Playing Anne Frank Podcast Review

Among the 6 million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust were 1.5 million young people. This cumulative experience of the lost generation speaks to us via The Diary of Anne Frank.

In 1955, the book was turned into a play. The new 7-part podcast, Playing Anne Frank, tells the behind-the-scenes story of how the play was made and its impact on everyone (both the audience and the creators) involved. Mixing historical media with interviews of surviving cast members, it brings the drama to life and reinforces the importance of the work.

I have enjoyed listening to the first 3 episodes. For obvious reasons, both the original text and its various stage/screen incarnations are still relevant, even after all of these years. What I am appreciating is the insights of the cast and that they understood the necessity of sharing Anne’s story.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

New episodes of Playing Anne Frank are released every Tuesday.

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The Nazis Knew My Name: A Remarkable Story of Survival and Courage in Auschwitz Book Review

To the Nazis, most of their victims were nameless sub-human creatures who were marked for death. They had no identity and were without the distinct characteristics that made them unique.

But there was one name that was known: Magda Hellinger. Her story is told in the 2022 memoir, The Nazis Knew My Name: A Remarkable Story of Survival and Courage in Auschwitz. The book was co-written with Magda’s daughter, Maya Lee, and edited by David Brewster.

Before the war, Magda was a kindergarten teacher. After she was transported to Auschwitz, she made the bold (or stupid, depending on your pov) to speak up for her fellow prisoners. Instead of sending her to the gas chambers, she was put in charge of the camp’s female “inhabitants”. Magda was forced to walk the daily line of keeping as many alive as she could while making sure that their captors looked the other way. By honing her intelligence and survival skills, she was able to save her life and the lives of many others.

This book is amazing. It speaks to the inner strength that allows us to live with situations that would otherwise kill us. The images from the Holocaust often show my co-religionists meekly going to their deaths. It is stories like Magda’s that prove that there was still a fight to be fought, even under the most difficult of circumstances.

It also proves once more that women can do anything.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

The Nazis Knew My Name: A Remarkable Story of Survival and Courage in Auschwitz is available where books are sold.

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day

The Holocaust ended 78 years ago. Though it may seem like ancient history, the truth is that it happened in the lifetimes of our parents and grandparents.

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day and specifically, the liberation of the survivors of the Auschwitz death camp.

When I think of what has been happening in the past few years, I see scary signs of what could happen again. I think it goes without saying that we don’t want to make the alarm bells ring all of the time. But, given recent events (Kanye, for one), I can’t help but make connections to the recent past.

One of the things that I wish was more well-known was the persecution of the LGBTQ community. Before the war, Berlin was known for its openness to those who were not heteronormative. The ended in 1933. Thousands were murdered and many more were persecuted.

The problem is that many continue to turn a blind eye to this hatred, even those of my faith. Ben Shapiro (whom I dislike with every bone in my body), has been open about his association with the right and their hatred of everyone who is not them. What he conveniently forgets is that at the day, he is still Jewish. The antisemites would still slap a yellow star on his chest and send him to his death.

It has been said that we die twice. The first time is when shuffle off this mortal coil. The second is when we are forgotten. Many of those who were killed have died twice.

May the memories of the millions who were murdered always be a blessing. Z”l.

Three Minutes: A Lengthening Documentary Review

Films (and images in general) can tell a story like nothing else can. It allows the viewer to temporarily immerse themselves into that world and understand the perspective of those who call it home.

Three Minutes: A Lengthening is a documentary that was recently released on Hulu. In 1938, David and Liza Kurtz went on a grand tour of Europe. Among the places they visited was Nasielsk. Located in Poland, David was born in that town and later emigrated to the United States. The Jewish residents were more than happy to welcome back a native son who had done good.

David took out his camera and started filming. In total, the footage lasts about 3 minutes. Little did any of them know that this mini-film would be one of the last records of the Nasielsk’s Jewish population. Most of them were murdered in the Holocaust. Narrated by Helena Bonham Carter, the film follows the endeavor to not just locate the shtetl, but to put a human face on those who lived there.

One of the best aspects of the movie is that it takes the bigness of the Shoah and makes it feel like the audience is being directly spoken to. With all of the details that we know about the period, it is hard to absorb that millions were murdered because of who they were.

By bringing it down to a micro level, we see the individual lives that were lost and it allows us to (hopefully) do everything we can to make sure that it does not happen again.

Do I recommend it?

Absolutely.

Three Minutes: A Lengthining is available for streaming on Hulu.

Best New Television Shows of 2022

  1. Obi-Wan Kenobi: The DisneyPlus series answers the question of what happened to Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) in between the events of Revenge of the Sith (2005) and A New Hope (1977). My favorite part of the series was the introduction of Reva Sevander (Moses Ingram).
  2. Anatomy of a Scandal: Based on the Sarah Vaughan book of the same name, this Netflix miniseries follows the investigation of a politician accused of rape.
  3. The US and the Holocaust: This Ken Burns multi-part PBS documentary exposes how the United States failed to help the six million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust.
  4. Ridley Road: This PBS/Masterpiece program is based on the book of the same name by Jo Bloom. It tells the story of a young woman of Jewish descent in the 1960s who goes undercover to stop a Neo-Nazi group from destroying the UK.
  5. Gaslit: Julia Roberts plays Martha Mitchell in this Starz production that tells the tale of Watergate from Martha’s perspective.
  6. Dangerous Liaisons: A sort of prelude Les Liaisons Dangereuses, it started off a bit slow and took a few episodes to get interesting. Unfortunately, Starz canceled it at the end of the first season.
  7. The Serpent Queen: Samantha Morton plays the title character in this Starz series about Catherine de Medici. Wow, that is all I have to say.
  8. Women of the Movement: This ABC/Hulu miniseries told of the murder of Emmett Till and his mother Mamie’s journey to get justice for her son.
  9. Ms. Marvel: A young woman goes from an ordinary teenager to a superhero who saves the world.
  10. Andor: The prequel to Rogue One, the series explains how Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) became the rebel leader who led the fight against the Empire.
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This will be my last post for 2022. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for taking time out of your day to read this humble writer’s work. I’ll see you in 2023.

