Monday, December 1, 2014

What I Saw: Reports from Berlin 1920-1933 by Joseph Roth, translated from German and with an introduction written by Michael Hofmann, published in English in 2008

"It’s not only what Roth sees; it’s what he sees through. And often he sees unknowingly into the future we inhabit beyond his time." from a review by Nadine Gordimer in The Threepenny Review Spring 2003
 Joseph Roth, a journalist and novelist born in Galicia in 1894, arrived in Berlin, Germany in 1920 after first living in Vienna. In this volume Michael Hoffman brings together 34 of Roth’s journalism pieces written between 1920 and 1933 which he has translated from the German. He also includes an informative introduction which includes biographical information about Roth and places him in the context of the Weimar Republic. And he provides footnotes so as to help us understand an occasional obscure reference. Also included are many photographs and illustrations.

Grouped according to subject matter in this volume, Roth’s topics give an impressionistic feel for the Berlin between the wars. His point of view is that of the outsider – someone who lives in the city and knows many of its quarters well, but at the same time he looks at the city, its residents, its architecture, its infrastructure, its cafes and night life with “new” eyes.

An assimilated German Jewish intellectual, Roth chose to write about Berlin’s Jewish quarter and he wrote sympathetically, but at a remove. He describes its residents who are refugees from the East, their difficult living conditions, and the lure of Palestine for those who wander homeless. He is quite passionate in his opinions and upset at their plight, but although he was himself born in Galicia, it is clear he sees them as “other.”

According to Hofmann’s introduction, in 1925 Roth made Paris his new base although he still spent time in Berlin and continued to write for the German newspapers until the Nazis came into power in 1933. The pieces included in this volume written starting in 1924 seem more engaged and more consistently political. One piece laments the murder of Walter Rathenau, a German Jew who, serving as foreign minister, was killed by right-wing extremists. Another, entitled “An Apolitical Observer Goes to the Reichstag,” is a cynical, critical look at the members of the German parliament. In the course of the piece he criticizes the seeming paralysis of the various political parties, each representing its own interests. And he ominously refers to “[t]he goose-stepping of the Nationalists.”

The most powerful piece in the collection because of its subject and Roth’s engaged fury is the last one included, “The Auto-da-Fe of the Mind,” published in French in the September/November issue of Cahiers Juifs (Paris). The title, deliberately echoing the barbarity of the Spanish Inquisition, is at one and the same time a piece written to protest the enormity of the burning of books of German writers who the Nazis considered “degenerate,” many of them Jewish, and to protest the expulsion from Germany of German Jewish writers (including Roth, of course). In the piece he gives a brief history of entrenched German anti-Semitism and praises the many German Jewish writers whose books were burned, listing more than three dozen alphabetically (from Altenberg to Zweig). But most importantly, he uses the piece to alert the world, to try to get the world beyond Germany to understand the implications of what was happening. This piece is horrifying to read  now, given that we know the outcome.

Roth mentions no family by name. The translator Michael Hofmann supplies some background about Roth's family in the introduction.
One piece is a tribute to Walter Rathenau.  In the final piece, as stated above, Roth lists and characterizes each of about three dozen German Jewish writers.


To watch a video about the book burning in Germany, click here.
To read a timeline that covers Berlin history and its Jewish residents, click here.

Monday, November 3, 2014

In This Dark House by Louise Kehoe 1995

"An extraordinary, well-told story of a brutal childhood." from a review in Publisher's Weekly 10/1995

Louise Kehoe has written a suspenseful memoir that is difficult to discuss without giving the “ending” away. The cover of the soft cover edition states that this memoir won the National Jewish Book Award, so to some extent as you read, you suspect the outcome, but it isn’t until you get to the last fifty pages that the Jewish content is revealed and discussed.

The memoir focuses on Kehoe’s immediate family, but most specifically on her brilliant, mercurial, autocratic, abusive father, Berthold Lubetkin, a forward-thinking, well-respected architect. Lubetkin and his wife abandoned London in 1939 as World War II was revving up in England, relocating to a farm in rural England where they raised their three children and kept them isolated until each went off to college. Her father, who was both an atheist and a communist, when pressed, said he was a Russian immigrant, educated in Warsaw, the son of members of the nobility who lost everything in the Russian Revolution and that Lubetkin was an assumed name. That was all he would ever say about his background and family.

Over the years the author tried to pry more information out of her father who refused to cooperate except to write a short account of his life that seemed to aim at obfuscation. It wasn’t until he died – he outlived the author’s mother – that Kehoe was eventually able to unravel his story, based on documents and photos he left behind in a yellowing envelope that she found in the back of his closet.
Suffice to say that although her father’s background and circumstances do by no means totally explain his treatment of his wife and children, when we learn his story, we realize, as did the author, that his survivor’s guilt and his shame contributed to his behavior. He insisted on keeping secrets which tormented him – they were debilitating and they scarred those around him as well. This memoir reveals the impact of the Holocaust on multiple generations.

To read an article about the children of survivors, click here.
To see a short video about Lubetkin, the architect and his politics, click here.

The author states that some names have been changed to protect some individuals’ privacy. It is possible that her brother and sister’s first names are not their real names. It’s also possible that the author has changed the first name of her father’s cousin, Mira Aaronovna Lubetkin.

Roman and Fenya Lubetkin
     Berthold Lubetkin – son of Roman and Fenya
          Victoria Lubetkin – daughter of Berthold
           Louise Lubetkin Kehoe – daughter of Berthold
           Robert Lubetkin – son of Berthold
     Zivia Lubetkin – cousin of Berthold
Aaron Lubetkin – brother of Roman
    Mira Aaronovna Lubetkin – daughter of Aaron

St. Petersburg, Russia
Warsaw, Poland
Brooklyn, NY


Monday, October 6, 2014

Terezin: Voices from the Holocaust by Ruth Thomson 2011

"[A] varied and fascinating account—for readers over age 8—of what was, in truth, a brutal transit camp." from a review by Meghan Cox Gurdon in 2/19/11

This slim, picture-book size volume was conceived for young readers, but that should not put off adults who will find this book beautifully executed and worthy of their attention if they are interested in the Holocaust or the Theresienstadt concentration camp, in particular.  The author has assembled the text from primary sources, using mostly quotes from journals, oral histories, works of art and photos of artifacts like records of an identity card of those who had been deported to Theresienstadt. Also, she has included photos of the camp, some of its buildings and prisoners, and current memorials.

The history of Hitler’s rise and the building and set-up of Theresienstadt are laid out simply. The written, oral and visual records provide the emotional impact inherent in eye-witness accounts. Some of these accounts were created during the lives of the prisoners simultaneous with their being in incarcerated. Some were written as recollections by survivors.

We learn about overcrowding, illness, deportations - mainly to Auschwitz, and the role of the Jewish Council of Elders. Since so many artists and intellectuals were incarcerated in Theresienstadt, the role of culture and education are stressed: lectures, classes, and the creation and/or performance of literary, visual, musical and theater arts, both those activities sanctioned and those that took place in secret.

Thomson spends important time on the visit to Theresienstadt by a committee of the Red Cross at the request of the King of Denmark. In anticipation of being found out, Nazi leadership retrofitted the camp in an effort to deceive the Red Cross committee. We hear how deportations for Theresienstadt before the visit helped to reduce crowding, and how keeping the elderly and ill far away from the planned route lowered the risk of exposure. And we learn about the cultural activities that were set up to entertain the visiting committee.

Ruth Thompson’s judicious choice of material as well as the layout in 60 plus pages makes this book of interest to a reader of any age. The Thereseinstadt concentration camp is movingly evoked in this volume.

This book includes several maps, a timeline from 1934-1945, a glossary of terms, sources, an index, and photo acknowledgements.

To read an article about the importance of music in Theresienstadt, click here.
To read an obituary of Joza Karas who recovered and helped publicize music performed in Theresienstadt, click here.

