Tag: holocaust

The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel

March 9th, 2021 — 11:16pm

The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel

When I came across this outstanding book about the Holocaust, I was immediately reminded of all the excellent and meaningful books I have read about this subject. The first one probably being The Diary of Anne Frank and then so many other such interesting reads such as The Thief, The Nightingale, All the Light We Cannot See, Schindler’s List, as well as many others including many that I have not yet read.

This story is about a woman who has skills, which make her an excellent forger, which allows her to save the lives of many children and adults as they escape from the Nazis. In doing so, she puts her own life at great risk. This triggers a familiar question, “Could I have put my own life at such a great risk if faced with a similar situation.” Most of us will never know, but as we experience the bravery of this woman, we are challenged to consider this question.

The story highlights the complexities of the parent-child relationship in this difficult situation. Factor in a love and romance and the conflicts of such feelings when the woman has these feelings towards a non-Jewish man that she never imagined could take place.

The great value of this book is not only that it is a well written adventure story with romance, intrigue, and danger, most important, it reminds us that Nazi Germany existed in the lifetime of some of us or in the lifespan of our parents and cannot be allowed to be forgotten.

Comment » | FH - Fiction Historical, FT- Fiction Thriller, HI - History

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

September 11th, 2018 — 11:52pm


Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

In the nine years that I have been writing my blog (BookRap.net), more than 10% of the 164 books I have reviewed have had “Holocaust” as a keyword listed in the search section. This does not include the many books on the subject I have read before that time which include three that stand out in my mind; Diary of Anne Frank, Sophie’s Choice, and Schindler’s List. I was a small child safely living in the United States when World War II ended. While many of my older relatives escaped Europe before the war and none were concentration camp survivors, I felt a deep link with my unknown Jewish relatives and their friends and neighbors who were victims of this terrible atrocity. This connection was reinforced early in my career when I was a director of a mental health clinic in Brooklyn and we saw many survivors and children of survivors.

Early in this book, while I was feeling my usual attachment to this terrible piece of history, I found myself asking, “Why am I going through these events once again?” I thought there was nothing really new here. However, as the book progressed, I did notice that it turned to a specific piece of history which I don’t recall as often relived in books and film on the subject; that is the one German concentration camp which was exclusively for women and that was Ravensbruck. It gave a depiction of the horrendous Nazi experiments that took place on these women with cruel and destructive surgery to their legs in order to test the effects of a new antibiotic. The story related how these women were made to participate in slave labor and then were selected to be murdered when they became ill or too weak to work or just to meet a quota for a certain number of murders to be done. After their death, their bodies would be put in an oven for cremation.

While this book is a novel by Martha Hall Kelly, the author did spend several years researching the background of the lives of some of the characters upon which the book was based. She also did appear to earn the right to write this book in the first person, as she appeared to know quite well the characters who were featured in it as she allowed them to tell their story. She went back and forth with each character mostly during the war years, but there were a few chapters 10 to 15 years during the post-war period.

I believe there was a special sensitivity that the author showed from a woman’s point of view. The deep mother-daughter relationship was explored in various very difficult circumstances as well as the bond that existed between two sisters in the most terrifying and unimaginable situations. Of course, there also was the connection between other women who were living together through this tragic time.

While this book perhaps becomes another book with a keyword “Holocaust” on my blog, I also know it will be an excellent contemporary novel that will be available and hopefully one with great appeal to today’s generation of readers, so this piece of history will never be forgotten.

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The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

June 4th, 2016 — 12:30am

Screen Shot 2016-06-03 at 3.01.52 PMThe Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

If there is any book that has greatly contributed to my understanding of the bravery and resilience of victims of Nazi, Germany it was The Diary of Anne Frank. That book was written by a teenage girl who was hiding in Amsterdam for two and half years until she and her family were betrayed and she was killed. There have been many subsequent books about World War II and the Holocaust. Yet none of them has done it better than The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, an American novelist who was a lawyer turned writer. She did not go through any horrendous experiences as did Anne Frank and others in her own life but she obviously is a thorough researcher and a very skilled, sensitive writer who has written many successful novels prior to this number one bestseller.

