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.
I wanted to like this book. If I am to be completely honest, it was an infodump. In writing terms, an infodump is where the writer(s) provide the reader with a lot of information without emotion or insight into what the characters are thinking or feeling. Now granted, this is a memoir and not a fiction book. What I was missing was the quickening of my pulse and the uncertainty of the dangerous situations she put herself into.
Love has to power to change everything. Hate included.
The 2016 film, The Exception, takes place in Holland during World War II. Stefan Brandt (Jai Courtney) is a Nazi officer whose task is to ensure that spies have not found a way into the home of the former German Emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm (the late Christopher Plummer). Along the way, he falls for housemaid Mieke de Jong (Lily James), who is hiding her Jewish identity in hopes of surviving the war.
This movie would normally be celluloid catnip for me. While the cast is fantastic and at the top of their game, I could not get into it. There is no other explanation other than I was bored. Whatever narrative hook this film possesses, it was lost on me.
Motherhood is one of the most profound and challenging experiences of a woman’s life. Wartime and the sheer will to survive forces a mother to make decisions that would otherwise not even be considered.
I loved this book. In telling the story of these three women, Holden brings the cold and dangerous reality of this era of history. It is a reminder, in the most in your face way possible, how quickly hate and prejudice can descend into destruction and murder. I felt as if I was in these camps with these women, instead of reading about them generations after the Holocaust happened.
Our teenage years are the most confusing and exciting times of our lives. We are torn between the expectations of our families and the excitement of the newness of everything that occurs during that period.
Daughter of the Reich: A Novel, by Louise Fein, was published last year. In World War II era Germany, Hetty Heinrich, whose father is moving up in the ranks of the Nazi party, is everything a daughter was supposed to be. She is respectful of her parents and goes along with the new society that the regime has created. That all changes when she reunites with an old friend, Walter Keller. Walter is Jewish. Despite the risks to both of their lives (and their families by extension), they start to fall for one another. When it becomes clear that the danger is ramping up tenfold, Walter and Hetty have to make a decision about their future.
OMG. This is one of the best books I have read in a very long time. It was such a visceral experience to see this world and this time in history through Hetty’s eyes. If nothing else, it was a reminder of how equally powerful love and hate can be. As I got further into the novel, it was not hard to see the parallels between the 1930’s and today.
This book adds a new layer to the information we have about the Holocaust. I loved that each woman is given her time to shine. We are told that women are weak and emotional. We are incapable of being bold, brave, and courageous. The subjects of this book are the opposite. They know that death is waiting for them at every turn. But they cannot sit back and do nothing. Instead these young women used every tool at their disposal to save as many lives as they can.
I appreciated the epilogue in which the author sketches the lives of the survivors after the war is over. While some settled down into of normal life, others are haunted by those years and what they experienced. They lived with what we now know to be PTSD, creating a shadow that stayed with them years after peace was declared.
Though it is not the heart pounding thriller I thought it would be, it is still a good and a very important read.
I am scared that there are too many in this world who believe the lies that Hamas (and Iran by extension tells the world). Human rights are universal and always important, but they can also be twisted to fit one’s perspective.
I am scared that some of my Jewish brothers and sisters are falling for the falsehoods that could kill them. Across the United States, Jews have been attacked by pro-Palestinian mobs. In Los Angeles, a mob screamed at customers and threw glass bottles as they eat outside a restaurant. I am all for peace, but how does one make peace with a neighbor who constantly agitates for your death?
I am scared that the Israel I know and love will cease to exist. Not just due to the violence within the region, but due to the silence and the complicity (again) by the outside world. I am scared that both Palestinian and Israeli children will grow up not only psychologically damaged, but also unable to see past the fears and hatred that they were taught by the adults around them.
If you listen to only one thing today, listen to last week’s episode from the podcast Us Among the Israelis. I cannot imagine what it is like to not be able to function normally, not knowing when a rocket may fall on your home or place of business. It’s akin to living during the Blitz. But instead of this happening during a specific time in history, it becomes a common occurance.
I am a Jew and proud of it. I have yet to move away from my faith and will likely never. But that does not mean that it scares the shit out of me.
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.
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.
When we make a choice, we never know what the consequences of that decision will be. We can only hope that it will turn out for the best.
In Kristin Harmel‘s 2018 book, The Room on Rue Amelie, Ruby is a young woman in the late 1930’s. Attending college in New York City, she meets and instantly falls in love with Marcel, a Frenchman from Paris. After the wedding, they move to Marcel’s hometown. At first it seems as they are in newlywedded bliss. But then World War II starts and their marriage is forever altered. The man she married and the man who stands in front of her are two different people.
After he is killed, Ruby discovers that her husband was part of the resistance. Picking up where he left off, she hides Allied soldiers who have landed in enemy territory. One of them is a RAF pilot who Ruby immediately connects with. She also takes in Charlotte, the young daughter of her Jewish neighbors who have been arrested. As the war continues on, the level of danger grows tenfold. They know they want to survive, but fate may have other plans.
I really enjoyed this book. Harmel’s story of love, resistance, fate, and hope is emotional and powerful. The relationship that kept me going was the one between Ruby and Charlotte. Their sisterly bond was the strongest among the characters, keeping them both going in a time when their circumstances could have easily broken them.