Edih Baneth
Henriette S. Beck
Ferdinand Bloch
Frank Bright
Charlotte Buresova
Friedl Dicker-Brandeis
Jakob Edelstein
Zdenka Ehrlich
Raja Englanderova
Pavel Fantl
John Fink
Lily Fischl
Peter Frank
Steven Frank
John Freund
Jana Renee Friesova
Bedrich Fritta
 Tommy Fritta – son of Bedrich
Kurt Gerron
Leo Haas
John Hartman
Ben Helfgott
Mayer Hersh
Hans Hofer
Albert Huberman
Arnold Jakubovic
Alfred Kantor
Helga Kinsky
Freddie Knoller
Rma Laushcherova
Berdrich Lederer
Zdenek Lederer
Peter Lowenstein
George Mahler
Eva Meitner
Frantisek M. Nagl
Josef Polak
Helga Pollak
Hana Pravda
Gonda Redlich
Paul Aron Sandfort
Malvina Schalkova
John Silberman
Alice Sittig
Aron Sloma
Joseph E. A. Spier
Gerty Spies
Norbert Troller
Otto Ungar
Charlotte Veresova
Helga Weissova-Hoskova

Theresienstadt, Czechoslovakia

Monday, September 1, 2014

Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart  2014

"Hilarious as it often is, Little Failure is a record of existential homelessness, of living in a limbo between two different countries and identities." from a review by Peter Conrad in The Guardian March 2, 2014

For those of you who have read any of Gary Shteyngart’s novels, the settings, “characters” and laugh lines in this memoir will be familiar. Born in 1972 in the Soviet Union, he immigrated with his parents to the United Stated in 1979 and settled in Queens, New York. In this memoir he takes us back to what he remembers about his early childhood in Leningrad as Igor, then to his growing up in America as Gary.

In many ways this is the classic immigrant story.The Shtayngarts had come from a country and a culture where they had had deep roots. He dramatizes his parents’ clinging to their Russian ways and the Russian language in America, and the confusion he feels trying to become an American amongst the American born. At the same time that he and his parents marvel at the riches and possibilities America has to offer, they also are discomforted at what they see as an intellectually impoverished environment compared to what they left behind. They are quite perturbed at a far inferior education system in America and constantly push their son to be the best. Hence the title: Little Failure – a nickname his mother bestows on their only child because she’s not satisfied with how much he is achieving.

One of the great strengths of this memoir is Shteyngart’s ability to re-create how he felt and what he understood as a youngster. He deftly sketches in the economic and political climate - the  actualities of Soviet life, including the debilitating anti-Semitism that they experienced.  And he writes with compassion about the terrible choice his mother had to make in deciding she would emigrate, having to leave behind her sick mother in the care of her older sister. He writes lovingly about the influence that both of his grandmothers had on his life, and he conveys his father’s fervent attachment to his Jewish religion here in America which he wasn’t allowed to practice in the Soviet Union. Throughout he adds authenticity and color by sprinkling Russian language phrases into the ongoing family conversations and declarations.

Like most immigrant families who leave their homelands, the Shteyngarts immigrate so that the next generation will have more opportunity. The author understands and appreciates their motives, but the story he tells reveals that what drove them came at a cost. At the same time they were rescued from a hostile environment, they were displaced and had to start in an alien environment with nothing. His mordant, dark humor drives these points home.

This memoir includes many family photos.

To watch a video of Gary Shteyngart reading from his memoir and discussing his life, click here.
To read an article about Soviet Jewish immigration to the United States click here.

Author's mother's family
Seina Nirman
   Gayla  – daughter of Seina; married Dmitry Yasnitsky
       Lyusya Yasnitskaya – daughter of Gayla
          Victoria – daughter  of Lyusya
      Nina Yasnitskaya – daughter of Gayla; married Semyon Shteyngart
             Igor (Gary) Shteyngart – son of Semyon and Nina; author
      Tanya Yasnistskaya – daughter of Gayla
   Aaron – son of Seina 

Author's father's family
 Isaac Shteyngart (formerly Steinhorn)-  married Polya Miller
    Semyon Shteyngart – son of Isaac and Polya; married Nina Yasnitskaya
Igor (Gary) Shteyngart – son of Semyon and Nina; author
Fenya Miller – sister of author’s paternal grandmother, Polya Miller (see above)

Chemirovets, Ukraine
Dubrovno, Belarus
Orinino, Ukraine
Olgino, Russia
St Petersburg, Russia
Queens, New York

Monday, August 4, 2014

Zagare by Sara Manobla 2014

"A superb storyteller, Manobla draws the reader in brilliantly as she herself transforms from someone disconnected with her past into a kind of Jewish Sherlock Holmes, uncovering the horror of the Holocaust and the heroism of a few families while harboring a sense of hope for the future." Steve Linde, Jerusalem Post, Weekend Magazine

This interesting memoir focuses on Zagare (Zhager in Yiddish), a town in Lithuania on the border of Latvia, the place of origin of the author’s father’s family. The author, who was raised in England, knew only that her father was from Russia and she never inquired more specifically about her roots. She saw herself simply as a British Jew. Later when she moved to Israel in 1960 where she worked for the English department of Radio Israel, she incorporated "Israeli" into her identity. It wasn’t until a paternal cousin started to investigate their past that she became interested in finding out more about exactly where her father’s family had come from. Together, she and her cousin Joy became intimately acquainted with the town of Zagare, its past and its present. After much research and exposure to the history of Lithuanian Jews, she added Litvak to her identity.

The author’s education and research took place over many years. Her first trip to Zagare was in 1995. It culminated 17 years later in 2012 in a visit to attend the ceremony honoring the descendant of a Lithuanian family who had hid a Jewish family of Zagare during the Holocaust. The author used her training as a journalist to track down the only Jewish survivor to verify the bravery of this Lithuanian family during the war. She then passed the information on to Yad Vashem who designated  the family as rescuers honored as The Righteous Among Nations.

This memoir is exceedingly useful as a guide to the process of galvanizing support for a cause beyond one of Manobla's priorities - making sure that the Lithuanian rescuers were honored. The author and others worked very hard at getting the local population of Zagare to acknowledge their citizens’ active participation and complicity in the rounding up and the killing of the Jews of Zagare in 1941. The author read the history, interviewed current residents, and consulted with historians and other descendants who have dealt with these issues. She learned that the conventional bureaucratic historical narrative is one that is based on the premise that there was a double genocide in Lithuania which essentially equates Soviet persecution of Lithuanians with German persecution of Jews. She lays out the many ways she and others, both Jewish and Lithuanian, worked at chipping away at this mentality that reveals latent anti-Semitism and indifference. And they found that because the beliefs were so entrenched, changing them was a very slow process. But they were successful in making sure signage was mounted in more central locations and that signage specifically mentions that Jews were buried in mass graves and Lithuanian neighbors had been collaborators.

There are many lessons to be learned from this book that can be applied to other communities, especially those communities which were in countries that were part of the former Soviet Union.

Included is a useful list of sources as well as photos.

To see the Zagare Facebook page where there are lot of old photos of Jewish residents of Zagare, click here.

To read about the role of Lithuanians in the extermination of the Jewish community during World War II, click here.

