Tag Archives: Holocaust history

Remember – Kristallnacht

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.[2] Jewish homes, hospitals, and schools were ransacked, as the attackers demolished buildings with sledgehammers.[3] Over 1,000 synagogues were burned (95 in Vienna alone), and over 7,000 Jewish businesses destroyed or damaged.[4][5]

Seventy four years later, please remember all of the victims of Kristallnacht, and of the Holocaust, during your prayer and quiet time, this Shabbat.

To learn more about Kristallnacht, browse these links:


United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Wikipedia

Yad Vashem

Martin Gilbert’s Book – Kristallnacht: Prelude to Destruction (Making History)

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Book Review – City of Women

City of Women, by David R. Gillham, is an incredible book, and a compelling look into the underlying forces that ordinary citizens, mainly women, in Berlin chose to implement during World War II.

During World War II, Berlin, normally a city with a large population, had mainly women within its city walls, due to the fact most of the men were off to war. The women that remain, and what many of them eventually take on, turns the pages of this novel into an intense story.

Sigrid is one of those women left in Berlin, and she not only masquerades her daily life and its journeys, but also has an affair with a Jewish man. Eventually, due to her decisions, she must reconcile her life as a wife with her life as a lover. She must combine and coordinate her daily life and its goings on that are expected of her, with her pursuit to help Jews.

While the Berlin residents do almost anything to avoid interacting with the Gestapo, Sigrid lives with her mother-in-law, and her husband is off to war. Her love of movies brings her a chance encounter with her soon to be Jewish lover. The movie theater also bring her to meet a woman who calls on her to help in the hiding of Jews in the underground movement.

City of Women is a page-turner, and once I began it, I read it straight through. The visuals are brilliant, and the novel is a magnificent exploration of war and the willingness to do the correct thing. It is a metaphor for the strength of women, and the heroics that some German women displayed during the extreme horrific and the tumultuous of times.

City of Women is a book of love and war, good and evil, of soul searching, of decisive actions, and of redemption. It is a masterful depiction of daily life in Berlin during the Holocaust.

I highly recommend City of Women, by David R. Gillham to everyone.

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Review – Two Lives

Two Lives, by Vikram Seth, is a beautifully written and poignant memoir and one that you will remember long after you have finished the last word, on the last page. It is one of those memoirs that stay in your heart, in your mind, for years to come.

When I was seventeen I went to live with my great-uncle and great-aunt in England. He was an Indian by origin, she German. They were both sixty. I hardly knew them at the time.”

And, with these opening lines begins the journey through the lives of Shanti Behari Seth (Indian), Helga Gerda Karo (German Jew), and, the author, which culminates in an emotional ending. Seth, chronicles the lives of his great-uncle and great-aunt, with exacting details, which some might find over-reacting, or over-zealous in his endeavors. But, we must remember that this is a memoir, a factual story of lives. This is not a novel, or fictionalized account, but, rather an actual documentation of their lives, relayed in over 500 pages. And, relayed it is, through the most minute of details.

All the details of the interplays and dynamics need to be depicted and interwoven into the family fabric and tapestry of their lifespans. Seth does so with magnificent prose, always mindful of those he writes of. His admiration and respect for his great-uncle and great-aunt is clear, and the reader knows it is honest and comes from Seth’s heart and soul. If Shanti and Helga had not met, there would be no story. If they had not met, Seth would not have experienced the love and devotion showered on him.

We watch the friendship and love grow between Shanti, who was born in India, and studied dentistry and medicine in Berlin; and Helga, a German Jew. Two very different cultures, and two lives, lives which receded and ebbed within The Holocaust, Auschwitz and Israel, in an ocean of torment, hate, persecution, and, love. From 1908 India, to 1908 Germany, and the years that follow, in a Germany ruled by Hitler, we follow the journey of Shanti and Helga, to England, and also the journey of the author, Vikram Seth, into the lives of this childless couple.

These two lives couldn’t have been more different, yet more alike, than either of them could have imagined…overcoming racial and ethnic hatred, and genocide, their lives become fulfilled and realized, with the inclusion of Vikram Seth into their family. This is a memoir weaved from cultural threads, threads of understanding and love, woven into a quilt of unconditional love, compassion and the overcoming of adversity.
Seth connects the reader through his almost gentle-like prose and his compassion for the circumstances. His kind demeanor is present within each page, and he is never quick to demonstrate anger or hatred. That, for me, was extremely apparent throughout the memoir.

Two Lives is a must read for everyone who is interested in World War II, The Holocaust, India, England, and a love story that crosses all the cultural boundaries. Once I started reading it, I could not put it down.

