Category Archives: 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I began it, I read straight through the pages, and then went back to absorb some more intense and dramatic pages and historical content.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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Filed under Book Reviews, Holocaust/Genocide, Jewish History, Judaism, Lorri's Blog, Non-Fiction, Uncategorized, World War II

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

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

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.

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Review: Litvaks and Lithuanians Confront the Past

zagare As the great-granddaughter of Lithuanian grandparents, both on my maternal and paternal side, Zagare: Litvaks and Lithuanians Confront the Past, by Sara Manobla, is a book that I had wanted to read when I first found out about its publication.

I felt it would offer me historical information regarding the Jews of Zagare, and therefore, the Jewish communities throughout Lithuania, during World War II. I was not disappointed. I can not say that I enjoyed the book, because the subject matter is a sober one, a somber one, with facts that surfaced pointing to the horrors of the Holocaust. I am most definitely appreciative that I read the book and the historical information.

The shtetl was small, yet antisemitism was great. Non-Jews spewed their hatred in ways that defied sensibility. In 1941 local Lithuanians, along with the Nazis, murdered Jews in Zagare. Resentment over the horrendous acts were prevalent throughout the successive decades.

One man remained, Isaac Mendelssohn, the last of the Jews of Zagare. And, after meeting that man, Sara Manobla’s life took a sharp turn in her journey of discovery and illumination. She encountered people and heard testimony regarding events that she was not expecting. Her journey became a different one than when it had begun.

And, still, today, resentment continues on both sides of the issue. There is a small quota of those who try to acknowledge the detrimental actions of the past. Through those individuals a sense of acceptance has emerged.


Zagare: Litvaks and Lithuanians Confront the Past
is a book of hope, a book that was inspiring, in my opinion. I applaud Sara Manobla for her frankness, and her ability to let the past be the past, yet let it be remembered without bitterness and anger. That she was able to move forward into acceptance and combine that acceptance with reconciliation of the facts in a positive manner is a tribute to her strength and determination to unfold the truth of her ancestry within the truth of the past.

Brava!

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Yom Ha’Shoah – International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Let us remember all of those who came before us, all of the victims of the Holocaust, by taking a moment to pray for those no longer with us. Our thoughts and prayers will keep them with us.

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The first few lines of this poem were written during WWII, on the wall of a cellar, etched on the wall, by a Jewish prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp, in Cologne, Germany. The rest of the lines were written by the composer Z. Randall Stroope.

I believe in the sun
even when it is not shining
And I believe in love,
even when there’s no one there.
And I believe in God,
even when he is silent
.

I believe through any trial,
there is always a way
But sometimes in this suffering
and hopeless despair
My heart cries for shelter,
to know someone’s there
But a voice rises within me, saying hold on
my child, I’ll give you strength,
I’ll give you hope. Just stay a little while.

I believe in the sun
even when it is not shining
And I believe in love
even when there’s no one there
But I believe in God
even when he is silent
I believe through any trial
there is always a way.

May there someday be sunshine
May there someday be happiness
May there someday be love
May there someday be peace….“

– Unknown

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