Israel Friedlander
Myer Israelovich
David Towb – brother of Israel and Myer; married Batya (Berthe) Moeller; second wife Rose
   Ya’akov (Jack) Towb – son of David and Batya
   Harry Towb – son of David and Berthe
   Rebecca Towb Landau – daughter of David and Berthe
   Leah Towb Landau – daughter of David and Berthe
   William Towb – son of David and Berthe; married Sylvia Jacobs
       Ursula Sara Towb Manobla – daughter of William and Sylvia; author
           Ze’ev – son of Ursula
                 Rona Gabrielle Abadi – granddaughter of Ursula
       Elizabeth Towb – daughter of William and Sylvia
   Massie Towb Brodie – daughter of David and Berthe
    Louis Towb – son of David and Berthe; married to Elsie
       Joy Towb Hall – daughter of Louis and Elsie; married to Maynard
          Jessica – daughter of Joy and Maynard
    Suki Towb Pay – daughter of Louis and Elsie

Lena Jackson Jacobs – mother of Sylvia Jacobs (see above)
Yitzhak Moeller - grandfather of Batya Moeller (see above) )
     Ze’ev Wolf – son of Yitzhak

Friends and Aquaintances
Shimon Alperovitz
Roza Bieliauskiene
    Julius Bieliauskas – son of Roza
Werner Braun
Mendy Cahan
Roger Cohen
Jacob Gens
Gil Kessary
Haim Tal
Viktor and Irina Brailovsky
    Loenid Barilovsky – son of Viktor and Irina
    Galia Barilovsky – daughter of Viktor and Irina
Yuli Kosharovsky
Yosef Begun
Vladimir Prestin
Pavel Abramovich – brother-in-law of  Vladimir Prestin
Ilya Lempert
Benjamin Levich
Alexander Lerner
Eliahu Essas
Benjamin Fein
Rod Freedman
Katya Gusarov
Mark Azbel
Anatoly (Natan) Sharansky
Miriam Schneider
    Edmundas Tiesnesis – son of Miriam
Aba Taratuta
Yevgeny Arye
Valentinas Kaplunas
Dovid Katz
Isaac Mendelssohn
    Vidmantas Mendelsonas – son of Isaac
Cliff Marks
Len Yodaiken (Judeikin)
Wolf and Rose Zwi
Bertha Taubman
Solomon Teitelbaum
Batya Trusfus
    Riva Trusfus Yoffe – daughter of Batya
         Ruth Yoffe- daughter of Riva
             Ya’akov – son of Ruth
        Misha Yoffe – son of Riva
    Eta Trusfus Kolodnaya – daughter of Batya
    Irle Trusfus – daughter of Batya
Allan Blacher – relative of Batya Trusfus
Jacob Kagan
Liat Wexelman
Raymond and Gill Woolfson
Hazel Woolfson
Alter Zagorsky
Ephraim Zuroff

Zagare, Lithuania
Baisogala, Lithuania
Siauliai ghetto, Lithuania
Vilnius, Lithuania
Antwerp, the Netherlands
Swansea, Wales
Newcastle, England
South Africa
Kazan, Soviet Union

Monday, July 7, 2014

Burned Child Seeks the Fire by Cordelia Edverson published in 1984 in Swedish, in 1997 in English

"Even readers who think they have become inured to the pain of Holocaust memoirs will be sucked in and beaten down by the brutal honesty of Edvardson's words." from a review in Kirkus Reviews 5/20/2010

In this carefully composed, concise memoir, Cordelia Edvardson (1929-2012) tells us what it was like to be “born” Catholic but to be labeled a Jew because her father, who did not live with her, was a Jew. Also, her mother’s father was born Jewish but converted to Catholicism. She remembers feeling different from the time she was very little, before she even understood the concepts, the ideology, the politics. This feeling of being "other" is reinforced, for example, when her mother and step-father will not let her join the Union of German Girls where she hopes to become part of a group of kindred spirits. They do not explain why.

 As she gets older she confronts the gradual imposition of restrictions which lead up to the wearing of the yellow star and she tells us that because her mother thinks it is dangerous for her to live at home, she is constantly changing addresses although she often risks sneaking home during the day. Like so many others who were looking for safety for her children, the author’s mother constantly seeks for ways to protect her daughter. She arranges for Cordelia, then fourteen, to become a Spanish citizen, but the scheme backfires and Cordelia is deported first to Theriesenstadt and then to Auschwitz.

Before being deported she is assigned to live in the Jewish Hospital in Berlin, a place for Jews with “connections” – having a non-Jewish parent, for example. Edvardson describes it as a version of Hell. Residents know their lives could end at any time and do just about anything to protect themselves in order to stay alive. They trade sexual favors for comfort and protection, and many raid the hospital’s supply of drugs. Edvardson is relieved to be deported to Theresienstadt which she and her mother understand to be a work camp.

Her descriptions of life and death in Auschwitz are searing. She understands that to survive she has to appear strong and ready to work. And the work she is assigned to do is devastating.. She sits in Mengele’s presence and records the numbers read off of arms of those who are about to be gassed.

After the war she is sent to Sweden where she recuperates and decides to live. After reuniting with her mother, she becomes a journalist and moves to Israel where she was the Middle East correspondent for a Swedish newspaper. Edvardson, a child growing up in Nazi Berlin, paints a vivid picture of herself as the "burned child" of her title, whose life is forever scarred by her wartime experiences.

To read an obituary in the Jerusalem Post of Cordelia Edvardson, click here.
To read a review in the Forward of a book about the Jewish Hospital in Berlin, click here.

Elisabeth Langgasser
    Cordelia Edvardson –daughter of Elisabeth

Sylvia Krown

Berlin – Grunewald
Berlin – Eichkamp
Stockholm, Sweden
Jerusalem, Israel

Monday, June 2, 2014

Hiding and Seeking: Faith and Tolerance after the Holocaust - Documentary film written and directed by Menachem Daum 2004

"What makes the film both watchable and important is the candid, untidy way it presents conflicting emotions and multiple points of view." from a review by Janice Page, the Boston Globe, 4/2/2004

Menachem Daum, an Orthodox Jew and a documentary film maker, decided to make this film as a way of communicating his concern for what he saw as the  dangerous and mistaken attitude of many of the Orthodox  and ultra-Orthodox who see all non-Jews (goyim) as enemies of Jews. He had gone to Brooklyn College as well as a yeshiva and he felt the exposure to the world outside of the Orthodox community helped him have a more accurate picture of the world.

Most specifically, Daum was concerned about his two Orthodox sons who now were yeshiva students in Jerusalem and, when questioned, had a negative view of all non-Jews. So Daum put together a “roots” trip to Poland and invited his two sons along.

It is fascinating to watch the reactions of his sons to what they see and experience in Poland. On the one hand they find their families’ hometowns empty of Jews. And they see remnants of a formerly imposing synagogue destroyed by the war: signs of non-Jews as enemies of the Jews.

But on the other hand, in the last part of the film, the family visits the farm where Daum’s wife’s father and two of his brothers had been hidden by a local farmer and his wife until the war was over. Here the two sons have to confront their preconceived notions. They have the opportunity to meet three generations of the Polish farm family, see the hiding place, and acknowledge the risks the family took to hide their grandfather and his brothers. The Daum family bestows belated gratitude for their Polish saviors by arranging for the family to be honored by Yad Vashem.

Menachem Daum hopes that his sons’ experience is Poland has permanently changed their world view that all non-Jews are enemies of Jews. By extension, it is clear that Daum hopes that the film will do the same for viewers who have similar opinions.

To read an article about a reunion between a Polish Jew and the son of his farm family protectors, click here.
To read about the Jewish cemetery in Zadunska Wola and to see many photos, click here.

Author’s father’s family
Akiva Leiser Lasker – married Purya Yiska (bat Yosef)
     Blima Lasker – daughter of Akiva and Purya; married Duvid Daum
        Moshe Yosef Daum – son of Blima and Duvid; married Fayge Mindl Nussbaum
             Menachem (Martin) Daum – son of Moshe Yosef and Fayge Mindl; married Rivka Federman; author
                   Tzvi David Daum – son of Menachem and Rivka
                   Akiva Daum – son of Menachem and Rivka

Author’s wife’s family
Avram Wolf Federman – married Aidle Chesky
     Chaim Federman – son of Avram and Aidle
            Rivka Federman – daughter of Chaim; married Menachem Daum (see above)
     Joseph Federman – son of Avram and Aidle
     Pinchas Federman – son of Avram and Aidle

Dzialoszyce, Poland
Zadunska Wola, Poland
Schenectady, NY
Brooklyn, NY
Jerusalem, Israel

To purchase click on: hiding and seeking

Monday, May 19, 2014

Lost in America: A Journey with My Father by Sherwin B. Nuland 2003

"Nuland brings the often-volcanic Nudelman vividly to life and makes it easy to see why this immigrant tailor (in Yiddish the family name means “needleman”) who worked in the city’s garment district had such a searing impact on his son’s life."
from a review by Bruce Fellman in the March 2003 Yale Alumni Magazine

Sherwin Nuland (1930- 2014) was a highly respected surgeon and writer – his 1995 book, How We Die: Reflections on Life’s Final Chapter, won the National Book Award. When he finally turned to writing this engaging memoir his aim was to examine his upbringing in the Bronx as the son of Jewish immigrants. He especially wanted to explore  his debilitating relationship with his father.

