Category Archives: World History

Holocaust International Remembrance Day

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Please take a moment to reflect and remember.

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Recovered items on display at Israeli Holocaust Memorial.

Yad Vashem Commemorates International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity

Wikipedia link.

Simon Wiesenthal Center

Silale, Lithuania, where some of my paternal ancestors lived, and where some were murdered in the Holocaust.

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I have not been blogging for almost two weeks. I have had a severe case of the flu or some virus. I am almost 100%, but not quite. It has been an exhausting several days. My body is still feeling the affects and effects.

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

Book Review: The Life of an Unknown Man

the life of an unknown man2 Although the novel, The Life of an Unknown Man, by Andrei Makine, is 208 pages long, its short length does not lessen the compelling story line.

The novel brings the reader an extremely well written descriptive of Russia, seen through two main characters. The first one is a man named Ivan Shutov, a Russian who has been living in Paris for about twenty years. He is a writer, aspiring to write that epic novel, a novel similar in style to Anton Chekhov and Leo Tolstoy. He lives and breathes the classic Russian authors, and compares his current life experiences to their writings. He is wrapped in dreams and fantasies, and the essence of life revolves around Russian Literature. He values their ideals that he reads within the pages of their books.

Shutov is approximately fifty-years old, and old enough to be the father of his former lover, Lea. After many discussions and arguments (some over Chekhov) he is brutal in his verbal attacks on her opinions. After a while, she became disgusted and fed up with him and his lack of emotional commitment. She left him for a man her own age, and Shutov has great difficulty dealing with her departure. He can not stop thinking about her, and obsesses on her. He feels a void, and decides to take a trip to St. Petersburg, Russia, to revisit his past, a past he has glorified in his memories, and one he has not viewed realistically.

When he arrives, he sees that things are not what they were in the past. Communism reared its distorted head with brutal force to the Russians. The country has gone through an upheaval, and it has collapsed. The citizens have become westernized in their thinking, and become materialistic in their approach to life. This attitude has a shattering affect on Shutov.

While there he meets up with a former lover named Yana. They had a fling while students, and she is not the same person he knew. How could she be after living through the changes and events her country has gone through. He encounters an elderly man named Georgy Lvovich Volsky, living in a room within Yana’s apartment complex. Yana and her son have told him that Volsky doesn’t speak, and is paralyzed. To make a long story short, Volsky does eventually speak to Shutov.

And, the tales he tells are incredible accounts of the love of his life, Mina, and of his experiences during Leningrad’s siege, and his military service to the country. The times were horrific, horrendous moments were prevalent, food was scarce, life was lived by barely hanging on. Volsky’s story is vividly depicted by Makine, and nothing is spared in his relaying it.

Throughout the pages, the reader can not help but grasp the devastation and the brutality of the times. One also gains a sense of the individual, as a separate being, one who has weathered all the forced events. The reader also gains insight into the philosophy of the individual as part of the whole in the connection of community, the military and the country. The title, “The Life of an Unknown Man” is very fitting, within these aspects. Makine is brilliant in displaying both modes within the pages.

He also makes the reader ponder about human worth. Volsky went through so much, yet he was not validated for his efforts. He went unrecognized in an environment that was not conducive to acknowledging accomplishments. The time periods that encapsulated his life achievements seemed almost for naught. Yet, Volsky did not view it that way. He saw beauty in nature, in music, in theater, and constantly saw possibilities out of what others saw as impossible. Volsky saw his life in a positive manner, and saw his participation being an allegiance to Russia.

Makine’s message was clear, his prose depicted with visual clarity. The suffering and the lives lost were a minute part of the entirety. The sentimentality of the past can hinder people in ways they can not imagine. It was a harsh lesson for Shutov. The past caught up with him, and he was able to distinguish the reality of the Russia he had left behind, and the reality of the Russia through the twenty years he had been gone, and what the country had evolved into.

I applaud Andrei Makine for his brilliance and for his magnificent writing. The novel was a fascinating look at the history of what was then known as Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) and an intriguing read. He took me back to eras of harshness, and within the story line I found illuminations of hope resonating, strongly.

I recommend The Life of an Unknown Man to everyone.

January 7, 2013 – 25 Tevet, 5773

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Filed under Book Reviews, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Lorri's Blog, Novels, World History

Review – Every Day Lasts a Year

everydaylasts Every Day Lasts a Year: A Jewish Family’s Correspondence From Poland, by Richard S. Hollander, Christopher R. Browning and Nechama Tec, is an extremely profound and absorbing book, a poignant and excellent documentation of family life during the Holocaust.

Richard S. Hollander’s parents were killed in an automobile accident in 1986. After their death he was looking through their attic, and came across a trunk filled with letters. The letters were from his father’s mother, three sisters, their children, and from his brother in-laws, written between November 1939 and December 1941. Richard Hollander’s father, Joseph Hollander had emigrated to the U.S. in 1939, and had overcome extreme odds in order to become a naturalized citizen of the U.S. That he saved the letters in the trunk for all of those years might have been his way of keeping his family with him, of remembering their existence within the decades past and within the Holocaust realm. He never spoke of the letters to Richard.

The letters are written in German and Polish, while Joseph Hollander’s relatives lived in the Kracow Ghetto, and they are a moving and historic family chronicle of every day life endured during the harshest and darkest of times. The firsthand accounts in Every Day Lasts a Year are intense, desperate, loving, edged with concern and fear. Joseph Hollander’s mother, especially, was concerned about whether she would ever see her son again and ever hold him in her arms. Other relatives are concerned that mail wasn’t being delivered on either end, and so the family devised a “code” that would let them know whether letters had been received.

The book is one that everyone should read. It is divided into three sections. The first section is an essay written by Joseph’s son, Richard, pertaining to his father’s emigration, and struggle to free his family, and avoid his own deportation back to Krakow. It also explains how Joseph helped to save other Jews. The second section includes essays on Jewish life in Krakow, and the last section includes the letters, which are profoundly revealing, and an emotional roller coaster, in and of themselves. The anxiety of separation, the Holocaust looming above them, the longing and love are all apparent within the framework of the letters.

The last letter on the last page of Every Day Lasts a Year (sent to Joseph, regarding his mother, Berta Hollander) is especially poignant, and I keep rereading it, and the lines continue to stay with me, fixed in my emotions and mind.

What makes Every Day Lasts a Year and family accounting different than most Holocaust stories is the fact it is not an actual book on the Holocaust. It is a book whose content was written through letters (180 pages of the 280 pages), letters that reveal the historical context and complexities of the daily lives of the family members in Krakow, Poland, and the crisis they were experiencing.

I was thoroughly mesmerized by Every Day Lasts a Year, the historical background of Joseph Hollander’s family’s struggles to survive on a daily basis. The book is involving, and I couldn’t put it down until I finished it. The intensity of the letters, the gravity of the family situation will stay with me, lingering in the recesses of my mind. It is a beautifully written book, and a tribute to Richard S. Hollander’s family. The letters, themselves, are a firsthand accounting of their lives, and a testament to how their lives (and the lives of all Holocaust victims) should not be forgotten. The clearly written and the precisely historic accounting behind the letters are extremely invaluable in understanding the Holocaust and Jewish life in the Krakow Ghetto, and invaluable as a family history, ancestral documentation and chronology.

The poignancy is never diminished in this beautiful and extraordinary family chronicle and portrait.

I highly recommend Every Day Lasts a Year: A Jewish Family’s Correspondence From Poland to everyone.

December 13, 2012 – 29 Kislev, 5773

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Filed under Book Reviews, Non-Fiction, World History, World War II