Tag Archives: The Holocaust

The Kommandant’s Girl Book Review

When faced with decisions of life and death, we make choices that in retrospect seem questionable, but in the moment, feel like it is only thing we can do.

In Pam Jenoff’s 2007 novel, The Kommandant’s Girl, 19-year-old Emma Bau is reveling in the glow of being a newlywed. Not even a month after she marries her husband, Jacob, Germany invades Poland. Jacob has no choice but to disappear and Emma joins her parents in the quickly overcrowding Jewish ghetto. Smuggled out of the ghetto and into the home of her husband’s Catholic aunt, Emma is now Anna Lipowski, a Polish orphan.

Adding to the danger, Anna/Emma is hired as an assistant of Kommandant Richwalder, a high-ranking Nazi official. While she is working for the Kommandant, Anna/Emma uses her status to help the resistance. But while she is doing this, she is potentially compromising her life, the lives of her loved ones and her marriage vows.

This book left me with wanting more. I felt like I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. My favorite thing about the book was the character of the Kommandant. On one hand, he was responsible for the death of an untold number of innocents. But on the other hand, his affection for Anna/Emma was humanized him and if only temporarily removed the mask of the monster.

I absolutely recommend it.

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Throwback Thursday-The Pianist (2002)

Sometimes, in the heat of the war, the one thing that keeps us alive is music.

Władysław Szpilman was one of the most respected pianists in Europe in the years leading up to World War II. He was also Jewish.

His story of survival in the face overwhelming atrocities is explored in the 2002 award-winning film, The Pianist. Adrien Brody plays the title character. The movie starts with Władysław Szpilman forced into The Warsaw Ghetto with his family and thousands of other Jews. As the noose begins to tighten around the residents of the ghetto, he knows that his music maybe the only thing keeping him alive.

The Pianist stands out as a Holocaust film because of the music. The music reminds both the main character and the audience that even in the face of unmistakable evil and tragedy, if we can find one thing to remind us of our humanity, then there is hope. The music is the sliver of hope and light in the face of the darkness that is World War II and The Holocaust.

I absolutely recommend it.

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The Orphan’s Tale: A Novel Book Review

Destiny is an odd thing. It can take us to a world of peace, love and tranquility, or it can take us to a world of fear, secrets and danger.

In the new book, The Orphan’s Tale: A Novel, by Pam Jenoff, the destinies of two women collide and forever alter the course of each other’s life. In her late teens, Noa has been impregnated and abandoned by a Nazi soldier. Forced to give up the baby, Noa finds a train full of infants headed toward the concentration camps. Taking one of the infants, she runs away from the rail station which she cleans to put some money in her wallet.

Found by a circus, Noa claims that the baby is her brother and trains to become a trapeze artist. Astrid, the lead performer in the trapeze act, is not initially thrilled with the new recruit. But Astrid has a secret of her own, that if revealed, could mean death, not just for her, but everyone in the circus. Astrid and Noa become friends, but that friendship is tested when the facade that is keeping them alive starts to wear thin. When the danger becomes too apparent, the women must make a choice: try to save each other’s lives or die with the secrets of their true selves.

I really liked this book. What made it memorable was the fear of just Noa and Astrid, but the fear of the world around them. The bounds of their relationship are not only tested by their pasts (and their secrets by extension), but also by the noose that is slowly being wrapped around their collective necks.

I absolutely recommend it.

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Why I Re-Read The Tailors of Tomaszow: A Memoir of Polish Jews

This past weekend was Yom HaShoah.

While I live in the safety and security of The United States, sometimes I need a reminder how quickly democracy and freedom can spiral into prejudice and murder.

Yesterday, I finished reading The Tailors of Tomaszow: A Memoir of Polish Jew. Co-written by child survivor Rena Margulies Chernoff and her son Alan Chernoff, the book is a memoir based on the memories of Mrs. Chernoff’s all too brief childhood and the horrors she went through during the Holocaust.

The reason I re-read the book can best be described by the late Elie Wiesel:

“To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”

The youngest of the survivors are in their 80’s and 90’s. Soon, only their words and memories, shared through others will keep the their murdered kin alive.

I re-read The Tailors of Tomaszow: A Memoir of Polish Jews so that the dead will never be forgotten.

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Yom HaShoah

Today is Yom HaShoah, the day we remember the 6 million Jews murdered in The Holocaust.

I normally prefer to talk about The Holocaust in general terms, but I feel like today telling my family’s story.

In one sense I am quite lucky. My great grandparents settled in this country well World War I. By the time World War II started, their children, my grandparents, were growing up couched in the freedom and safety of America. The families they left behind were not so lucky. On my mother’s maternal line, both of her grandparents were born and raised in Dobromil, Poland (which is now in the Ukraine).

In the late 1970’s, at the urging of his children, my mother’s grandfather published a short book about the shtetl of his youth. It was called Dobromil.

The book is dedicated to the memory of his father, his siblings and their families who lost their lives because they were Jews.

Meyer (or Meir in Hebrew) Treiber was registered by one of my uncles on the Yom HaShoah database 40 years ago. Meyer was my mother’s great-grandfather.

The survivors are starting to pass away. Their first person accounts of the horrors they experienced will soon be a memory.

It’s important to remember all of the victims. Not just the Jews, but the Gypsies, the Homosexuals and everyone who was killed because they did not fit into the world that the Nazis envisioned. It’s also important to remember because the Holocaust is not the first, or the last mass slaughter in modern memory of human beings who were killed because they were different.

At the beginning and end of the day, we are all human beings. No matter what labels are used to define us, we are the same inside.