Ms. Hannah has told the story how she came across the account of a Belgian woman, Andrea DeJoneg who was part of the underground resistance during World War II and guided many downed Allied pilots across the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain at the risk of her own life. Based on her research and her insight into the human psyche, Ms. Hannah was able to create the characters of this book. She recounted the acts of tremendous bravery that were shown by her protagonists and she was empathically able to describe their emotional experiences in a very believable manner.

The author focused mainly on women, particularly two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle Mauriac who were not Jewish and lived in Carriveau, a small French village that was occupied by the Nazis during World War II. The reader comes to understand the backstories of these women. Isabelle, the rebellious one, ultimately becomes a very brave woman who shepherds downed British and American pilots across the rugged mountains to safety, risking the severe repercussions which she knew would happen if she were caught.

Her sister Vianne became a heroine in her own right, hiding Jewish children when their parents were taken away by the Nazis. Her actions reawakened questions that we have asked ourselves over the years. Would we have taken in a child (or an adult) to hide or disguise them, when to have been discovered would not only endanger our lives but those of our children? There was another point in question raised by this book when at the end of the war Vianne is faced with the prospect of now having to give up her five- or six-year-old child that she has raised for the past few years when her Jewish friend was taken away to the concentration camps. Now after the war was over, relatives of the deceased Jewish parents want to take this child to America so family there can raise him. But perhaps the most challenging question that the characters in this book face is whether Vianne should tell her husband, who returned home after being a POW held by the Nazis, that the pregnancy with the child that he now feels is his child, but was actually conceived shortly before they reunited, is really the pregnancy of the brutal rape from the German officer who made her house his living quarters before he retreated with the Nazis when the Allies liberated France. Should she have told her husband the truth and should she now more than 40 years after the end of the war tell the truth to the now grownup child who is a successful surgeon and very attentive to his mother.

It is these stories as well as the vivid description of life in occupied France as well in the concentration camps, which are part of this novel that makes this book so unforgettable. It well deserves the acclaim that it is receiving and I’m sure it will be made into an unforgettable movie.

To obtain a copy of this book from Amazon, please click here 

Comment » | FG - Fiction General, FH - Fiction Historical

Once We Were Brothers by Ronald H. Balson

August 14th, 2014 — 5:28pm

Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 12.54.35 AMOnce We Were Brothers. – By Ronald H. Balson- I am always interested in another Holocaust novel. Perhaps I don’t want to forget (how could one forget?). Or perhaps it is the trying to figure out how would I have handled these horrible situations had I been born a few generations earlier where some of my ancestors had lived and died. It helps that the author in this case; Ronald Balson has a fresh perspective. He introduces us to situation where Ben Solomon, an elderly Holocaust survivor confronts Elliot Rosenzweig, a very wealthy   Chicago philanthropist, of actually being Otto Piatek, a prominent Nazi who executed many Jews in Poland during WW II. On top of this he tells a story how Otto as a young boy had been taken into his household before the war after his own parents abandoned him. When the Nazi’s came to power his parents returned to take the 18 year old back to Germany where he became a high-ranking Nazi who was soon to be assigned to Poland. The now wealthy Chicago man denies this accusation and the plot unfolds as Ben relates his story to Catherine who he hopes will be his attorney in what he wants to be a public lawsuit to expose this man for stealing his and other family’s money and jewels as well as participating in the murder of so many Jews. Ben painfully reveals his memory of the events of his childhood growing up with this man and the hope that Ben’s parents had that the child they had taken in would help them from his new position. Using this vehicle, the  horrific details of the plight of the Jews in Poland are related. So many historical details were worked into the story that I had the impression that this first time author had on his writing desk a history book of all the events that happened in Poland at that time There were twists and turns but there were all familiar situations: the gradual tightening of the noose around the neck of the Jews as they were moved into the Ghetto and eventually were taken to concentrations camps. There was the good Priest hiding some Jews and the underground resistance doing it’s thing and of course the horrendous course of events for so many Jews. It was also a personal story of certain people who we came to know and care about as events transpired during the war and now in modern times as the possibility of a legal trial became a reality.

