To have said that you survived The Holocaust took more that luck. Fate and perhaps split second decisions had a hand in deciding if one would become a martyr or a survivor.
Georgia Hunter’s 2017 memoir, We Were The Lucy Ones, tells the story of her mother’s family survived The Holocaust. She starts the story in 1939 as the Kurc family from Radom, Poland is celebrating the holiday of Passover. They are all together with the exception one of the sons who is living and working in Paris. Then the war starts and the family is torn apart. At each turn, it looks like they will join their slain brethren. But somehow, the family survives forges a new life far away from the hatred and terror that nearly took their lives.
This book is nothing short of wondrous. I could not put it down. There were points in the novel where I held my breath, praying that each individual family member would find a way to survive not just that moment or that day, but the war. It is a breathtaking story of survival, love and perseverance against all odds.
I absolutely recommend it.
Our past is our past. Whether we like it or not, it will always be with us.
Jenna Blum’s new novel, The Lost Family: A Novel, starts in 1960’s New York City. Peter Rashkin is chef/owner of Masha’s, one of the most respected restaurants in the city. He is also one of the most sought after bachelors in the city. A survivor of Auschwitz who lost his wife and young daughters in the war, Peter is not interested in dating anyone. Then he meets June Bouquet, an up and coming model who is two decades his junior. Despite the age and religion difference, Peter and June fall in love. When June finds herself pregnant, they marry. The rest of the book covers the next two decades as Peter, June and their daughter Elsbeth face not only the challenges of change, but Peter’s past.
This book is an absolute must read. What makes this book a must read is that is just so good. What I loved about the book was the human imperfection of the characters and how that played into the narrative.
I absolutely recommend it.
Imagine the following scenario: From the time you were very young, you thought you knew who you were. As far back as you can remember, you were given a certain identity. Then a secret is revealed and that identity is questioned.
That is the premise of the 2007 book, Suddenly Jewish: Jews Raised as Gentiles Discover Their Jewish Roots. Written by Barbara Kessel, the book contains interviews with 160 individuals. While their lives and individual stories vary, they all have one thing in common: they discover they either they are Jewish or they have Jewish ancestry. The interviewees are broken down into four distinct categories: Crypto-Jews (descendants of Jews who were forced to convert to another religion, but still practiced Judaism in secret), child survivors of the Holocaust who survived by hiding and assuming Christian identities, the children of Holocaust survivors and children who were adopted.
This book is absolutely fascinating. What made it fascinating was not just the history behind the stories of the interviewees, but the reactions of those interviewed. Some were not only accepting of their true identity, but they also actively became members of the Jewish faith. Others dismissed the idea and distanced themselves from their Jewish ancestry. Either way, it was a compelling view of the roads where history and identity meet.
I recommend it.
After The Holocaust, the world said never again. Never again would we let our brothers and sisters be slaughtered because they are different from us.
Unfortunately, never again has become again and again.
During the Rwanadan genocide in the spring and summer of 1994, approximately 500,000 to 1,000,000 Rwandan citizens were murdered. The lucky survivors (if you want to call them lucky) were forced to become refugees.
Clemantine Wamariya is one of those survivors. She recounts the harrowing experience of being a refugee from mass slaughter in her new memoir, The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After. Co-written with Elizabeth Weil, Ms. Wamariya was a young girl when the killing began. She escaped Rwanda with her elder sister, leaving the rest of her family behind. The narrative jumps between two timelines: her life in America living with an Anglo-American family after receiving a visa to enter the United States and her life as a refugee, living as best she could.
While this book is a little difficult to read, both because of the subject matter and the timeline jump in the narrative, it is an important read. It’s important because we are still killing each other over minute labels instead of finding a way to coexist and respect our differences.
Oskar Schindler was a complicated man. He was a German industrialist and a member of the Nazi party. He was not exactly loyal to his wife. But he was also responsible for saving the lives of 1200 Jewish prisoners during The Holocaust.
This year, the film based on his life during the war, Schindler’s List, turns 25.
