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