Tag Archives: Holocaust survivor

The Redhead of Auschwitz: A True Story Book Review

To be the descendent of a Holocaust survivor is to grow up with a trauma that stretches well beyond the first generation. They have a unique responsibility to tell the stories of their loved ones that sometimes feel more pressing than those of us whose direct families were out of harm’s way during the war.

The Redhead of Auschwitz: A True Story, by Nechama Birnbaum, was published at the end of last year. The book tells the story of her late grandmother, Rosie Greenstein. Though Rosie was often told that her red hair was undesirable, she believed that it was an asset. Though her family was poor, Rosie’s childhood was idyllic. Raised by her widowed mother, she dreamed of her wedding day and future husband.

That dream came crashing down in 1944. The Jews of Hungary were forced out of their homes and sent directly to Auschwitz. The only thing that is keeping her alive is her fierce spirit and the will to survive in the face of all-encompassing death.

This biography is written in such a way that every gruesome and horrific detail is hard to ignore or forget. The narrative flashes between two different time periods until the story converges: Rosie’s life before the war and her time in the death camp. What I got from the book was more than a granddaughter’s love for her grandmother. It was pride in the strength that was passed down through the generations and families that come into the world since the end of the war.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely. P.S. I also recommend following the corresponding Instagram account.

The Redhead of Auschwitz: A True Story is available wherever books are sold.

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I Was A Doctor In Auschwitz Book Review

As we get farther away from 1945, those who lived through and can speak to the first-hand events of World War II and the Holocaust are leaving us in greater numbers. It is, therefore (in my humble opinion), incumbent on the living generation to tell share the stories of those who lived through this horrific time.

I Was A Doctor In Auschwitz, by Gisela Perl, was published in 1948. It was one of the first memoirs from a survivor of the Final Solution, Perl was a gynecologist whose entire family was deported from Hungary to Auschwitz. Cruelly forced to “practice” medicine, she did her best to save as many lives as possible when death was ever-present. She leaves no gruesome and violent detail unturned. The bloodlust and sadism of her captors were endless, they took immense pleasure in torturing the prisoners and depriving them of every aspect of humanity.

If I were to generate a list of books that we should all read, this one would be near the top of the list. It is in your face and heartbreaking. If the only way to prevent another Holocaust is to share the narratives of those who lived through it, then this memoir should be on everyone’s TBR list.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

I Was A Doctor In Auschwitz is available wherever books are sold.

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Throwback Thursday: Gene Simmons Family Jewels (2006-2012)

The “celebrity reality show” is an interesting subgenre within reality television. It can show that the subjects are just like the average person. It can also show how they are not like the average person.

Gene Simmons Family Jewels aired on A&E from 2006 to 2012. This reality show followed the daily activities of musician Gene Simmons and his family (a la The Osbournes).

It was an interesting and quirky look at a man whose reputation (depending on the viewer) may only be known by his out-there stage antics and his claim about how many women he has taken to bed. His family-man aesthetic is a 180 that I don’t think that many people saw coming.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

P.S. His exploration of being Jewish and the son of a Holocaust survivor I find to be touching, human, and very refreshing.

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Eva and Eve: A Search for My Mother’s Lost Childhood and What a War Left Behind Book Review

After the Holocaust and World War II ended, many who survived the Nazi occupation wanted nothing more than to move on this with their lives. This meant keeping their wartime experiences a secret from the post-war families.

Author Julie Metz is one of these people. The daughter of a child Holocaust survivor, she knew almost nothing about her late mother’s early years until she discovered a book that opened the door to the past. Her 2022 memoir, Eva and Eve: A Search for My Mother’s Lost Childhood and What a War Left Behind, tells the story of Metz’s journey to find out what her mother went through as a child.

Growing up in Vienna, Eva’s childhood ended when the Nazis invaded. She would eventually arrive in America as a refugee, but not before going through what no child should experience. The book is a tale of trauma, survival, and circumstances that would test the strongest among us.

This book is really good. Metz has not only perfectly captured the emotions of her mother as a young girl, but also goes on a journey of her own while walking in Eva/Eve’s footsteps.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Eva and Eve: A Search for My Mother’s Lost Childhood and What a War Left Behind is available wherever books are sold.

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Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History Book Review

It is easy to denounce comic books or graphic novels as a form of childish entertainment or stories that are needlessly sexual or violent. But they can be a way to reach an audience who does not read traditional literature.

Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History, was published back in 1986. Written by Art Spiegelman, it is his parent’s story of survival during the Holocaust told in graphic novel form. Both the victims and perpetrators are represented by animals. The Jews are mice and the Nazis are cats. The narrative is as follows: The protagonist goes to visit his father. Their relationship, up to this point, has not been easy. The conversation turns to his parent’s experience during the war. Over the course of the book, his father tells his story. It starts off as an ordinary life, goes through tribulations that would break many, and ends with hope.

After reading this book, I now understand why some people want to ban it. Unlike other books on this subject, it is brutal in a way that words alone cannot convey. The images force the reader to confront the truth of this time in history and the savagery that was forced upon both the living and the dead.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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The Upstander: How Surviving the Holocaust Sparked Max Glauben’s Mission to Dismantle Hate Book Review

More than seventy years after the Holocaust, the number of survivors is fading. The youngest of them, who were children at the end of World War II, are approaching the century-old mark.

Max Glauben is one of these survivors. His story is told in the 2021 book, The Upstander: How Surviving the Holocaust Sparked Max Glauben’s Mission to Dismantle Hate. Written by Jori Epstein with a foreword by Michael Berenbaum, they tell Glauben’s story in startling detail. Born to a middle-class Jewish family in Warsaw, his life was upended by the slow noose that was being pulled around Europe’s Jews.

