Category Archives: Jewish Immigrant

Review: Panic in a Suitcase: A Novel

Panic in a Suitcase: A Novel, by Yelena Akhtiorskaya, revolves around the Nasmertov family, who have emigrated from Odessa, a city by the sea, to Brighton Beach, another city by the sea. Brighton Beach was often called “Little Odessa”.

The comfort level of the area is one reason the family chose the location. An immigrant from Odessa could find anything that their homeland offered, in Brighton Beach. From food to furniture to household items to clothes and material goods, it could all be had.

This very fact is what held the elders of the family within its fold. It is what prompted them to convince their son, Pasha, to emigrate from Odessa. Pasha, on the other hand, procrastinated, and waited until the last minute.

His role in the book is one of a man who doesn’t seem to be motivated by anything in life, positive or otherwise. He lags behind in everything. He doesn’t quite get the situation or the city he has arrived in, and has no desire to find out the aspects of life within the realm of Brighton Beach.

The story deals with the way that life is perceived during a time of assimilation. It brings the reader snippets of the procedures to assimilate, and also yearnings for what once was in the homeland. The desire for change does not necessarily overrule the comfort of what the homeland held in a person’s daily life.

The reader is taken on a twenty-year journey through the Nasmertov family’s treks to fit in, to understand the cultural divide between homeland and their new land. The journey is humorous at times, but only to the extent of familial actions, and also how they are viewed by those around them. The humor is more of an enhancement of what it means to survive in a country so unlike the one you emigrated from.

Nostalgia is a strong undertone within the pages. Comfort levels of every aspect is depicted. Familial bonds do not necessarily provide the comfort one needs.

Yelena Akhtiorskaya’s debut novel, Panic in a Suitcase, is filled with descriptions of Coney Island and Brighton Beach, that one can capture through their five senses. The novel is also an examination of the immigrant and their experiences and endeavors to fit in, despite strong memories of the past.

I enjoyed reading about the cultural issues, and enjoyed the word-imagery regarding the beach cities. I am extremely familiar with those cities and with the cultural aspects depicted in the story. I, myself, have fond memories of Brighton Beach in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The novel transported me back to times past.

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Filed under Novels, Historical Fiction, Fiction, Lorri's Blog, Jewish History, Jewish Immigrant, Immigrant Experience

Review: The Gates of November

Chaim Potok’s The Gates of November is an extremely intense non-fiction book, written about a Jewish family. The book delves into the father/son relationship that Potok is well known for in his books.

Solomon Slepak is an old-school Russian Jew, a diehard Bolshevik. He became a Marxist when he emigrated to the America, and then returned to the Soviet Union. He was a stubborn and difficult man, and became a staunch and renowned Communist Party member, despite the fact that he was Jewish. Solomon Slepak resists the ideals of his son, Volodya, who is a “refusenik”, and basically disowns him.

Volodya sees what is occurring in the Soviet Union and wants no part of it. He wants to take his wife and two sons and emigrate to Israel. Thus he begins the process of paperwork and documentation. His bid to emigrate is refused, and he and his wife, Masha, become activists, working to try to help other Jews who are refused permission to emigrate, under Josef Stalin’s relentless rule.

Due to his activities, he is sent to a remote part of Siberia, where the conditions take their toll on his health. Masha asks for permission to be with him, and is granted such. He is exiled for over five years, under the harshest of conditions, not only weather, but food and daily sustenance and necessities (this articulation is putting it mildly).

Once he returns home, he tries to seek work, and finds menial jobs here and there, that don’t last for any length of time. He applies for permission to emigrate, once again. The process drags on for years, and we are given an overview of the social, political and diplomatic events and results during the years that go by, while he waits for a positive outcome.

I could articulate more on The Gates of November, but I suggest you read it yourself in order to grasp the depth of the story. The Gates of November is quite extreme in detail. Potok has shown us the degrees people will go to in order to manipulate others by leaving out none of the horrible events or descriptive word images.

