Tag Archives: World War II

Defending The Motherland: The Soviet Women Who Fought Hitler’s Aces Book Review

War often asks ordinary citizens to act differently than they would when their country is at peace. This includes women who for the most part, remained in the background.

One of the lesser known and appreciated historical facts about World War II is that the war motivated women to stretch their legs beyond the traditional roles that they were accustomed to. In The Soviet Union, women not only actively joined the armed forces, but also were part of same-sex combat units that successfully fought back against the Germans.

The story of these women is laid out in the 2015 book, Defending The Motherland: The Soviet Women Who Fought Hitler’s Ace’s. Written by Lyuba Vinogradova, the author pulls together interviews with the surviving airwomen to tell the story of the squadrons who fought for their country while fighting sexism within the military.

I found this book to be not only educational and well written, but extremely interesting. The author found a way to bring her subjects to life in a way that not only appealed to both the feminist and the history nerd in me.

I recommend it.

 

 

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We Were The Lucky Ones Book Review

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.

 

 

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Those Who Save Us Book Review

For some of us, the past is the past. Who we were and the choices that we made at that point in our lives is no longer of consequence. That is, until the past rears is head back into our lives.

In Jenna Blum’s 2004 novel, Those Who Save us, Anna Schlemmer emigrated to America from Germany just after World War II with her American soldier husband and young daughter. Fifty years later, her husband is dead and Anna is determined to let the past remain in the past. But her now grown daughter, Trudy, is a professor of German history and curious about her mother’s past. Finding an old photograph of herself and her mother with a German officer, Trudy is determined to find out the secrets that her mother has been hiding for half a century.

This book is remarkable. While normally I would say that a slow narrative does not bode well for finishing a novel,  the slow burn towards the end of the story is well worth the emotional payoff that ends the novel. Adding to the suspense is the sometimes tenuous relationship between middle-aged Trudy and senior Anna.

I absolutely recommend it.

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The Greatest Thing You Can Do Is Serve Your Country, But Some Are Still Prevented From Serving

Immigrant has become a dirty word in this country, especially since you know who became President.

While the ban on Transgender troops was lifted last year, there are many who are willing and able to serve, but are given the runaround when they present themselves as recruits.

Today, the Associated Press reported that immigrant recruits are being quietly discharged by the military.

Not only is America the land of immigrants, but her military is made up of immigrants or children of immigrants. My grandfathers, the sons of Jewish immigrants, served their country in World War II. One of my great-uncles served in World War I.  Many Irish immigrants fought for the North and the South during the Civil War. Similarly, European immigrants fought for America during World War I. They wanted to prove that they were just as American as any native-born soldier.

The fact is that America has not had a draft since Vietnam. Everyone who signs up for the military is doing so of their own free will.  They know, just as we know, that it is an honorable, but perilous profession.

To potentially put your life on the line to protect the American people, reveals to me at least, the nature of those who join the military. I could say the same thing about you know who, but he did use the excuse of “bone spurs” to get out of serving in Vietnam.

 

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The Lost Family: A Novel Book Review

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.

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Enemies in Love: A German POW, a Black Nurse, and an Unlikely Romance Book Review

It has been said that the heart wants what the heart wants. Even if that goes against the political and cultural norms of the day.

In Enemies in Love: A German POW, a Black Nurse, and an Unlikely Romance, by Alexis Clark, Elinor Powell and Frederick Albert met in a way that only comes from war.

Elinor Powell was an African-American nurse who was raised in the Northeast and had her first bitter taste of Jim Crow when she was stationed in Arizona during World War II. Frederick Albert was a German POW who was captured by the Allies in Italy and sent to the POW camp in Arizona where Elinor was stationed. While Frederick outwardly acted as any youth of that time period would act, he internally did not subscribe to the beliefs of Nazi Germany.

It was love at first night for Frederick. Elinor took a little longer, but she too was soon in love. In another time and place, no one would have thought twice about their relationship. But the fact was that she was African-American and he was a German soldier who was a wartime captive. It wasn’t the ideal start to a relationship, but somehow, their relationship and their marriage lasted.

I loved this book. It was not just the story of love against all odds, but it was the story of a real marriage with all of the ups and downs that marriage brings.

I absolutely recommend it.

 

 

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Indignation Book Review

Among the recommendations that are often quoted to writers, one of the most well-known is to write what you know.

Philip Roth was raised in Newark, New Jersey and famously used his fiction to write about his experience growing up in the years during and after World War II.

In his 2008 novel, Indignation, Marcus Messner is a young man who has been raised by his second generation Jewish parents in Newark in the early 1950’s. After completing his first year of college at a local university, Marcus is ready to spread his proverbial wings. But his father, who owns his own butcher shop is increasingly becoming a helicopter parent. To get away from his father, Marcus enrolls in Winesburg College, a small university in Ohio. At school Marcus is slowly becoming a rebel. He is starts dating Olivia Hutton , a young woman who carries her own emotional baggage, in addition to not sharing Marcus’s religious faith.

Can Marcus find his own way in the world or will he follow the path that has been laid out before him?

This book is amazing. What makes it stand out for me is that his journey feels normal for a kid in their late teens or early 20’s. That period of life, as I remember it be, is a period of exploration and discovering your own identity as a human being.

I recommend it.

 

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Man in an Orange Shirt TV Review

In 2018, we have much to be grateful for. That includes (for the most part), the open acceptance of those who are part of the LGBTQ community.

But it wasn’t so long ago that being gay not only considered to be immoral, it was also illegal.

The TV movie Man in an Orange Shirt is the story of two men fighting against their own inner nature to fit in with the rest of the world. In post World War II Britain, Michael (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) and Thomas (James McArdle) are very much in love. But because they are two men, their love can never be publicly accepted. Michael marries Flora (Joanna Vanderham) and lives like any heterosexual married man. But Flora finds out about Thomas and her marriage is never the same.

Years later, a much older Flora (Vanessa Redgrave) is now a widow and living with her grandson, Adam (Julian Morris). On the surface, Adam appears to be ok. But he to is fighting his own sexuality and trying to shame himself via meaningless sexual encounters with strange men. Then Steve (David Gyasi) enters his life and Adam must not only face his demons, but learn to accept who he is. While her grandson is facing down his own demons, Flora is still dealing with decades old open emotional wounds that have not healed.

I think this is one of the more interesting and thought-provoking TV movies that I have seen in a long time. It’s  addresses head on the pain that comes with hiding your true self, even if you live in a world that is tolerant of those who are different.

I recommend it.

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Thoughts On The 25th Anniversary Of Schindler’s List

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.

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Thoughts On Last Night’s Syria Strike

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.

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