Tag Archives: World War II

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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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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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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The Lost Girls of Paris Book Review

War and espionage has often been considered a man’s game. At best, women were seen as secretaries working in the home offices, assistants or nurses. There was little room for women to be in the field as soldiers or spies.

Pam Jenoff’s new novel, The Lost Girls of Paris is set during and directly after World War II. While traveling through New York City’s Grand Central Terminal, Grace Healy finds a suitcase containing the images of a dozen different women. On a whim, she takes the suitcase with her.

The owner of the suitcase is Eleanor Trigg, the leader of a ring of female spies during the war. Among the women she dispatched to Europe, twelve were sent as couriers and radio operators whose job was to aid the resistance. These women never returned home, whether or not they survived is a mystery.

Curiosity gets the best of Grace and she goes on a mission to find out who these women were and if they survived. Within the twelve women, Marie, a single mother captivates Grace. She is determined to find out if Marie lived or died for her country.

Based on the true stories of British women who served King and country, this book is a must read. It is riveting, heart stopping, heartbreaking and inspiring all in the same breath.

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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Late Thoughts On the 75th Anniversary of D-Day

Dearest readers, I apologize for this late post. I was on a lovely vacation last week and perfectly happy to take a break from the real world.

The definition of a hero is often vague and used as per the perspective of the individual or individuals who are speaking. But there is one definition of a hero that is universally accepted: one of gives his or her life to defend their country.

This past Thursday was the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Also known as the Normandy landings, the Allies stormed the beaches of Normandy. Their goal was to liberate Europe from the stranglehold of the Nazis. Thousands of Allied troops jumped off the boats; many did not have the chance to step on the beach. If they did, getting to the beach and living to free Europe was a lesser possibility.

D-Day changed the course of the war. Without D-Day, history and the world that we have today would have been completely different. The men who gave their lives on that day are the reason that we continue to live in a free society and a free world.

The clip below is from Saving Private Ryan (1998). I do have to warn that the clip contains graphic elements of war. Watch at your own risk if you are sensitive to such scenes.

May the memories of the men who died that day forever be a blessing. Z”l.

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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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Thoughts On Memorial Day

There are two views on Memorial Day. The first view is that it is seen as the first day of summer, when many of us go to the pool, go to the beach, barbecue or just enjoy what will hopefully be a nice day. The second view is that today we remember those who put their lives on the line for this country, especially those who did not come home.

My first thought today is to think of the men in my family who fought in World War II: my grandfathers (of blessed memory) and my late maternal grandmother’s two brothers. Her eldest brother (also of blessed memory) passed away decades ago. Her younger brother is still alive and is very proud of the time he spent serving his country.

When we think of war, we think of the men on the battle field and the women who stayed home to take care of the family. But this was not completely accurate during World War II. Approximately 350,000 American women served their country both at home and abroad.

Last year, I visited Washington D.C. with a friend. The World War II Memorial is both overwhelming and powerful. It is the perfect reminder of the sacrifice of those who put country before their own needs. Among the various parts of the memorial, the quote recognizing the women who fought for their country is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

May the memory of those who gave their lives for this country forever be a blessing to us all. May we never forget their sacrifice and may we always be grateful for the freedoms that they died protecting.

Enjoy your Memorial Day.

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