I’m going end this post with a quotation by Martin Niemoller that is as true today as it was during World War II.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Z”l

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SURVIVORS CLUB The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz Book Review

Among the six million Jews that were murdered in World War II, 1 million of them were children.

Michael Bornstein was one of the lucky ones.

His experience during the war is chronicled in the new book, SURVIVORS CLUB The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz. Co-authored by Mr. Bornstein and his daughter, Debbie Bornstein Holinstat, the narrative is told through the mixed lens of fiction and memoir. Michael Bornstein was born in 1940, in the Polish town of Zarki to a middle class family. He is one of the youngest survivors of Auschwitz and lost several family members to the Nazi murder machine.

I really enjoyed this book. What made it interesting was the narrative, in both fiction and memoir form, which is hard to not only combine, but combine in a narrative that is readable. Combining his memories with interviews from older family members who also survived, this book is a reminder of not only inhumane we can be to each other, but also that even in darkness, there is always a little bit of hope.

I recommend it.

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The Zookeeper’s Wife Movie Review

One of my favorite quotes from the Talmud is as follows:

Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if they destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if they saved an entire world.

Jan and Antonina Żabiński saved the lives of hundreds of Jews during World War II.

Their story is chronicled in the new film, The Zookkeeper’s Wife, (which is based upon the book of the same name). Jan Żabiński (Johan Heldenbergh) and his wife, Antonina (Jessica Chastain) are the caretakers of the Warsaw Zoo. When the Germans invade Poland and start to slowly tighten the noose around Jan and Antonina’s Jewish friends and neighbors, they make the bold and very dangerous decision to help as many survive as they can. Their task is made harder by Lutz Heck (Daniel Bruhl), a colleague who has joined the Nazis and whose feelings for Antonina go beyond the professional sphere.

Can Antonina and Jan continue to save lives or will they be caught and killed by the Germans?

While this movie is a bit on the long side, I very much enjoyed it. Movies about the Holocaust are normally focused on the victims and survivors, not based on those who were brave enough to defy the Germans and attempt to save lives. In focusing on Jan and Antonina, I was reminded that even in times of extreme darkness, there is still light, courage and hope in the world.

I recommend it.

The Zookeeper’s Wife is presently in theaters.

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Where Are You, Jared Kushner?

Jared Kushner is our President’s close aide and son-in-law. I wonder, does he compartmentalize like crazy so as to not go crazy with the chaotic roll-out? Does he worry about how he’ll explain it to his children? https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jan/31/jared-kushner-grandmother-refugee-holocaust

via Grandmother to Jared Kushner (Donald Trump’s son-in-law and close aide) anguished that the world’s doors were closed in regard to America’s refusal to accept refugees during the Holocaust. This is getting weird; they’re closing again and Kushner’s helping them slam. — Words We Women Write

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Denial Movie Review

The job of a historian is to impart the facts of historical events without prejudice or partiality. Unfortunately, some historians feel the need to inject their version of the facts into the historical record.

In the new movie, Denial, Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) is a professor of Holocaust studies at Emory University in Atlanta. She is also a published author. One of her books, Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, was published in 1993. She devotes part of the book to outing those who openly deny that the Holocaust did happened or claim that the known facts are not entirely correct. One of the men listed, David Irving (Timothy Spall), sued her for libel in the UK.

Forced to go to England to defend herself against the libel claim, Deborah’s legal team is led by  Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson) and Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott). The Holocaust did happen, that is undisputed fact. But can Deborah’s legal team prove that David Irving changed the facts to suit his own view of history?

This movie hit home for me for a number of reasons. I am first a Jewish woman who lost family to the Nazi inferno. I am also an American who believes that while free speech is one of the corner stones of democracy, a line has to be drawn when it comes to interpreting opinion as undisputed fact. Especially when it comes to something like The Holocaust.

I really liked this film. I liked it because it did not beat around the bush. There was enough tension to keep the narrative going and keep the audience focused on the film. I also liked the feminist element in the film. Deborah Lipstadt, both on-screen and in person, is a no-nonsense, say what she thinks kind of woman. To let off steam, she would run. While in London,  she passed by the statue of Boadicea, the Bronze age Queen who led a rebellion against the invading Romans. The imagery, at least from my perspective, said it all.

I recommend this film.

Denial is presently in theaters. 

 

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Irena’s Children: The Extraordinary Story of the Woman Who Saved 2,500 Children from the Warsaw Ghetto Book Review

Irena Sendler is one of the unheralded heroes of the Holocaust. She did what many could not or would not do. Teaming up with her friends and colleagues, she was able to save the lives of 2500 Jewish children.

Tilar Mazzeo’s new book, Irena’s Children: The Extraordinary Story of the Woman Who Saved 2,500 Children from the Warsaw Ghetto, tells the story of how Irena Sendler and her network was able to save the lives of the 2500 Jewish children. Born to a Polish Catholic family in 1910, Irena’s family was far more tolerant and accepting of her Jewish neighbors and friends than others in Poland. Her early experiences led her to the moral conviction that she had to save as many young lives as she could.

Using her background in social work and her vast connections with both Jews and Christians, Irena worked feverishly to save the children. It was a dangerous task, if she or her colleagues were caught, the consequences for both the children and the adults were death. It was a task she willingly took on, knowing that one wrong move would mean the loss of countless lives.



I have mixed feelings about this book. There were some chapters where I could feel the tension and the danger in real-time, as if I was there. Other chapters I felt like they were filler, without real substance.

But overall, it is a good book and it is a reminder that despite the hate and the prejudice that exists in this world, there is still light and love and those willing to fight against hate.

I recommend it.

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