Category Archives: Holocaust/Genocide

Remember…

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Another day is upon us.  Let us take a moment to remember what was, what is, and what might come.

Today we lost a woman of great strength and humaneness.  Yaffa Eliach has died.  She created “The Tower of Faces” in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

“The Tower of Faces” is so profound.  Each time I have seen it, I am left speechless, filled with awe and deep respect for Yaffa Eliach’s tremendous efforts in creating the memorial.  The photographs speak wonders of the individuals, times gone by, a collective history, moments in living, lives lost due to hatred.

One cannot walk through the immense exhibit without it affecting them intensely.

Thank you.

Rest in Peace, Yaffa Eliach.

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Today, I remember Kristallnacht.

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On November 9th and 10th, 1938, Kristallnacht (an intense series of attacks on Jews fostered by the Nazi party paramilitary) became known as the “Night of Broken Glass”. The glass storefronts of the Jewish-owned businesses were totally shattered, by both the paramilitary and by local citizens. The interior of Fasanenstrasse Synagogue in Berlin was destroyed, along with so many other structures.

At least 91 Jews were killed in the attacks, and a further 30,000 arrested and incarcerated in concentration camps.  Jewish homes, hospitals, and schools were ransacked, as the attackers demolished buildings with sledgehammers.  Over 1,000 synagogues were burned (95 in Vienna alone), and over 7,000 Jewish businesses destroyed or damaged.”

Remember…

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Review: Kaddish for an Unborn Child

Kaddish for an Unborn Child, by Imre Kertesz, was a difficult book, in the sense that the narrator was rambling, repetitiously, due to his stream of consciousness.

The novel opens with the word ‘No!’  It is an answer to a question asked him, the question being did he have a child.   He also answered his wife the same way, when she wanted a child.  From there the reader is led through the narrator’s bleak, dark and depressed outlook on life and living.

The narrator is a writer.  Within the ramblings the sentences run into each other, as his thoughts unfold on the pages.  He tries to illuminate all of his thoughts and feelings, often repeating what he has just stated.  This is due to the workings of his mind, and the fact he has an urgency to get it all out in the open.  This urgency is what keeps him alive, literally.  He has much to criticize regarding his life, including his childhood.

The narrator compares his abusive and restricted childhood to his existence in Auschwitz.  Rules and the oppressive environment almost seem normal to him, coming from his controlled adolescent upbringing.  Once liberated his perceptions regarding daily life continue in the same vein.  He encloses himself within the walls of isolation.

His routine continues to be a somewhat confined existence, as he transcends from being a Holocaust camp prisoner, to living for years sheltered from life in a rented room.  He compares his living arrangement to that of the camps, in the sense that he has been restricted and limited in space, and therefore in daily life.

Of course, much of his limitations have been self-induced repercussions and extensions of the Holocaust.  Once he marries, he ponders the issues of an apartment with his wife, and how he has never thought of spaciousness, furniture, this or that.  The rented room was self-contained, with all of the essentials provided.  His pen was his life’s companion.  He had need for nothing else.

I won’t delve into the story line any further.  It was enough to get through the novel in its entirety.  It was an emotionally, laborious read in many aspects, reinforcing the Holocaust and its mental and emotional effects and affects on those who survive, those who are generational survivors, and on those who are victims of a survivor’s bleak and dark mindset.  In this case, his wife was a victim of the narrator’s mindset and his demons.

Within the darkness, I found Kaddish for an Unborn Child to be an excellent resource on the philosophical and psychological aspects of humanity’s, Holocaust nightmare.

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

Lithuania Holocaust Escape Tunnel

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The New York Times published this story. “A team of archaeologists and mapmakers say they have uncovered a forgotten tunnel that 80 Jews dug largely by hand as they tried to escape from a Nazi extermination site in Lithuania about 70 years ago.” Read the rest of the story at this NY Times link.

This article reminds me of Father Patrick Dubois and his extensive research into the Holocaust and genocidal practices. His book, The Holocaust by Bullets: A Priest’s Journey to Uncover the Truth Behind the Murder of 1.5 Million Jews, is extremely compelling and important.

Here is a link to a New York Times article regarding Father Patrick Dubois and his unending endeavors.

Let us always remember the lives of those who came before us.

Shabbat Shalom!

