Tag Archives: The Holocaust

What She Lost Book Review

From my perspective, the Holocaust is a personal story because it happened to my family and my co-religionists. But for someone who is looking at it from the perspective of history without a personal connection, it’s difficult to contemplate the facts of this time in history. That is where the stories of the survivors and the victims come into play.

The new book, What She Lost, by Melissa W. Hunter, is part fiction novel and part memoir. Based on the story of how the author’s grandmother survived the Holocaust, Sarah Waldman is growing up in a small town in Poland in the 1930s. Her Jewish family is large, tight-knit and devoted to their faith. Then the Nazis roll into town and everything changes. Can she survive, and if she does, will she be able to live a full life again?

This book is fantastic. It is a deeply personal, hard-hitting story of an ordinary young girl who survives an extraordinary time in history. I applaud Ms. Hunter for being brave as a writer jumping from time period to time period. Regardless of the experience level of the writer, it takes skill and consistent effort to create a narrative that is easy to follow for the reader. Ms. Hunter is able to do so while telling a compelling story that in our time, still needs to be told.

I recommend it.

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Whose Bright Idea Was it to Sell Auschwitz Christmas Ornaments on Amazon?

Amazon, whether we like it or not, is a retail behemoth that is on track to take over the world.

Over the weekend, Amazon removed Christmas ornaments and bottle openers with images of Auschwitz from their website.

Whose bright idea was this to create and sell? More importantly, where was Amazon in reviewing the products? The company claims to have standards, but the standards seem important only after all of the negative publicity. Not before, when they could have at least given the products a once over before allowing the seller onto their site.

I don’t know what is scarier, that the products exist or that Amazon allowed them on their website in the first place? The Holocaust is not just any historical event and Auschwitz is not just any place. A little respect, especially given the historical circumstances, goes a long way.

This time of year is about family and tradition. It is not about who can buy the most presents or decorate their house so it can be seen from space. As I see it, these products and Amazon’s inability to stop them from being sold in the first place is a symbol of the wrong reasons to celebrate the holiday season.

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Can Kristallnacht Happen Here?

81 years ago tonight, the semi-comfortable world that European Jews knew came to an end.

Up until Kristallnacht or the Night of the Broken Glass, the uptick in antisemitism that German Jews had experienced was mostly non-violent. November 9-10, 1938 changed everything. Jewish synagogues, homes, and schools were destroyed. Around 100 German Jews were killed and 30,000 German Jewish men were sent to concentration camps.

Given the current political and social climate that we live in in 2019, I feel like I have to ask if it can happen here, in the United States?

The scary answer is yes. The shootings at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and Chabad of Poway in California occurred less than a year apart. In my hometown of New York City, the number of hate crimes against Jewish residents is rising quickly.

I sometimes take for granted that I live in a country that guarantees me the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I also take for granted that I live in one of the most diverse cities in the world.

I wish I could say that I live in a better world that German and European Jews lived in. But I don’t. Antisemitism is still alive and well. Until such day that antisemitism is dead and buried, a small part of me will be concerned that another Kristallnacht can happen here.

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Cilka’s Journey Book Review

For untold generations, women have been told that our beauty is our only asset. But during war, using our looks may mean the difference between life and death.

Cilka’s Journey, by Heather Morris is a follow up to her previous novel, The Tattooist of Auschwitz. Based on a true story, Cecilia “Cilka” Klein is just sixteen when she was transported to Auschwitz from her home in Czechoslovakia. She is saved from the gas chambers by her looks and is forced to become a sexual slave. When the war is over, Cilka looks forward to freedom.

Instead, she is accused of willfully sleeping with the enemy and sent to a Siberian work camp. The conditions in the gulag are similar to those in Auschwitz. But there is one difference: the kindness of a female doctor. This doctor gives Cilka the opportunity to work in the camp hospital. This job helps to bring Cilka back to life and show her that love is still possible.

When we talk about the Holocaust and World War II, the subject of sexual assault and #Metoo is a subject that does not come up very often. But I think it is a topic that we should be discussing, especially given our current political and cultural climate.