Forced into the Warsaw Ghetto with his family, he was one of the few people who was able to slip in and out of the ghetto without being noticed. When the war finally ended in 1945, Max had lost his parents, his brother, and other relations. Relocating to the United States, he married and had his own family, but never spoke of his experiences during the war.

After decades of being silent, Max reached a crossroads. He could either stay on the path he was on. Or, he could tell his story, release his pain, and speak for the millions who were murdered.

This book is very good. The character arc from an ordinary young man to a boy who had to grow up quickly and finally to an adult with a past he could not speak of was the narrative hook I needed.

The question that the reader is asked is what they can do. In doing so, Max’s story becomes ours. Though we who are reading the book were not there with him, we bear witness to his experience. By doing so, we remember those who were killed and ensure that the generations coming up will continue to tell their stories.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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It Could Happen Here: Why America Is Tipping from Hate to the Unthinkable – And How We Can Stop It Book Review

For more than 200 years, Americans have taken comfort in that our democratic nation was solid. Our beliefs and freedoms would be with us forever. Until recently, I think most of us had this perspective. The last few years have proven that in reality, we are on extremely shaky ground.

It Could Happen Here: Why America Is Tipping from Hate to the Unthinkable – And How We Can Stop It, by ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, was published earlier this month. The grandson of a Holocaust survivor, he knows all too well what happens when hate consumes a nation. In the book, he calls out antisemitism, racism, and hatred of all kinds. His warning is loud and clear for anyone who is willing to listen: we are at a tipping point. Unless we do something when there is still time, this country that we know and love will be nothing but a shell of its former self.

Greenblatt could have offered platitudes or pie in the sky ideas. Instead, he offers real-world ideas that are applicable to anyone who has felt ostracized because of who they are. This is a book that we should all be reading and applying to our everyday lives. It is possible to undo the damage. We just need the courage, the backbone, and the balls to do what needs to be done.

Do I recommend it?

Absolutely.

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The Escape Artist Book Review

It would be easy to wish, that as adults, the experience of our childhood have no effect on us. But the truth is that as much as we have grown up, who were and what we went through when we were young is always with us.

Growing up, writer Helen Fremont knew two certainties. The first was that she knew that her parents lived through and survived World War II, but refused to share the details with their children. The second was that what happened in their house stayed in their house.

Her new memoir, The Escape Artist, was published last year. Her story is that of long held secrets (her parents were Jewish Holocaust survivors from Poland), mental illness, and the heart breaking discovery that her father wrote her out of his will. Add in the questioning of sexual identity and you have a messy youth that has the power, if allowed, to destroy the chance of having a productive and happy adulthood.

I loved this book. Her story has all of the complications that life throws at us. It was at times, painful to read. I kept wishing that I could have given her the innocence and happiness that I knew when I was a girl. I’ve read more than a few memoirs over the past few years. This book is one of the best.

Do I recommend it? Yes

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The Woman with the Blue Star: A Novel Book Review

It is easy to judge someone based on a stereotype or a first impression. But when we get to know them, we hopefully will get to see the real person and not who we think they are.

Pam Jenoff‘s new book, The Woman with the Blue Star: A Novel, was published in May. In Krakow, Poland in 1942, 18-year-old Sadie Gault’s life has been turned upside down. Because she is Jewish, she and her parents have been forced to move into the Krakow Ghetto. When the Nazis decide that it is time to liquidate the ghetto, they escape into the sewers beneath the city. Hiding with her pregnant mother and another family, she looks up one day and sees a young woman her age looking back to her.

On the outside, Ella Stepanek is living a comfortable life (relatively speaking). Her Catholic faith has so far kept her alive and safe. But once she gets home, it is another story. Ella is the only one of her siblings still living at home. Both of her parents are deceased. Her stepmother would love nothing more than to have an empty house. She has also opened her doors, literally and figuratively to the new regime.

As the two girls become friends, Ella starts to provide Sadie with as many provisions as possible. But with both the war and the hunt for hidden Jews ramping up, they realize that the decisions that must be made have life-changing consequences.

I have been a fan of Jenoff for the last few years. She perfectly balances the historical record with fictional characters, telling stories that transcend the time and place in which they are set. I also very much appreciate that most, if not all of her protaganists are female. We can talk all we want about representation. But until writers, readers, and publishers step up, male protaganists will still dominate the world of fiction.

Reading this book, I am reminded that the Holocaust is not ancient history. Many who survived are no longer with us. Without their testimony and the recording of their experiences, this dark day in history will be lost to memory. It is, therefore, incumbent upon the younger generations to listen while we can and make sure that what they lived through is preserved, re-told, and never forgotten.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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Flashback Friday: The Last Days (1998)

The only way to learn from our past is to not repeat it. Sometimes, that requires reliving it, as painful as it sounds.

The 1998 documentary, The Last Days, was released on Netflix back in May. The film follows five Hungarian Jewish survivors of the Holocaust. During the last year of World War II, the Jews of Hungary were the last intact Jewish community in Europe. That would quickly change. Within six weeks, hundreds of thousands were deported to Auschwitz. Only a handful would survive. Containing interviews with survivors, a SS doctor, and American soldiers who helped to liberate Dachau, it is powerful and haunting reminder of both the light and the darkness in humanity.

I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. It was riveting, emotional, and a punch to the gut that is absolutely necessary. Hearing about this time in history from the people who lived through this nightmare reminds us all that the Holocaust is not a myth and not strictly relegated to the world of literature. It is an event that happened in the lifetimes of many people who are still alive. While we cannot bring back those who were murdered, we can honor their memory by remembering them, and open our eyes to the negative energy and destruction that hate drags behind it.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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