Potok infuses the intensity of the time period under Josef Stalin’s rule. He details the depth of life under the most adverse and harshest of circumstances within the confines of the brutal Stalin reign. His book is based on personal accounts, taped and written interviews, videos, etc., in order to bring exactness to The Gates of November. It is not an easy book to read, due to the brutally detailed circumstances and events. But, it is a book most definitely worth reading, not only in comprehending the historical aspect regarding Jews under Soviet rule, but for the ongoing father/son relationship and family dynamics that Chaim Potok always manages to write so brilliantly about.

The Gates of November, by Chaim Potok,  is a masterful telling of Jewish familial life and dynamics under extreme social circumstances. It is both horrific and inspirational, and brings to the forefront the degrees of determination people have in order to obtain their goals. I highly recommend it to everyone.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Historical Fiction, Immigrant Experience, Jewish History, Jewish Immigrant, Judaism, Lorri's Blog, Non-Fiction

Book Review: The Free World

thefreeworld

The Free World, by David Bezmozgis, is a captivating novel that entails the emigration of Latvian and Soviet Jews, specifically during the late 1970s, when some were permitted to leave. In 1978 the Krasnansky family has decided to leave, and their journey takes them to Rome, where they must wait for visas to continue on to the United States, or possibly Canada.

The elder Samuil Krasnansky is a diehard communist, and decorated war hero for his service while in the Red Army. The Russian Revolution had a profound affect on him, and the effects of war continued to define his life until his death. Emma, his wife, is also there, as are their two sons, Alec and Karl. The two brothers, are as different as they can be in their political and social spheres.

Alec is a roamer, a womanizer, married to Polina. He seemingly cares little about the circumstances surrounding their journey. Karl, on the other hand is a staunch capitalist, ever involved within the circle of individuals he encounters in Rome. Life is not always as it seems for the two of them. Through some humorous twists of fate, Alec feels he is being pursued by female interests, when in fact it turns out to be otherwise.

There are other laugh-out-loud lines and scenarious within the pages, such as Samuil’s reaction to a rendering of Fiddler on the Roof. Yet, withing the comic relief, the story line is one wrought with varied ideals, and varied perspectives of freedom, and what it actually means. Bezmozgis is brilliant in depicting the mindsets of the characters.

I didn’t necessarily like the characters, and found them to be flawed in many aspects. But, I still enjoyed reading The Free World, for its historical factor, and for how the author depicted the lives of the individuals. We are all a part of the whole, no matter our choices, our mindsets and our differences. We are all flawed, and no one individual is perfect in the scheme of things.

Due to Samuil’s health, the family is forced to stay in Rome longer than expected. Their visas are on the line during this time period. Their freedom to journey forward, physically, is hindered by his health. Yes, they could have forged forward, and he could have emigrated at a later point in time, but the familial hold was a strong one, despite the disparities and lack of similarities within the family members. This aspect is strong throughout the pages.

The story line reflects back and forth, and there are back stories of each of the characters. The book spans decades of familial uprising and social standings. The decades infuse the dynamics of revolution and war quite vividly. This brings into focus why they act the way they do, and also gives the reader a sense of their lives before departing for Rome, and the choices they made beforehand.

The roller coaster ride the family finds themselves on only enhances their feelings of suffocation in a city that they were supposed to be temporarily involved in, waiting for the chance to leave. Freedom takes on new meanings, from emotional stifling to physical stand stills. Their wait for visa approval is filled with frustration and the unknown.

The book had me questioning the defining of freedom and the “the free world”. Is there such a place on the planet where a person can be truly free? Does “the free world” exist, or is it just a euphemism for the areas that were located outside of the realm of the communist states. One might live a life in a non-communist environment, but does that mean they are free? Freedom takes on many forms, not the least being emotional constraints.