Sherwin Nuland’s parents were both born in Europe.  In the Bronx they and their two sons lived in a four room apartment along with the author’s maternal grandmother and his mother’s unmarried sister, Rose. If six people living in such close quarters wasn’t trying enough, adding to the tension were negative feelings his grandmother and Rose had toward Nuland’s father and the negative feelings he had for them. Nuland’s father had an explosive temper which cast a pall over the entire family. Nuland remembers his mother trying to negotiate between the two warring sides, trying to hold the family together.

Throughout the years they had to cope with more than their share of illness and death.  Nuland himself had a serious bout of diphtheria, and his mother died of colon cancer when the author was eleven. His father became more and more debilitated with a shuffling gate and stooped posture, and had such difficulty moving his limbs that he became increasingly dependent on his sons, especially his dutiful but resentful younger son Shepsel. (Sherwin’s Yiddish name.)

In this memoir the author examines and tries to come to terms with the difficult circumstances of his gloom-filled childhood.  A bright and ambitious student, Nuland notes how he was embarrassed by his father’s shtetl roots, his having never learned to write English, his heavily accented English - partly gibberish of his own invention, and his physical disabilities. His father barely made a living and the family relied on money Rose brought in as well as handouts from wealthier relatives.

As he grows older he observes the often large gulf between life in his Yiddish-speaking religiously-observant home and the kind of lives he is exposed to in the home of his friends and at college. Increasingly torn between his family’s needs and the wider world that beckons, the author tries to distance himself from his roots and to position himself for a successful life in America. He and his brother change their last name from Nudelman to Nuland and  the author chooses to attend Yale Medical School instead of staying in New York and going to medical school locally.

Age often begets wisdom. Nuland looks back at his father’s life with more understanding, if not forgiveness. He has painted a detailed and rich portrait of one Jewish immigrant family’s life in New York, both before and after World War II. Their story touches on many of the circumstances that confronted other immigrant parents who could not find their way in America but who were willing to sacrifice so that their children could have a measure of success in the new world.

To read an article about the quota of Jewish students admitted and Jewish teachers hired at medical schools, click here.
To watch a video of Sherwin Nuland discussing Lost in America click here.

Peshe Lutsky
   Vitsche (Violet) Lutsky – daughter of Peshe; married Meyer Nudelman (original family name- Weinberg)
        Maishe Nudelman – son of Vitsche and Meyer
        Harvey Nudelman – son of Vitsche and Meyer
        Sherwin B. Nuland (Nudelman) – son of Vitsche and Meyer; second marriage to Sarah
            Drew Nuland – son of Sherwin
            Toria Nuland – daughter of Sherwin
           Will Nuland – son of Sherwin and Sarah
           Molly Nuland – daughter of Sherwin and Sarah
   Rose Lutsky – daughter of Peshe
   Beattie Lutsky – daughter of Peshe; married Emmanuel Ritter
       Arline Ritter – daughter of Beattie and Emmanuel

Sam (Shmuel Chaim) Simenowitz – nephew of Peshe
Noach Nudelman – father of Meyer (see above)
   Meyer Nudelman – son of Noach; married Vitsche Lutsky (see above)
   Avram Nudelman – son of Noach
Shoil Nudelman – brother of Noach
   Willie (Nuland) Nudelman – son of Shoil

Friends and Acquaintances
Ronald Eisenberg
Dudie Polishook
Jerry Kass
Yosel Asherovsky (Joe Astrove) – married Fanny
 Betty Astrove – daughter of Joe and Fanny
 George Astrove – son of Joe and Fanny
Ralph Astrove – brother of Joe
Leo Hochfeld
Ronald Chapnick
Moses Madonick
Julius Beckenstein
Liebush Lehrer
Ruth Isaacs
Stanley Cohen
Leonard Leibowitz
Frank Gartenberg

Novaradugk, Lithuania
Novoselitz, Bessarabia
Bronx, NY
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Camp Boiberik, New York

Monday, May 5, 2014

Looking for Strangers: The True Story of my Hidden Wartime Childhood by Dori Katz 2013

"This compelling memoir explores the impact of unspeakably traumatic events on familial relationships and the development of identity." from a review by Rachael Dreyer in Library Journal 7/22/2013

Dori Katz, a retired college professor born in Belgium in 1939, spent her entire life curious about her past as a hidden child during World War II and the circumstances surrounding her being hidden. Her father was deported in late 1942. She hardly remembers him, and her mother never wants to talk about those years, often giving vague or contradictory answers to her questions. The experiences she had between the ages of 3 ½ and 5 ½ lie buried until she decides, with much trepidation, to attend a showing of the documentary As If It Were Yesterday about hidden children in Belgium during the war. The film opens a floodgate to both vivid and half-formed memories and strong feelings which she decides to investigate.

What follows is an account of the author’s journey to Belgium to investigate her father’s death and to try to find the Christian family with whom she was placed. Her mother is less than pleased. She keeps asking her daughter why she wants to revisit the past. The burden of having grown up with a mother whose war years had scarred her – she was a widow at the age of 29 – and who continues to try to exert control of the story of their Holocaust past adds to the emotional tensions Katz experiences throughout her investigations.

In Belgium she visits archives where folders on all Jews in wartime Belgium are housed and where she finds information about her father as well as photos. It takes some effort, but she also finds the family who hid her. Although the parents have died, she is reintroduced to two of the children who are very happy to be reunited with her. She asks them about what those years were like. They recount her behavior, including how much her mother’s clandestine visits upset her.

The investigation allows Katz to reclaim much of her submerged past and to come to terms with her present. She realizes that she was two children at once – a Jewish girl named Dori who felt abandoned by her mother, and a Christian girl named Astrid who lived in a small town with alternate sets of parents, brothers and a sister.

She thinks about her father and whether what she’s learned about him makes him at all more real to her. She also tries to understand her mother’s wishes that she not explore her past. Although as she was growing up she often wondered why her mother never kept in contact after the war with the family that hid her, she wonders why she, too, lets the connection slip once she is reunited with them after she worked so hard to find them.  

She ends by writing that it was important for her to embark on the search and to write this memoir – in an effort to make as much sense as she could of a wartime childhood that had a profound effect on the rest of her life.

To read a short account of another Belgian child who was hidden at the age of ten, click here.
To read an article about Belgium finally acknowledging its complicity during the Holocaust, published in 2013, click here.

Family of author's mother
Golda Dychtwald - married Moishe Chaim Katz
   (Astrid) Dori Katz – daughter of Moishe Chaim and Goldie; author
Chaim Dychtwald  - married to Aurelia Zelman; married to second wife Esther
   Fischel Dychtwald – son of Chaim and Aurelia; married to Rachel
       Leah and Abraham  Dychtwald – children of Fischel and Rachel
       Henna Dychtwald – daughter of Chaim and Aurelia
       Golda Dychtwald – daughter of Chaim and Aurelia
Dychtwald cousins:
Nathan and Henna Wunderman
    Bella, Max, and Simon Wunderman – children of Nathan and Henna

Family of author’s father
Ethel Katz
    Joseph Katz – son of Ethel
    Mannes Katz -son of Ethel
    Malka Katz - daughter of Ethel
    Moishe Chaim Katz - son of Ethel; married Golde Dychtwald (see above)
    Berel Katz - son of Ethel
    Devoirah Katz - daughter of Ethel
    Benjamin Katz - son of Ethel

Friends and Acquaintances
Arnold and Helen Golde
David Landau
Maurice Pioro

Jezow, Poland
Svalava, Czechoslovakia
Skierniewice, Poland
Antwerp, Belgium
Brussels, Belgium

Monday, April 21, 2014

Stella by Peter Wyden 1992

 "From Kristallnacht to the Wannsee Conference to the crematoria of Auschwitz, there is hardly a note of sorrow that Wyden does not sound or a scene of terror that he does not paint in telling Stella's grotesque story."  Jonathan Kirsch in a review in the Los Angeles Times, 11/25/92

Peter Wyden (1923-1998), who later regretted changing his last name from Weidenrich, was a German-born Jewish journalist who emigrated from Berlin, Germany with his parents to the US in 1937.  Because of restrictions against Jewish students, he attended the Jewish Goldschmidt School in Berlin with other Jewish Berliners whose parents either hadn’t planned to emigrate, thinking that the Hitler would get his comeuppance soon, or who were trying to emigrate. Luckily, Wyden's father had a life insurance policy whose surrender value could be paid out in dollars and, because his mother was insistent, they had started getting their documents in 1935.

