Category Archives: Memoirs

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.

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.


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

Review: The Color of Courage: A Boy at War

The Color of Courage: A Boy at War: The World War II Diary of Julian Kulski, is an incredible book, presented from his diary, depicting life during wartime with astuteness and courage.

Will and courage surround Julian Kulski, when at the age of 12, he is recruited into the Underground Army. From that point, forward, his life will never be the same, and his strength and determination to survive is a testament to his courage.

Beginning with his involvement with the Boy Scouts, emerges an adolescent with the resolve of an adult, a young boy wise beyond his years. He trains in military style, learns the ins and outs of various weapons, and eventually is involved in a secret endeavor. The endeavor involves the Warsaw Ghetto, where he goes with his commander.

World War II and its staunch tactics employed by Hitler forced many to live lives of devoid of family, devoid of hope. But, Julian Kuslki remained hopeful through all of the atrocities he witnessed, and throughout the course of the war.

From his arrest when he was 14 to his being shipped to Auschwitz, and his final days in a POW camp, the story is compelling, forceful, educational and filled with events that are written so vividly, that the reader is amazed that the events actually occurred.

The story within the pages of Kulski’s diary reads like a novel of intrigue, and a spy novel. Let me be clear, it is not a novel, but the actual diary of Kulski, detailing his life from age 12-16 years of age. It is compelling and filled with minute details.

The photographs speak of what once was, lives lived before, during and after the war.

Julian Kulski’s story is finally told, and told with dignity, courage and inspiration. His diary depicts events as they happened, and not sugar-coated in any aspect. The Color of Courage is a book of extreme historical significance, in my opinion.

The diary is a testament to war, to the horrific turbulence, and to the desire to escape the forces surrounding him. I highly recommend The Color of Courage: A Boy at War: The World War II Diary of Julian Kulski to everyone.

I received an Advanced Review Copy (ARC). Its expected release is on November 11, 2014.


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

Review: A Fifty-Year Silence

In the book, A Fifty-Year Silence: Love, War and a Ruined House in France, Miranda Richmond Mouillot weaves a family tapestry whose threads are interwoven, yet pull apart at the sound of a person’s name. Her grandparents, Armand and Anna, are estranged, and eventually divorce each other. Through the years that accumulate after the war, their relationship deteriorates dramatically, and Anna packs up and leaves Armand, taking their children with her.

When Miranda seeks answers to questions she asks her grandmother, the answers are evasive. Her grandmother does answer, but she prefers to answer in writing, than to verbalize her responses. Her written answers are short and sharp, and often verge on avoidance or incompleteness.

Her grandfather, on the other hand, clams up at the mention of Anna’s name. He distances himself, either through anger at Anna, or avoiding the questions entirely. He is indifferent, and has shut himself off from familial involvement regarding his past.

Part of his history was spent as an interpreter during the Nuremberg trials. He learned how to foster an attitude that displayed unimportance in relevance to his interpreting questions and the horrifying answers to them. He was a man trapped by his past, a man repressed and lacking sympathy or compassion, and a man unable to move forward.

Their relationship was founded on a few months of togetherness before the war separated them. After the war, they bought a stone house in France. They endured life together in the house for five years, before Anna left with the children.

This very house is where Miranda moved, never mind its crumbled state. There she found the solitude needed to pore through letters, documents and governmental archives, in order set a foundation for her grandparents’ lives and crumbled (much like the stone house) marriage .

Miranda’s journey to find the answers to her grandparents’ story, and to her own ancestral history, are muted by Armand and Anna. The story feels more like a search within the boundaries of traumas and remembrances, remembrances too harsh to bring to the surface.

Armand and Anna, and their fifty-year silence, is a mystifying story. When I finished reading A Fifty-Year Silence: Love, War and a Ruined House in France, I felt Miranda Richmond Mouillot’s determination and driven endeavor to unearth the past. It is a past that doesn’t really come to fruition in regards to the answers that Miranda Richmond Mouillot seeks, as to why her grandparents chose to exhibit their silence with one another.

But, within her journey, she did discover love, a love that led to marriage, and a new beginning in another house in France.

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Review: Hold on to the Sun

hold on to the sun2 Hold on to the Sun, by Michal Govrin is a compelling book of stories and essays, stories and essays bound together by themes of despair and hope, love and loss.

The author’s life as a young woman is depicted through some stories that are magical or fantasy-based. Other stories are compelling through their Holocaust-themed prose. All of the stories come full circle with Holocaust connections, and how that horrendous event formed the foundation of her life. Govrin is a first-generation, Holocaust survivor, family member. She is a woman searching for depth and meaning in life after the Holocaust.

The Holocaust was a secret within her familial life, as far as her mother is concerned. Yet, within those unspoken words, there was always a sense of something hidden. Children feel these things, instinctively, although they might not be able to put a name to it. Much of Govrin’s early life was formed through the unspoken, which in itself spoke resoundingly.

Her essays are strong, and deal with her travels to Poland. She traveled there to see the death camp her mother was imprisoned in, and where her mother’s first husband and their son perished. She did not know for many years that her mother had been married before, and did not know about her half-brother. Her journey there was a form of witnessing the site where they perished, and a form of remembering them. Her essays honor them.

