Playing Anne Frank Podcast Review

Among the 6 million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust were 1.5 million young people. This cumulative experience of the lost generation speaks to us via The Diary of Anne Frank.

In 1955, the book was turned into a play. The new 7-part podcast, Playing Anne Frank, tells the behind-the-scenes story of how the play was made and its impact on everyone (both the audience and the creators) involved. Mixing historical media with interviews of surviving cast members, it brings the drama to life and reinforces the importance of the work.

I have enjoyed listening to the first 3 episodes. For obvious reasons, both the original text and its various stage/screen incarnations are still relevant, even after all of these years. What I am appreciating is the insights of the cast and that they understood the necessity of sharing Anne’s story.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

New episodes of Playing Anne Frank are released every Tuesday.

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The Nazis Knew My Name: A Remarkable Story of Survival and Courage in Auschwitz Book Review

To the Nazis, most of their victims were nameless sub-human creatures who were marked for death. They had no identity and were without the distinct characteristics that made them unique.

But there was one name that was known: Magda Hellinger. Her story is told in the 2022 memoir, The Nazis Knew My Name: A Remarkable Story of Survival and Courage in Auschwitz. The book was co-written with Magda’s daughter, Maya Lee, and edited by David Brewster.

Before the war, Magda was a kindergarten teacher. After she was transported to Auschwitz, she made the bold (or stupid, depending on your pov) to speak up for her fellow prisoners. Instead of sending her to the gas chambers, she was put in charge of the camp’s female “inhabitants”. Magda was forced to walk the daily line of keeping as many alive as she could while making sure that their captors looked the other way. By honing her intelligence and survival skills, she was able to save her life and the lives of many others.

This book is amazing. It speaks to the inner strength that allows us to live with situations that would otherwise kill us. The images from the Holocaust often show my co-religionists meekly going to their deaths. It is stories like Magda’s that prove that there was still a fight to be fought, even under the most difficult of circumstances.

It also proves once more that women can do anything.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

The Nazis Knew My Name: A Remarkable Story of Survival and Courage in Auschwitz is available where books are sold.

Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present Book Review

It has often been said that we can learn from history to prevent future mistakes. The caveat is that we have to be willing to understand what went wrong in order to make sure that it won’t happen again.

Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present, by Ruth Ben-Ghiat, was published in 2021. In the book, the author traces the history of autocratic and fascist leaders over the last 100 years. She starts with Benito Mussolini, and ends with modern leaders such as you know who and Vladimir Putin. Though they come from different parts of the world and speak different languages, the blueprint is the same:

  • Subjugation and persecution of minorities, perceived enemies, the LGBTQ community, and those with opposing political views.
  • Degrading women down to the traditional roles of wives and mothers (with the exception of the females in their personal orbit).
  • Proclaim that they are the one person who can save their country.
  • They claim to protect “democracy” and ensure law and order while doing the very opposite.

I think this book is a must-read for everyone who believes in a democratic government and what it stands for. As the last few years have shown us, complacency opens the door to a form of government that manipulates and destroys. It is only when we respect and fight for the constitutional way of life can we truly be free.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Strongmen: From Mussolini to the Present is available wherever books are sold.

Women at War Season 1 Review

It is a sad truth universally acknowledged that women are only allowed to step when their men are called away to war.

The first season of the French television series Woman at War was recently released on Netflix. As World War I rages on, four women step up to save their country. Marguerite (Audrey Fleurot) is running from her past. Agnes (Julie De Bona) is a Mother Superior whose convent has been turned into a military hospital. Suzanne (Camille Lou) has the law on her tail. Caroline (Sofia Essaïdi) has been tasked with running the family business while her husband is on the front lines.

Blending personal drama with the compounding effects of a military conflict made for one heck of a story. The writing was fantastic, the actors were pitch-perfect and I was thoroughly drawn into the narrative.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Women at War is available for streaming on Netflix with English subtitles.

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Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day

The Holocaust ended 78 years ago. Though it may seem like ancient history, the truth is that it happened in the lifetimes of our parents and grandparents.

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day and specifically, the liberation of the survivors of the Auschwitz death camp.

When I think of what has been happening in the past few years, I see scary signs of what could happen again. I think it goes without saying that we don’t want to make the alarm bells ring all of the time. But, given recent events (Kanye, for one), I can’t help but make connections to the recent past.

One of the things that I wish was more well-known was the persecution of the LGBTQ community. Before the war, Berlin was known for its openness to those who were not heteronormative. The ended in 1933. Thousands were murdered and many more were persecuted.

The problem is that many continue to turn a blind eye to this hatred, even those of my faith. Ben Shapiro (whom I dislike with every bone in my body), has been open about his association with the right and their hatred of everyone who is not them. What he conveniently forgets is that at the day, he is still Jewish. The antisemites would still slap a yellow star on his chest and send him to his death.

It has been said that we die twice. The first time is when shuffle off this mortal coil. The second is when we are forgotten. Many of those who were killed have died twice.

May the memories of the millions who were murdered always be a blessing. Z”l.

Thoughts On the 25th anniversary of the Clinton/Lewinsky Affair

Every generation has its own political scandal that defines that era. It speaks to the values and beliefs of that time.

This month is the 25th anniversary of the revelation of the Clinton/Lewinsky affair and the eventual impeachment of the President. On last Sunday’s episode of Meet the Press, host Chuck Todd and his rotating group of panelists discussed the long-term effects of this particular news item.

