Tag Archives: Auschwitz

Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away. Review

Among the numerous death camps that the Nazis maintained during World War II, Auschwitz was the most notorious. At least 1.1 million people died within the borders of the death camp.

The new exhibit, Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away., opened back in June at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City’s Battery Park. The exhibit tells the story of the death camp from it’s time as an average small town to it’s days as the notorious death camp until it’s current state as a museum just after the war.

Containing personal artifacts, interviews, media coverage from the day and historical timelines, this exhibit is as hard hitting, emotional and relevant as any Holocaust exhibit.

I’ve often spoken on this blog about the Holocaust. My family came from Eastern Europe and like many Eastern European Jews, there are stories of family members who survived and those who didn’t.

The artifacts are so incredibly ordinary. A pair of glasses. A variety of adult shoes. A suitcase. Those who walked through the gates of Auschwitz were not so different than you and I. But there were labelled as different, subhuman and therefore ripe for extinction.

The one artifact that stayed with me was the child’s shoe with the sock still in it. I imagine a mother undressing her child before undressing herself. She meticulously kept their clothes together thinking that they were about to enter a run of the mill “shower”. No one could have expected that the “shower” would kill them.

What the curators and the museum have done brilliantly is to make the connection between Europe before World War II and our current world. Germany was a democracy before the Nazis took power. If the democratic rule of law and acceptance of all citizens is not upheld, the slippery slope to dictatorship and murder is sharp and quick.

I’ve been to quite a few Holocaust exhibits over the years. What made this one different is the that spotlight is also on the other victims. LGBTQ and Romani (Gypsy) were just two of the groups that were tortured, starved and murdered.

If you must go to one museum and one exhibit this year, Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away. is it. Not only do I recommend it, I would say that it should be mandatory given the world we currently live in.

I would also recommend that if you visit, you carve out 2-3 hours, as it takes that long to go through and absorb this story.

Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away. will be open until January 3rd, 2020 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. Check the website for tickets prices and exhibit details.

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Shoshana Ovitz: From Auschwitz to 400 Descendants

Among the Nazi death camps that are the grave sites for millions, Auschwitz is the most notorious death camp. Shoshana Ovitz was one of the lucky few to survive Auschwitz.

Earlier this week, Mrs. Ovitz celebrated her 104 birthday at the Western Wall with 400 of her descendants.

Hitler and the Nazis did everything in their power to destroy us. They took our rights away. They took our homes away. They treated as less than human. They tortured us, enslaved us, starved us and tried to kill us.

But Am Yisrael Chai, the Jewish people live. We may be small in number, but we are mighty and we will stay true to who we are.

Happy Birthday Mrs. Ovitz. May you have nothing but naches and love for many years to come.

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The Volunteer: One Man an Underground Army and the Secret Mission to Destroy Auschwitz Book Review

When facing injustice, it’s easy to step back and let someone else be the one on the soapbox. It’s harder (and possibly dangerous) to be the one on the soapbox.

In 1939, as the clouds of war could be seen in Europe, many were content to sit back or tried to escape before the borders closed. But Witold Pilecki chose another path.

His story is chronicled in the new book The Volunteer: One Man, an Underground Army, and the Secret Mission to Destroy Auschwitz. Written by Jack Fairweather, the book tells the story of how Pilecki, a gentleman farmer and cavalry officer, put himself in harms way so he could be sent to Auschwitz. His plan was to document the Nazi atrocities, share those atrocities with the world and to bring together prisoners who would destroy the camp from the inside out.

During his two and a half year imprisonment, Pilecki and his team sabotaged the Nazis whenever they could. He also started documenting the Nazi plan to exterminate European Jewry and tried to warn the Allies of the murders of millions of innocent people.

The book contains previously unknown and hidden diary entries, documented first hand accounts by survivors and declassified files that for decades were hidden from public view. Told in an almost cinematic format, the book tells the true story of one man’s personal mission to reveal the truth before it was too late.

I am not one to dictate what should be on anyone’s TBR (to be read) list, but I would highly recommend that this book is on your list. It is honestly one of the best books I have read in a long time. There moments in the book in which I held my breath, unsure if he would survive and/or escape. If nothing else, this book is a reminder that even in darkness, there is still a small sliver of light, even if it is not immediately visible.

This book also made me angry because the Allies had information about Auschwitz because of Pilecki and only gave lip service to the news. I kept asking myself how many millions might have been saved if they had acted on the information?

I absolutely recommend it.

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The Tattooist of Auschwitz Book Review

The few that survived Auschwitz relied on wit, skill or just plain chance.

Lale Sokolov is one of the few who did survive Auschwitz. He did so by becoming the Tätowierer (responsible for carving the numbers into the arms of his fellow prisoners). His story is recounted in the novel The Tattooist of Auschwitz. Written by Heather Morris, the book follows Lale from his first days at the notorious death camp until the end of the war when he and the rest of the survivors are freed from captivity. Instead of outright murdering him, the Germans use his multi-lingual ability for their own uses.

While this is happening, Lale is trying to save as many of his fellow prisoners while he is falling in love with another prisoner, Gita. It is their relationship and mutual love that helps him to stay alive when he knows that death is all around him.

This book is amazing. If nothing else, it is a reminder that hope and love can still exist when it seems impossible that neither should exist.

I absolutely recommend it.

 

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The Lost Family: A Novel Book Review

Our past is our past. Whether we like it or not, it will always be with us.

