Tag Archives: World War II

Thoughts On the 78th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor

War is not the ideal state for any nation to be in. But when a nation is attacked, they have no choice to fight back.

Today is the 78th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Up until the day that Japan attacked, many Americans were wary of getting involved in the war. Many still had very active memories from World War I. But the attack changed everything.

A generation of young men died that day, their bodies entombed in the sea. They died fighting for their country. 78 years later, their service and their sacrifice will never be forgotten.

May the memories of those who died that day forever be a blessing.

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What She Lost Book Review

From my perspective, the Holocaust is a personal story because it happened to my family and my co-religionists. But for someone who is looking at it from the perspective of history without a personal connection, it’s difficult to contemplate the facts of this time in history. That is where the stories of the survivors and the victims come into play.

The new book, What She Lost, by Melissa W. Hunter, is part fiction novel and part memoir. Based on the story of how the author’s grandmother survived the Holocaust, Sarah Waldman is growing up in a small town in Poland in the 1930s. Her Jewish family is large, tight-knit and devoted to their faith. Then the Nazis roll into town and everything changes. Can she survive, and if she does, will she be able to live a full life again?

This book is fantastic. It is a deeply personal, hard-hitting story of an ordinary young girl who survives an extraordinary time in history. I applaud Ms. Hunter for being brave as a writer jumping from time period to time period. Regardless of the experience level of the writer, it takes skill and consistent effort to create a narrative that is easy to follow for the reader. Ms. Hunter is able to do so while telling a compelling story that in our time, still needs to be told.

I recommend it.

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Hitler and the Habsburgs The Fuhrer’s Vendetta Against the Austrian Royals Book Reviews

As a reader and a history buff, I thought that I had read and/or heard of every story about World War II. But I was wrong.

The first half of the twentieth century is notable for any number of reasons. One of those reasons is the physical deaths and/or dissolutions of most of the major monarchies in Europe. The new book, Hitler and the Habsburgs The Fuhrer’s Vendetta Against the Austrian Royals, by James Longo, tells the story of World War II from a different angle.

As we all learned in high school history class, World War I started with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, the heir to the House of Hapsburg and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg. A generation later, a certain German Chancellor (who shall remain nameless on this blog post) controlled all of Europe and was responsible for the massacre of millions. Nursing a decades-long vendetta against the Hapsburgs and their orphaned children, it was the spark that eventually led him to power.

*There would normally be a video here, but there is none to be found.

This book is very interesting. It is obvious that the author thoroughly researched the period and his subjects. The story takes the reader on a journey that I have not experienced in a long time. However, this book is not for the casual reader. It is for one who is well versed and interested in the period and the history of that period.

I recommend it.

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The Guest Book Book Review

As much as we wish it, families are far from perfect. There are secrets, scandals, and sins that have a way of passing down through the generations.

Sarah Blake’s new novel, The Guest Book, was published earlier this year. In the 1930s, Kitty and Ogden Milton have it all. A loving marriage, beautiful and thriving children and the status that comes with being one of America’s leading (and wealthiest) families. Then tragedy hits the family hard. To assuage his wife’s grief, Ogden buys a private island to use as a summer home. The island should be a place of refuge and relaxation for the Miltons. Instead, it becomes a symbol of the family’s secrets.

The secret starts with a refusal that could have saved the life of an innocent just before World War II. Twenty plus years later, the secret grows. Len Levy and Reg Paulding are not the usual guests invited to the island. Len is Jewish and secretly seeing one of the Milton daughters. Reg is African-American and the lone person of color in his world.

The secrets begin to unravel in the 2010s. Evie Milton, one of Kitty and Ogden’s granddaughters, comes to the realization with her cousins that the island is in dire financial straits. She also learns, with the help of her husband, that the family secrets are just below the surface. With a little digging, those secrets are revealed.

What I liked about this book was how Ms. Blake established the world that this novel is set in and the casual racism/antisemitism that is part of this world. I also liked the transition from the past to the present. It takes a skilled author to jump from different time periods and different points of view in a way that does not confuse the reader.

My problem with the book is that the ending is kind of expected. The big bombshell that is supposed to be the “long-buried” secret is not really a bombshell. I saw part of it coming nearly a mile away.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

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Can Kristallnacht Happen Here?

81 years ago tonight, the semi-comfortable world that European Jews knew came to an end.

Up until Kristallnacht or the Night of the Broken Glass, the uptick in antisemitism that German Jews had experienced was mostly non-violent. November 9-10, 1938 changed everything. Jewish synagogues, homes, and schools were destroyed. Around 100 German Jews were killed and 30,000 German Jewish men were sent to concentration camps.

Given the current political and social climate that we live in in 2019, I feel like I have to ask if it can happen here, in the United States?

The scary answer is yes. The shootings at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and Chabad of Poway in California occurred less than a year apart. In my hometown of New York City, the number of hate crimes against Jewish residents is rising quickly.

I sometimes take for granted that I live in a country that guarantees me the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I also take for granted that I live in one of the most diverse cities in the world.

I wish I could say that I live in a better world that German and European Jews lived in. But I don’t. Antisemitism is still alive and well. Until such day that antisemitism is dead and buried, a small part of me will be concerned that another Kristallnacht can happen here.

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Cilka’s Journey Book Review

For untold generations, women have been told that our beauty is our only asset. But during war, using our looks may mean the difference between life and death.

