlin where Anni and Josef Albers had worked.

Tracing his father’s family involved actual and virtual travel to Germany, England, and Mexico. Although this memoir spends more time on his mother’s Quaker roots than his father’s German-Jewish roots, the chapters dedicated to his father  and his family are quite interesting. Especially engrossing is the investigation into the Jewish origins of the Benfey name.

To read an article about anti-Jewish legislation in pre-war Germany, click here.

Author’s father’s paternal family
Eduard Benfey – married to Lotte Fleischmann
    Renate Benfey Wilkins – daughter of Eduard and Lotte
    Otto Theodor Benfey – son of Eduard and Lotte; married to Rachel Thomas
         Stephen Benfey – son of Otto Theodor and Rachel
         Christoper Benfey – son of Otto Theodor and Rachel; married to Mickey Rathbun; author
               Tommy and Nicholas Benfey – sons of Christopher
         Philip Benfey – son of Otto Theodor and Rachel
         Karen Benfey Boyd – daughter of Otto Theodor and Rachel
    Arnold Benfey  - brother of Eduard
    Ernst Benfey  - brother of Eduard

Feistel Dotteres (Philipp Theodorus) - early Benfey ancestor
    Isaak Philipp Benfey  - son of Feistel
         Simline Benfey – daughter of Isaak
         Theodor Benfey – son of Isaak; author’s father’s great-granduncle
                 Meta Benfey – daughter of Theodor
         Philip Benfey – son of Isaak
Bruno Benfey – relative; connection unclear

Author’s father’s maternal family
Siegfried Fleischmann – married Toni Ullstein
     Anni Fleischmann – married Josef Albers
     Lotte Fleischmann – daughter of Siegfried and Toni; married Eduard Benfey (see above)
Hanz, Louis, Franz, Rudolf, and Hermann Ullstein – brothers of Toni (see above)

Walter Benjamin
Heinrich Heine
Gerald and Babs Mendl
    Wolfgang Mendl – son of Gerald and Babs
Karen Karnes – married David Weinrib – Jo Anne (his second wife)

Richmond, Indiana
Greensboro, North Carolina
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Berlin, Germany
Watford, England
Black Mountain College, North Carolina
Richmond, Indiana