Category Archives: Jewish History

Review: Hannah Senesh: Her Life and Diary

Hannah Senesh: Her Life and Diary, The First Complete Edition is extremely intense.  I read this book straight through in one sitting (for the third time), and can’t say enough about it.

From her diary that begins when she was thirteen years old…through just before her execution, to her poems and letters, the book is an extremely compelling read.  The book also contains tributes by parachutists and some memoirs written by Hannah’s mother, Catherine Senesh.  Catherine was in the same prison as Hannah, at one point in time, and they had fleeting conversations and glances at each other.  Hannah, according to her diary, was always aware of how her decisions would affect her mother, and she adored and loved her mother without a doubt, but her (Hannah’s) passion for what she desired and believed in stayed in the forefront.

We watch the years unfold through Hannah’s diary, and see how she has matured…from young teen, to a mature young women with definite ideals, opinions and pride in being a Jew.  Her writings show a young woman torn between choices, sometimes questioning her choice, but always coming to the conclusion that she had made the correct one, for herself. Although, in her diary, she often stated that she did not like the synagogue atmosphere, the required prayers, she did believe in God, and Jewish life was what encompassed her dreams and goals and was what kept her passionate throughout her short life.  She lived for Israel, for the Zionist movement. Israel and the Zionist goal was her ultimate dream, and she was determined to move there.

When Hannah made “Aliyah”, moved to Israel, she was young and hopeful, filled with strength, ideals and dreams, and when she died, she was still young and hopeful, full of strength, ideals and dreams, some realized, but most of them not realized. Hannah was strong willed, courageous and true to her emotional and mental fortitude until the end very end, until the last minute.  Even her captors could not believe the courage she exhibited throughout her capture and up until she perished.  She was executed without a blindfold, by choice so her executioners could see her eyes, and she looked up towards the skies, and died a hero.  Her life is immortalized within Israel.

Hannah joined the military, trained and took parachute lessons as part of her training.  She volunteered for a rescue mission to Europe during World War II in order to help rescue Jews, and was eventually captured, tortured and executed in Budapest by a firing squad.

Poignant, beautifully written, Hannah’s life is a testament to her faith, ideals, strength, fortitude and determination to live life as she wanted to.

It is difficult to articulate how Hannah Senesh: Her Life and Diary, the First Complete Edition affected me, as I am still filled with the emotions swirling within my mind and my heart from the powerful memoir.  That one so young, so well-defined with her journal and poetry, could live such a short life, yet impact so many throughout the years since, is a testament to her very essence.

Hannah Senesh’s life was not in vain, as she continues to teach others, each day, even in death.  Her spirit lives on to inspire many, Jews and non Jews, alike.

As an aside: The Jewish High Holy Days are near. Each year I read a few books, mainly biographies and non-fiction, relating to Judaism, Jewish individuals, the Holocaust, and/or Jewish Life. Some I read anew, and some I read again. It is my way of remembering Jewish history and all of the individuals who contributed to the welfare of the Jews.

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Filed under Biography, Book Diva's Book Reviews, Holocaust History, Inspiration, Jewish History, Non-Fiction, World War II

Review: On the Eve: The Jews of Europe Before the Second World War

On the Eve: The Jews of Europe Before the Second World War, by Bernard Wasserstein, is a compelling and intense study of the European Jews before their massive obliteration during World War II.

The non-fictional account spans every corner of Jewry, from the basic beggar to the wealthy, from the Orthodox to the non-practicing, from the intermarriages to the pure marriages, and from the varied social structures, both eastern and western. Jews are defined in every aspect, and defined in every location in Europe and Eastern Europe.

Ignorance is presented to be otherwise, according to Wasserstein’s extensive research and documentation. Many Jews did have an inkling as to what was occurring under their noses. They did understand the seriousness of the events unfolding in the social stratum of their lives.

But, understanding and removing one’s self from precarious and dangerous situations are not necessarily possible. Social structures, religious beliefs, family ties, homelands, separations, financial aspects, and the forces imposed on the Jews by the Nazis don’t always allow for escape. The influences were more than immense.

Wasserstein is brilliant in depicting the lives of the Jews, their family ties, friendships, joys, lows, fears, and all of their daily living arrangements. The revelations are intense and filled with sorrow and, yet, a sense of meaningfulness and purpose of life unfolds within the pages.

You may ask “Why”. But, before you do, try to consider the adverse and horrific situations thrust on the Jews. Try to analyze things with an open mind, not rose-colored lenses. It is not as simple as many try to make it. Knowing and leaving are two different issues. Knowing doesn’t necessarily give you the tools to move forward. In fact, knowing can make it more difficult for a person. They might choose to deal with it by suppressing their knowledge, and by trying to live life with what they have and with what is not foreign to them.