Seth is masterful in his word-paintings with fluidity and through details that fill the senses. His prose is almost poetic. Two Lives is as much of a tribute to his great-uncle and great-aunt, as it is an inspirational story that touches on the horrors of war and the fight for survival within an extremely adverse framework. The human spirit and determination to survive and move forward is depicted magnificently in Two Lives. It is a tribute to Vikram Seth and the foundation his relatives laid out for him. It is a tribute to life.

June 1, 2012 – 10 Sivan, 5772

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Jewaicious Review – An Uncommon Friendship

An Uncommon Friendship: From Opposite Sides of the Holocaust, by Bernat Rosner and Frederic C. Tubach, with Sally Patterson Tubach, is an extremely powerful, and poignant memoir, written in a concise manner, with clarity and sensitivity. The memoir (really two memoirs in one) parallels the lives of Rosner and Tubach, from their childhoods through adulthood, at which time their lives converge, and a friendship begins to form.

They became acquainted in 1983, through their wives, and from there we watch as a superficial relationship between two men turn into a lasting and deep friendship, with all the layers of emotion peeled away.

The memoir is physically written by Tubach, and his story is in the first person, whereas Rosner’s is in the third person. Rosner wanted Tubach to write it that way.

Rosner, was a Survivor of Auschwitz, and was a Hungarian Jew, sent there at twelve-years of age with his mother, father and brother. He was the only one to survive. Tubach was the son of a Nazi German Soldier during the same time period. An Uncommon Friendship is written in double memoir style, rotating back and forth, from Rosner to Tubach, during the turbulent and horrific events of the Holocaust, through their both emigrating to America.

They were on opposite sides of the spectrum, and we witness their riveting journeys. We watch them graduate from universities, become employed in fairly prestigious occupations, and finally see their lives converge, when they finally meet. Rosner’s journey through the darkest moments of horror and back is told with extreme sensitivity by Tubach.

It was only when Rosner began telling his story in bits and pieces, and when Rosner and Tubach traveled to Rosner’s village of origin, that the intensity and horrors that he (Rosner) encountered began to ring out through his heart-wrenching stories. The tortures, horrors, atrocities and events that he endured, he surpressed, in order to emotionally survive. He left his emotions behind him when emigrating to America, as if they were annihilated (and, they actually were). He wanted a new life, and was given the chance through a family who adopted him. It was through his growing, and unlikely friendship with Tubach that he was able to reveal the ugliness of his survival, and the loss of his family members, and slowly his silence resounded.

Tubach’s story isn’t lessened or overshadowed by Rosner’s. Tubach had his own situations in his village, living with a dictator type father and a caring stepmother. He had a restlessness to achieve and make something of himself. Life wasn’t easy for him, even though he was on the extreme end of the continuum. He too, emigrated to start anew, sponsored by an uncle. Tubach doesn’t try to give reason to the actions of his family, and he doesn’t seek to explain or justify the situations of his life in Germany. He tells his story, in reflection and comparison to Rosner’s. Each man has a valid and sincere story to tell, each with descriptive images, neither one trying to outshine the other.

The memoir is fascinating and beautifully written, filled with harrowing moments, genocide, nightmares of physical endurance, and the horrors war inflicts on both those who perish, and those who survive. The authors are excellent in detailing scenarios with extreme, descriptive insight and intensity.

An Uncommon Friendship is a metaphor for friendship and trust. Trust is earned, and not a given, and both men learned the true meaning of trust within the sphere of their developing relationship and friendship. Through the testimonies of Bernat Rosner and Frederic C. Tubach, lives are reborn and friendships built through shared remembrances of childhoods from different sides of the spectrum. Parallel lives become intertwined and joined by the bridge of friendship, strength and courage. Their stories are a tribute to endurance, courage and life. I highly recommend An Uncommon Friendship: From Opposite Sides of the Holocaust.

I personally own the riveting memoir.

March 29, 2012 – 6 Nisan, 5772

No permission is granted to reproduce my reviews, prose of any sort, and photos without my permission.

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Jewaicious Review – An Italian Renaissance

An Italian Renaissance: Choosing Life in Canada, by Robert Eli Rubinstein, is more than a family memoir depicting the family’s move from a Displaced Person’s Camp (DP camp) in Italy to Canada. It is a loving tribute to the family members who survived the Holocaust/Shoah.