Although I have experienced many other books and movies about the Holocaust, I was still engrossed and moved by this book. It was not one of the best of the lot on this subject but if you are drawn to this subject you will not be disappointed.

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Maus I & II by Art Spiegelman -Guest Review by Lucy Blumenfield – 12 Years Old

June 17th, 2013 — 7:32pm

MausMaus I & II- by Art Spiegelman Reviewed by Lucy Blumenfield (Age 12) – Although there are other books that tell the tale of the Holocaust through a survivor’s perspective, this book is unique. It is the story, and it is true, about a man—Art Spiegelman, the author—who interviews his father—Vladek Spiegelman to preserve his story of the Holocaust, and illustrating this story in the form of a graphic book. Spiegelman uses animals to express the way different groups of people in this book might act. For example, he uses mice as the Jews, cats as the Germans, and pigs for this Poles. This really intensified the book because it kind of showed you who someone was and also made a political statement in my view. Spiegelman’s illustrations make this haunting story come to life as he tells about his father’s struggles: first hiding in house to house with his wife, trying to escape Poland, and finally being captured and put into Auschwitz, and after ten months being freed and reuniting with his wife. The book changes back between Art’s visits to his not-in-great-shape father in Rego Park, and his father’s experiences told by Vladek.

This book was a unique experience because I have not seen history told by graphic novels before. However, it was an experience that I want more of! It was informative, captivating, humorous in parts, moving, and—at times—heart breaking. I highly recommend this book to everyone, from adults to children because it gives you an insight to the horrifying experiences of the Holocaust in a whole new way.

1 comment » | H - Humor, HI - History, O - Other - Specify, P - Political, T - Recommended for Teenagers

The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

May 9th, 2013 — 10:41pm

The StorytellerThe Storyteller by Jodi Picoult – After reading this book I reflected on where did I learn the details about the Holocaust? It wasn’t in any formal class that I took in public school or in college. It may have been in Hebrew School prior to my Bar Mitavah. It was in very general terms from members of my family none of whom that I knew of was a survivor or closely related to one.  It was enhanced by books I read and movies I saw such as The Diary of Ann Frank, Schindler’s List, Sophie’s Choice plus so many more as well as some more contemporary movies that have recently emerged (and we have reviewed elsewhere)  such as No Place on EarthIn DarknessIron CrossFour Seasons Lodge. However, nothing is more informative and  powerful than a well written novel such as this one in which it’s authenticity is based on the author’s research and a well written thoughtfully honed scenario. while, I didn’t learn any new facts or any basic history that I did not know, I am glad to be reminded and stimulated by this book. I also am glad that this best selling novel will be available to  our younger generations from teens up who can learn about what happened on the ground and in the concentration camps. All that being said and in addition to this being the authors 5th book on the NY Times #1 slot for best selling book, the story raises some very challenging ethical questions. Sage, the main character, is a young woman who works as a baker in a bakery in a New England town. She meets a 93 year old widow who is a well known retired school teacher with a reputation as a very kind old man. However, he has a secret which he confides to Sage and that is that 65 years ago he was a SS officers in a Nazi concentration camp. Sage’s elderly grandmother is a survivor of the holocaust who was in that concentration camp who has a hidden story to tell. She also since childhood has been a writer or storyteller. Her fantasized  stories which are weaved throughout the book are allegories and philosophical explorations of the human psyche and ethical dilemmas  that the characters in the real story are considering  Our ex- Nazi after befriending Sage and telling her his story in some detail asks Sage to help him end his life. As part of this wish is his other wish to be  forgiven. As readers one step and nearly 70 years removed we can ponder what the right thing is to do. Who can forgive but the victims but they have been  murdered and most of the survivors are gone. What about the value of the US government hunting even these elderly Nazis and deporting them? Package this all in a page turner or a button pusher (on my Kindle) and you have a great book.