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Best Books of 2022

  1. Carrie Soto Is Back: Taylor Jenkins Reid‘s latest novel about a nearly over-the-hill tennis star took my breath away.
  2. I’m Glad My Mom Died: Jennette McCurdy’s memoir of her childhood, her career, and her abusive mother made me grateful for my parents, warts, and all.
  3. Hollywood Ending: Harvey Weinstein and the Culture of Silence: The revelations in this book are damming.
  4. What Souls Are Made Of: A Wuthering Heights Remix: The book takes Wuthering Heights in a new direction, deepening the narrative and an understanding of Bronte’s era.
  5. The Matchmakers Gift: A Novel: Lynda Cohen Loigman‘s latest novel about a Jewish teenage matchmaker in the early 20th century and her skeptic granddaughter is pure gold.
  6. The Princess and the Scoundrel: The book tells the story of the wedding and honeymoon of Princess Leia Organa and Han Solo after the destruction of the Empire in Return of the Jedi.
  7. The Weight of Blood: This reboot of Carrie adds racism to the mix, making Stephen King‘s novel even more relevant than it already was.
  8. Gangsters vs. Nazis: How Jewish Mobsters Battled Nazis in WW2 Era America: Their tactics may not have been exactly legal, but standing up against antisemitism is nothing to sneeze at.
  9. Madam Speaker: Nancy Pelosi and the Lessons of Power: This biography of Nancy Pelosi is a reminder of the barriers she has broken and the legacy she will leave behind.
  10. His Name is George Floyd: One Man’s Life and the Struggle For Racial Justice: The murder of George Floyd forced the world to face its racist past.

Here’s to the books we read in 2022 and the ones we will read in 2023.

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The Escape Artist: The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz to Warn the World Book Review

Millions walked into Auschwitz. Only a few walked out.

Rudolph Vrba (nee Walter Rosenberg) was within the minority that lived to tell the tale. His story is told in the new book The Escape Artist: The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz to Warn the World. Written by Jonathan Freedland, it was published in October.

Until Vrba and Alfred Wetzler escaped the notorious concentration camp, no one outside of Nazi Germany knew that it existed. The information they shared with the world would later be known as the Vrba Wetzler report. At a mere 19 years ago age, Vrba helped to save 200,000 lives while wishing he could have saved more.

This is an amazing book. It is a heart-pounding thriller that kept my heart in my throat. For anyone who denies that the Holocaust happened, the details provided will (hopefully) wash away those doubts. The information provided is so granular that it’s as if the reader was there.

What I really liked about it was that it represented Vrba as a full human being, warts and all. For all of his heroism during the war, his life in the post-war years was complicated and far from easy.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

The Escape Artist: The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz to Warn the World is available wherever books are sold.

Gangsters vs. Nazis: How Jewish Mobsters Battled Nazis in WW2 Era America Book Review

For the most part, the bad rap that the mafia gets is for a good reason. If what the media says is true, their activities obviously cross moral and legal borders. But what happens when their “work” helps to make the world a better place?

Gangsters vs. Nazis: How Jewish Mobsters Battled Nazis in WW2 Era America, by Michael Benson, was published earlier this year. As the antisemitic temperature rises in Europe in the 1930s and the Nazi‘s vision of the world spread, many Americans remain silent.

The only ones who are not afraid to speak up (and knock a few heads) are members of the Jewish mob. In different cities across the country, they sent the message that the Nazis and their American allies would not be tolerated.

I loved this book. It was a fun read. It came off not as a standard history book, but as a fun ride through an era that was dark and difficult. It has an Inglorious Basterds vibe and an opportunity to live (and fight) vicariously through the narrative.

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Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Gangsters vs. Nazis: How Jewish Mobsters Battled Nazis in WW2 Era America is available wherever books are sold.

P.S. I am trying to not sound alarmist, but America in 2022 is scarily becoming Germany in 1939. A recent online survey among employers revealed that 25% of hiring managers will set aside certain applicants simply because that person is Jewish.

Exile Podcast Review

It is easy to assume that the world is saved by Generals and Presidents. While it is true that they have a hand in restoring normalcy, we should never forget that one ordinary person can make a difference.

The new podcast, Exile, started airing earlier this month. it is sponsored by the Leo Baeck Institute and hosted by Mandy Patinkin. Each episode tells the story of a person of German Jewish descent who fought against fascism during World War II. Using archived letters, stories, and first-hand accounts, each subject is given their due as a hero or heroine in their own right.

As I listened to the episodes that have been released, I can’t help but think that history is one more repeating itself. Around the world, democracy is slowly being replaced by other forms of government that do not respect the rights of the average citizen. The lessons are there, if we are willing to stop and listen.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

New episodes of Exile are released every Tuesday.

Kristallnacht: The Canary in the Coal Mine

Looking back on history, there are moments in which we should have seen what was coming. Instead, we looked away and in doing so, opened the door to death and destruction.

Kristallnacht is one of those moments. The 84th anniversary was this past Wednesday and Thursday.

It takes something deep and powerful inside of us to go through something like the Holocaust and still thrive. I would love to say that we all have learned from the past. But being that antisemitism is once more rearing its ugly head.

It should have been the veritable canary in the coal mine. I can’t help but wonder how many millions of lives might have been saved had the world not turned its back.

But we will never know how a war might have been prevented and an entire generation lost to hate.

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