Before reading this book, I had no idea that there was a “way station” so to speak, in Rome, where emigres had to wait for visas. The daily interactions and emotional aspects of the waiting period is highly illuminated within the pages. The emotional struggles are brought to the forefront.

The Free World, by David Bezmozgis, is a well-formed study and metaphor for freedom and autonomy, within familial dynamics. The visuals are strong, as are the insights into the emotions of the characters. The historical aspect is an important one, in my opinion.

I would rate The Free World a 4 with 5 being the highest.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Historical Fiction, Jewish Immigrant, Judaism, Lorri's Blog, Novels, Uncategorized, World History

Lorri M. Review: The Rise of David Levinsky

theriseofdavidlev The rise of David Levinsky, by Abraham Cahan, is true-to-life in its depiction of the Jewish immigrant experience, leaving nothing to the imagination.

David Levinsky is a Hasidic Jew living a strict Torah-filled life in a Russian village. He comes from a family of poverty, and one that is stringent in Torah study. He is unhappy in his situation, and eventually sails to America, disembarking in New York City.

From the minute he finds himself standing on American soil, Levinsky’s journey begins, taking him into the heart of socialization and cultural displacement, a displacement he avidly tries to overcome. Assimilation and secularism are part of his learning experiences.

He is a fast learner, as far as trying to fit into society’s demands. He is insightful as far as his exterior environment, and realizes that in order to succeed he must learn to speak English, not act as if he is a greenhorn, dress as if he is successful, and coordinate his mannerisms to an ideal that will let him succeed. He has programmed himself to not only fit in, but also to a mode of obtaining financial stability. All this, he manages to eventually accomplish, within the realm of his goals of being a proper, shrewd and prosperous businessman.

The streets of New York City are depicted with amazing clarity. Cahan knows from where those streets lead, as he, himself was a Jewish immigrant, arriving in Philadelphia in 1882, and then quickly traveling to New York City. He eventually worked his way up, through his social learnings, and eventually founded the Jewish Daily Forward.

His story could almost be Levinsky’s story. The learnings and social stigmas that Levinsky had to overcome in order to succeed in business, are portrayed with brutal clarity within the novel. I am sure Cahan’s own immigrant and assimilation experiences fill many of the pages.

The latter part of the 19th century is detailed in every aspect. I was amazed at the incredible details that exhaled from the pages. From there, through the early 20th century, the reader is taken back in time to every conceivable issue, from religion to education, sex to romantic, social to assimilation, business to materialism, and so much more. Each facet of society and its doings are examined, especially those involving the lower east side of New York City.

Levinsky’s desire for success and desire to become rich are documented through all of his dealings. From business banking to storefronts, cloak making and competititors, and eventual warehouses, each facet of his business dealings incorporate his very desire to build an empire, and build it he does.

Within those structures, he also involves himself with women, and the women that he finds most attractive are ones that he can not have. His wealth and empire can not buy him love. His sense of home and family is lacking. Levinsky rose in stature and success, yet his reputation and the respect he gained did not foster a sense of family or belonging within his environment. He gained financial success beyond his wildest dreams, only to fail in the romance department.

I read The Rise of David Levinsky always mindful of when it was written, always mindful of the language, grammar, and usage of slang, Yiddish and linguistics of the time period. I felt that to be extremely important in order to gain a sense of time and socialization.

Cahan has given this reader a sense of the late 19th century-early twentieth century New York City. My senses were filled with the streets of New York, the homes of New York, the business wheelings and dealings of New York. They were filled with the experience of immigrant life in all of its ugliness, hardships, demeaning attitudes, strivings to survive and so much more. I applaud Abraham Cahan for his accomplishment.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Historical Fiction, Jewish Immigrant, Lorri's Blog, Novels

Sunday Scenes – October 6, 2013

orangewithin green

Autumn/fall is in the air! I love the cooler weather, although in CA, it is not always cooler in the autumn/fall season. The mornings are cooler and so are the evenings, but the daytime hours can be warm.