If there ever was a Holocaust film, Schindler’s List is that film. Liam Neeson played the title role. Directed by Steven Spielberg, the supporting cast includes Ben Kingsley and Ralph Fiennes. Filmed in stark black and white for 99% of the film, the movie pulls no punches. It forces the audience to keep their eyes on the screen and screams out that this is what hate and prejudice leads to.
This film is hard to watch, but it is hard to watch for a reason. It is still relevant 25 years later not only because hatred, prejudice and genocide are still happening, but also because there are some who continue to deny that The Holocaust is anything but historical fact.
May this film live on for eternity, as a reminder of what human beings can do to each other and why we must find a way to accept one another, even if one is different.
This past weekend, I took a trip down to Washington D.C. with a friend. One of the site were visited was the United States Holocaust Museum.
This past weekend was also the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
The museum is emotionally heavy, as is the story of uprising. Neither dances around The Holocaust. It is in your face, as it should be. It is a reminder of the duality of human beings: how on one hand, we can see past labels and see another person as they are. On the other hand, it is also incredibly easy to judge a person based on that same label and devalue them to the point of murder and destruction.
If nothing else, The Holocaust is a reminder that we are each other’s keepers. It is up to us to remember what hate can do to a person and how beyond important it is to see someone else as a human being before judging them based on factors such as skin color, race or religion.
On a personal note, I found Dobromil on a list of communities desecrated during The Holocaust. Dobromil is one of the shtetls my ancestors called home.
Last night it was announced that US, UK and France successfully hit its targets in Syria. The airstrike was in response to the chemical attack on the citizens of Douma last weekend.
While the airstrike does it’s job in sending a message to the Syrian regime, there is a component missing that is ignored at least by the current administration: the Syrian refugees who are being prevented from entering the United States. So far this year, only 11 Syrian refugees have been allowed to enter the country.
Since you know who took office last year, the parallels to Nazi Germany have been spoken of frequently.
In May of 1930, the St. Louis sailed from Hamburg to Havana. Most of the passengers were Jews, looking for sanctuary from the destruction and prejudice they were experiencing in Europe.
To make a long story short, the ship was stuck in limbo. Only a handful of the passengers were allowed to disembark in Cuba. America refused to open her doors to those who were still on board. As a result, the ship has to return to Europe. While some of the allied countries took a few passengers, the rest were sent back to Germany. 254 of the passengers were killed in the Holocaust.
While I cannot disagree that we need to protect our borders, we need to open our country up to those who are suffering the most. Military strikes send a message, but so does opening the door and welcoming a people who have lost nearly everything.
But then again, this administration, like the one that turned away the St. Louis seems not to care.
One of the mantras that has come out of The Holocaust is that unless the learn from the past, we are doomed to repeat it.
Recently, several news outlets have reported that 4/10 millennials are either not aware of The Holocaust, or their knowledge is very basic. Even scarier is that 41% of those polled believe that the number of Jewish victims is exaggerated.
The results of the study create quite a few concerns. First, it reveals the very poor state of the American education system. Second, it opens the door to questioning the facts of The Holocaust, a concept that is especially dangerous in our current political climate.
These kids are our future leaders. If they do not have the knowledge of the past, they cannot learn from the mistakes of prior generations. Which, as history has demonstrated, opens the door to future massacres based on ethnicity or religion.
I feel sorry for our future with these kids leading the way.
America is supposed to be a country where people of every faith, creed and color live in harmony with one another. The key word in this sentence is supposed.
Arthur Jones is running for Senate in Illinois. While he refers to himself as a “white racialist”, anyone else would refer to him as a Nazi.
He is an open anti-Semite, denies the existence of the Holocaust, and has stated in the past that he is of the opinion that African-Americans do not have the same intellectual capacity as Caucasian-Americans.
I’m appalled and offended by the words that are coming out of the mouth of this man. As an American and a human being, I am offended. While only time will tell, I can only hope and pray that the voters in Illinois do what is right and do not vote for Mr. Jones to become their Senator.