The US and the Holocaust Review

There is a famous quote about history. As cliche as it sounds, it is the truth

If we don’t learn from the past, we are doomed to repeat it.

The new PBS three-part documentary series, The US and the Holocaust premiered this past weekend. Co-created and co-directed by Ken Burns, Lynn Novick, and Sarah Botstein, actor Peter Coyote narrates the story of the near destruction of European Jewry from 1939 to 1945.

Within the film, there are interviews with historians, survivors, and readings from respected actors such as Meryl Steep, Paul Giamatti, and Liam Neeson. It does more than share what the events in our history books have already told us. It takes the viewer back in time to show what led the Shoah and repeats what most of us (hopefully) know. Though it’s been nearly a century since World War II, it is clear to me that we have not learned from the experiences of that generation.

The thing that hit me immediately is that there are far too many parallels to what is happening now both in the United States and around the world. Xenophobia and hatred have once again become the norm. We have a former President who has authoritarian tendencies, refuses to accept the results of the previous Presidential election, and has convinced many that he is the victim.

What made me angry was the spoken and unspoken complicity of a majority of Americans at the time. Though this country is supposed to be the land of immigrants and freedom. Instead, it became a land of isolation and hypocrisy. That hypocrisy was clear in the first episode when the connection was made between the Nazi’s racial laws and Jim Crow.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely. In fact, I would say that it is required viewing for every American.

The first two episodes are available for streaming on the PBS website. The third will air tomorrow night at 8PM.

P.S. After I watch or read anything about the Holocaust, I can’t help but think of what the victims or the descendants might have given to the world. The late performer Olivia Newton-John was Jewish on her mother’s side. Her maternal grandparents got out while it was still possible to do so. If they hadn’t, it is very likely that she would have never been born and therefore, not entertained multiple generations of audiences.

Eternal Book Review

Growing up is never simple. We are often faced with challenges that force us to make difficult choices or face a reality that we would prefer not to.

Eternal, by Lisa Scottoline, was published earlier this year. Growing up in Rome, Marco, Sandro, and Elisabetta have been best friends since they were young. Marco is the son of a former cyclist and ardent follower of Benito Mussolini. Elisabetta was raised in an artistically inclined family, Her dream is to become a novelist. Sandro is Jewish and a promising mathematics genius.

Two major events upend the world as they know it: World War II and their teenage years. Marco loves Elisabetta. But Elisabetta loves Sandro. As their love triangle intensifies, so does the fascist government and the increasing influence of Nazi Germany.

Soon, they will all be tested. As a Jew, Sandro’s world becomes ever restricted by the antisemitic Nazi race laws. Marco gets involved in local government and Elisabetta must fend for herself. Everything and everyone they know will become unrecognizable, forcing all of them into adulthood and the complications that arise from this transition.

I really enjoyed this book. It was a reminder that the Holocaust extended to the whole of Europe. The Jews of Southern Europe were a target as much as their Central and Eastern Europe co-religionists. What was different was that Rome’s non-Jewish community did not wholeheartedly accept the ideology of the German invaders. There were many who maintained friendships with their Jewish friends and neighbors while helping them in whatever way they could.

Though it is not a quick read, it is well worth the time it takes to complete the novel. I was quickly engrossed in the tale and the changing relationship between the main characters.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Eternal is available wherever books are sold.

The 2022 Olympics & the Uyghur Torch Bearer: History Repeats Itself

Human history is cyclical. The details may change, but the general narrative is static.

As is standard practice at the beginning of every Olympic season, the games are opened by a couple of torchbearers. As I write this, this year’s competition is held in Beijing, China. According to many journalists and media outlets, this nation has a long list of human rights abuses.

Among them is the treatment of the Uyghurs. In an attempt to quell the criticism and prove the rest of the world wrong, a Uyghur athlete was one of the competitors chosen to light the torch during the opening ceremonies. If the Chinese government thought that this would silence its critics, they were wrong.

Eighty-six years ago, Berlin was the host city for the Olympics. Like the Chinese government, the Nazi-run German government needed to put on a good face for visiting contenders and officials. They did so by “allowing” fencer Helene Mayer to compete. Her father was Jewish, her mother was not. According to the Nazi racial Laws, Mayer was a mischling. Though she was classified as a Jew and had Jewish lineage via her father, Mayer did not consider herself to be Jewish.

If history is any indicator, we have an opportunity to save lives and prevent another Holocaust. The question is, what is the rest of the world going to do? Are they going to sit idly by while innocent people are being slaughtered? Or will they step up and make it clear that what the Chinese are doing is unacceptable?

Only time will tell, but I hope that they will finally do the right thing.

Exile Music: A Novel Book Review

Childhood should be a time of love, laughter, friendship, and innocence. But for some children, their early years are far from ideal.

Exile Music: A Novel, by Jennifer Steil, was published this month. Growing up in Vienna in the 1930’s, Orly lives a comfortable life. Her parents are professional musicians and her older brother is well regarded by the neighborhood. When she is not with her family, Orly spends her free time with her best friend, Anneliese. In 1938, her world is shattered by the Nazi invasion and the racial laws that quickly begin to restrict Jewish life.

After her brother flees to Switzerland, Orly and her parents are among the lucky few who find refuge in Bolivia. Settling in La Paz, they are strangers in a strange land. While Orly and her father make due, her mother is not quite ready to give up what they lost. She is also keeping a secret that if got out, could cause trouble. Decades later, when Anneliese comes back into her life, Orly has to make a choice. Does she stay in Bolivia with her family or return to Europe and pick up where she and Anneliese left off?

I really enjoyed reading this book. Orly is relatable character. Her voice and growth throughout the novel felt organic and true to the various stages of life that we go through as we grow up. I also appreciated the undercurrent of the LGBTQ storyline. Instead of feeling forced to make the book stand out, Steil includes in a way that gives her main character a layer and an extra oomph that is not often seen in this genre and this period in history.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Where Hands Touch Movie Review

When we think of the Holocaust, we think of the six millions Jews that were murdered. While that fact is undeniable, other groups were also targeted for persecution and murder. Among those were Rhineland Bastards. One parent was White and German, the other was of African descent.

In the 2018 film, Where Hands Touch, fifteen year old Lena (Amandla Stenberg) is one of these children. Her White mother, Kerstin (Abbie Cornish), is a single mother. Lena’s father is no longer in the picture. Kerstin is doing her best to protect both of her children from the racial laws imposed on the country. While her son is considered to be a “good German”, her daughter has a target on her back. When Lena meets and falls for Lutz (George McKay), the son of a Nazi official and a member of Hitler Youth, things get even more complicated.

I enjoyed this movie. It was a story that I was aware of in the general sense, but I was fuzzy on the details. The one thing that stuck out to me was the character arcs. If nothing else, it shows how dangerous this mentality is, specifically when a nation sets on a path of destruction of their own citizens that is based on identity.

Do I recommend it? Yes

Where Hands Touch is available for streaming on The Roku Channel.

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