From a very young age, women are socialized to the idea that their main asset (if not their only asset) is their beauty. But we are also penalized when we use our looks to get by. From the instant we meet her, Cilka is a character that I admired and I wanted to hug. Many would have not lasted as long as she did in the same set of circumstances. But Cilka did and for that alone, she deserves as much recognition as she can get.

I recommend it.

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The Song of the Jade Lily Book Review

Jane Austen once wrote the following about friendship:

“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.”

The new book, The Song of the Jade Lily, by Kirsty Manning is about the power of friendship during difficult times. The book is set in two different eras. In 1939 Shanghai, native born Li and Jewish refugee Romy are best friends. Like millions of others across the world, the girls are unaware that the coming war will forever change their lives and their friendship.

In 2016, Romy’s granddaughter Alexandra leaves London with a broken heart and takes refuge in her grandparent’s home in Australia. Her grandfather is dying and the secrets of her grandparent’s past are slowly being revealed.

After her grandfather passes away, Alexandra moves to Shanghai for work. But she is also curious to see if the city can reveal the secrets of her family’s past. What she discovers will finally reveal what has been kept locked away for decades.

This book is amazing. Ms. Manning tells the story of friendship that remains strong, even when war threatens to tear the friendship apart. She also tells the story of Shanghai, the only port that would take Jewish refugees who could not obtain visas. It is a narrative that in the overall Holocaust narrative, that does get the spotlight that it should.

I recommend it.

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Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away. Review

Among the numerous death camps that the Nazis maintained during World War II, Auschwitz was the most notorious. At least 1.1 million people died within the borders of the death camp.

The new exhibit, Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away., opened back in June at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City’s Battery Park. The exhibit tells the story of the death camp from it’s time as an average small town to it’s days as the notorious death camp until it’s current state as a museum just after the war.

Containing personal artifacts, interviews, media coverage from the day and historical timelines, this exhibit is as hard hitting, emotional and relevant as any Holocaust exhibit.

I’ve often spoken on this blog about the Holocaust. My family came from Eastern Europe and like many Eastern European Jews, there are stories of family members who survived and those who didn’t.

The artifacts are so incredibly ordinary. A pair of glasses. A variety of adult shoes. A suitcase. Those who walked through the gates of Auschwitz were not so different than you and I. But there were labelled as different, subhuman and therefore ripe for extinction.

The one artifact that stayed with me was the child’s shoe with the sock still in it. I imagine a mother undressing her child before undressing herself. She meticulously kept their clothes together thinking that they were about to enter a run of the mill “shower”. No one could have expected that the “shower” would kill them.

What the curators and the museum have done brilliantly is to make the connection between Europe before World War II and our current world. Germany was a democracy before the Nazis took power. If the democratic rule of law and acceptance of all citizens is not upheld, the slippery slope to dictatorship and murder is sharp and quick.

I’ve been to quite a few Holocaust exhibits over the years. What made this one different is the that spotlight is also on the other victims. LGBTQ and Romani (Gypsy) were just two of the groups that were tortured, starved and murdered.

If you must go to one museum and one exhibit this year, Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away. is it. Not only do I recommend it, I would say that it should be mandatory given the world we currently live in.

I would also recommend that if you visit, you carve out 2-3 hours, as it takes that long to go through and absorb this story.

Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away. will be open until January 3rd, 2020 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. Check the website for tickets prices and exhibit details.

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Shoshana Ovitz: From Auschwitz to 400 Descendants

Among the Nazi death camps that are the grave sites for millions, Auschwitz is the most notorious death camp. Shoshana Ovitz was one of the lucky few to survive Auschwitz.

Earlier this week, Mrs. Ovitz celebrated her 104 birthday at the Western Wall with 400 of her descendants.

Hitler and the Nazis did everything in their power to destroy us. They took our rights away. They took our homes away. They treated as less than human. They tortured us, enslaved us, starved us and tried to kill us.

But Am Yisrael Chai, the Jewish people live. We may be small in number, but we are mighty and we will stay true to who we are.

