Category Archives: History

Death March Escape: The Remarkable Story of a Man Who Twice Escaped the Nazi Holocaust Book Review

In the years leading up to World War II, approximately nine million Jews called Europe home. By the end of World War II, six million of them were dead.

Dave Hersch is one of the lucky ones. He survived The Holocaust and eventually immigrated to America, where he and his wife raised their children. His older son, Jack, thought that he knew his father’s story. It was only after his father’s death that he learned the complete story.

Jack J. Hersch tells his father’s story in the new book, Death March Escape: The Remarkable Story of a Man Who Twice Escaped the Nazi Holocaust. The narrative follows Jack as he both listens to his father’s tale harrowing of survival and follows him as he visits Europe to trace his father’s footsteps during the The Holocaust.

I’ve read many Holocaust books over the years. This one strikes close to home for me because it is a reminder that there will come a day when the survivors will no longer be around to directly tell their stories. It is up to their families and the rest of us to keep telling these stories to ensure that what happened to the Jews of Europe during World War II does not happen again.

 

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The Only Woman in the Room Book Review

There is a stereotype about women: their looks dictate their intellect. A pretty woman lacks in the intelligence department while an unattractive woman soars in the intelligence department.

Back in the day, Hedy Lamarr (b0rn as Hedwig Eva Maria Kieslerwas considered to be one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood. She was also incredibly smart, but given the era, her intellectual abilities were not exactly respected or appreciated.

The new book, The Only Woman in the Room, by Marie Benedict is Ms. Lamarr’s story from her perspective. The book starts when she is 19. It’s the early 1930’s in Vienna. She is a budding actress who catches the eye of a wealthy and powerful arms dealer. To protect herself and her family, she marries this man. While she plays the role of dutiful wife, she absorbs everything that she hears and sees.

When the marriage turns abusive and it becomes clear that her Jewish ancestry will put her in harm’s way, she escapes to Hollywood. In her new life and career, she is Hedy Lamarr, silver screen goddess. But she has a secret that only a few select people are privy to: she is a scientist. Her invention could possibly end the war and save lives, if those in power would give her work a chance.

I was shocked how much I loved this book. Before reading it, I was aware of Hedy Lamarr as a movie star and had heard that she was an inventor. But other than the basic facts, I was unaware of her complete story. I loved this book because it is the story of a woman who is clearly intelligent and capable, but is underappreciated for those qualities due to the era she lived in.

I absolutely recommend it.

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Witness: Lessons from Elie Wiesel’s Classroom Book Review

When you learn from a master, the lessons learned often transcend the academic world. The lessons we learn from this person stay with us long after we have left the classroom.

The late Elie Wiesel was one of the most remarkable men of our time. He was more than a Holocaust survivor, successful author and a teacher. He spoke to our common humanity in a way that few people are able to do. Ariel Burger was one of the fortunate few who knew Professor Wiesel on a personal level; first has his student, then his teaching assistant.

Last year, Dr. Burger published a memoir about his time with Professor Wiesel entitled Witness: Lessons from Elie Wiesel’s Classroom.  They met when Dr. Burger was a teenager. Years later, he was offered a position of Professor Wiesel’s teaching assistant. For Dr. Burger, this relationship was more than the typical student/teacher or teaching assistant/Professor relationship. Professor Wiesel was a mentor and guided his teaching assistant as he dealt with life’s challenges.

I loved this book. I loved it because I felt like I was sitting in Professor Wiesel’s classroom, learning with his students. I also loved it because it speaks to the legacy of love and learning that only someone like Elie Wiesel could leave to the world.

I recommend it.

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The Holocaust and the Attack on Jussie Smollett Happened For The Same Reason

This past Sunday was Holocaust Remembrance Day. Earlier this week, actor Jussie Smollett was verbally and physically attacked on the streets of Chicago for being a member of the African-American and LGBTQ communities.

Though both events may appear to be different, they are related by one very disturbing fact: someone decided that because another human being is different, they have the right to verbally abuse and physically attack them. In an ideal world, we would judge our fellow human being by who they are as an individual, not by how the identify themselves. But we don’t live in an ideal world. We live in a world where we someone walking down the street and we judge them based on factors such as skin color, religion, etc.

Last night, actor Ellen Page was on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert and accused Vice President Mike Pence of contributing to the attack on Mr. Smollett.

I agree with her. Whether we realize it or not, those in power can influence the average man or woman on the street. If we see our political leaders working towards diversity and respect, we try to emulate them. On the flip side, if we see our political leaders endorsing hate/prejudice and using their position to legislate either, we see it as a go ahead to attack another human being because they are not like us.

It’s 2019. We have a choice at this point. We can choose love, diversity and respect for our fellow beings. Or, we can continue on this path of hate and prejudice. I hope that we (when I say we, I mean a collective cultural “we”), choose love, diversity and respect. But these days, hope often springs eternal.

 

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The Hidden Life of Otto Frank Book Review

For many, Otto Frank is mainly known as the father of Anne Frank. Her diary has been read the world over by multiple generations of readers and has been adapted for the stage and screen numerous times.

In 2003, writer Carol Ann Lee published a biography of Otto Frank entitled The Hidden Life of Otto Frank. The book tells Otto’s story, from his childhood in Germany to  the horrors of the Holocaust and finally, the post war years, as his youngest daughter’s diary became a worldwide cultural sensation.

