Yesterday was International Holocaust Memorial Day. Looking back on this time in history from a 2021 perspective, what hurts the most is the loss of 1.5 million young people who were killed simply because of their faith. They had their who lives in front of them. But because they were Jewish, they were seen as worthless.
Last night, 18 Voices: A Liberation Day Reading of Young Writers’ Diaries from the Holocaust was released on YouTube. The readings are done by a group of actors and media personalities. It is utterly heartbreaking to hear these voices, some who survived and some who didn’t.
Though sex and sexuality is part and parcel of human nature, it is often viewed as something dangerous and wrong.
For decades, Dr. Ruth Westheimer (aka Dr. Ruth), has been America’s sex therapist. The 2019 Hulu documentary movie, Ask Dr. Ruth, tells her story. Born in 1928 to an Orthodox Jewish family in Germany, everything was normal for the first ten years of her life. When it became clear that being a Jew in Germany was dangerous, Ruth (then known by her first name, Karola) was sent to Switzerland on the Kindertransport.
At the age of 17, she emigrated to what was then British controlled Palestine (pre-Independence Israel) and joined the Haganah. Years later, she again emigrated to the United States. Living in New York City, she married, raised her two children and became the woman we know her to be today.
The thing I love about her is that at nearly 100 years old, she has the energy of a woman half her age. She represents hope, life, change, and that a woman can never be limited to what she can do because she is “female”. Her presence first on the radio and then on television, helped to open the door to long overdue conversations about sex and sexuality.
Having an adult mentor or teacher when we are young is sometimes all that is needed to guide us to adulthood.
The new Netflix film, The Life Ahead (based on the book entitled The Life Before Us by Ugo Chiti and Romain Gary) premiered this weekend. In a small seaside town in Italy, Madame Rosa (Sophia Loren) is a Holocaust survivor and a retired prostitute. She earns her bread by taking care of the children of those who ply the same trade that she used to.
She meets Momo (Ibrahima Gueye), a young orphan boy who was born in Senegal. In the country illegally, he steals a pair of candlesticks from her in a market. When he is forced to apologize and return the stolen goods, Rosa reluctantly agrees to take him in. What starts as a forced relationship turns into mother/son bond that both Rosa and Momo learn to treasure.
Directed by Loren’s son, Edoardo Ponti, this film is easily one of the best of 2020. Returning to the screen after a decade, Loren is nothing short of breath taking as Rosa. Her acting is superb and her character’s arc is perfection. Gueye is a young actor who based on this film alone, has the acting chops to hopefully have a long career ahead of him. What kept me watching was the slow reveal of what was beneath the emotional hard shell of the main characters.
I absolutely recommend it.
The Life Ahead is available for streaming on Netflix.
To be the second or third generation family of Holocaust survivor(s) is to carry a sadly unique perspective on life. Your family may look “normal”, but the wartime experiences of those who lived forever changed their outlook on everything.
Esther Safran Foer is a second-generation Holocaust survivor. Both of her parents are the only members of their families to have survived the war. Her father came from Trochenbrod and her mother came from Kolki. They met and married after the war, had their daughter, and moved to America.
Though Esther grew up in the comfort and safety of the United States, there as a part of her that was curious about her parent’s experiences during the war. Her memoir, I Want You to Know We’re Still Here: A Post-Holocaust Memoir, was published earlier this year. The story starts when her mother (who has since passed), casually mentions that her husband had a family before the war. This out of nowhere disclosure leads Esther on a journey to answer the burning questions that up that point, had never been answered.
I have to admit that my feelings are mixed about this book. The subject itself is an emotionally difficult one, but that goes without saying. Regular readers of this blog know that I’ve read and reviewed many books on this particular topic. The mixed feelings do not come from the subject, but from the book itself.
The problem is that by the time the reader gets to the middle of the book, the narrative slows down. I was almost at the point of putting it down and walking away, but I somehow finished it.
No one goes through life without asking the “what if” question at least once during their lifetime. This question becomes multiplied when it come to war and the loss of life that comes with war.
In the 2013 author Jillian Cantor asked this question in the book, Margot: A Novel.
It’s 1959 in Philadelphia. Margot Frank survived the war and has started a new life as Margie Franklin, living as a Gentile and working in a law firm as a secretary.