Happy Birthday Mrs. Ovitz. May you have nothing but naches and love for many years to come.

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Ashes in the Snow Book Review

When we think of the atrocities and the mass murder that was unfortunately part and parcel of World War II, we think of the Nazis and the Holocaust. We don’t think of the Soviet Union.

Ruta Sepetys‘s 2018 novel, Ashes in the Snow (originally titled Between Shades of Gray) begins in Lithuania in 1941. Lina is your average fifteen year old girl with a passion and a gift for art that shows promise. Then her world is turned upside down by the occupation of the Baltic states.

Soviet officers force themselves into her home in the middle of the night. Separated from her father, Lina, along with her mother, young brother and many others are forced into crowded trains. Their destination is Siberia and a work camp that is dehumanizing in every sense of the word.

Lina uses her artistic skills to keep herself alive mentally and to draw what she is experiencing while hoping that her drawings will reach her father. In spite of the conditions she is living in, Lina fights to survive with her family, but is that enough to keep them alive until they are free?

This book is amazing and a must read, in my opinion. It is obviously not an easy book to read, but a necessary book to read. Experiencing this world through Lina’s eyes, we see this young girl grow into a young woman under circumstances that I would wish on no one. If one thing stood out to me, was that Lina has this incredible source of inner strength that keeps her going when she could easily give up and let death take her.

I absolutely recommend it.

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Guesthouse for Ganesha: A Novel Book Review

When we think of our what may or may not happen on our wedding day, the last thing we think of is being jilted by our almost husband or wife.

This is the inciting incident in Judith Teitelman’s new book, Guesthouse for Ganesha: A Novel. In 1923, brokenhearted that her fiance ran away with another woman on the day that they were to marry, seventeen year old Esther leaves her shtetl (village) for the big city. The baggage she carries is more than her solitary suitcase, it is the unspoken grief and anger of what should have been her wedding day. From that day on, her heart is cold.

Skilled with a needle and thread, Esther makes her living as a tailor and seamstress. Along the way, she marries and has three children, but not even their presence can replace the life she might have had. Then World War II and the slowly tightening noose around Europe’s Jews begins. Esther’s skills and emotional barriers may keep her alive, but for how long?

While all this is happening, she in unaware of her guardian angel, the Hindu G-d Ganesha. Watching and admiring her from his realm, he provides silent support to a woman whose emotional strength may be the only thing to keep above ground.

I was very impressed with this book. On the surface, the mingling of European history from the 1920’s to the 1940’s and a Hindu diety seems like a perfect mismatch. What the author was able is craft a riveting story of strength, survival and the idea that perhaps we all have our own guardian angels. We may not be able to hear or see them, but they are always with us.

I recommend it.

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Kushner, Inc.: Greed. Ambition. Corruption. The Extraordinary Story of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump Book Review

We all want to achieve the American dream in one form or another. The question is, how far does one go to achieve the American dream without crossing moral and/or legal boundaries?

Journalist Vicky Ward’s new book, Kushner, Inc.: Greed. Ambition. Corruption. The Extraordinary Story of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, tells the dangerous story of how Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump are on their way to unchecked power and wealth.

She starts with her subject’s early years. We all know about Ivanka’s childhood, but the story of Jared’s early years and his family history may be unknown to some readers. His paternal grandparents, Joseph and Rae Kushner survived the Holocaust with a zeal that few survivors had then or have now. Their youngest son (Jared’s father), Charles Kushner, was found guilty in the early 2000’s of financial crimes and witness tampering.

Both Jared and Ivanka grew up in very comfortable surroundings. When you know who was unfortunately elected President in 2016, they followed him to Washington D.C. Instead of being the “adults in the room”, they are using their access to the corridors of power and to the powerful for their own needs.

This book is well done and a must read. What scares me is that if these allegations are true, there is no one to stop Jared and Ivanka throwing away everything this country stands for so they will head of the pack. The other thing that scares me is that someone with antisemitic beliefs would easily be able paint any member of the Jewish faith with a broad brush because of Jared’s image, history and access to the wealthy and powerful.

I recommend it.

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