Category Archives: Memoirs

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. Book Review: The Life of Gluckel of Hameln: A Memoir

gluckel of hameln The Life of Gluckel of Hameln-written by herself: A Memoir, translated from the Yiddish by Beth-Zion Abrahams, is quite the fascinating read, although written in Yiddish, initially, this book was actually a series of diaries written by the author for her children. They weren’t written in anticipation of them being published as a memoir.

Centuries later, her story comes to light, and with it an incredible description of life in Germany in the 17th Century. From one woman’s pen comes a multitude of historical references and insights.

Life for women was difficult enough during Gluckel’s time period, never mind the fact that she was a widow and mother of twelve. From daily life descriptions to interactions with the world outside, the story behind her life and the lives of her children is astonishing for its historical content and context.

She was a proud woman, proud of her business acumen, and proud of the fact that she strove to raise her children in the best possible light, giving them not only emotional nourishment, the necessities and much more, but also monetary sums to help them survive their adult circumstances.

Her writing transcends generations and centuries, and transports the reader back in time, to the realities of life’s struggles and harshness, especially for women. Life was difficult enough for a man to make his way into the world, striving to care for his family. Being a woman made the adversities more demanding to overcome. Adding children to the demands of daily living and survival, made Gluckel’s accomplishments more amazing.

She was married twice, and after the death of her first husband she began to write a diary to help her during sleepless nights. She eventually remarried, and continued writing, once again, after the death of her second husband. Writing consoled her, and she felt she was leaving a legacy for her children and any future descendants. She wanted them to be proud of their heritage, and felt the writings would cement that pride.

The memoir was translated from her journals. Through the plague, wars, births, deaths and Jewish life, Gluckel’s memoir is an astounding and descriptive look into Jewish life and into the history of the time period. Current events are chronicled, and Jewish life, practices and traditions are documented. The word imagery is quite vivid, and this reader could envision the scenarios presented.

The writing might seem a bit awkward and/or mundane for some readers, but one must take into account the time period of the memoir. The translator, did not stray from the original diaries and embellish entries, but chose to translate it as accurately as possible. That Gluckel wrote as masterfully as she did, is a tribute to her, as an individual, and a tribute to her goals to leave a legacy for her family. She did that and more, leaving the world a memoir of important historical value.

I recommend The Life of Gluckel of Hameln: A Memoir.

August 13, 2013 – 7 Elul, 5773


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

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


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

Lorri M. Friday News 5/17/13

2 Mogen david

I reviewed the memoir, Country of Ash: A Jewish Doctor in Poland 1939-1945.

I wrote about Cancer in Varied Forms, this week.

I finished reading The Golem and the Jinni, and I absolutely enjoyed it, although it is not my normal genre of reading.


Hannah’s Nook has a delicious sounding Fruity Red Lentil Curry recipe posted.

Leora’s Sketching Out blog has a wonderful colored-pencil drawing: Fishing at the Raritan River: Man and Boy. What are your thoughts on it?

Visit Shiloh Musings and read her Jewish Blog Roundup which has several links to browse.

Zivah writes on Naso – raising us up.

Yidstock 2013 – The Festival of New Yiddish Music

Visit Women of the Wall to see their latest update.

The Jewish Journal has a post about the new documentary: State 194: A Documentary About Palestine.

Jewish Waltz With Planet Earth Retreat, such an interesting concept.

Shabbat Shalom!


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