That is why, when I walk, I do it in the morning. It gives me the opportunity to feel the coolness against my face, and to breath in fresher air.

barn in autumn

I enjoy reading Grace Paley’s poem, shown below. It brings to mind so many issues, including immigration, assimilation, ancestors, and family bonds. I hope you enjoy it too.

Autumn
By Grace Paley
1

What is sometimes called a
tongue of flame
or an arm extended burning
is only the long
red and orange branch of
a green maple
in early September reaching
into the greenest field
out of the green woods at the
edge of which the birch trees
appear a little tattered tired
of sustaining delicacy
all through the hot summer re-
minding everyone (in
our family) of a Russian
song a story
by Chekhov or my father

2

What is sometimes called a
tongue of flame
or an arm extended burning
is only the long
red and orange branch of
a green maple
in early September reaching
into the greenest field
out of the green woods at the
edge of which the birch trees
appear a little tattered tired
of sustaining delicacy
all through the hot summer re-
minding everyone (in
our family) of a Russian
song a story by
Chekhov or my father on
his own lawn standing
beside his own wood in
the United States of
America saying (in Russian)
this birch is a lovely
tree but among the others
somehow superficial

autumntrees

October 6, 2013 – 2 Cheshvan, 5774

Ⓒ All rights reserved © Copyright 2007 – 2013 – All Rights Reserved – No permission is given or allowed to reuse my photography, book reviews, writings, or my poetry in any form/format without my express written consent/permission.

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Filed under Jewish Immigrant, Lorri's Blog, Photography, poetry

Lorri M. Review: Hanns and Rudolf

hannsandrudolf Hanns and Rudolf: The True Story of the German Jew Who Tracked Down and Caught the Kommandant of Auschwitz, by Thomas Harding, is a brilliantly written and well-researched book.

This non-fiction account of two men whose lives converge, told through the eyes of the author, Thomas Harding, whose Great-Uncle was Lieutenant Hanns Alexander. Hanns was a Jewish German, and also the son of an immigrant family who fled Germany for England, turning over all of their holdings in order to gain exit visas.

Rudolph Hoss (not to be confused with Rudolf Hess) was a farmer, a man who enjoyed the earth and farming. Farming eventually became far removed from his life, and it eluded him once he joined the “Schutz-Staffel” (SS), under the suggestion of Heinrich Himmler.

Harding refers to the two men by their given name, and I shall do the same. Their personal lives are depicted throughout the pages, regarding their childhoods, their families, their adult lives and their aspirations.

One thing that struck me was the dedication to Judaism within the Alexander family. And, cemented within that, is the family Torah, the “Alexander Torah”, which survived the war. So did correspondence between Hanns and his family, and between Hanns and his girlfriend, Ann, who eventually became his wife.

Within rotating chapters detailing the lives of both Hanns and Rudolf, the reader gains an intense perspective of their backgrounds, their personal lives, their goals and their individual quests in the name of country and war.

Hanns’ life takes dramatic turns once he is in England. He wants nothing more than to be viewed as “English as possible” and wants to gain citizenship. He joins the British Army hoping. This enlistment leads to more than he could ever imagine. At the end of his enlistment, he is given full British citizenship.

The pages are infused with compelling documentation, letters, forms, photographs, testimonies, and portions of Rudolf’s own journal entries. From all of the intense documentations, one is given perspectives that are unimaginable, concerning Rudolf’s rise to Kommandant, not only Kommandant, but Kommandant of Auschwitz.

Rudolf writes forthrightly concerning the atrocities he is involved with, and this reader could see how his initial attitude of concern for Jews eventually turns into one of pure evilness and lack of caring and concern for humanity. How he went from a man who was repulsed by witnessing camp murders (yet, stood there watching as if it was a normal fact of life, to save his reputation), to a man whose attitude changed dramatically is beyond the pale. He became a man possessed with death and destruction, and a man who had no remorse or concern for his implementation of the gas chambers. Yet, he had a wife and children who he came home to, acting as if nothing horrific had occurred.

