One of my favorite phrases 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.
During World War II, while most non Jews either turned their backs on their Jewish friends and neighbors or openly collaborated with the Nazis, a few brave souls dared to protect their Jewish friends and neighbors. They knew that if they were caught, the punishment for not just the individual, but his or her entire family was execution. But they still put their lives and the lives of their families on the line.
Writer Yvette Manessis Corporon was raised on her Greek grandmother’s stories of saving the lives of a Jewish tailor and his children during the war. But she didn’t know much beyond the story, until she started doing some research. Her research and her experience while doing this research led to the memoir, Something Beautiful Happened: A Story of Survival and Courage in the Face of Evil. While in the midst of fleshing out her grandmother’s story and trying to locate the living relations of the family whose lives were saved by her grandmother, Ms. Corporon was hit by a personal tragedy. In Overland Park, Kansas in April of 2014, three people were killed by a Neo-Nazi outside of a JCC. While none of the victims were Jewish, two of the victims, a young boy and his grandfather were cousins on her husband’s side of the family.
The thing that strikes me about this book is that it reminds me of the choices that we have in life. We can either waste our time and energy and hate someone because they are different or we can accept someone for who they are and move on with our lives. The author’s grandmother could have easily said no to saving her neighbors, after all, she still had to take care of her own family. But she said yes and in doing so, became a faint light in the darkness of World War II and The Holocaust.
Dr. Edith Eva Eger has a unique take on grief and dealing with the emotional trauma. A survivor of Auschwitz and The Holocaust, her experience during World War II gives her an insight as how to deal and move on from grief and trauma.
She has chronicles her experiences in a book entitled, The Choice: Embrace the Possible. At the outset of World War II, Dr. Eger was a young woman from a Jewish family living in Hungary. By the time the war was over, Dr. Eger was a survivor of Auschwitz and other concentration camps. While she and her sisters were lucky enough to survive, the rest of their family perished. After the war, she married, had three children, became a refugee from Soviet controlled Hungary and emigrated to America, where she eventually received her doctorate in psychology.
Among memoirs by Holocaust survivors, this book stands out. While it is about Dr. Eger’s story, it is about much more than that. It is about how we can face our demons and traumas, whatever form they take and find the inner peace that we are yearning for.
The Holocaust, like all massacres of an ethnic or religious minority did not start off with concentration camps and gas chambers. It started with words. It started with the dehumanization of Jews and other minorities. That led to political and social disenfranchisement, which directly led to the concentration camps and gas chambers.
After World War II, the common phrase was “never again”. Never again will we stand by as our fellow human beings are slaughtered simply for being who they are. Never again will we let a government openly persecute and slaughter our fellow citizens because they belong to a different faith or their heritage is different from ours.
Never again has become a hollow statement that often used, but rarely acted upon.
In Myanmar, the Rohingya Muslim minority is being massacred en masse by the government. Their only crime, like all of victims of ethnic cleansing, was being who they are.
Perhaps instead of never again, we should simply say again, because ethnic cleansing has happened multiple times since 1945 and we simply continue not to care.
Of all the intangible things in the world, innocence is the most precious of intangible things. It is also the easiest to take away.
In The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, by John Boyne, Bruno is the young son of a German officer. His family is removed from their house in Berlin to a house in the country where his father has relocated for work. Bruno does not understand why they had to move. He soon meets Shmuel, a boy his own age who lives behind barbed wires and wears striped pajamas. Despite not understanding why Shmuel lives why he lives, Bruno and Shmuel become friends. This friendship will briefly enrich both boys lives, but will lead to devastating and heartbreaking consequences.
While this book is concise, it is mind-blowing. Told through Bruno’s point of view via third person, the story is told from an angle not seen in Holocaust fiction previously: a young boy who is unaware of the hate he should have in his heart and befriends another child whom he should hate, but doesn’t.
I keep thinking of the end of Romeo and Juliet when I think of the ending of this book.
See what a scourge is laid upon your hate,
That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love;
And I, for winking at your discords too,
Have lost a brace of kinsmen: all are punish’d.
If nothing else, this book reminds me that hate and love have equal power in this world, it is just matter of which one we choose to embrace and if we are truly wiling to accept the consequences of this hate if we choose that path.
“Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”
The phrase above has in recent decades been used when referring to the Holocaust. But while it refers to a specific event in history, the phrase itself has the potential to be used for other events in history.
In the wake of the rally in Charlottesville last weekend, local governments and citizens alike have either called for the removal and/or destruction of monuments from the Confederate South or have had them removed completely.
It feels to me like a double-edged sword. We cannot white wash history and pretend that the horrors of slavery did not happen in America, but at the same time, if we do decide to remove them from the public arena, what are we teaching our children?
If American society has a cross to bear, it is the enslavement of African-Americans and the scar that still exists from that enslavement in our society generations after The Civil War. Racism still exists in America (as was dreadfully highlighted last weekend) and remains a blight on the ideals laid out by our Founding Fathers.
The only compromise I can think of is to not whitewash history and use the past (and the monuments dedicated those who were part of the Confederate South) as a teaching tool. We can only learn from history (and prevent it from happening again) is to learn from the mistakes of the generations who have come before us.
