Tag Archives: The Holocaust

The Yellow Bird Sings: A Novel Book Review

The bond between a mother and her child is powerful. In times of war, what will a mother to do protect her child?

The Yellow Bird Sings: A Novel was published last week.

Written by Jennifer Rosner, the novel is set in Poland during World War II. Róza and her 5-year-old daughter, Shira, are hiding in a barn owned by their Christian neighbors. Her husband, parents and the rest of the town’s Jews have all disappeared. To keep her daughter quiet and calm, Róza tells her the story of a yellow bird. The story works, but not forever.

Soon, Róza must make a choice. Keep Shira with her or send her away with strangers to give her a chance to survive.

This book hits all of the emotional and narrative points that is standard for the genre. However, it did not tough me in a way that other books in the genre do. I wanted to feel the tension as to whether both characters would survive and find their way back to each other. Unfortunately, I did not.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

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The Light after the War: A Novel Book Review

Sometimes, surviving The Holocaust required a split-second decision in which one did not know the outcome of that decision.

The Light after the War: A Novel, was published last month. Best friends Vera and Edith survived by jumping from a cattle car headed toward Auschwitz. They spent the rest of the war hiding in a farm. Once peace is declared, both Vera and Edith know that their futures are not in Eastern Europe. They start their new lives in Naples, where Vera gets a job working for an American army officer.

Life becomes complicated when Vera falls for her employer and he for her. They are set to begin a new life as husband and wife, but then the officer disappears. So begins the multiple twists and turns that will take these women across the globe several times and expand their worlds in ways that neither had previously considered.

At the core of this book is a friendship that remains strong under circumstances that would break most friendships. As Vera and Ellen fall in love, go into the work world and expand their horizons, they continue to rely on each other. That is what makes this book great and kept me hanging on to the last page.

I absolutely recommend it.

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A Bookshop in Berlin: The Rediscovered Memoir of One Woman’s Harrowing Escape from the Nazis Book Review

Surviving the Holocaust was sometimes due to intelligence, the ability to predict the future and just plain luck.

Françoise Frenkel was one of the lucky ones. In 1945, she published her memoir, which was recently re-published at the end of last year. It is entitled A Bookshop in Berlin: The Rediscovered Memoir of One Woman’s Harrowing Escape from the Nazis. In the early 1920s, Frenkel’s dream became a reality when she opened a bookshop specializing in French and France related books in Berlin. Life was normal for her until 1939. As a Jew of Polish descent, she knew that remaining in her then present location was not a wise decision.

Her first stop in a bid to escape the horrors of the Holocaust was Paris. When Paris was no longer safe, Frenkel made her through Southern France with the help of brave strangers. She knows that survival depends on getting out of Nazi occupied Europe, but it won’t be easy, given the increased brutality by the Nazis.

As any regular reader of this blog knows, I’ve read quite a few Holocaust books, both fiction and non-fiction over the years. As the years pass by and the survivors begin to leave this world, it becomes ever more important to hear the stories of the Holocaust first hand. Unfortunately, this book is not the best Holocaust book I’ve ever read.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

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”A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide Book Review

After the Holocaust, many proclaimed “never again”. But the reality is that the phrase has become just words as humanity has proved that we have not learned from the Holocaust.

In 2002, former diplomat Samantha Power released her searing indictment of America’s attitude to massacres across the world in ‘A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide. Re-released in 2013, the book covers various atrocities across the globe and how America reacted. She starts with the Armenian Genocide and ends with the war crimes in Kosovo in the late 90’s.

Going into great detail, she uses historical documents, first hand accounts and press clippings to tell the stories of the massacres and the innocent lives lost.

When I finally finished the book, I noticed several things.

  • Though the details of each massacre are different, the overall story is the same.
  • The targeted group is a minority who has historically dealt with persecution.
  • There were individuals within the United States who were ready, willing and eager to save as many lives as they can.
  • However, the collective reaction from those in the halls of power range from cold indifference to talking about saving lives, but not actually doing anything to save said lives.

