Category Archives: Holocaust/Genocide

Review: The Train to Warsaw

The Train to Warsaw: A Novel, by Gwen Edelman, is an interesting work of historical fiction, based on two characters’ impressions of the city on a postwar return trip.

Jascha and Lilka have returned to Warsaw after having escaped the Warsaw Ghetto and the atrocities and horrors of World War II. They left individually but managed to reunite years later, after the war.

Jascha is a writer and has been invited to give a reading in Warsaw, forty years after escaping. He is reluctant to go, because deep in his heart he knows that the city is not the same, and that nothing could ever replace what once was.

Lilka, on the other hand, wants to return, wants to put to rest the memories of what occurred, and the positive memories she has of a city that once was. She feels that it will be a cathartic experience and encourages Jascha to attend. He finally gives in, and so their journey begins. In the dead of a cold and snowy winter they travel back to the country they left, and back to memories, both stifled and constant.

The dialogue in the book is written without quotation marks, which made it difficult to realize who was speaking, at times. I found myself having to go back and reread some of the dialogue to ascertain who was the one talking. This made it a more difficult read than necessary.

Their journey through Warsaw, through streets once walked, paths, sights and buildings once so familiar, AND through the area that was the Warsaw Ghetto, became very arduous for them due to the changes that have occurred. The changes of time have purposely been erased. Lilka has difficulty dealing with that, whereas Jascha knew, beforehand, what to more or less expect. He was cognizant of the reality.

Within that concept, the book depicts the individuals that Jascha and Lilka encounter with an indifference in regards to the past. Those individuals either do not want to remember the past, or still harbor antisemitism, or are too young too remember it, or were born a decade or two after the war and do not know the true history behind it. The city’s inhabitants are trying to move forward without bringing their history with them. They want to leave the emotional suitcases and other baggage behind.

The novel takes place on a train, in a hotel room and in the city, itself. With each passing moment, the discussions revolve around the past. Enfolded in those discussions are secrets from the past, that slowly come to be revealed, by both of them.

I felt the book was a bit drab and it dragged on. Of course, Jascha didn’t want to be there to begin with, and Lilka’s concepts keep referring to “what once was”, and she couldn’t let go of those perceptions. She was in shock seeing things for what they currently were, and her depressed state grew even deeper, explaining a lot of the attitude projected in The Train to Warsaw: A Novel.

I am sure that Edelman’s intent was to enhance how events of a former time affect individuals displaced from their homeland, leaving them feeling melancholy and miserable. The individuals can have a constant yearning for home, leaving a void within them. If that was her intention, she succeeded in that respect.

With all of that being said, in my opinion, the novel was okay.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Holocaust/Genocide, Jewish History, Lorri's Blog

Jews and Kayaking

red kayak1

While walking at the lake, yesterday, I saw a man in a red kayak, gliding across the water. For some reason, I began to wonder if there were any Jews who were well-known in the kayaking world.

I know my father would often go kayaking at Prospect Lake in Brooklyn or Central Park in New York City. But, he wasn’t a famous individual. Famous to me, YES, to the world of kayaking, NO.

kayak2

I came home and did a search for “Jews and kayaking”. The Jewish Virtual Library lists four men who have earned world recognition for their efforts in the sport. Their biographies regarding kayaking include the Olympics and other world kayaking events, that put them at the top of the field.

This article caught my eye: Immanuel Braverman, a Holocaust survivor, also kayaked white-waters.

Did you know that about 8,000 Jews were smuggled out of Denmark, and many were on kayaks.

Please excuse the graininess of the photos. I had to zoom my lens in quite a bit in order to get the captures.

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Filed under Holocaust/Genocide, Jewish History, Judaism, Lorri's Blog, Photography

Review: The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank

The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank: A Novel, by Ellen Feldman, is an interesting novel of the Holocaust written from the unique perspective of what might have been. It is a poignant and compelling story line, which includes haunting remnants of the first love between Anne Frank and Peter van Pels. The historical novel kept me captured through the last page.

Feldman details the historical, and little known facts regarding the diary of Anne Frank. She gives the audience a vision of “what if”. What if Peter had survived? What would his life have been like if he had survived? The flow of the story shows how the boy, Peter, grew into an adult. Feldman is extremely brilliant and descriptive in detailing his journey from child to man. There are emotional illuminations, expanding on how he developed into a man who came to hate himself, through his own guilt, denial, assimilation, new identity, and fear.

The novel leaves one to wonder whether promises made as a teenager should be kept as we grow and mature. The author analyzes that factor and how it plays into Peter’s life. The analogies in the novel are compelling, the fear often causing a catastrophe of Self, so to speak.

Peter’s attempt to forget his past, and start anew after emigrating to America, only dig him deeper into the roots he tries to blot out. He marries, has children, yet he vividly cultivates memories of his past through flashbacks, and entwines them in his mind. Some memories are real and some are imagined. All are after-effects of the Holocaust. We watch him deteriorate before our eyes, and can envision his actions through Feldman’s masterful word imagery…such as when he discovers Anne Frank’s Diary has been published.

The events that follow that discovery are a study on the fear Holocaust victims carried with them…hiding, moving, whispering, running. The book became Peter’s stepping stone backwards, forwards, and backwards again into fear and loathing.

Having read over 1,000 Holocaust books, I know that there were survivors who took the same course as Peter, in order to try to move forward with life. People do what they have to, emotionally, in order to journey through life, after emerging from a horrendous situation.

I was intrigued by the information contained in this amazing historical novel. There are scenarios regarding the events leading to the lawsuit filed against Otto Frank, disputing some of the facts that were permitted to be given creative license in the play and film.