That being said, I would like to know the opinion of my readers. Should we remove the statues and be done with it or use it as teaching tool for this generation and future generations?
A President, regardless of his or her party or beliefs is the moral authority and should be leading the nation, especially during a crisis.
President Trump has failed in both areas (no surprise there). His remarks after last weekend’s rally in Charlottesville proved that he is neither the moral authority nor is he far from qualified to lead the nation, especially during this crisis.
What President Trump should have said is in the video above. Thank you Arnold Schwarzenegger for standing up for what is right and speaking truth to power.
It’s not uncommon knowledge that Ivanka Trump converted to Judaism when she married Jared Kushner. It is also common knowledge Jared’s grandparents survived the Holocaust. Their children are being raised Jewish. I would think (and hope) that Trump’s reaction, not a President, but as a father and grandfather would be of outrage and anger.
I know this has been said many times since last weekend, but my grandfathers, like millions of their brothers in arms, fought against fascism in World War II. The sons of Jewish immigrants, they put their lives on the line to protect America and her values. The fact that Trump has subtly given the alt-right the go ahead to slither out of the rocks they came from speak to his incompetence and how ill prepared he is to lead this country.
P.S. Did anyone else do a happy dance when Steve Bannon was fired?
This past weekend was heavy to say the least. The rally in Charlottesville reminded us of how precious our freedoms are and how easily they can be taken away from us.
The video below has been making the rounds on my social media for the last two days. Though it was made in 1943, it has not lost its potency or its message. It is a relevant in 2017 as it was in 1943.
Martin Niemoller was a Protestant Pastor who openly spoke up against the Nazi regime and survived 7 years in a concentration camp. He is best remembered for the following:
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.
I think the valuable lesson we learned from this past weekend is that when we are stronger together. When we fight among ourselves and forget that the other person we are looking at is a human being, then we have lost the battle.
One of the most prophetic lessons of the Holocaust can be summed up in one quote:
“Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”
Despite the violence, I have seen a spark of hope. It was the people who came to protest against the White nationalists and the government leaders who spoke out against the hatred. Perhaps, after all of these years, after the needless killing of millions, we have finally learned from history and will not repeat the mistakes of the past.
It is both sad and scary that there are people in this country who still think like this, who would condemn another person because of race, family origin, religion, etc. I feel like I watching historical footage of a Nazi rally in 1930’s Germany or reading an oral narrative from the South just after the Civil War. It is surreal that this is happening in America today.
When we speak of the Holocaust, we say never again. It saddens me that in America in 2017, we must use never again to remind us of what happens when hate and prejudice take over.
Power is a seductive thing. Once we have a taste of it, we always want more.
Ronald H. Balson published his debut novel, Once We Were Brothers in 2013. In present day Chicago, Elliot Rosenzweig is a paragon of virtue. A success businessman who has given back to his community, no one would think twice that Elliot is not who he claims to be. But Ben Solomon knows the truth. Ben knows that Elliot Rosenzweig is really Otto Piatek, the Butcher of Zamosc.
Ben ambushes Otto/Elliot at a fundraiser, hoping to out him as the adopted brother who had a hand in murdering the family and the community that he was raised in. Before World War II, Ben and Otto were brothers in spirit. When Otto’s parents stepped away from their parental duties, Ben’s parents stepped in and raised Otto as if he was their own. But with the invasion of Poland by the Nazis, Otto slowly turned his back on the Solomons and morphed into the butcher of Zamosc.
Ben is determined to see justice pursued. He turns to private investigator/lawyer duo of Liam Taggart and Catherine Lockhart. Can Liam and Catherine help Ben to reveal the truth or is Ben just an old man who is losing his mind?
One of Mr. Balson’s best qualities as a writer is that he knows how to keep the tension going, in addition to keeping the reader unsure as to the outcome of the story. There was points in the novel when I was sure that Ben was crazy, but then there were other points when I was sure that Elliot would be outed as Otto.
*Warning: this review contains mild spoilers. Read at your own risk.
Genius and ego often go hand in hand.
Marc Chagall was one of the great artists of the 20th century. He also had a rather large ego.
His life and the life of his eldest daughter, Ida Meyer (nee Chagall) is dramatized in the 2015 novel, The Bridal Chair: A Novel, by Gloria Goldreich. The book starts as World War II is starting to consume Europe. Ida Chagall is the loved and adored only child of respected artist Marc Chagall and his wife, Bella (nee Rosenfeld). She is young, idealistic and in love. She is also pregnant. At the urging of her parents, she not only marries her young man, but also aborts the pregnancy.
This will only be the first test that Ida and her tempestuous, artistic father deal with. As both an artist and a Jew, Marc has a target on his back. They must flee Europe with nothing more than the clothes on their backs and Marc’s paintings. They arrive in America, with Marc heralded as one of greats of the painting world. Then the book then moves forward in time. The war ends, and both Ida and Marc are dealing with their own challenges, as individuals and father and daughter.
I really enjoyed this book. I enjoyed it because it shows the complexity of being a celebrated artist, the complexity of the father/daughter relationship and how unpredictable life is.