I’ve always believed in the greatness of the United States. More than a century ago, this nation welcomed my forebears and allowed them to flourish. But I ‘m also completely aware of this nation’s flaws.

We can do better, we must do better. While we cannot go back and prevent the loss of innocent life, we can learn from our past. Otherwise, we will repeat it at some point.

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Today is the 75th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz

Today is the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

As I write this post, I am an ocean apart and multiple generations separated from the Holocaust. When my family, like millions of Jewish immigrants, came to this country in the years before World War II, they could have never imagined the fate of the loved ones they left behind.

Though it is nearly a century since the prisoners of the death camp were set free, it feels as potent and relevant as it did 75 years ago. Hate still flourishes. Antisemitism has once again has reared its ugly head. Humanity still has the capacity to be inhumane to our fellow mortals.

The number of survivors who are able to tell their own stories are dying out. There will come a day in which the stories of the victims and the survivors of the Holocaust will only be available via second hand or via fiction. We must hear their voices while they are still around to tell their stories. If we don’t, then we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.

Z”l.

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Thoughts On the 75th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz

This coming Monday is a somber day. It is the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

Earlier in the week, PBS aired an episode of Secrets of the Dead that focused on the fact that though the Allies knew about the death camp and were urged to bomb it, they chose not to.

What makes me angry is that the purpose of this war was to fight for democracy and human rights. And yet, when the Allies had an opportunity to make a statement about the very thing that they were fighting for, they chose not to.

I can’t help but think of the time, energy, resources, and the lives that were wasted in the Holocaust. We will never know what the victims and their forebears might have given to the world. We will also never know what those who worked in the camps might have done with their lives if they had not given into the hate and believed the lies of the Nazis.

We talk about “Never Again” and how we will never let a specific people be ostracized, traumatized and murdered. And yet, in our modern world, with all of the hate that has started to once more consume us, the message feels as important as ever.

May the memories of those who were killed within Auschwitz be a blessing and a reminder of how inhuman we can be to our fellow humans.

Z”l.

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The Daughter’s Tale: A Novel Book Review

As parents, we will do almost anything to ensure that our children will grow up to be happy, healthy and productive members of society. But during wartime, a parent’s main concern is that they, their children and their family survives the war.

Armando Lucas Correa’s latest book, The Daughter’s Tale: A Novel starts in modern-day New York City. Elise Duval is in her golden years. Born in France and raised as a Catholic, her formative years were during World War II. After the war, Elise moved to the United States, where she was raised by her uncle. Then a stranger brings Elise a box that opens the door to her past.

In 1939 in Berlin, Amanda Sternberg and her husband live a comfortable life with their two young daughters. But Amanda and her family are Jewish and the noose around Europe’s Jews is tightening. Making the ultimate parental sacrifice, Amanda puts her older daughter on a boat to the Americas before fleeing to France with her younger daughter.

Amanda hopes that living in France will provide the respite that she and daughter desperately need. But the Nazis are not too far behind. When Amanda is forced into a labor camp, she knows that the only way to save her daughter is to send her away.

This book is fantastic. What drew me in was the force of Amanda’s love for her children and how she knew instinctively that in order to save her children’s lives, she had to send them away. Regardless of faith, family background or cultural history, it is a message that I believe speak to all of us, especially those of us who have children.

I recommend it.

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The German House Book Review

After a war, those who have survived just want to get back to normal. But what happens years after the war when the sins of the past come back to haunt you?

The new novel, The German House, written by Annette Hess and translated into English by Elisabeth Lauffer, takes place in Germany in 1963. Eva Bruhns is 24 years old. Her memories of World War II are nothing more than foggy memories of childhood.

Like many of us at that age, Eva is ready to stretch her wings. Her parents are the owners of The German House, a successful restaurant. She lives with her family in the apartment above the restaurant and is ready to marry her wealthy boyfriend.

Accepting a job as a translator, Eva works for David Miller, an investigator who wants nothing more than to prosecute those who were responsible for the death of millions. As she is pulled further and further into the Frankfurt Auschwitz trials, Eva begins to question not only her life choices but the history of her nation and her family.