Comment » | FH - Fiction Historical

How We Survived-52 Personal Stories by Child Survivors of the Holocaust

January 6th, 2012 — 12:28am

How We Survived- 52 Personal Stories by Child Survivors of the Holocaust

I have read many books about the holocaust, have seen many movies about this subject and have visited various holocaust museums throughout the world. As a psychiatrist, I have treated a few holocaust survivors and many more children of holocaust survivors.
I was therefore surprised how impacted I was by reading this book which consisted of the several page first person stories of 52 holocaust survivors most of whom were born between 1926 and 1938.

I became aware of this book it when a good friend of mine John Glass who is one of the 52 authors, showed me a copy of the book and told me about the project behind it. Each author is a member of the Child Survivors of the Holocaust, Los Angeles Organization that was founded in 1983 after the publication of the book “ Love Despite Hate” by Sarah Moskovitz, PhD which consisted of interviews with child survivors of the Holocaust as adults. Dr. Moskolovitz and Dr. Florabel Kinsler organized the largest international group of child survivors with a membership of more than five hundred people. In the introduction to this book, Marie Kaufman President of the Los Angeles child survivors group and Chair of the Editorial Committee that put together the book noted that many of the authors have given oral testimony to museums and to the Shoah Visual history Foundation. But in the fifteen to twenty years since they have done so, they have become aware that for many reasons they have left part of their story untold. This book gave them opportunity to disclose secrets never divulged before.

As one reads this book and digest the narrative which is recounting horrific early childhood memories, you cannot help but consider whether these are true memories. Could they be screen memories, retrospective memories based on things they were told and learned at a later age? In the course of psychotherapy and psychoanalysis we often help patients reconstruct early childhood memories and feelings. The accuracy of the actual memory may not be as important as the meaning. I do believe that the memories reported in this book do ring to be quite true. I also would suggest a simple exercise before you read this book. Reflect back on your three or four earliest memories. Sometimes it will be helpful to choose a key event which you can easily date such as the birth of a sibling, a death or tragedy or famous event such as the assassination of JFK or Martin Luther King or the landing on the moon, a particular grade school teacher etc. Often the event that you recall will have some negative or conflictual quality. My own earliest memory is when my mother left me alone in our apartment for a few minutes to do an errand and brought me back a chocolate bar. When I discussed this memory with her many years later, she was astounded that I exactly recalled the events and she was able to date it when I was less that three years old. I recalled being under the care of an aunt during the time that my sister was born and my disappointment that a cousin has seen her first. I was less than 5 years old . I also recalled my first day of kindergarden , when I was a few months older than 5. While each of these memories had some anxiety and conflict, they were minuscule compared to the intensity of experiences of being taken away from one’s parents, hiding for prolonged periods of time, starving and witnessing and being threatened with death and destruction all of which were common place in the 53 stories of this book.

There is another important dynamic which inhibited many of the child survivors from publicly telling their story . Many were hidden children who often had to assume non Jewish identities, sometimes having several different gentile names and personas over time as young children during the war . Each time it was impressed upon them that under no circumstances were they to reveal their Jewish identity as this could mean death to them and their adopted families. So even after they were liberated, reunited with any surviving families and were beginning new lives in the United States, many still would not readily talk about their Jewish identity especially with strangers