No stone is left unturned within the harrowing accounts presented by Wasserstein in On the Eve. It is almost 500 pages long, and not an easy read. Yet, the impressions, presentations and word visuals are told with sensitivity to the situations and even with a bit of humor here and there. He is not harsh toward the Jews in his revelations, but, in my opinion, tries to state the truth, the facts, with clarifying seriousness. He writes with an awareness of others, and his responses reflect prose that demonstrates his insight. The historical factor is incredible, and opened this reader’s eyes to varying degrees on the perspectives focused on.

Wasserstein is brilliant in his prose, his magnificent rendering of the European Jews is masterful in so many aspects. We, who have had ancestors from Europe will gain insight into the mindsets of those who encountered the horrific events of pre World War II and the Holocaust. The book is a work of humaneness and a work of art. It is a work of historical necessity.

I highly recommend On the Eve: The Jews of Europe Before the Second World War, by Bernard Wasserstein to every one. I feel it belongs in every library, whether public, university, high school or personal library. It is a book with extreme historical value.

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Review: Behind Enemy Lines

Behind Enemy Lines: The True Story of a French Jewish Spy in Nazi Germany, by Marthe Cohn is a compelling memoir. I was on the edge of my seat, reading her book. Cohn’s book is not only intense, but is illuminating and inspiring, as we watch her grow to adulthood.

From Cohn’s childhood experiences fleeing and moving from one place to another in order to avoid the Nazis, to her getting a nursing degree and eventually to joining the French Army and becoming a spy, her life is a testament to her willpower, and also to her inner and physical strength. We feel all of her emotions: the fear, the heartbreak, the devastation of loss, the heart-wrenching familial deportations. Determined to get her family out of harms way was at the forefront of her mind, and every waking moment was spent working towards that endeavor.

From documents forged by a sympathetic Frenchman, to a farmer in the countryside who helped her family to cross the border (and her family in turn helped others to cross), to the fact she had blonde hair and could pass as Aryan, Cohn took advantage of every opportunity given to her in order to save her family. Her memoir reads like an intriguing novel, yet is is a factual life accounting, and I read it straight through.

Cohn was not tall, she was tiny and under five feet, yet her perseverance and persistence are the traits that helped her to try to make a change during the time of Nazi occupation in France. She defied all the odds, and she succeeded on several levels, impressing everyone around her. She and most of her immediate family were able to survive the German occupation of France, which is incredible.

“When, at the age of eighty, Cohn was awarded France’s highest military honor, the Médaille Militaire, not even her children knew to what extent this modest woman had faced death daily while helping defeat the Nazi empire. At its heart, this remarkable memoir is the tale of an ordinary human being who, under extraordinary circumstances, became the hero her country needed her to be.”

Behind Enemy Lines: The True Story of a French Jewish Spy in Nazi Germany is an amazing memoir about an incredible individual and her family. It is a must read memoir, and that Marthe Cohn penned the book and had it published when she was 82-years old is a gift to all of us, Jewish or otherwise. The historical value of her work is beyond words, and her life’s accomplishments and deeds needed to be told, and need to be read. I am the wiser after having read her incredible story, and I am grateful to Marthe Cohn for the invaluable treasure and legacy she has given me and all of humankind.

I reread this book, recently, for a book club.

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Home Again

Oh, my, it has been so long since I have posted. I was in the process of moving, which meant packing, and all it entails.

I was in Washington state, for almost one year, following my daughter and her family there. It was not my cup of tea, after spending 40+ years in California. So, I moved back, last month, and am totally happy with my decision. I am home again, and that, in itself, is defining, and brings me peace. I am emotionally alive, filled a sense of fullness, which speaks volumes in the scheme of things.

I feel at home, at peace, and feel complete with my environment.

I did manage to read all of Elena Ferrante’s books, ones I had not read:

The Days of Abandonment
Troubling Love
The Lost Daughter

I have read her Neopolitan Trilogy, and look forward to her fourth in the series, which comes out in September.

I also read:

The Small Backs of Children
The Mothers-a novel
The Forgotten Family

I am in the midst of reading Judy Blume’s latest book-In the Unlikely Event. So far, I am loving it!

Have a great week, everyone!

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Aharon Appelfeld’s Books

I am an avid reader of Aharon Appelfeld’s books. I find them to be a fascinating look into the mindsets of those who seem to have a naive sense of things to come, and/or things that are occurring around them.