One fellow student at the Goldschmidt School who became notorious during the war was Stella Goldschlag, a stunning vivacious blonde, the only child of doting parents. She became one of a number of greifers, Jewish catchers for the Gestapo, hunting down and turning in “U-Boats” – the term for Jews who were in hiding. She was the most notorious greifer, nicknamed the Blonde Poison.  After the war she was tried, served her time, and then retreated to the anonymity of a location outside of Berlin. Although Wyden had escaped from Germany before the war and hadn’t personally suffered from Stella’s behavior, he remembered her well, and many years later he tracked her down and interviewed her extensively, the last time in 1991.

This informative and thoughtful book takes a close look at Berlin before and during the war, setting the scene that made Stella’s treachery possible and tracing her behavior. He wants to learn all about Stella and her activities. He conducts research in English and in his native German which includes reading trial testimony, interviewing survivors and experts, and eventually interviewing Stella. He is pre-occupied with what it means to be a collaborator and what would drive someone who is Jewish to collaborate with the Nazis. He is willing to give Stella the benefit of the doubt, positing a number of rationales for her behavior. The most important one he cites is that the Nazis manipulate Stella by telling her that if she works for them they won’t deport her parents. But this only explains how Stella falls into being a greifer. Eventually her parents are deported – she refuses for the longest time to accept that they are dead – and continues her work as a greifer right through to the end of the war. You could make an argument that through the rest of the war she is protecting herself.

In fact, many of the survivors the author interviews seem far less willing to condemn Stella than the writer is. Through his discussions and reading, he demonstrates that there are many versions and potential versions of collaborating and that collaborating with the enemy is difficult to define in many cases. Were Jewish doctors collaborators who worked at the clinics in camps and ghettos and who helped decide who was too sick to recover and should be put on the next transport? What about members of the Jewish councils who were often forced to make up the deportation lists?  And what about the Jewish kapos whose job it was to enforce the rules and to keep order in the  camps and ghettos?  What about the Jews who were assigned to work in munitions factories helping the war effort? How do we make distinctions that exonerate some but condemn others?

Wyden’s book is very provocative and thoughtful about these extremely stressful life or death situations. Aside from discussing collaborators, he brings up many morally ambiguous examples of Jews just trying to stay alive. Some were able to bribe officials to get themselves out of the country, or to get their names off of deportation lists, or to get jobs that would protect them from immediate deportation. There were members of the Jewish councils who crossed names off of lists because people they knew came to plead with them and they then had to send others in their places. Some managed to get food or contraband from secret sources.

Over and over, the survivors Wyden interviewed were not willing to say that Stella should have been shot. And they reminded Wyden that because he was able to get out, he hadn’t been tested.

This book includes photos, a List of Interviewees, a Note on Sources, a Select Bibliography, and an Index.

Click here to read a posted review on this blog of Cioma Schonhaus's  memoir The Forger:

To access a cite that has contemporary photos and eye-witness accounts of what happened in Berlin during World War II, click here.
To read an article about the moral dilemmas faced by Jewish doctors in camps and ghettos, click here.

Maximilian Weidenrich
Erich Weidenreich – son of Maximilian; married Helen (Leni) Silberstein (Stein)
     Peter Wyden – son of Erich and Helen
         Ronald Wyden – son of Peter
Franz Weidenreich – son of Maximillian
Max Brahn – uncle ?
     Richard Weidenreich – son of Maximilian; married to Marie
         Siegfried and Walter Weidenreich – sons of Richard and Marie

Rafael Zernick
     Carl Silberstein – son-in-law of Rafael`
         Helen Silberstein – daughter of Carl

    Ursula Finke – distant cousin
    Hans Finke – brother of Ursula

Friends and Acquaintances
Gunther Abrahamson
Zvi Abrahamson
Leo Baeck
Siegfried Baruch
Herbert Baum
Lili Baumann (Hart)
Renate Baumann
Gad Beck
Margot Beck – twin sister of Gad
Isaak Behar
Heinz Behrend
Jancsi Bekessy (Hans Habe)
Monika Berzel
Bruno Bettelheim
Bruno Blau
Michael Blumenthal
Anneliese-Ora Borinski
Natan and Ursula Celnik
Elie A. Cohen
Kurt Cohn
Ernst and Erwin Cramer
Marion Dann (Weiner)
Ruth Danziger
Inge Deutschkron
Moritz Dobrin
Georg Eichelhardt
Gerd Ehrlich
Marion Ehrlich – daughter of Gerd
Marion Ehrlich – sister of Gerd
Wolfgang Edelstein
Cordelia Edvardson
Leopold Adolphus Ellenburg – cousin of Gerhard Goldschlag
Sophie Erdberg
Sigfreid Falk
Hans Faust
Jutta Feig
Eva Fischer
Eva Fogelman
Ernst Fontheim
Max Frankel
Felix Frankfurter
Sigmund Freud
 Anna Freud
Edith Friedmann
Bella Fromm
Peter Froelich (Gay)
Hans Galinski
Szloma and Julia Gejdenson
Sam Gejdenson – son of Szloma and Julia
Margot Goerke
Gerhard and Toni Goldschlag
Stella Goldschlag – daughter of Gerhard and Toni – married to Manfred Kubler
 Yvonne Meissl – daughter of Stella
Ernst and Lenore Goldschmidt
 Rudi Goldschmidt – son of Ernst and Lenore
Bruno Goldstein
Ernst and Herta Goldstein
Heinz Guenhaus (Harold Greene)
Inge Grun
Regina Guterman
Jacob Gutfeld
Manfred Guttmann
Moritz and Hildegard Henschel
Eugene Herman-Friede
Abel J. Herzberg
Eric Homburger (Erikson)
Flora Hogman
Hans Holstein
Heinz Holstein – brother of Hans
Chaim Horn
Eva Isaac-Krieger
Gertrud Isaakson
Rolf Isaakson – son of Gertrud; second husband of Stella Goldschlag
Inge Jacoby (Reitz)
Carl Joseph
Rolf Joseph
Gerda Kachel
Joza Karas
Iwan Katz
Heinz (Henry) Kissinger
Frieda de Klein
Ted Koppel
Philipp Kozower
Edith Kramer-Freund
Hans Krasas
Kurt and Nanette Kubler
Manfred Kubler  - son of Kurt and Nanette; first husband of Stella Goldschlag
Edith Latte (Wendt)
Primo Levi
Margot Levy
Kurt Lewin
Gerda Lewinnek
Elly Lewkowitz
Inge Lewkowitz
Robert Jay Lifton
Margot Lincyzk
Karl Loesten
Hans Oskar DeWitt Loewenstein
Richard Lowenherz
Gerhard Lowenthal
Inge Lustig
Walter Lustig
Heinz (Heino) Meissl
Heinz Meyer
Martha Mosse
Benjamin Murmelstein
Dr. Herschel (Heinrich) von Neumann
Ida Nocke
Georg and Lotte Nomberg
 Fredi Nomberg (Yair Noam) – son of George and Lotte
Harry Nomberg – son of Georg and Lotte; married to Beatrice
 Sharon Nomberg – daughter of Georg and Lotte
Max and Ruth Nussbaum
Alex Page
Joachim Prinz
Paul Regensburger
Ismar Reich
Max Reschke
Ilse Rewald
Guther Rischowsky
Martin Roman
Chaim Rumkowski
Gunther Ruschin
Alice Safirstein
Markus Safirstein
Bella Savran
Maximillian Samuel
Marion Sauerbrunn (House)
Harry Schwarzer
Klaus Scheurenberg
Klaus Scheye
Harry Schnapp
Cioma Schonhaus (in this book called by the pseudonym Guenther Rogoff)
Salomon Schott
Julius Siegel
 Karola Ruth Siegel Westheimer
Hans Sonntag
Walter Storozum
Lieselotte Streszak
Wolfgang Szepansky
Gerry Waldston
Lore Weinberg (Shelley)
Elie Wiesel
Simon Wiesenthal
Rudoph Wolf and Hertha Eichelhardt Wolf
Francis Wolff
Beila Wollstein
Abrahm Zajdmann
Esther Zajdmann (Seidman) – daughter of Abraham
Moritz Zajdmann (Seidman) – son of Abraham
Edith Ziegler
Robert Zeiler