It is very difficult to understand the experience that these children had where a normal childhood was transformed almost overnight when Kristalnacht occurred in Germany, or when the Germans took over in Poland and issued the new regulations for Jews or similar events that happened in France, Hungry, Italy, Holland and any other places conquered by the Nazi’s. They moved from their comfortable apartments or homes to the Ghetto where they were jammed into one room with extended families and strangers. In anticipation of this situation or in response to it many of their parents made a decision where it was possible to do so, to send their children into hiding with non-Jewish families. In most of the cases the parents could not be hidden with their children. Childhood separation from parents is a very meaningful experience, usually traumatic with the possibility of lasting yearning, resentment, with a wide range of fantasies. This becomes colored by the subsequent events which might include loving, rejecting the adoptive parental figures as well as being torn away from one such family as you are moved to another one. . The fate of their Jewish parents was often death as was that of most of the their original families and friends. While many of the child survivors intellectually came to understand that the decision to try to hide them allowed them to live, the full emotional understanding of this generous act on the part of their parents did not come to them until many years later. It was often when their own children born in a safe environment were now the age at which they had been put into hiding by their own parents, did they appreciate the sacrifice that was made for them. For some this realization did not occur until they had grandchildren who are at the age that they were hidden .

It is important to note that the trials and tribulations for many of these child survivors did not cease with their liberation from concentration camps or from their places of hiding.
In some situations there was persecution by the Russians who liberated them or continued anti-Semetism when they tried to return to their home town. There were hard times often relieved by the many organizations and people who tried to help them reunite their families. There were painful discoveries of what happened to missing family members. There was also long waits for visas to new countries , long travels across the ocean, learning new languages and adapting to a new culture

As was the case of many survivors who were adults during the holocaust , these child survivors spent many years trying to forget and not to look back. They were building a new a life and did not want their children haunted by such terrible events. Their parents who survived or adoptive parents and relatives often did not believe that the experiences which they had as children made a lasting impression on them. As they moved on to a “normal life” in the United States the child survivors themselves thought that their memories and experiences were quite unique and as mentioned above were not inclined to talk about them. Many report an amazingly dramatic unburdening feeling when they attended their first meeting of child survivors. The intensity of that feeling and the realization that so many other children had gone through similar events was life affirming and literally changed the course of the lives.

It is noteworthy that so many of the child survivors have gone on to have very productive lives. Perhaps because they themselves have been helped by strangers (many of whom have been recognized in Yad Vashem as the ‘righteous gentiles” or “righteous among nations”) they have chosen a helping profession themselves. It seems to me that a high percentage have gone on to be social workers, therapists and teachers. Some report moving into these fields after a successful career in business. Others have become artists and poets expressing their feelings and experiences in their work. There were numerous poems as part of the narratives.

Many of the child survivors did not talk about the past for most of their lives and for many it has only been in their twilight years that most have felt an obligation to tell their stories or record a first hand account that will exist for future generations. A good number of the authors of this have devoted many hours to teaching about the holocaust in schools and museum and giving lectures in various settings. These activities and the writing of the chapter for this book as well as other publications that some of them have done appears to have been therapeutic for the. .

The authors appeared to have tried their best to be sincere and honest in sharing all these events and their past and present feelings about what they have been through. For most there is a triumph for having survived and for being responsible for the presence of so many wonderful people that they have nurtured and supported in their subsequent lives For some of people there is still an ever present wound or bewilderment and pain which stretches from their childhood to their later years. They are still trying to figure out why and how the events of their childhood could have happened. For all there is the satisfaction of having told the story of what really happened so those who were deprived of their lives will not be forgotten

This was not an easy book to read. While I read it in linear fashion over a two week period and did not intersperse with other books perhaps that might not be the best way to read it. For some it might be best to consume it in small doses . I suspect that some readers will appreciate the value of the book but will put it aside and may not complete it.

