Tag Archives: The Holocaust

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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My Real Name Is Hanna Book Review

The story of the Holocaust and the millions who perished needlessly sometimes feels too big to swallow or believe. Sometimes it takes the story of one person to remind us that it was not so long ago and far way that it happened.

Tara Lynn Masih’s new novel, My Real Name Is Hanna, is set in a rural Ukrainian village during World War II. Hanna Slivka is an ordinary fourteen year old girl living with her family. She is also a Jew in a time and place when being Jewish meant having a target on your back. As the noose tightens around them, Hanna’s family makes the choice to go into hiding in the forest.

While in hiding, they deal with hunger, disease and the fear that they will be discovered by the Ukrainian peasants who are more than willing to go along with the Nazis. Then Hanna’s father disappears and Hanna does what she must to keep her mother and younger siblings alive.

Based on a true story, this book is powerful and hit’s home like a bolt of lightning. I loved the first person POV, the universality of being in your early teens and the hard truth that this story is as relevant now as it ever was.

I absolutely recommend it.

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What If the Average Citizen Had Spoken Up?

The question of “what if” is heavy question to ask, especially when it comes to certain historical events.

We know that we live in an imperfect world. We know that we live in a world in which one’s opportunities are often dependent on and defined by factors such as race, family background, religion, etc. We know know that we live in a world where many have been persecuted and massacred simply because of who they are.

Given what is happening in our country and in our world today, the what if questions in regards to the Holocaust and the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II seem particularly potent.

What if the average citizen had spoken up? What if they had publicly protested, contacted their representative and voiced their concerns about the treatment of their fellow citizens? Would the world as we know it to be today different and perhaps a better place?

As I walked out of work this afternoon in midtown Manhattan, traffic ground to a halt. All four lanes of traffic were stopped, for what I think is a necessary reason.

The average citizen spoke up. They made it loud and clear that what our government is doing to the South American migrants who are only seeking asylum and a new life in the United States is wrong.

We cannot go back and undo the Holocaust or the internment of the Japanese-Americans during World War II. But this protest today and the hundreds of others gives me hope that humanity is working towards a future in which all of us are treated equal.

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The Volunteer: One Man an Underground Army and the Secret Mission to Destroy Auschwitz Book Review

When facing injustice, it’s easy to step back and let someone else be the one on the soapbox. It’s harder (and possibly dangerous) to be the one on the soapbox.

In 1939, as the clouds of war could be seen in Europe, many were content to sit back or tried to escape before the borders closed. But Witold Pilecki chose another path.

His story is chronicled in the new book The Volunteer: One Man, an Underground Army, and the Secret Mission to Destroy Auschwitz. Written by Jack Fairweather, the book tells the story of how Pilecki, a gentleman farmer and cavalry officer, put himself in harms way so he could be sent to Auschwitz. His plan was to document the Nazi atrocities, share those atrocities with the world and to bring together prisoners who would destroy the camp from the inside out.

During his two and a half year imprisonment, Pilecki and his team sabotaged the Nazis whenever they could. He also started documenting the Nazi plan to exterminate European Jewry and tried to warn the Allies of the murders of millions of innocent people.

The book contains previously unknown and hidden diary entries, documented first hand accounts by survivors and declassified files that for decades were hidden from public view. Told in an almost cinematic format, the book tells the true story of one man’s personal mission to reveal the truth before it was too late.

I am not one to dictate what should be on anyone’s TBR (to be read) list, but I would highly recommend that this book is on your list. It is honestly one of the best books I have read in a long time. There moments in the book in which I held my breath, unsure if he would survive and/or escape. If nothing else, this book is a reminder that even in darkness, there is still a small sliver of light, even if it is not immediately visible.

This book also made me angry because the Allies had information about Auschwitz because of Pilecki and only gave lip service to the news. I kept asking myself how many millions might have been saved if they had acted on the information?

I absolutely recommend it.

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Thoughts On the AOC Holocaust Comparison

The Holocaust is one of the seminal events of recent human history. The persecution, starvation, torture, forced slaved labor and murder of six million European Jews is the hallmark of the inhumanity we often force on our fellow human beings.

Recently, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) made some comments in which she compared immigrants held by border control to the victims of the Nazi concentration camp. The response to her comparison has come fast and furious.

As a Jew and an a descendant of Holocaust victims, I think that her comments are on target. While the immigrants in these facilities are not being tortured, starved, forced into slavery or systematically murdered, they are being treated as less than human.

In the eyes of the current administration, they are the other. They are bad, they are evil and they are the cause of our problems. They do not deserve the opportunity to become Americans and add to the wonderful interwoven fabric of our country.

This is what she is saying and unfortunately, many who are responding are not listening.

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The German Girl: A Novel Book Review

War has a way of changing things. During World War II in Europe, the change to Europe’s Jewish population was more than war. It was extermination and many were looking for a way out.

The 2017 novel, The German Girl: A Novel by Armando Lucas Correa, is initially set in 1939 Germany. Up until this point, young Hannah Rosenthal has led a very happy life. But the war and the noose that is quickly tightening around Germany’s Jews is changing all of that, and not for the better.

In spite of the darkness around them, there is glimmer of light in the distance: the S.S. St. Louis. The ship promises to take her passengers to the freedom and safety of Cuba. But hope soon turns to tragedy when the passengers learn that their new country is not as welcoming as they thought it would be.

In 2014, Anna is a young lady living in New York City with her mother. Her father is dead, she knows next to nothing of him or his family. Then she receives an envelope from a great-aunt Hannah from Cuba whom she has never met. Inside the envelope is a picture of a young girl who looks like Anna. This envelope leads Anna and her mother to take a trip to Cuba to meet her great-aunt and find out the generations old secrets of her late father and his family.

Though the beginning of this book is a little slow, when it picks up, it really picks up. One of the hardest things that a writer can do is write in two different time periods with two different characters while slowly weaving them together until they create one narrative. Mr. Correa not only succeeds at this, but tells a timeless tale of family, love and the destruction that is caused by hate.

I recommend it.

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