He had a hand in the design and was witness to the first group of Jews that were gassed. He programmed the entire operation, employing not only his power, but whatever was available in order to incorporate construction, destruction and horrific atrocities. He oversaw over one million individuals exterminated at the hands of the Nazis. He was the master planner, and created the extermination program that existed, including the procedures, schedules, structures, and instructions. He was fearless, merciless and steadfast in his pursuit to please his superiors.

Hanns moved up through the ranks, and his Lieutenant status saw him eventually given the status of respect he desired. He took part in the Normandy Landing. In 1945 he was afforded a role on the newly formed War crimes Investigation Team for England, based in a Brussels suburb. This position took him to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp where he saw the remains of unspeakable acts of genocide, after liberation.

His reputation fostered, he was given the job as an interpreter, taking notes from interviews and witness statements in German and then transcribing them into English. he interviewed several high-ranking individuals affiliated with Auschwitz, and other individuals from the SS. He untiring efforts garnered information that proved that certain SS members knew that gassed exterminations occurred at Auschwitz.

The war crimes trial began with the trial of Josef Kramer and forty four other people. Hanns could tell, after a few days of trial testimony, and knew in his heart of hearts that there were others who were conspirators or who headed the exterminations of the Jews.

The War Crimes Group was created, and those involved, including Hanns, were trying to locate SS high ranking officials through their intelligence experise. In 1946, he looked over the list of war criminals, and Rudolf’s name was next. He began investigating and searching for Rudolf. He was relentless in his investigation and searching. He left no stone unturned, every possible person involved, including family members, were interviewed and interviewed again. On March 10 1946, Rudolf was taken to prison.

From there, the rest is history, and Harding illuminates it immensely. Rudolf confessed to murdering over two million individuals. He was hanged at Auschwitz, in the same spot where Jews were hung. His memoir (which some excerpts are quoted from in Hanns and Rudolf) details his life, including his involvement in the SS.

Hanns and Rudolf
is an incredibly compelling book, reading like a spy story of sorts. It is intense, written brilliantly and with extreme accuracy, through the dedication of exhaustive research in all of its formats. Harding has done both Hanns and humanity an amazing tribute, in vividly detailing the tirelessness of Hanns and his efforts to right the wrongs through justice being done.

Harding has also shown the world a side of Rudolf that is invaluable for historical purposes. The reader is taken on a journey of a man who controlled his emotions, controlled the deaths of Jews, and who controlled Auschwitz with a firm hand.

I knew the book would be intense and filled with horrific situations and events. Yet, I read it, and within the pages of depictions of Auschwitz and the lack of humanity within the electrified fences, I was chilled to the bone reading about some of the circumstances, and more chilled and horrified at how Rudolf seemed to slough off the atrocities as if they were nothing of importance, as if Jewish humanity was irrelevant in the scheme of life.

Harding’s efforts are to be applauded. Hanns and Rudolf: The True Story of the German Jew Who Tracked Down and Caught the Kommandant of Auschwitz is a work of extreme brilliance and Thomas Harding is masterful in the telling. From the opening page, describing Hanns’ funeral, to the last page, I was involved in reading the relaying of history, and inhaling the familial dynamics, especially of the Alexander family. Hanns and Rudolf belongs on every book shelf, personal or otherwise. It is books such as this that will keep history alive, and will keep it so, not only for this generation, but the generations that came before us, and generations to come. It is an invaluable historical resource.

I want to thank Leah Johanson, Publicist, Simon and Schuster for the Galley of Hanns and Rudolf. I am grateful to have received it, and to have read it. Thank you!

July 15, 2013 – 8 Av, 5773

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Filed under Book Reviews, Holocaust/Genocide, Jewish History, Jewish Immigrant, Lorri's Blog, Memoirs