I realize also that I may not have captured the essence of the experience of the authors in this review. I would like to give you a few random excerpts although I hope over time you will read the complete version of each of these 52 stories as they all deserve to be remembered:

Lea- Born 1938 I was placed through the Dutch underground with a Christian family. There were many other children. Suddenly the family was betrayed. The underground took all the children away to new hiding places. On of my first memories was of being on a train with other boys and girls…. I was taken to family of farmers in the small town of Horst by two men dressed in police uniforms. My clothes were torn and I had sores all over my body. The men said that they ha d smuggled me out of some detention center but I have never been able to find out what happened to me.

Jack- Born 1926- The ghetto was organized into factories of every possible trade and all the the production was for the German military…My father could not get employment…When I saw my dad for the last time he was forty one years old…In July 1944 we were transported in cattle cars to Auschwitz-Birkenau. I was with my mother…(We) went through a selection conducted by Dr. Mengele. My mother was sent to the other side. Now sixty four years later, I can still see her walking hunched over, as if she know where she was going. I’m still haunted by this picute and I know that I will for the rest of my life. How do I reconcile the fact that my children are now older than my parents were when they were murdered.?

Lya- Born 1936- When I was seven and she (sister) was four we both went into hiding with different families. The thought never occurred to me that this would be the last time I’d ever see my parents. They never knew where we ended up…In 1946 my sister and I were sent live with Parents Number 5 in Denmark…I was a very difficult teenager. Obstinate, opinionated, aggressive. I was sent out of class many times. It was sheer anger- a way of expressing myself to the world…My husband ( also a survivor) wasn’t interested in talking about his experiences and for the longest time I didn’t think that mine really countered. …I started dealing with my past in 1993, I was fifty six…. That’s when I first shared my story ( in a group ) about losing my parents, grandparents, being separated from my sister and being in hiding with strangers. After that night, I became more aware of my own feelings. I could justify them. They were real and they weren’t something nonexistent.

Peter- Born 1936- In 1940 when I was four years old I was no longer permitted to attend my pre school nor to attend any other school. From my earliest memories, I had to wear a yellow star with the word “Jude” on my jackets and shirts…People looked at us in disgust and were often rude to my mother when she shopped for food…Only 32 out of the 100 Jews transported in the cattle car I was in survived the Holocaust. I lived in the children’s barracks (in Terezin)…We slept in bunk beds on straw and had only a thin blanket. There was only cold water to wash ourselves in the summer and harsh winters…There was small piece of bread in the morning with some brown water they called “coffee” and for supper a watery soup with an occasional small potato. We were half starved yet we were expected to work…(After the war)I lived my teenage years as a laborer, farm hand truck driver across the US. …By the age of 33 I had completed high school, graduated from San Diego State University and received a graduate degree in Global Management. … I have seven grandchildren.

Robert- Born 1935- When I was four years old our lives changed forever, The Gestapo came to our apartment and told us to take just a little luggage and follow them. They sent us by train to the Polish border. The poles would not let us in and Germans would not take us back…We traveled around Poland living as gentiles with an assumed name….The family that hid me decided to put me in the attic in the house. Many times they forgot to take care of me and did not feed me. …After the uprising failed the Germans planned eliminate the city’s population.. Everyone was loaded upon trains, which were headed to Auschwitz. …We knew we were going to be killed…My mother noticed that one of the cars had an opening on top. The train stopped about 100 yards from the Auschwitz concentration camp. My step father Emil lifted me up over the open car and I was able to open the train car door…In February 1947 we took a boat to America and settled with our extended family in Pittsburgh. I quickly learned English and graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in 1957 with degree in electrical engineering. …Over the years I have spoken about the holocaust to thousands of middle and high school children.

Erika- Born 1928- At the time of my birth my parents (in Hungary) owned two kosher restaurants. I went to school unitl the age of fourteen when the anti Jewish Hungarian government closed the Jewish schools. Anti-Semetism forced many Jewish owned businesses to close or be taken over by non-Jews. Most of my uncles had been taken to forced labor camps in early 1940-42…I was deported to Auschwitz with my mother. We were lucky and escaped the selection. …On the day the Soviet liberators entered our camp they raped many women and wanted us to work for them. …I was helped tremendously by breaking the silence and talking about my experiences. Confronting my losses and acknowledging the effects of the traumatic times in my life have helped me to recover psychologically. However I still have problems such as fear of authority, anxiety about the health of my family, about separation and the fear of loss.