Some of Aharon Appelfeld’s books that I have read are:

Badenheim 1939

Suddenly, Love: A Novel

The Story of a Life: A Memoir

Blooms of Darkness: A Novel

The Iron Tracks: A Novel

Tzili: The Story of a Life

All Whom I Have Loved: A Novel

Until the Dawn’s Light: A Novel

Laish: A Novel

Aharon Appelfeld brings the reader illuminating gems within his novels. His stories are told with magnificent prose and word-imagery.  The impact is not normally light and airy, but one that is often disturbing, and on the fringes of horrific events to come.  He has a point to make within the pages of his novels, and the concepts and depictions resound and echo through the heart of pain and extreme adversity.  He beckons the reader to ponder humanity and the human condition.

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Filed under Authors, Blogrolls, Book Diva News, Historical Novels, Holocaust History, Jewish History, Literature/Fiction

Review-Last Letters From the Shoah

Last Letters From the Shoah, by Ziwi Bachrach, is a poignant, heart-wrenching and incredible non-fiction work, leaving me stunned after reading it.

This book is intense on so many levels. The letters, thrown from trains, written on walls, secreted out of the very concentration camps they were written in, words written in haste, just before extermination, documents the emotions of Holocaust victims, and describes the atrocities they have witnessed, and are about to succumb to, themselves.

Many of the victims ask for revenge, many seek some form of peace knowing they are about to die, and others, ask for forgiveness from the intended addressees of the letters, still others, try to ease the minds of the persons they are writing to, letting them know that they (the authors of the letters), are facing their ultimate death in peace.

Each and every line, each and every word, is a stark and poignant reminder of the fate of the individuals, who wrote the letters, often written on bits, pieces, and scraps of paper.

Last Letters From the Shoah will ever be a treasured volume on my book shelf. It is first and foremost not just a volume of letters, but a heart-wrenching, poignant and hand-written reminder of the Holocaust, from the pens of Witnesses. Ziwi Bachrach pays tribute to those Witnesses, some exterminated, and some living.

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Book Diva Review: If You Awaken Love

If You Awaken Love, by Emuna Elon, is a wonderfully written novel, dealing with rejection and acceptance, love and loss, and other underlying, issues, within the pages.

The story line takes place during turbulent times, a thirty years span from the Six-Day War up until the day Yitzhak Rabin is assassinated. Although politics is not the primary theme in If You Awaken Love, it is there, underlying within the pages. We are given glimpses of life through those who lived in Israel before its statehood, glimpses of the Left and Right Wings, the Orthodox and the secular, the elderly and the young, the liberal and the staunch, and so on. The reader sees both sides of the issue within the vivid images that Elon depicts, from those Jews who are in favor of a dual land, and those who are more restrictive in their thinking.

The narrator is a woman named Shlomtzion Dror, who by all accounts seems to be supportive of the Israeli Left Wing. She lives in Tel Aviv and is a forty year old divorced woman. Shlomtzion is a woman who has been rejected by her childhood sweetheart, Yair Berman. Her unrequited love has transcended the decades. She has a daughter named Maya, who happens to be in love with Yair’s son, and they plan to marry. This comes as a shock to Shlomtzion. Shlomtzion is left wandering through the years of her past, journeying back in time to what once was, as she slowly makes her emotional, physical and political journey forward.

Shlomtzion is consumed by the past, unable to let the fires of history burn, allowing them to continually refuel. Which is much like the political and religious situation in Israel, with the embers continually flaring up into a constant and eternal flame. Elon writes with precision, is cognizant of the issues at hand, and her descriptions are beautiful works of prose.

Suffice it to say that the story is filled with a roller coaster of emotions, emotions that fluctuate from moment to moment, memory to memory. Within the emotional elevator ride, the reader is given impressions of daily life in Israel, impressions of religious life and the political balance of a nation, over a thirty year period. Is there forgiveness and/or redemption at the end? You will need to read it yourself in order to find out. But, when you do, don’t skip over sentences and word images, as each one is specific to the whole of the novel.

On the surface, If You Awaken Love might seem to be a drab or unsaturated story. But, its’ beauty is within the illuminations that Elon so aptly and masterfully brings the reader. Her words are dynamic, strong, yet filled with a sensitivity to both sides of the issue. Elon uses biblical passages to enhance the story line, which make the novel all the more profound. She doesn’t have answers, and doesn’t have a final judgment, and leaves it up to the reader as to whether a judgment is even necessary, or if sides need to be taken. I found If You Awaken Love to be a brilliantly written novel. I applaud Emuna Elon for her endeavors in documenting history, combined with a story of love and war, in her first novel.

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Filed under Book Diva's Book Reviews, Family Dynamics, Fiction, Historical Novels, Jewish History