Her sister’s diary has become the darling of the publishing world. The movie, based on the book, has just been released into theaters. Margot/Margie’s carefully constructed outer shell begins to crack. While juggling PTSD and survivor’s guilt, Margot/Margie’s past come back to her via a case and an unusually strong emotional bond with her boss.
This book is amazing. When it comes to the story of Anne Frank, her elder sister is often pushed out of the spotlight. In giving Margot the spotlight, Ms. Cantor tells the story of Holocaust survivors who for any number of reasons, choose to keep their pasts to themselves. It is also the story of America in the late 50’s when antisemitism was not as obvious, but still existed beneath the thin veneer of respectability.
Hate kills. It takes away our ability to see our fellow human beings for what they are; human beings. Hate only focuses on the labels that are used to define us and uses those labels as an excuse to kill and destroy.
Ari Fuld was a husband, a father, a brother, the grandson of a Holocaust survivor and an American Jew who made aliyah to Israel as a young man. He was killed for being an Israeli Jew.
We can talk about politics and peace talks all day every day. But until we see each other as human beings, true peace will never exist. It’s easy to call someone a name, it’s harder to get past the labels and get to know someone.
Until a few days ago, the name of Ari Fuld was only known to a select few today. Today his name has been added to the list of people who were killed in the name of terrorism.
May his memory be a blessing and may we one day learn to live with one another.
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.
In the 1997 television movie, A Call To Remember, Paula and David Tobias (Blythe Danner and Joe Mantegna) are middle-aged Holocaust survivors just living their lives and going about their business. But while they are still trying to keep back with the demons of their past, they are also dealing with the reality that their eldest son Jake (David Lascher) may go off to fight in Vietnam.
After the war, many Holocaust survivors returned to normal lives. Marriage, kids, jobs, etc. But the trauma, both physical and emotional that they experienced never left them. What I really appreciate about this movie is not only the normal relationships between the main characters, but also how resilient they are in spite of everything that they experienced.
A President, regardless of his or her party or beliefs is the moral authority and should be leading the nation, especially during a crisis.
President Trump has failed in both areas (no surprise there). His remarks after last weekend’s rally in Charlottesville proved that he is neither the moral authority nor is he far from qualified to lead the nation, especially during this crisis.
What President Trump should have said is in the video above. Thank you Arnold Schwarzenegger for standing up for what is right and speaking truth to power.
It’s not uncommon knowledge that Ivanka Trump converted to Judaism when she married Jared Kushner. It is also common knowledge Jared’s grandparents survived the Holocaust. Their children are being raised Jewish. I would think (and hope) that Trump’s reaction, not a President, but as a father and grandfather would be of outrage and anger.
I know this has been said many times since last weekend, but my grandfathers, like millions of their brothers in arms, fought against fascism in World War II. The sons of Jewish immigrants, they put their lives on the line to protect America and her values. The fact that Trump has subtly given the alt-right the go ahead to slither out of the rocks they came from speak to his incompetence and how ill prepared he is to lead this country.
P.S. Did anyone else do a happy dance when Steve Bannon was fired?
War can cause us to do things that we might not do in times of peace.
In the new novel, Karolina’s Twins, by Ronald H. Balson, the married couple (and soon to be first time parents) private investigator Liam Taggart and lawyer Catherine Lockhart are presented with an intriguing case. Lena Woodward (née Scheinman) is an elderly Holocaust survivor with a decades old secret.
Lena needs Liam and Catherine to help her keep a promise to a dying friend. Before the war, Lena and Karolina were best friends. But the war and the invading Nazis changed everything. In the ghetto, Karolina finds herself pregnant and needs a way to ensure that her children will live. She does only what a mother in desperate times would do. With her dying breath, Karoline asked Lena to find her children. While Lena is telling her story, her son Arthur is trying to prove that his mother is senile and no longer able to take care of herself. Can Liam and Catherine prove that Karolina had children and if she did, are they still alive?
My initial reaction to this book is that the author immediately uses back story within the first couple of chapters. Using back story immediately is like walking a fine line. Sometimes it works and sometimes it does not work. In this case it works. Mr. Balson also moves between the present and the past, a tactic that, like using back story immediately, may or may not work. What I enjoyed about the book was the mystery and the final twist.