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

Those wishing to read an amazing and historical story, one that is compelling from the first page to the last, then Code Name Zegota: Rescuing Jews in Occupied Poland, 1942-1945, by Irene Tomaszewski and Tecia Werbowski, is a must read for you.

In fact, it in my opinion, it is a must read for everyone, Jewish or otherwise, as the foundation of the book is based on factual events depicting both Christian and Jewish rescuers, and the rescued Jews in Poland during World War II.  From the moment I began it, I read straight through the pages, and then went back to absorb some more intense and dramatic pages and historical content.  The pages in the first half of the book deal primarily with the Zegota secret organization and its structure, including the Polish underground, the varied outsources, connections, political entities, well-known individuals, the cells, communications, etc., that composed the entirety of Zegota.  Zegota was the secret code name that was used for the Council for Aid to the Jews.  This was an organization with extremely courageous individuals that were included in the stronghold.

The primary founders were two women.  The well known writer, Zofia Kossak was a co-founder, along with Wanda Krahelska-Filopowicz.  Kossak was initially deemed antisemetic because of her negative reactions to Jewish organizations prewar, and was a conservative nationalist. Krahelska-Flipowicz was heavily involved in the Underground prewar and very influential in the art community, with the AK and the Delegatura. She helped hide Jews in her own home.  Kossak persuaded her own children to help save and rescue Jews, and emphasized the moral, ethical and humaneness of doing so.  She felt the Nazi atrocities and crimes were “an offense against man and God, and their policies an affront to the ideals she espused for an independent Poland”.  She used her published leaflet “Protest” to motivate the Polish people to come forward and help aid them.

From boy scouts to girl scouts, priests and ordinary Catholic citizens, Jewish individuals, members of the Home Army (known as the AK), political liaisons, railway workers, garbage collectors, printers, shop owners, estate owners, children’s homes, professionals, etc., the connections were incredible.

Zegota had connections through the widely read Jewish underground newspapers such as the the Biuletyn Informacyjny (BI), whose editor was Aleksander Kaminski, and Henryk Wolinski who headed the Jewish section of the Underground Bureau of Information and Propaganda, which was the main contact between the AK and the Jewish liaison of The Jewish Fighting Organization (ZOB.  These two men who were with the AKI were instrumental in spreading the news throughout the underground, by using their foreign correspondents within Poland (especially in the Warsaw Ghetto) and in other countries, and spreading it to those other organizations and individuals connected to Zegota.

The worst of mankind spewed their hatred during a tumultuous period in time.  Gentile Poles, themselves were treated as subhuman, and forced into hard labor in work camps, murdered, etc.  With the help of Zegota, and the organizations within the organization, many Poles stood up for what was ethical and moral, what was at the heart of goodness, what was the humane action to take.

Irene Sendler was one such Gentile Pole. Her network within the Warsaw Welfare Department was a strong asset to Zegota. She helped smuggle 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto, and hid them within the confines of Polish homes, Austrian homes, and other homes of safety.

The inidividuals were tireless, self-sacrificing, and devoted to the cause of saving Jews. Facts show that between 40,000-50,000 Jews were saved by the Zegota network which issued over 50,000 false documents.

Code Name Zegota is an extremely intense book, dedicated to the telling of the little known facts regarding Zegota. The educational aspect is invaluable, and the research that the authors, Tomaszewski and Werbowski dedicated themselves to, and endeavored to contain within the pages is strongly apparent. They forcefully and strongly illuminate Zegota and what it stood for in its structural capacity, and the willingness of Gentiles/Christians and Jews alike, to forge ahead and work together, at risk of not only their own lives, but the lives of their family members.

Code Name Zegota holds a wealth of statistics and facts. But, primarily, it radiates the hearts and souls of the individuals who helped rescue Jews. Their unwavering commitment is poignant, heart-wrenching, uplifting and inspiring, and Irene Tomaszewski and Tecia Werbowski should be applauded for their accomplishment in bringing Code Name Zegota: Rescuing Jews in Occupied Poland, 1942-1945 to light, for the world to read, for the world to become educated, for the world to carry forth the teachings of the authors. I am stunned after reading Code Name Zegota. The story will linger with me for quite some time. This English edition brings knowledge and inspiration to those who read it, and keeps the candle of the past eternally lit, bearing witness to those who died, those who survived and were saved.

This is my second reading of it, as I recently read it for a book club.