Mislowicz, Upper Silesia
Edenkoben, Germany
Coberg, Germany
Berlin, Germany
Goldschmidt School, Berlin
Wilmersdorf district, Berlin
Levetzowstrasse Synagogue, Berlin
Augsburg, Germany
Frankfurt, Germany
Theresienstadt, Czechoslovakia

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Forger: An Extraordinary Story of Survival in Wartime Berlin by Cioma Schonhaus, translated from the German by Alan Bance, edition in English published in 2007

"In the vast literature devoted to the Jewish experience under the Nazis, Mr. Schönhaus’s slim book deserves a special place, as much for its tone as for the remarkable events it records: a catalog of hairbreadth escapes, clever ruses and brazen coups." from a review by William Grimes in the New York Times 1/23/2008

The Forger is fascinating to read. Although it is about Cioma Schonhaus’ distressing story of surviving in Berlin during World War II, the memoir is full of dark, absurdist humor which reflects the personality of the author. Many times observations he makes and the jokes he tells are quotes from his father who lives on in his memory and who serves as a beacon in dangerous times. The humor is undercut by the stressful set of circumstances he finds himself in and by the fact that his father is gone. Schonhaus was only nineteen years old and an only child when both his father and mother were deported.

Schonhaus avoids being deported because he knows people who know people who get him work in a factory that is deemed vital to the war effort. When they finally force him out, through his contacts he joins the resistance where he works as an invaluable graphic artist altering identity cards and passbooks for fellow Jews.

In the course of his work he alters documents for his own use, fashions multiple identities, lives in a series of rooms and apartments, and is constantly inventing and reinventing his life story in order to navigate as safely as possible in the world populated with potential German informers and Nazis. He tries for a bit of normalcy, often eating in restaurants off-limits to Jews, and enjoying the company of women.  His intelligence, his high tolerance for danger, and his luck contribute to his surviving the war.

A very interesting and a large part of the story he tells is about the importance of a number of Protestant clergy and their parishioners who worked in the resistance movement as members of the Confessing Church. In doing so they risked their lives to save many Jews, and, in fact, some were caught and were shot; others were jailed. He explains that parishioners handed in their identity cards which they then reported as lost. These documents were then handed over to Schonhaus so that he could alter them. Everyone involved in the process was impressed with his skill.

He also writes about a number of incidents where German citizens, not connected to the resistance movement, protect him. It is clear that, based on his experiences, he wants his readers to know that not every German was out to rid the nation of its Jewish residents. But eventually his identity becomes known, and he escapes by bike to Switzerland despite having been told by any number of people that it would be just about impossible to do because of the thicket of border patrols. Again, due to ingenuity and luck, as well as determination and stamina, he manages to escape into Switzerland. He settles in Basel where he starts a business, marries, and raises a family.

The last chapter consists of a list of many of the people he had known and worked with in Berlin and their ultimate fate.

To watch a thirty minute film interview with Cioma Schonhaus called Oifn Weg, click here.

Enta Marie Berman
     Fanja Berman – daughter of  Ente Marie; married Boris Schonhaus
             Samson (Cioma) Schonhaus – son of Fanja and Boris
    Adi Berman – son of Ente Marie
    Meier Berman – son of Ente Marie; married to Sophie

Friends and Acquaintances
Michael Kestinger
Walter Majut
Ludel Frank
Jonny Syna
Wolfgang Pander
Gunther Heilborn
Lotte Windmuller
Curt Eckstein
Walter Prager – married to Nadja
Julius Fliess
   Dorothee Fliess – daughter of Julius
Det Kassriel
Karl Wiesner
Paul Levi
Eva Goldschmidt
Gerhard Lowenthal
Ruth and Werner Schlesinger
Walter Heyman
Friedrich Gorner
Manfred Hochhauser
Franz Kaufmann
   Angelica Kaufmann – daughter of Franz
Ludwig Lichtwitz
Werner Scharff
Hanni Hollerbusch
Stella Goldschlag
Lotte Blumenfeld
Leon Blum
Ernst Hallerman

Minsk, Belarus
Berlin, Germany
Rishon LeZion, Israel
Bielefeld, Germany
Basel, Switzerland
Biel-Benken, Switzerland
Majdanek Concentration Camp, Poland
Theresienstadt Concentration Camp, Czech Republic
Basel, Switzerland
Biel-Benken, Switzerland

Monday, March 17, 2014

Traveling Heavy: a memoir in between journeys by Ruth Behar 2013

"The writing is emotional, nostalgic, thoughtful, heavily spiced with Spanish, and peppered with black and white photographs." from a review posted on The Jewish Book Council blog by Miriam Bradman Abrahams

Ruth Behar, anthropology professor at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and recipient of a
MacArthur Award, has written an interesting memoir that focuses on her sense of identity as a Jewish Cuban immigrant in America. Her father’s family was originally from Turkey and her mother’s family was from Poland. She explains that the marriage between a Sephardi and an Ashkenazi in Cuba was considered a mixed marriage and was not common.

Behar focuses on the geography of her life – seen through the lens of an anthropologist. She writes about her life in the United States where she arrived after a short detour to Israel once her family fled Cuba at the time of the revolution. She spent a childhood during which she felt most painfully robbed of her language which is such a large part of identity. She also writes of her life as an academic in Ann Arbor where she has put down roots in American soil.

One of the most interesting and entertaining sections of the book is one that deals with the author’s Sephardic family name: Behar. In 2004 when she receives an invitation from a man named Iako Behar, a Jewish Bulgarian living in Mexico, to a “Behar Summit” in Bejar, Spain, she decides to attend. All those named Behar, Bejar, Vejar, Bejarano, Becherano that the organizer can find have been invited and over sixty attend from all over the world. The town, which has a former Jewish section, is like many other small towns now devoid of Jews, and trying to link any Behars with the town and with each other is the subject of many conversations. In addition, a Mexican Jewish genealogist, Alejandro Rubenstein, who was invited to speak, presents more food for thought about the origin of the family name – a thought-provoking lesson in naming for anyone interested in genealogy.

Interested in her Ashkenazi roots, and in possession of an original handwritten copy of the Yizkor book from her grandmother’s town, she visits Poland and in some ways has an eerily similar experience in the small town of Goworowo to the one that she had in Bejar, Spain. Whether expelled or killed at the time of the Inquisition in Spain, or rounded up and killed by the Nazis in Poland, Jews who had inhabited these towns were invisible ghosts, barely acknowledged in the towns, though a Jewish museum was being built in Bejar.

Behar’s ties to Cuba are strong, despite the fact that she left when she was quite young, and she returned as early as 1979 as soon as scholars were given an opening to travel there. Much of her anthropological work has been based in Cuba and she has taken student groups there. She gives an interesting overview of living conditions in Cuba today which she contrasts to the way she lives in the states. She also  writes about the Cuban Jewish community which was the subject of another book (the subject of an earlier post - see below) that she published in 2007.