Starts at 26:44

Once the details hit the presses, Lewinsky became a punchline. Clinton would eventually weather the storm and end his time in office with a mostly solid reputation.

One of the things that struck me was a comment made by one of the guests. If it had happened today, the #MeToo movement would have vindicated Lewinsky. Clinton would be in the same league as Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer.

If nothing else, this shows that change does happen. It just sometimes takes a quarter of a century for it to be accepted as the norm.

Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley Book Review

*Mary Wollstonecraft will be referred to as MW. Mary Shelley will be referred to as MS.

There are numerous ways that a parent can influence a child, even after they have passed away. Charlotte Gordon‘s 2015 biography, Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley, is the story of the iconic mother/daughter duo.

Though they never knew each other in life (MW died soon after MS was born), the similarities are inescapable. MW wrote The Vindication of the Rights of Women. MS wrote Frankenstein. Both books were earth-shattering in their own right. The men (William Godwin and Percy Bysshe Shelley respectively) who they made their lives with were far from conventional. By the standards of their time, MW and MS broke all of the rules of what it was to be a female. In doing so, they paved the way for future generations of writers (female especially) to fulfill their dreams.

I loved this book. Gordon introduces her subjects to the audience in such a way that they feel modern. While reading, I was inspired to give the proverbial middle finger to what is “normal” and not care what others think. If nothing else, I think that is the legacy of this extraordinary pair of women.

The only thing I will warn is that Gordon’s narrative is not linear. She alternates each chapter between MW and MS. I took a minute to understand where Gordon was going. After that, I had no problem with the story.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter Mary Shelley is available wherever books are sold.

Today Should Have Been the 50th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade

For most of American history, women have been second citizens. It was only with the passing of Roe V. Wade 50 years ago that we were fully enfranchised.

Today should have been a momentous day in the United States. We should have been celebrating that we are truly free. Our fate and our decisions were of our own making. Instead, we have regressed back to a time in which our future was dependent on where we lived and who was in the halls of power.

The fact is that abortion is healthcare. It ensures that the patient can make the best decision for both her physical and mental health. Without both of those intact, the level of difficulty to fully take care of the youngster(s) rises exponentially.

If for any reason, she is unprepared or unable to take care of the child once it is born, she should not be forced to bring it into the world. Should she be forced to give birth, at best, her ability to parent will be severely diminished. At worst, the minor will be at the mercy of social services and its numerous failings. The last thing any of us should want is for a young person to suffer because of residual issues of the adult in their life.

As much as we want to mourn, it will not get us anywhere. The only thing to do is to stand up, speak up, and fight. Only then, we will be heard and hopefully, in the near future, will our rights be returned to us.

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There are marches across the country today in support of the pro-choice movement. If you cannot march, please donate to one (or more) of the many organizations that are standing up for our freedom.

Sister Novelists: The Trailblazing Porter Sisters, Who Paved the Way for Austen and the Brontës Book Review

For everyone who makes a crack in the glass ceiling, they stand on the shoulders of someone else who made that crack possible. Lovers of classic literature are (hopefully) well-versed in the lives and works of Jane Austen and the Brontes.

What has been lost to history is that without Anna Maria and Jane Porter, neither Austen nor the Brontes would have been able to become published authors. The story of the Misses Porter is told in Devoney Looser‘s new book, Sister Novelists: The Trailblazing Porter Sisters, Who Paved the Way for Austen and the Brontës. Published last fall, Looser introduces modern readers to the sisters and their numerous works.

They lived what can only be described as a double life. Though they were respected authors/celebrities of their era, the Porters were never financially secure. Debt and poorly made monetary decisions followed them from the time they were young. They were also posthumously buried by the male writers of their era (Sir Walter Scott to be specific), who never publicly named the Porters as the inspiration for their own works.

It goes without saying that the book would be completely up my alley. It goes without saying that it is for a niche audience. But that’s fine. What Looser does so well is to bring her subjects and their world to life. I felt like I knew them as human beings, not as icons and proto-feminists. While she kept to the standard womb-to-tomb biography format, it was far from the dry academic title that it could have been.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely. It is a must-read.

Sister Novelists: The Trailblazing Porter Sisters, Who Paved the Way for Austen and the Brontës is available wherever books are sold.

Three Minutes: A Lengthening Documentary Review

Films (and images in general) can tell a story like nothing else can. It allows the viewer to temporarily immerse themselves into that world and understand the perspective of those who call it home.

Three Minutes: A Lengthening is a documentary that was recently released on Hulu. In 1938, David and Liza Kurtz went on a grand tour of Europe. Among the places they visited was Nasielsk. Located in Poland, David was born in that town and later emigrated to the United States. The Jewish residents were more than happy to welcome back a native son who had done good.

David took out his camera and started filming. In total, the footage lasts about 3 minutes. Little did any of them know that this mini-film would be one of the last records of the Nasielsk’s Jewish population. Most of them were murdered in the Holocaust. Narrated by Helena Bonham Carter, the film follows the endeavor to not just locate the shtetl, but to put a human face on those who lived there.

One of the best aspects of the movie is that it takes the bigness of the Shoah and makes it feel like the audience is being directly spoken to. With all of the details that we know about the period, it is hard to absorb that millions were murdered because of who they were.

By bringing it down to a micro level, we see the individual lives that were lost and it allows us to (hopefully) do everything we can to make sure that it does not happen again.

Do I recommend it?

Absolutely.

Three Minutes: A Lengthining is available for streaming on Hulu.

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