In theory, this book should have been a good read. Within the World War II/Holocaust genre, this is a narrative that does not receive the same attention as other narratives within the genre.

It’s not a bad book to read, I was just underwhelmed by the time I reached the end of the story.

Do I recommend it? Not really.

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My Favorite Movies of 2019

Going to the movies is sometimes akin to stepping onto a roller coaster. Sometimes you love the film your seeking. Sometimes you hate it.

My favorite movies of 2019 are as follows:

  1. The Farewell: The Farewell is my favorite movie of the year because it is heartfelt, genuine and thoroughly human. In the lead role, Awkwafina proves that she can play much more than the comic relief.
  2. Avengers: Endgame: If there was a perfect way to end a film series, this film is it. Balancing both action and narrative, this thrill ride is pure perfection.
  3. Judy: Renee Zellweger is an absolute shoe-in for the Oscars as the late film icon Judy Garland. Disappearing in the role, she tells the true story of the final years of Garland’s life.
  4. Downton Abbey: Transferring a popular television show to the big screen is often easier said than done. The Downton Abbey movie is the perfect film bookend to this beloved television program.
  5. Harriet: This biopic of Harriet Tubman is nothing short of tremendous. In the lead role, Cynthia Erivo is Harriet Tubman.
  6. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker: This final entry in the Skywalker saga is not perfect, but it ends with both a nod to the past and an open door to the future.
  7. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: The late Fred Rogers was more than a milquetoast children’s TV host. He taught generations of children in ways that go beyond the classroom. Inhabiting the role of Mister Rogers is Tom Hanks, who reminds viewers why we loved him.
  8. Joker: In this re imagined world from that Batman universe, Joaquin Phoenix adds new layers to this iconic character while talking frankly about mental illness.
  9. The Song of Names: Based on the book of the same name, the film follows a man who is trying to discover the secrets of a missing childhood friend.
  10. Frozen II: This sequel to the mega-hit Frozen was well worth the six year wait. Instead of doing a slap-dash direct to video type sequel, the filmmakers expanded this world in new ways, making the story even more relevant.

This will be my last post for 2019. Wherever you are, thank you for reading this year. May 2020 be bright and hopeful.

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Best Books of 2019

To say that I am a bookworm is an understatement. As you might expect, I’ve read quite a few books this year.

Without further adieu, my list of the best books of 2019 is below.

  1. The Women of the 116th Congress: Portraits of Power: This book is #1 because it represents how far American women have come and how far we need to go before we are truly equal. In celebrating the success of these female politicians, the authors are paving the way for the next generation of women to represent their country.
  2. The Unwanted: America, Auschwitz, and a Village Caught In Between: This compelling and true story of one small town and it’s Jewish residents during World War II is as compelling as any fiction novel of the Holocaust.
  3. Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War II: Telling the story of Audrey Hepburn‘s childhood during World War II, this book is a must-read for both movie junkies and history nerds alike.
  4. Summer of ’69: History is not just facts in a book. It the lives and experiences of those who lived through that period. In telling the story of one specific family, the summer of 1969 comes alive.
  5. Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators: The revelation of Harvey Weinstein’s actions two years ago was appalling and world-changing. In bringing his actions to the light, the authors are giving his victims what should have been theirs in the first place.
  6. Unmarriageable: A Novel: This adaptation of Pride & Prejudice set in Pakistan proves why Austen’s novels are universally loved and rebooted time and again.
  7. The Mother of the Brontes: When Maria met Patrick: The previously untold story of Maria Bronte (nee Branwell) is a fascinating story of the women who would bring Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte into the world.
  8. Becoming Eve: My Journey from Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi to Transgender Woman: It takes guts to be yourself. It takes even more guts when being yourself means that you are no longer part of the community you grew up in.
  9. She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement: The reporters who broke the Harvey Weinstein scandal knew what they were up against. They also knew how important it was for the public to know the truth.
  10. The Winemaker’s Wife: Love and betrayal are enough to handle. Add in war and you have this marvelous novel set in France during World War II.

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