To read an earlier post of Ruth Behar's book about The Cuban Jewish community, click here.
To read an article from the New York Times about reclaiming Spanish citizenship, click here.

Ruth Behar has respected the privacy of many family members by not citing their names. In some instances she states she changed their names.

Alberto Behar
    Ruth Behar – daughter of Albertico; married to David; author
       Gabriel – son of Ruth and David
    Morris Isaac Behar – son of Alberto
Abraham Levin – author’s maternal great grandfather
Hannah Gallant – author’s maternal great grandmother

Friends and Acquaintances
Gedale and Hannah Grynberg – Goworowo, Poland
    Yitzhak Grynberg – son of Gedale and Hannah
David Melul – Barcelona, family from Morocco
Jose Levy

Those whose names she met that the author met at the Behar summit:
Iako Behar – Bulgarian Jew living in Mexico; son Mario, grandsons Moris and Yaakov
Yakov Behar and son Ronen – Canada
Craig Behar – Arizona
Bob Behar – Washington
Marco Bejanaro – Israel
Yehuda Behar – Israel; married to Anat
Eugenia Behar – Mexico; niece Mayra; nephew Ezra Bejar, California
Caroline Behar – Paris
Andrew Behar – Los Angeles; grandparents from Ankara, Turkey
Richard Behar – New York City; cousin of Andrew; grandparents from Ankara, Turkey
Leon Behar – Colombia, now South Africa; married to Marta; son Alberto
Claudia Behar – Paris; parents from Egypt

Queens, NY
Canarsie, NY
Miami Beach, Florida
Silivri, Turkey
Miami Beach, Florida
Agramonte, Cuba
Havana, Cuba
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Goworowo, Poland

Monday, March 3, 2014

My Dear Hindalla, Remember Me: Letters from a Lost World, May 1937 – January 1940 by Marlene Englander 2012

"A moving and beautiful true story of love and friendship unfolds through letters written between two young people." from a review by Leslie Shafran in the Cleveland Jewish News 11/1/2012

This large format paperback book consists mainly of a series of 28 letters, reproduced in Yiddish and translated into English (by the recipient), written by Nachum Berman to Hinda Zarkey. Having grown up in the small town of Widze, which was then in Poland but is now in Belarus, Hinda Zarkey relocated to the larger town of Seduva in Lithuania in 1935 when she was twelve years old to attend junior high school. It was there, where she lived with her mother’s sister and her family, that she met Nachum Berman who was a young pharmacist working in her aunt’s pharmacy.  In 1937 she immigrated with her aunt’s family to Cleveland, Ohio. Berman stayed behind, continuing to work in the pharmacy.

Berman wrote regularly and Hinda Zarkey responded, but only his letters to her survive. The letters are part of an ongoing conversation between the two. Berman tells her what books he’s reading, what plays and movies he’s seen, how work is going, how he hopes to spend his vacation. He makes suggestions to her about what she might like to read and he encourages her in her studies. He also chats about people he’s seen who send their regards and asks her questions about life in America. But as time moves on his letters take on, first a melancholy tone, and then one of desperation. For example, he writes early on about the pleasure he receives from a radio he’s bought, but then later he writes about being glued to the radio in order to follow the awful news. He is looking for a way out and knows it’s not going to be easy.

Marlene Englander, Hinda Zarkey Saul's daughter, has created this book out of Nachum Berman’s letters to her mother to which she has added a lot of ancillary material. She and her mother annotated the letters which are included as endnotes.  She also included many family photos as well as introductory material explaining her motivation for working on and publishing the book. She also gives the readers some background material on towns that play a major role in the story as well as an abbreviated family history. Crucial to Englander’s immersion in her mother’s story is a “roots” trip she took in 2010 where, most significant  to her, she visited Widze and Seduva. Back home she tried to find more specific information about the fate of her mother’s family who stayed behind in Widze and the fate of Nachum Berman. She includes facsimiles of documents filed at Yad Vashem and an extensive list of the sources she consulted for her research.

This book has an immediacy not often found in Holocaust memoirs because it includes letters in the original Yiddish as well as in translation. The everyday discussions in the letters bring the 1930s to life in Nachum Berman's corner of the world which is enhanced by the accompanying photos.

To read an article about the Holocaust in Lithuania click here.

Zvi Hirsch Kagan – married Doba Himmelfarb
    Chana Kagan – daughter of Zvi Hirsch and Doba; married Alchonan Zarchi
         Hinda Kagan – daughter of Chana and Alchonan; married Jack Saul
             Marlene Saul – daughter of Hinda and Jack; married Jon Englander
              Kenneth and Howard Saul – sons of Hinda and Jack
         Gita Kagan – daughter of Chana and Alchonan
    Goda  Kagan – daughter of Zvi Hirsch and Doba; married Samuel Bardon
         Yvette Bardon – daughter of Goda and Samuel; married Shale Sonkin
     Rachel, Isaac, Joseph Kagan – children of Zvi Hirsch and Doba

Leib and Lifsha Zarchi – parents of Alchonan Zarchi
Rachmiel Gordon – his mother was Zvi Hirsch Kagan’s sister
     Ralph and Gloria Gordon – children of Rachmiel

Friends and Acquaintances
Faiva and Freida Berman
     Nochum Berman – son of Faiva and Freida
Aron Bank
Shlomo and Liuba Brett
     Milke Brett – daughter of Shlomo and Liuba
Moshe Bret – son of Shlomo and Liuba
Zalman Davidowitz
     Sioma Davidowitz – son of Zalman
Velvel Feifert
Yudel Friedlander
     Elke Friedlander – daughter of Yudel
Nechama Hak
Malke Kaplan
Freidele Mel
Shaya and Chava Mellman
      Lola Mellman – daughter of Shaya and Chava; married Myron Friedman
      Ania Mellman – daughter of Shaya and Chava
Raisa Payim
Shulamit Rabinowitz
Bassia Ulfskyer
Herschel Ulfsky – brother of Bassia
Shlomo and Liuba Brett
Gnessa Yosem

Ponevezh, Lithuania
Widze, Poland (now Vidzy, Belarus)
Seduva, Lithuania
Cleveland, Ohio
South Euclid, Ohio
Shaker Heights, Ohio
Gary, Indiana

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Family: Three Journeys into the Heart of the Twentieth Century by David Laskin 2013

David Laskin (b.1953) has woven together a tapestry of engrossing stories about his large extended family, starting with his great-great grandfather Shimon Dov HaKohen, a torah scribe, and his wife Beyle Shapiro who lived and raised their six children in Volozhin in Belarus. In the course of the book, Laskin follows their descendents along three geographical paths: Eastern Europe, America, and Israel.

Even though Laskin grew up in the New York City suburbs near his immigrant grandfather and some of his grandfather’s siblings, he knew nothing about their early lives, neither in Eastern Europe nor in America where they immigrated over the course of the first decade of the 20th century. When he got old enough to make decisions for himself, he distanced himself from his Jewish heritage and the world represented by his immigrant relatives. A call to Israel at the suggestion of his mother to ask a cousin to verify the accuracy of a family "legend"  piqued his interest in his family’s history and started him on a quest to learn everything he could.

What’s truly satisfying about reading The Family is being able to follow Laskin’s highly readable prose where he integrates history from many sources and places his relatives in the context of history. In the metropolitan New York area, where the bulk of Laskin's family originally settled, we read about the businesses they established and how they lived out versions of the American Dream. For example, he gives us many interesting details about the oldest sibling, his great aunt Itel Rosenthal, who founded and ran the Maidenform Bra company along with her husband. But before we learn about her great successes as a capitalist, he fills in details about her early life in Eastern Europe, sketching in the political climate, the growing restrictions on Jews, and her risky, active membership in the Bund.
The most moving sections are those having to do with his relatives who were killed in the Holocaust. He is shocked to find out he had relatives who had been murdered and wondered why no one had ever talked about it. He is aided in researching their stories because the cousin he had originally contacted in Israel had in his possession almost three hundred letters in Yiddish sent to his mother, Sonia, who had immigrated to Palestine in 1932. Many of the letters, some of which are reproduced, were from Sonia's two sisters who were stranded with their families and their mother in Eastern Europe. To learn as much as he could about their end, Laskin embarked on a multi-year project which involved two trips to Israel to meet with Sonia’s surviving children, and a “roots” trip to Belarus and Lithuania with some of those relative as well as others. He also did archival research, trying to track down whatever he could find about those who had been murdered.