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Review: The Heavens Are Empty

Avrom Bendavid-Val has written a concise, compelling and historically relevant book, regarding the town of Trochenbrod, Ukraine, with his compelling book, The Heavens Are Empty: Discovering the Lost Town of Trochenbrod.

It is a work of non-fiction, written with fantastic prose that evoked vivid word-imagery in this reader’s eyes.  The initial description of the street was filled with in depth details that fascinated me.

The town/village had one street about two miles long.  It was an agricultural town, and, so, behind the houses and/or shop fronts, were acres of land, owned by Jews.  Those Jews had managed to carve out a living for themselves, and live totally unburdened by “gentiles”.  From leather goods and tanning, to produce and milk, the Jewish community fended for themselves, and managed to live decently.

The entire town was made up of Jewish individuals, except for one or two adults.  This was amazing, in and of itself.  Those adults were the ones who lit the lights during Shabbat, took care of the ovens, did the things that the Jews, due to religious traditions and beliefs, were not permitted to do on Shabbat and on the Sabbath.

The street was constantly filled with “mud”, as the reader is informed throughout the pages of witness statements.  It was almost comical how often “mud” is mentioned.  It left a deep impression, decades later, on those who had lived there, in more ways than one.  It also left an impression on me.

From documents and data, to witness statements, the foundation of Trochenbrod is detailed with information that needed to be told.  It is a poignant story, often heart-wrenching, yet one that is an important story in the realm of history.

For those of you that wish to understand the history of what once was, and no longer is, The Heavens Are Empty is the perfect book to educate yourself regarding the events that unfolded.  Not only were the events horrific and filled with contempt and the murderous rage of thousands of Jews, but they led to the obliteration of Trochenbrod off of the face of the planet, literally.

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War and Art

I have read two books that involve the restoring/returning of stolen art, during wartime, to the rightful owner/s. One deals with art stolen by the Nazis during World War II. The other book tells a story of a journey to find whether a work of art was stolen during World War I.

The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt’s Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, by Anne-Marie O’Connor, is a true story, and it is the book that the recently released film, The Woman in Gold was based upon.

The book is a vivid depiction, not only regarding Adele Bloch-Bauer, the woman who posed for the artist, but also a compelling story of a work of art, and how one woman’s passion and perseverance led to the finding the provenance of the painting. The trials and tribulations in order to ascertain provenance, in order to prove that the work of art belonged in her family, and that it was stolen, outright, by the Nazis, lasted for a decade.

The Austrian government did not want to release the valuable painting, claiming legal ownership. Maria Altmann, the niece of Adele Bloch-Bauer, claimed otherwise, stating she was the legal heir to the painting.

The story is illuminating in many aspects. The reader is given snippets of life in Austria, life of the wealthy and how they lived, where they lived, and what the valued. It also is the story of the intricate and minute details involved in trying to gain proof of ownership or provenance. Word of mouth does not work. Documents do not often work, either.

I saw the film, and it was well-done. If I compare it to the book, I would have to say the book was more detailed, whereas the film encompassed dramatic visuals of the time period. I enjoyed both the book and the film, and give them equal share on my enjoyment scale.
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The second book, entitled, The Girl You Left Behind: A Novel, by Jojo Moyes, depicts one family’s struggle to survive during World War I, in a small town in the outskirts of Paris.

Sophie Lefevre’s husband Edouard is a painter. He painted a portrait of Sophie, which is stunning. He eventually must leave in order to fight the Germans. Those Germans eventually occupy the town, and take over the small bar/cafe enterprise that Sophie and her sister operate. The Kommandant and his soldiers are to have dinner prepared for them every night, no questions asked. It is a command that can not be refused.

Fast forward to the present, and Liv Halston, a widow of four years, has the painting hanging in her home. From there the story begins to move quicker.

She is quite insistent that the painting, bought by her husband, for her, is legally hers. She involves herself and others in a battle for ownership. From the living heirs to Liv, herself, the story line unfolds with intensity, and with incredible details of search methods and documentation.

The historical aspect is well-done, and well researched. I was surprised by some of the facts, and did not realize that during World War I, the Germans stole artwork, furniture, silver items from homes, anything and everything they felt useful, was taken. That was revealing for me.

How does the story end? You will have to read the book to find out.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Films, Historical Fiction, Holocaust/Genocide, Jewish History, Lorri's Blog, Memoirs, World War II