Cilka’s Journey, by Heather Morris is a follow up to her previous novel, The Tattooist of Auschwitz. Based on a true story, Cecilia “Cilka” Klein is just sixteen when she was transported to Auschwitz from her home in Czechoslovakia. She is saved from the gas chambers by her looks and is forced to become a sexual slave. When the war is over, Cilka looks forward to freedom.

Instead, she is accused of willfully sleeping with the enemy and sent to a Siberian work camp. The conditions in the gulag are similar to those in Auschwitz. But there is one difference: the kindness of a female doctor. This doctor gives Cilka the opportunity to work in the camp hospital. This job helps to bring Cilka back to life and show her that love is still possible.

When we talk about the Holocaust and World War II, the subject of sexual assault and #Metoo is a subject that does not come up very often. But I think it is a topic that we should be discussing, especially given our current political and cultural climate.

From a very young age, women are socialized to the idea that their main asset (if not their only asset) is their beauty. But we are also penalized when we use our looks to get by. From the instant we meet her, Cilka is a character that I admired and I wanted to hug. Many would have not lasted as long as she did in the same set of circumstances. But Cilka did and for that alone, she deserves as much recognition as she can get.

I recommend it.

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The Last Train to London: A Novel Book Review

War often forces us to make choices that would not be made during peacetime.

The Last Train to London: A Novel, by Meg Waite Clayton, was published last month. It starts in 1936 in Austria. Stephan Neuman is fifteen years old and best friends with Žofie-Helene. Stephan comes from a upper class and influential Jewish family. Zofie’s comes from a Christian family; her mother publishes a newspaper that is decidedly anti-Nazi. Then the Nazis invade and their lives are forever changed.

In the Netherlands, Truus Wijsmuller cannot sit back and do nothing. She travels back and forth to Nazi Germany, getting out as many Jewish children as she can. Known to the children as Tante Truus, she is one of the adults who coordinates what will be known as the Kindertransport. It maybe the only way out for young people whose lives and futures are at stake.

This book is brilliant. What struck me about this book is that it is incredibly relevant to the world that we live in in 2019. There was language and action that is not too far off from what often makes the local news. There were also, as there are now, individuals who are willing to put their lives on hold to save the lives of others.

I recommend it.

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Ashes in the Snow DVD Review

War has a way of forever changing one’s life.

The 2018 movie, Ashes in the Snow (based on the book Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys) takes place during World War II. Lina (Bel Powley) is an average teenage girl living in Lithuania with her family. She is also a gifted young artist with a dream and the potential to see that dream become a reality.

Then Lina, her family and thousands of others are deported to Siberia. It is her art and her growing relationship with Andrius (Jonah Hauer-King) that provides a sense of normalcy in a situation that is as far from normal as one can get. Will Lina survive or will she perish with thousands of others?

I read this book previously, so I had an idea of what was coming. The movie is just as good as the book. It is a story that within the genre of World War II stories, is not told as often as it should be. Granted, like many book to movie adaptations, the film does not match the book scene for scene. However, that does not detract from the power of this story and the strength of this young girl who finds the will to survive when many did not.

I recommend it.

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Who Needs Friends Like the Kurds, Who Needs Enemies Like You Know Who?

Outside of family, friends are the most important people in our lives.

On the world stage, friends come in handy, especially when fighting an enemy whose sole aim is one’s destruction.

In Syria, the Kurds have been America’s ally in the war against ISIS. A politician who is well versed in this relationship and respects it would not abandon the Syrian Kurdish community to the mercy (or lack thereof) of Turkey. But you know who has decided that in his infinite wisdom, that we don’t need their support.

This community didn’t have to help us. But they did and this is how we thank them? My concern is that if we let you know who continue on this path, America will be isolated from the rest of the world. Our only friends will be countries who leadership has a questionable friendship with the United States.

In justifying his decision, he claimed that the decision was made because of the Kurds were not part of the Allies and did not participate in the Invasion of Normandy. That is the most ridiculous, nonsensical reason that I have ever heard from this man. Any voter with an ounce of sense would see this man as completely unfit for office and make dam sure that he is a one term President.

But there are fools in this country who continue to support him and will vote for him next fall. G-d help us all if he wins a second term, for we will need all of the help that we can get.

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The Song of the Jade Lily Book Review

Jane Austen once wrote the following about friendship:

“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.”

The new book, The Song of the Jade Lily, by Kirsty Manning is about the power of friendship during difficult times. The book is set in two different eras. In 1939 Shanghai, native born Li and Jewish refugee Romy are best friends. Like millions of others across the world, the girls are unaware that the coming war will forever change their lives and their friendship.

In 2016, Romy’s granddaughter Alexandra leaves London with a broken heart and takes refuge in her grandparent’s home in Australia. Her grandfather is dying and the secrets of her grandparent’s past are slowly being revealed.

After her grandfather passes away, Alexandra moves to Shanghai for work. But she is also curious to see if the city can reveal the secrets of her family’s past. What she discovers will finally reveal what has been kept locked away for decades.

This book is amazing. Ms. Manning tells the story of friendship that remains strong, even when war threatens to tear the friendship apart. She also tells the story of Shanghai, the only port that would take Jewish refugees who could not obtain visas. It is a narrative that in the overall Holocaust narrative, that does get the spotlight that it should.

I recommend it.

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