From the first page to the last, I couldn’t put the book down. I was engrossed with the story line, and taken by the frankness with which Rubinstein depicted his family’s journey through the Holocaust/Shoah and beyond. But, the reader soon realizes that the journey is also his own, as he reconciles the fact that he was born in Torino, Italy, to parents who lived in Grugliasco, a DP camp, with the fact that his mother tended to romanticize the time spent there.

Rubinstein not only visited Torina, Grugliasco, and his familial roots in Hungary, but learned much about the history behind the DP camp. He writes an honest account of the living conditions within the DP camp environment, which is taken, not only from familial accounts, but also historical documents, and oral statements from others.

He writes forthrightly, but beautifully, detailing his parent’s journey to Canada, to start life anew, and unbeknownst to them, in a city that was filled with antisemitic individuals. His family and the other Jewish refugees were known as “greenies”, a derogatory term, and one used frequently when being spoken of. Rubinstein depicts his parent’s struggle to survive in Canada, learning new trades, and eventually starting their own businesses, under adverse circumstances.

Although his parents were angry at what had befallen them, and although they didn’t feel that G-d showed them goodness in their horrific trials of family loss and survival, they still practiced Judaism and instilled the traditions within their family environment. Rubinstein had all of this to contend with on a daily basis, yet, he too weathered his own storms.

As a child of Holocaust survivors, he was a survivor himself, surviving the DP camp conditions, and surviving his own battles that evolved from his parents’ struggles, not only in the post war camp environment, but in their starting life in a new country, with a new language, and a new cultural history. Yes, they were part of a Jewish influx, yet were basically isolated within ghetto like conditions when they first arrived.

Rubinstein’s story is compelling in its historical references to little known facts regarding the DP camp, how the Italian community treated the Jews, and also compelling in his revelations regarding his own journey, his own self-discovery and religious identity. He doesn’t diminish the events in any aspect, yet he manages to write in a vividly beautiful manner.

An Italian Renaissance: Choosing Life in Canada, is an important book that details post war life in Italy and in Canada, but also is a poignant and inspirational book detailing Robert Eli Rubinstein’s family’s struggles and the love he has for them.

I highly recommend it to everyone.

I personally own and have read this book…for the second time last month.

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March 6, 2012 – 12 Adar I, 5772

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Jewaicious Film Review – In Darkness

I didn’t think I could see a movie that was more compelling or intense with visuals as Schindler’s List or The Pianist. I was wrong, unfortunately.

In Darkness, directed by Agnieszka Holland is a film that will stay with me, as both Schindler’s List and The Pianist have.

For me, it is one of those films that depicts the Holocaust without mincing words or cutting short the visual impact of the horrific situations that those who were victims experienced.

In Darkness is a true story based on Leopold Socha, who was a sewer worker in Lvov, Poland. He was a small time thief, and a conniver living during World War II, when Lvov was occupied by the Nazis.

The majority of In Darkness takes place in the sewers of Lvov, within the darkness, the stench, the vermin (rats, etc.), and within the confines of a tunnel like atmosphere. This lends to the harsh feeling of the anxiety, emotional suffocation, lack of sunlight and lack of freedom that the Jewish individuals suffered through, in the dire situation they were in.

Leopold Socha starts out by bringing the Jews in the sewers bits of food, and other assorted items, that help them to survive, for money. As the film goes on we begin to see a change in him, and see his attitude towards the Jews slowly begin to change. We see his own journey towards recognition of the Jews as people, much like himself, despite the religious differences between them. We see him begin to understand the humaneness of the situation, and see him comprehend that he holds their lives in his hands.

Once he comes to understand this concept, there is no turning back for him. As far as he was concerned, they were his Jews, and he referred to them as “my Jews”. No matter the expense or the trouble he incurred, he did it willingly, from the moment of understanding until liberation. No more money exchanged hands.

Of course, his life and his family’s life was at risk for his actions. He did jeopardize himself and his family, but felt he had no choice, it was something he had to do, because of his humanistic realizations.

The Jews spent fourteen months within the sewer system, dredged with muck and mire, constant wetness and cramped quarters. Imagine… Once they were liberated, Socha threw them a welcoming party, with cake, etc. He was delighted for them, and treated them like family.

In my opinion, the filming within the sewers fosters and intensifies the focus on his emotional and human awakening. It also magnifies and depicts the dire situation the Jews were in quite dramatically, as we see very little lightness throughout the film.

You can read about Leopold Socha at Yad Vashem. He and his wife have been recognized as Righteous Among the Nations.

In Darkness is not a film for the weak-stomach. But, I highly recommend it. It puts a new light and face on Holocaust survival, and how rescuers played an important role in the lives of some Jews.

February 23, 2012 – 30 Sh’vat, 5772

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