The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank might not be a book for everyone. Some people do not like fictional Holocaust accounts. I found Ellen Feldman’s writing to be brilliant, cutting to the core of emotions and logic. The book is infused with incredible word-paintings, and historical relevancy, leaving the reader with much to ponder.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Historical Fiction, Holocaust/Genocide, Judaism, Lorri's Blog

Skirball Cultural Center

The Skirball Cultural Center in Beverly Hills, CA, is a place I frequently visit. I go there for special events, exhibits, and to just feel surrounded by an atmosphere devoted to Jewish history and cultural arts.

This is the front entrance to the Skirball.

Near the front entrance.

The pathway to the parking lot as you exit the Skirball.

For updates on upcoming exhibits, events, etc., visit their website.

All photography is my copyright and may not be reproduced without my express permission.

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Filed under Holocaust/Genocide, Jewish History, Judaism, Lorri's Blog, Uncategorized

Review: Last Train to Istanbul

lasttrainto If you like reading historical fiction regarding Turkey, then Last Train to Istanbul, by Ayse Kulin, is a book I highly recommend. I, personally, could not put it down once I started reading it.

The story revolves around Selva and Sabiha, two sisters, and how their lives take dramatic turns in Ankara, Turkey. Their father is a retired government official, and a man who is greatly respected. The family is Muslim. This presents a problem within the ideals of the family unit.

Selva falls in love with a Jewish man named Rafael Alfandari. His family is also highly regarded and have been physicians of the court for many centuries.
Selva’s father disowns her, casts her out from the family for Selva and Rafael leave Istanbul for France, where they feel they will have a better life. Within that mode, events cause their lives to take unforeseen actions, actions that are dangerous and life-threatening.

Sabiha marries within the circle of aristocracy, to a man named Macit who works for the Turkish Foreign Ministry. This fact would prove fruitful in the coming years. She was a devoted sister, and her actions illuminate that.

As the story line unfolds, the reader is privy to historical facts and events leading up to Turkey’s involvement in the evacuations of Jews from Paris to Istanbul in 1943. This reader was captivated by the actions presented to me throughout the pages. I knew little about Turkey during World War II and was enlightened as to the efforts that were put forth by the “neutral” country to rescue Jews. Jews were welcomed into the arms of the country, and not just Jews of Turkish descent, but also non-Turkish Jews.

From the underground and resistance groups, to the Turkish offices of Paris and Marseilles, to the Turkish Foreign Ministry, everyone bands together in order to get Rafael and his family out of France. Selva has opportunities to leave without him, but is determined to stay with him through all costs.

We are given perspectives from both of the sisters, within the framework of a double narrative. The political situation in Turkey is demonstrated with forthrightness. Society, as a whole is well-depicted. Life in France is presented with all of its nuances and social qualities. The war and how it affects both Selva and Sabiha is realistically and believably shown.

The Last Train to Istanbul
was a page-turner for me, and a novel filled with extreme historical details, which were obviously highly researched by Kulin, a well-esteemed Turkish writer. Her efforts did not go unnoticed, by me. I am a World War II history fan, and was given new insight into the dynamics that Turkey played (although “neutral”) in the assistance of rescuing Jews.

I liked the aspect of family, and how the two sisters struggle within their own environments to not only survive, but to keep in touch under adverse conditions. Selva’s concern for her family in Ankara is strongly written, as well as her thoughts regarding her father and his disowning her. Sabiha’s concern for her sister is also deeply depicted, and her struggles to bring Selva and her family back home seem quite plausable due to her husband’s influential connections.

Family dynamics are explored in depth, along with social stigmas and politics. Jewish Turkey is illuminated, and that fact gave this reader much insight into the country prewar and events leading up to, and during, the horrific time of war.

The author’s use of the strength of love and survival under the duress and adversity of war is a definite foundation of the story line. I totally became involved within the pages of Last Train to Istanbul. Brava to Ayse Kulin, and to the translator, John W. Baker.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Historical Fiction, Holocaust/Genocide, Jewish History, Lorri's Blog, Novels

Review: Litvaks and Lithuanians Confront the Past

zagare As the great-granddaughter of Lithuanian grandparents, both on my maternal and paternal side, Zagare: Litvaks and Lithuanians Confront the Past, by Sara Manobla, is a book that I had wanted to read when I first found out about its publication.

I felt it would offer me historical information regarding the Jews of Zagare, and therefore, the Jewish communities throughout Lithuania, during World War II. I was not disappointed. I can not say that I enjoyed the book, because the subject matter is a sober one, a somber one, with facts that surfaced pointing to the horrors of the Holocaust. I am most definitely appreciative that I read the book and the historical information.

The shtetl was small, yet antisemitism was great. Non-Jews spewed their hatred in ways that defied sensibility. In 1941 local Lithuanians, along with the Nazis, murdered Jews in Zagare. Resentment over the horrendous acts were prevalent throughout the successive decades.

One man remained, Isaac Mendelssohn, the last of the Jews of Zagare. And, after meeting that man, Sara Manobla’s life took a sharp turn in her journey of discovery and illumination. She encountered people and heard testimony regarding events that she was not expecting. Her journey became a different one than when it had begun.

And, still, today, resentment continues on both sides of the issue. There is a small quota of those who try to acknowledge the detrimental actions of the past. Through those individuals a sense of acceptance has emerged.


Zagare: Litvaks and Lithuanians Confront the Past
is a book of hope, a book that was inspiring, in my opinion. I applaud Sara Manobla for her frankness, and her ability to let the past be the past, yet let it be remembered without bitterness and anger. That she was able to move forward into acceptance and combine that acceptance with reconciliation of the facts in a positive manner is a tribute to her strength and determination to unfold the truth of her ancestry within the truth of the past.

Brava!

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Filed under Holocaust/Genocide, Jewish History, Judaism, Lorri's Blog, Non-Fiction, World War II