Jenna Blum’s new novel, The Lost Family: A Novel, starts in 1960’s New York City. Peter Rashkin is chef/owner of Masha’s, one of the most respected restaurants in the city. He is also one of the most sought after bachelors in the city.  A survivor of Auschwitz who lost his wife and young daughters in the war, Peter is not interested in dating anyone. Then he meets June Bouquet, an up and coming model who is two decades his junior. Despite the age and religion difference, Peter and June fall in love. When June finds herself pregnant, they marry. The rest of the book covers the next two decades as Peter, June and their daughter Elsbeth face not only the challenges of change, but Peter’s past.

This book is an absolute must read. What makes this book a must read is that is just so good. What I loved about the book was the human imperfection of the characters and how that played into the narrative.

I absolutely recommend it.

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The Librarian of Auschwitz Book Review

Books are more than words on a page bound together. They reflect our shared humanity.

Dita Kraus is one of the lucky Holocaust survivors to not only have survived in general, but also having survived the death camp Auschwitz. During the war, she was secretly known as the camp librarian, trying to keep learning alive when death was all the inmates knew.

Her story is chronicled in the book, The Librarian of Auschwitz,originally written in 2012 by Antonio Iturbe and translated last year into English by Lilit Thwaites.  In 1944, Dita was a fourteen year old girl. She is among the lucky ones. Not only is she still alive, but she and her parents are together.  One of the Jewish leaders of the camp asks Dita to take responsibility for a number of books that have been smuggled in. Despite the fact that if the books are discovered, she could be killed, Dita agrees to the task.

 

What I loved about this book is that the books represent a sliver of hope and humanity when there was none. Not only is the book well written, but it speaks to the idea that even in the darkest of times, hope never completely dies. We just need to hang onto it as best we can, in whatever shape we can.

I absolutely recommend it.

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The Choice: Embrace the Possible Book Review

Dr. Edith Eva Eger has a unique take on grief and dealing with the emotional trauma. A survivor of Auschwitz and The Holocaust, her experience during World War II gives her an insight as how to deal and move on from grief and trauma.

She has chronicles her experiences in a book entitled, The Choice: Embrace the Possible. At the outset of World War II, Dr. Eger was a young woman from a Jewish family living in Hungary. By the time the war was over, Dr. Eger was a survivor of Auschwitz and other concentration camps. While she and her sisters were lucky enough to survive, the rest of their family perished. After the war, she married, had three children, became a refugee from Soviet controlled Hungary and emigrated to America, where she eventually received her doctorate in psychology.

Among memoirs by Holocaust survivors, this book stands out. While it is about Dr. Eger’s story, it is about much more than that. It is about how we can face our demons and traumas, whatever form they take and find the inner peace that we are yearning for.

I absolutely recommend it.

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SURVIVORS CLUB The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz Book Review

Among the six million Jews that were murdered in World War II, 1 million of them were children.

Michael Bornstein was one of the lucky ones.

His experience during the war is chronicled in the new book, SURVIVORS CLUB The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz. Co-authored by Mr. Bornstein and his daughter, Debbie Bornstein Holinstat, the narrative is told through the mixed lens of fiction and memoir. Michael Bornstein was born in 1940, in the Polish town of Zarki to a middle class family. He is one of the youngest survivors of Auschwitz and lost several family members to the Nazi murder machine.

I really enjoyed this book. What made it interesting was the narrative, in both fiction and memoir form, which is hard to not only combine, but combine in a narrative that is readable. Combining his memories with interviews from older family members who also survived, this book is a reminder of not only inhumane we can be to each other, but also that even in darkness, there is always a little bit of hope.

I recommend it.

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By Chance Alone: A Remarkable True Story of Courage and Survival at Auschwitz Book Review

Tibor “Max” Eisen is part of a dying generation.

Born in 1929 to an Orthodox Jewish family in the former Czechoslovakia, Max entered Auschwitz at age 15. Before World War II, his extended family contained 60 people. By the time the war was over, only Max and two of his cousins remained.

His recently published memoir, By Chance Alone: A Remarkable True Story of Courage and Survival at Auschwitz, starts with his brief childhood and guides the reader through a harrowing tale of near death and survival in the most infamous Nazi death camp.

I understand that this is a memoir and not a novel. But still, I wish the narrative was not as dry. That being said, I found the story to be engaging. Surviving any of the Nazi death camps was often a game of luck and chance more than anything else. The fact that Mr. Eisen not only survived, but thrived as an adult blows my mind.

Now retired, Mr. Eisen travels around Canada speaking to various groups about his experiences during the war. The fact is that the survivors are dying. Books like Mr. Eisen’s will be the only voice and narrative we have for this time in history. If nothing else, this book reminded me of how easy it is to hate someone based on external factors and how far that hate can go.

I recommend it.

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RIP Elie Wiesel

Today, the world lost Elie Wiesel. He was a human rights activist, Holocaust child survivor and author.

Born in what was then Romania in 1928, Elie Wiesel’s parents and younger sister were killed in the Holocaust. Only he and his older sisters survived. In 1960, he published Night, a novel based on his time at Auschwitz.

Mr. Wiesel was more than the face of Holocaust survivors. He was the face of everyone who has faced prejudice and extermination in the modern age simply because of who they are.

I had the pleasure of seeing him speak when I was in college. While I do not remember the specifics of the lecture, it was a thrill just the same.

In Judaism, when a loved one passes away, we say of blessed memory when we refer to them. Elie Wiesel is of blessed memory, not just to those who knew him on a personal level, but to those whose life he influenced, but never had the chance to meet in person.

Elie Wiesel, z”l.

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