Hold on to the Sun, by Michal Govrin is not an uplifting book, but a book that imparts the importance of remembrance. It also is a book that enhances the importance of hope in a world that does not seem to offer much in the way of illumination.
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Lorri M. Review: Rutka’s Notebook: A Voice From the Holocaust

rutkasnotebook Rutka’s Notebook, A Voice From the Holocaust, by Rutka Laskier, is a personal accounting, taken from the diary of Rutka Laskier, a Polish teenager. She wrote her diary beginning at the age of 14, and it spans approximately three months of her life, beginning January 19, 1943.

Rutka describes, in depth, her fluctuating emotions during the time period, and her diary reflects the ups and downs, the roller coaster of emotions, that most teenagers feel. From typical feelings of love and jealousy, to familial discontent, to the German occupation, Rutka defines life during the Holocaust through her eyes and voice. Yet, those emotions and her thoughts are coupled with the fact that she is astutely aware of the what is occurring, of Holocaust and its ramifications to humanity. Rutka’s writing gives voice and witness to the realities of the Holocaust.

Rutka wrote her thoughts and emotions in her diary, and asked her non-Jewish friend, Stanislawa Sapinska, to save it, if and when, Rutka and her family were moved from their apartment in Bedzin to the Ghetto, or if they were deported. There was a predetermined hiding spot. After the war ended, Sapinska returned to the apartment, and located the diary. She held on to it for sixty years. Sapinska’s family convinced her to show its existence, reinforcing to her that it was a part of history, and told about a part of history, that should be shared with the world.

Rutka articulates her thoughts and emotions like that of a more mature person, and not that of a young teenager. She is aware of the consequences that could occur. She knows about the brutality of war, having witnessed some horrors within the confines of daily living.

I recommend this historical book to everyone, young or old, alike. Rutka’s Notebook: A Voice From the Holocaust is an amazing accounting of daily life, of the struggles and fears lived every hour of each day, and of the knowledge that one may not live to see the end of war. It is a testament to Rutka Laskier’s strength and willpower, that she had the foresight to want her diary preserved for the world to see. She wanted the truth to be told (even if it was told decades after the fact).

Rutka’s Notebook: A Voice From the Holocaust
should be on a bookshelf in every school classroom, not only for its extreme historical value, but also so that Rutka Laskier’s life will not be forgotten in the time continuum.

The introduction was written by Rutka Laskier’s half-sister, Zahava (Laskier) Scherz. A family biography at the end of the diary, itself, was also written by Scherz.


Filed under Book Reviews, Jewish History, Judaism, Lorri's Blog, Memoirs, Non-Fiction

Lorri M. Review: We Were Europeans

wewereeuropeans We Were Europeans: A Personal History of a Turbulent Century, by Werner M. Loval, is book that portrays an incredible, personal, family/ancestral journey, both before World War II, and post war.

Loval came from a respected, well off, German-Jewish family, and before the war they were treated with dignity within their community. That all ended beginning on January 30,1933, when Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor of Germany. F rom that point forward, Loval’s story takes on dimensions that are precarious and horrendous, as he and his family fight to survive.

He and his sister eventually became part of the Kindertransport to England, while his parents eventually were able to escape to Ecuador, via Siberia and Japan, where the entire family was reunited. The family emigrated to America after the war. Loval eventually emigrated to Israel and played an intricate and highly professional role within the Diplomatic Service for the State of Israel. His religious foundations were strong, and he was involved in the Reform Jewish movement, and played a high profile role within it.

To say I am impressed with the format would be an understatement. I am in awe of We Were Europeans and the way Loval presents it to us. He infuses the pages with incredible documentation, amazing photographs, documents and maps, that enhance the pages of this compelling memoir, adding more drama to the presented depictions of the turbulence. From personal reflections and stories, the pages hold eye witness accounts to history as it happens, through Loval’s writing and presentation of supported evidence and documents.

Loval’s endeavors and arduous research has brought the reader into the depths of the Nazi turbulence, adversity and shocking horrors that overtook Europe during Hitler’s reign. First-hand accounts abound, and Loval leaves nothing to the imagination through his stark imagery. From correspondence to diaries during the haunting war years and afterwards, to diaries and letters during the Six Day War and so much more, the reader is painted vivid pictures of family inspiration during time of crisis. The post war events are just as compelling and intensely stated, as Loval involves himself in trying to get restitution for property owned by his family.

Loval and his family lived their lives to the fullest with a positive attitude, no matter the extreme harshness of their circumstances, no matter how far spread, at varied points in time, the family separation was across the global perspective. The illuminating photographs, documents and word-paintings are incredible testimonies to eras gone by, to familial bonds, to the determination and strength to persevere and survive, both during and after World War II.

We Were Europeans is a book of extreme importance and historical value for historians, for researchers, genealogists, for those who are interested in the Holocaust and World War II, and for those individuals, in general, who want to learn more about the turbulent times depicted within the pages. The intensity of the memoir is beyond imagination and comprehension. It is a powerful statement and testimony, not only to the decades, events and circumstances depicted, but to the Loval family unit. Their story is extremely inspiring, and I highly recommend We Were Europeans, by Werner M. Loval to everyone.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Holocaust/Genocide, Jewish History, Judaism, Lorri's Blog, Memoirs, Non-Fiction