I really enjoyed this biography. I enjoyed because Otto is given the spotlight that he deserves. The book is quite a hefty read in terms of content and length, but it also engaging. Ms. Lee was extremely thorough in her research, telling the story of a man who has become a symbol of an era when hate and prejudice ruled. She also asked the question that many of us have asked over the years: who betrayed Anne, Otto and the rest of the residents of the annex to the Nazis?

I absolutely recommend it.

 

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Thoughts On Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Today. Today is the day that remember the millions of innocent souls who were murdered because they did not fit in with the Nazi ideal.

This day is particularly personal for me. I am an Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jew. Though my family has been in America for more than a century, they lived for many generations in Eastern Europe before immigrating to America in the early 20th century.

My mother’s grandparents came from Dobromil, a shtetl that in their time was in Poland. Today it is in the Ukraine.

 

My mother’s maternal grandmother, Ida Miller (née Lowenthal), came to this country with her then entire immediate family when she was a child. My mother’s maternal grandfather, Saul Miller, came to this country as a young man by himself. His widowed father, his siblings, their spouses and their children are among the martyred six million.

While we mourn the loss of millions of innocent lives, we are reminded every day that the Holocaust is not just another historical event. The sentiments and forces that led to the Holocaust have not disappeared into the ashes of history and under the cries of “Never Again”. Antisemitism is once again on the rise. A poll of 2000 people in the UK has revealed that one out of every five respondents believe that the Holocaust never happened and one in twelve respondents believe that the number of victims in inaccurate.

We need to keep telling the stories of the survivors and the victims. We need to keep saying never again so that one day, never again will truly mean never again.

 

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Why Are We Still Fighting Over Roe V. Wade?

Today is the 46th anniversary of Roe V. Wade.

It should be a day of celebration. Instead, we are reminded that a woman’s right to control her own body and her own life is a concept that is not exactly universally understood.

While some states (including my home state of New York), have legally affirmed that women are perfectly capable of making decision in regards to their health and their future, other lawmakers in other states believe that they, not the female citizens of their state, have the right to control a woman’s health and future.

The way I see it, it comes down to the fact that for most of human history, women have been seen as less than men. They had no control over the bodies, the health or their lives. This idea that a woman is perfectly able to decide if and/or when to have a child, to take control of her own destiny is an idea that is relatively new to human beings. When an idea is new, it is often considered to be radical, dangerous or just plain weird.

The good thing is that times are changing. Slowly but surely, women and men are waking up. A woman’s right to choose is essential for her future and no lawmaker, male or female, has the right to take that away from her.

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Annelies: A Novel Book Review

Among the 1.5 million children that were killed in the Holocaust, Anne Frank is one of the most famous. Her diary, published after the war has been read by millions of readers over the years. But what if Anne survived?

This is the premise of the new book, Annelies: A Novel, by David R. Gillham. The book starts off just after the end of the war. Anne has survived and made her way back to her father, Otto Frank. Out of the eight people who hid for two years in the annex, they are the only survivors. Though she looks like the same Anne, the horrors she experienced have profoundly affected her psyche and outlook on the world. This creates conflict with her father, who is doing everything he can to return to normal life.

Will Anne be able to find the emotional freedom and security that she once took for granted and more importantly, will her relationship with her father heal?

The reviews on goodreads are mixed. As someone who is familiar with the diary and the person that Anne Frank was, I had to remind myself that this is a work of fiction. This not a non-fiction book. It’s essentially a what-if narrative, using what is known about Anne and those around her to tell a new story. In my opinion, Mr. Gillham should be given some slack and be allowed to use creative license while drawing on documented facts about his subject.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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Thoughts On Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. If he was alive today, he would have been 90 years old.

There are two ways to deal with injustice in the world. One way is to sit back, throw your hands in the air and do nothing because you feel powerless. The other way is to be bold enough, in spite of the fear and trepidation, to stand up for what is right and for those who are unable to fight for themselves.

In his time, he lived in a divided America. In our time, we still live in a divided America. There is still a notion in this country (and the world by extension) that one’s skin color, family background or sexuality is a defining factor how we judge another person instead of judging someone as an individual. It’s 2019, it’s time that saw each other as individuals instead of judging them by labels that are beyond our control.

Dr. King was a speaker like no other. Over fifty years after his death, his words continue to inspire us. In facing the demons of hate, he stated the following:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

It takes more time, emotion and energy to hate than to love. It’s 2019, it’s time to hold out our hands with love to our neighbors. I can’t think of a better way to honor Dr. King’s memory.

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Throwback Thursday-Finding Your Roots (2012-Present)

Discovering previously unknown parts of one’s family tree is akin to being a detective.

Finding Your Roots premiered on PBS in 2012. Hosted by Henry Louis Gates Jr., each episodes focuses on two or three well-known personalities as they learn about their family trees. The cumulative research of genealogists, historians and genetics experts is then compiled into a book of life. As the subject of each episode follows along, Mr. Gates either reveals their family history or answers questions to long-held family secrets.

Genealogy is a fascinating subject, at least from my perspective. It’s more than knowing where your ancestors came from. It’s about connecting the past to the present and revealing that the human experience is a universal one.

I recommend it.

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