One of the strengths of this book is that Laskin’s family members are fleshed-out individuals, but they are also stand-ins for many others: the waves of Eastern European immigrants who, like them, settled on the overcrowded Lower East Side of New York and worked their way “up” to other parts of the city and the suburbs. In narrating Sonia and her husband Chaim’s life as early pioneers in Palestine, he provides historical background about the British Mandate as well as the physical conditions of early settlements to help readers understand what it was like to be an early pioneer.

And in investigating the murders of his relatives during the Holocaust he sketches in the geography and politics of World War II as it impacted on his relatives in Volozhin, Rakov and Vilna, including in great detail the Nazi plan for wiping out the Jewish population in Vilna where one of Sonia’s sisters and her family lived. He describes in detail the Vilna ghetto, the forest at Ponar, the Einsatzgruppen, and the slave labor camp at Klooga.

The Family: Three Journeys into the heart of the Twentieth Century has much to offer. Laskin has recreated his family in a way that is both intellectually and emotionally satisfying.

This book contains a family tree with dates of birth and death, many family photos, a two-page glossary of "foreign" words, extensive notes which include sources he consulted keyed to text pages and an index.

To read about the history of the Jewish Lower East Side, click here.
To look at interesting photos from the Jewish cemetery in Seduva, click here.

Author’s mother’s paternal line
Chaim HaKohen
    Shimon Dov Hakohen, - son of Chaim; married Beyle Shapiro
         Avram Akiva Kaganovich (Abraham Cohen) – son of Simon Dov and Beyle; married Gishe Sore (Sarah); married
             Itel Kaganovich (Ida Cohen) – daughter of Avram and Gishe Sore; married Wolf (William) Rosenthal
                  Lewis and Beatrice Rosenthal – children of Ida and William
             Ettal Kaganovich (Ethel Cohen) – daughter of Avram and Gishe Sore; married Samuel Epstein
                 Bernard, and David Epstein – sons of Ethel and Samuel
                 Inda Epstein – daughter of Ethel and Samuel; married Irving Goldfarb
                        Gail Goldfarb – daughter of Inda and Irving; married Richard Cohen
             Hersch Kaganovich (Harry Cohen) – son of Avram and Gishe Sore; married Sallie Bodker
                 Melvin Cohen – son of Harry and Sallie
             Shmuel Kaganovich (Sam Cohen) –son of Avram and Gishe Sore; married Celia Zimmerman; 2nd marriage to Gisri Sore Galpierjn (Gladys Helperin)
                 Dorothy and Sidney Cohen– twin children of Sam and Celia
                 Lester Cohen – son of Sam and Celia
                 Marvin Cohen – son of Sam and Celia
                        Gary Cohen – son of Marvin; married to Lori
                 Leona Cohen – daughter of Sam and Gladys; married Meyer Laskin
                        Robert Laskin – son of Leona and Meyer; married to Sue
                               Isaac and Gabriel Laskin – sons of Robert and Sue
                        Daniel Laskin – son of Leona and Meyer
                        David Laskin – son of Leona and Meyer; married to Kate O’Neill; author Emily, Sarah, and Alice Laskin; daughters of David and Kate
                        Jonathan Laskin – son of Leon and Meyer
           Chaim Yasef  Kaganovich (Hyman Cohen) – son of Avram and Gishe Sore; married Anna Raskin
                Barbara Cohen – daughter of Hyman and Anna; married Morton Weisenfeld
           Chana Kaganovich – daughter of Avram and Gishe Sore
            Leie Kaganovich (Lillie Cohen) – daughter of Avram and Gishe Sore; married Joseph Salwitz
   Yasef Bear Kaganovich (Joseph Cohn) – son of Shimon and Beyle; married
to Ethel
                       Devorah Bayer – great-great granddaughter of Yasef Bear and Ethel
            Shalom Tvi Kaganovich (Sholom Kahanowicz) – son of Shimon Dov and Beyle; married Beyle Botwinik
                Shula Kaganovich – daughter of Shalom and Beyle
                Doba Kaganovich – daughter of Shalom and Beyle; married to Shabtai Senitski     Shimon and Wolf Kaganovich – sons of Doba and Shabtai
                Etl Kaganovich – daughter of Shalom and Beyle; married to Khost Goldstein
                      Mirile and Doba – daughters of Etl and Khost
               Sonia Kaganovich – daughter of Shalom and Beyle; married to Chaim Kaganovich
                      Leah Kaganovich – daughter of Sonia and Chaim; married to Avi
                            Galit Kaganovich Weise – daughter of Leah and Avi
                     Arie Kaganovich – son of Sonia and Chaim
                     Shimon Kaganovich – son of Sonia and Chaim; married to Riki
                     Amir Kaganovich – son of Shimon and Riki
                     Benny Kaganovich – son of Sonia and Chaim; married to Orna
                             Rotem Kaganovich – son of Benny and Orna
               Feige Kaganovich – daughter of Shalom and Beyle
     Arie Kaganovich – son of Shimon and Beyle; married Leah
          Chana Kaganovich – daughter of Arie and Leah; married Meir Finger
          Yishayahu Kaganovich – son of Arie and Leah; married Henia
                     Leah Kaganovich – daughter of Yishayahu and Henia
          Chaim Kaganovich – son of Arie and Leah; married Sonia Kaganovich (first cousin; see above
                     Shlomo – son of Leah and second husband
     Leah Golda Kaganovich – daughter of Shimon and Beyle; married Shmuel Rubenstein
          Rose Rubenstein Einziger – daughter of Leah Golda and Shmuel
                     Laurie Einziger Bellet – daughter of Rose
                     Betty Rubenstein – daughter of Leah Golda and Shmuel
                     Sol Rubenstein – son of Leah Golda and Shmuel
                            Susan Rubenstein Schechet – daughter of Sol
          Louis Rubenstein – son of Leah Golda and Shmuel
    Herman Kaganovich (Cohn) – son of Shimon Dov and Beyle; married Libbie
          Leonard and Seymour Cohn – sons of Herman and Libbie

   Zelig Kost – nephew of Gishe Sore Kagan (see above); 2nd marriage to Shoshanna Buckerman
     Esther Kost – daughter of Zelig and first wife
     Estelle Kost – daughter of Zelig and Shoshanna
Moses (Moe) Rosenthal – brother of William Rosenthal(see above)
Masha Rosenthal Hammer – sister of William Rosenthal (see above)
Harry Raskin – brother of Anna Raskin (see above)
Tsipora Alperovich – a relative of Beyle Botwinik (see above)
Hayim Yehoshua Botwinik – brother of Beyle Botwinik; married to Esther
Yitzchak Senitski – brother of Shabtai Senitsky (see above)
Cousins of author – exact connection not clear: Sallie Cohen, married to Michael; Lenore Cohen, married to Marvin Sleisenger; Jeff Cohen; Dick Salwitz, married to Kathryn; Jay Epstein; Adrian Epstein; Rochelle Rogart; Chuck Cohen and son Laurence; Bert Cohen

Friends and Acquaintances
Jack Zizmor
George Horn
Harry Miller
Joe Feller
Al Siegel
Yitzhak and Leah Cohen
Israel Helprin
Jacob Gens          

The forest at Ponar
Foehrenwald Displaced Persons Camp
Hoboken, NJ
The Bronx
Lower East Side
Kvutza Har Kinneret
Moshava Kinneret
Kfar Vitkin
Tel Aviv
Stamford, Conn.
New Haven, Conn.
Palm Beach, Florida