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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Passing Movie Review

When one is part of a minority group, there are two obvious choices. The first one is to be who you are, regardless of what is being said about you. The second is to pretend to be someone else and fit in, otherwise known as passing.

Passing is the title of the new Netflix film. Based on a book written by Nella Larsen, it is set in New York City in the 1920s. Irene (Tessa Thompson) and Clare (Ruth Negga) were friends in high school. Both are biracial and have not seen each other for many years. Irene has embraced her identity as a woman of color while Clare is passing as Caucasian. Upon meeting Clare’s very white and very prejudiced husband John (Alexander Skarsgard), Irene is both curious and disgusted by her old pal’s life preference. For her part, Clare is drawn into Irene’s circle of mostly African-American friends (including Irene’s husband, Brian, played by Andre Holland). Unlike Clare, they have openly and proudly embraced their identities. She is forced to grapple with the self-applied mask of passing she has put on.

Written and directed by Rebecca Hall (who has been speaking to the press about her own biracial identity), this is a powerhouse of a film. Though both the book and the movie tell the story of two women who are both partially of African-American descent, I felt like understood them. I’ve often spoken on this blog about my own Jewish faith and identity. I could, if I wanted to, pass as someone of another faith or no faith at all. I’ve been asked quite a few times if I am of Irish ancestry due to my red hair.

At the end of the day, it is this decision we make that defines our lives. Do we not give a fuck and just be ourselves or do we submerge who we are to be accepted by others? It is a question that each of us must ask ourselves, knowing the outcome has to potential to have life-altering consequences.

Do I recommend it? absolutely.

Passing is available for streaming on Netflix.

P.S. I would not be surprised if Passing did well come award season.

The Roots Of Desire: The Myth, Meaning And Sexual Powers of Red Hair Book Review

NPR commentator Marion Roach is a natural redhead.

In her 2006 book, The Roots Of Desire: The Myth, Meaning and Sexual Powers Of Red hair, she examines the legends that have surrounded Redheads throughout the centuries. Going back through history, she starts with the ancient figures of Lillith from the Hebrew Bible and Set from Egyptian myth. Moving through time, she visits the myth that Mary Magdalene and Judas were redheads. Ms. Roach also delves into the science and genetics that determines why some people are born with red hair. While completing her research on modern redheads, Ms. Roach spends time in a “witch camp” and a high end hair salon in New York City.

There are many myths about redheads. Like any myth, after a certain amount of time, the line between fact and fiction often becomes blurry. Ms. Roach’s approach to the book is an intellectual one, but it is not so intellectual that the reader feels like they are reading a college textbook. Written in a down to earth, informative style, this book is an easy to read, appealing style that quickly hooks the reader. One of my favorite attributes of the book, was Ms. Roach’s family history. Her paternal grandmother was a redhead, as was her father.

Like Ms. Roach, I am a natural redhead. I have red hair on both sides of my family tree. As an avid reader and a redhead, I enjoyed this book. I recommend it, not just for redheads, but for book lovers who enjoy a good book.

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