For more information or to order this book go to www.childsurvivorsla.org

1 comment » | HI - History

The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer

August 11th, 2011 — 6:48pm

The Invisible BridgeIf The Invisible Bridge is ever made into a movie, it will be almost impossible to capture the depth and nuances of the characters and the complicated stream of events with all the twists and turns in the playing tome of a typical film. The author, by giving us chance to focus on just a few people and essentially one family, mostly over an eight year period, allows us to witness and emotionally understand how the evil decisions made by one group of people actually effected the lives of so many more people. Ms Orringer ‘s narrative allowed us to identify with her characters as they lived their lives, made their decisions, had pieces of good or bad luck but aspired towards their ambitions, loves and the future. As we watched their journey, we saw that they had no idea what was in store for them but we knew what was coming. The focus was 1937 and a young Jewish man from a poor village in Hungry has worked out the details to study architecture in Paris while another brother figured out how to study medicine in Italy. In order to do this it involved persistence, hard work and good strokes of luck. Each person that they met on each step of their journey had their own story which we are allowed to understand and appreciate. Had this been in a better time and a better place, their struggles and tribulations would be something that we could all say, “ we did something like that “. The circumstances of falling in love and finding your partner for life are unique for each couple but we all know how meaningful it is to each person. However, since in this case the reader was omnipotent and knew that the insipient winds of anti-Semitism which were in the atmosphere of their lives were not only just unfair but portended a doomsday scenarios for them and their families. This knowledge creates anxiety in the reader but at the same time I felt that I was developing much more of an appreciation about this time period than I did from reading some other books which directly chronicled the concentration camps and the holocaust. The window from Shindler’s List, as I recall, while as vivid and poignant as could be, takes us mostly into the worst of it, rather than showing how they got there. It is easy to say that one can’t imagine what it might be like to be forced to move from your home or family apartment as did the these young men and their families, and be forced to live in small quarters
(with much more to come) or have to give up your job or your position in the university and wear a yellow arm band with a Jewish star, hoping that it would be temporary or even be “ drafted “ in to the military work force supporting the troops (the Nazis) under horrendous of conditions. But when a book allows you to care about the characters whom you have know for quite awhile, you feel that you are living through this experience with them. In the end when we glimpse at those who survived and see how they are perceived by their grandchildren, I realize that I too never got enough details of the first hand story from the previous generations of my family as to how their youth evolved into the horror they survived to see our generation live a better life. That is the beauty and the great value of books such as this one.

Comment » | FH - Fiction Historical

City of Thieves by David Benioff

November 14th, 2010 — 2:13am

Buy now on Amazon: City of Thieves (Also available on Kindle!)

City of ThievesI read 90% of this book in one sitting on an airplane flying back to Los Angeles from China. So I obviously found it engrossing and it held my interest. Therefore I appreciate that it was recommended and made my flight easier.  Having said that I do feel that if I am reading another heart wrenching story with painful graphic details of how innocent men women and children died as result of the Nazi’s during World War II, I would like it to have some new enlightening aspects of this history  which will shed some fresh ideas on this atrocity, which I didn’t really find in this book  Granted we did lean about horrible deaths often due to starvation and freezing temperatures as well as grisly murders for human food all  due to the siege of Leningrad, in addition to the direct murder by the Nazis. While it is conceivable that some of the fanciful details how death was missed and survival occurred, may very well have happened to some people, our main characters seem to mostly have a string of good luck embodying an unusual amount of  fortunate events. Perhaps the author was trying to have his cast represent many of the unusual, unbelievable and yet heroic things that the people of this beleaguered city had done. There also was a recurrent theme which seemed to be playing off the words and writings of various Russian writers, which might have been more interesting and coherent if I were familiar with these authors, which I am not. I did get the point that Koyla, the Russian deserter was whistling a happy tune because he was afraid himself and that his quoting the so called novel that his young friend never read, was actually from  the novel which he hoped to write himself. However, all these references to Russian authors must have had some additional significance. Finally the author did something that I did not like. When Vika, the sharp shooting partisan decides to go her own way and depart from the the other two main characters, the narrator who is the young boy smitten with her  ( who is supposed to be the authors grandfather telling him the story of his youth states, I knew I would never see her again. This is the author writing off this character which he basically restates in the next paragraph when he writes  …and if the mystics are right and we are doomed to repeat our squalid lives ad infinitum, at least I will  always return to that kiss. The character did not say I believed she was gone, he said I knew I would never see her again. Therefore when she reappears for the happy ending I was not only very surprised but I felt tricked with an unacceptable literary device. So in conclusion, while the book held my interest and will probably make a great movie, however for all of the above reasons, I give it thumbs down.

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The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

September 4th, 2009 — 5:50am

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief by Markus ZusakMy initial experience with the book was somewhat negative. First, finding the book in the teen department of Barnes & Noble seemed somewhat curious. I had difficulty getting in to the book as the style and narrative seemed unusual and in retrospect perhaps uncomfortable as it seemed to be written from the point of view of an angel of death. Perhaps after about 50 pages I was comfortable with the book and was being drawn in to it although I could still easily put it down.

I also felt an early identification of Liesel with my seven year old granddaughter who has recently fell in love with words and books. This connection began to give me an added emotional attachment to the characters and the story which I usually have anyway to a holocaust book. I felt the author was making a meaningful insight to me as he spoke about Kristolnacht and clearly conveyed how the Nazis were bent on destroying words and the ideas behind them perhaps just as much as they were displacing their frustrations and hate on the Jews. As the book progressed – it became a page turner for me. The author used an interesting style of foreshadowing the events coming in each chapter which toyed with my anxiety and concern about the characters but yet I couldn’t be sure what was going to happen. I began to realize that I was developing great empathy and caring for the characters who were German non-Jews. I desperately wanted the characters who went off to fight the allies to survive. When the Jews were marched through the streets on their way Dachau Concentration Camp – I was accepting the idea that most of the observers were neutral and of course the main characters were heroic in wanting to give them bread.

By the conclusion of the story I of course was fully on board with the idea that all war is terrible and I felt very badly that most of the characters had been killed. I was touched that Liesel and Max had survived and were together. But what did they do with their life and did they feel guilty about what had been done to the Jews? The author who obviously was not Jewish said that he wrote the story based on memories of stories that his parents have told him from Austria and Germany and he wanted to show that not all Germans were bad. I found this quote from him on the Internet:

One day, there was a terrible noise coming from the main street of town, and when she( his mother) ran to see it, she saw that Jewish people were being marched to Dachau, the concentration camp. At the back of the line, there was an old man, totally emaciated, who couldn’t keep up. When a teenage boy saw this, he ran inside and brought the man a piece of bread. The man fell to his knees and kissed the boy’s ankles and thanked him…Soon, a soldier noticed and walked over. He tore the bread from the man’s hands and whipped him for taking it. Then he chased the boy and whipped him for giving him the bread in the first place. In one moment, there was great kindness and great cruelty, and I saw it as the perfect story of how humans are.

Therefore I reflect that at best this 30 year old author is an apologist for the Germans of the Nazi era and at worst has little appreciation for what really happened in the holocaust. Therefore I find myself negatively inclined toward him and what he had to say. He is a talented writer and wrote a great book . I am glad I read it but I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone and I am not sure to whom I would urge that they should read it. I recognize that this is a very personal reaction but it is the way I find myself feeling at this time.

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