Category Archives: Memoirs

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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Open Heart

Open Heart, by Elie Wiesel, Translated by Marion Wiesel, is a beautifully written book and intimate reflection of his life, reflected during a time when he faced the unknown outcome of open-heart surgery.

He began having difficulties, which led to testing ordered by his primary care doctor.  The tests did not reveal the truth that was to encompass the severity of his situation. After severe pain, he finally gave in to his family’s wishes.

At the age of 82-years of age, he was rushed to the hospital, and through tests it was discovered he had blocked arteries, arteries that needed to be repaired through open-heart surgery.  This was a definite turning point in his life, and when told of what needed to be done in order to save his life, he was both hesitant and anxious.  He went into the operating room, not knowing if he would wake up and see his wife-Marion, or see his son-Elisha, again.

Wake up he did, and the successive days, weeks and months gave him much to reflect upon.  Within those reflections he journeyed inward, and the results are written within the pages.  As a reader, we are given the privilege to read and to ponder the thoughts and feelings of Mr. Wiesel, through the vivid illuminations of his heart, his mind, his humility, and of his deep religious spirit.

His prose is filled with richness and brilliance, and filled with vibrant word-imagery.  Even though he has lived a long life, in years, he was not ready to leave this realm.  For him there is still more to accomplish, and time is of the essence.  He feels the need to continue to help humanity, to spread more messages of tolerance, to write another essay or book.

Mr. Wiesel wants to live long enough to see his grandson’s Bar Mitzvah, and possibly even his granddaughter’s Bat Mitzvah.  Family is of extreme importance to him, and the joy he receives from his grandchildren is endless, filled with unconditional love, as is his joy and love for his wife and son.

He eloquently describes his past, his present and his hopes for the future.  He defines himself through his Jewishness and his adherence to its religious traditions and practices.

Mr. Wiesel often wonders where G-d was during man’s worst moment in history.  He wonders how G-d could permit the murder of so many individuals.  As always, during reflections of this dimension, he has no answers to those questions, yet his faith remains strong.

He amplifies the need for tolerance within the community of diversity, diversity for all ethnic backgrounds and the diversity regarding religious beliefs.  His spiritual and humanistic lessons, within the slimness of the pages, are ones of immense insight.

Open Heart is filled with the thoughts and prose of an open mind. I recommend Open Heart to everyone.

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Review: Man’s Search for Meaning

Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl, is an intense memoir, a powerful book, and a book that will give the reader much to ponder, on so many levels. I can’t believe that it has taken me this long to actually sit down and read it.

Frankl’s memoir is much more than a personal accounting of his experience during the Holocaust, when he was a prisoner in four Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz. The book is a tribute to the human mind, emotions and willpower to survive, and to find something positive in such a horrendous, horrific and adverse situation. Man’s Search for Meaning is an extremely inspirational book, blending Frankl’s own theory of logotheraphy with spirituality and illumination.

Frankl made a choice while imprisoned, and he chose to find a positive force that would keep him going through the darkness of the days. He found meaning, and therefore, the motivation to try to survive, even though he knew the odds were against him.

“A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth–that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world may still know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when a man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way–an honorable way–in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life, I was able to understand the words, “The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.” Viktor E. Frankl

He chose to find a tiny spark of positive memory, and continued to think of those memories, which gave him hope and meaning. His meaning in life was “love”. Frankl’s love for his pregnant wife was his meaning in life, through the years spent in the Nazi concentration camps. He didn’t know whether she was alive or dead, but thoughts of her gave him something to live for. As it turned out, when he was liberated, he found out that she was murdered by the Nazis, along with his parents and brother.

Frankl developed “logotherapy“, a new theory on life’s meaning and survival. He realized, that in the words of Frederick Nietzsche, “He who has a why for life can put up with any how.” That euphemism is echoed several times throughout Man’s Search for Meaning. His “why” was his love for his wife. And, he was able to put up with all the “hows“, the atrocities he witnessed, and all of the horrors that plagued his days, because of his love for her.

He gives a short synopsis of his logotherapy theory in “Man’s Search for Meaning“. Being true to his ideals and true to his belief in his theory, Frankl used logotherapy in his personal life. “Logotherapy focuses on the future.” According to Logotherapy, meaning can be discovered in three ways:

* By creating a work or doing a deed
* By experiencing something or encountering someone
* By the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering”

Viktor E. Frankl’s brilliance lies not only in his masterful and spiritual writing, but in his capacity to overcome the odds of despair and death, by surviving under circumstances that nobody can truly begin to understand. His words of wisdom and spirituality illuminate the pages of “Man’s Search for Meaning“. The reader can’t help but be influenced and inspired by his memoir, his experiences and his inner strength. He brings to the forefront, the essence of spiritual survival, within the riveting pages of “Man’s Search for Meaning“.

I will keep Man’s Search for Meaning, on my night table, where it will be available for me to easily find in order to browse through. I want it close by. I will keep the illuminating words within my heart and mind. I can’t stress enough, how powerful, intense and incredible the book is, not only as a memoir and personal accounting, but also as a journey towards life’s meaning. We must live up to what life asks us, and not what we ask of life.

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Review: The Pages In Between

Once again, I found myself reading a Holocaust memoir in which a surviving parent did not want to reveal too much information, if any, about their Holocaust experience to their child/children. The Pages In Between: A Holocaust Legacy of Two Families, One Home, by Erin Einhorn, is a novel written by a daughter whose mother, Irena, survived the Holocaust, a mother who seemed indifferent as to the events and actions that kept her alive. Einhorn, who was always curious, traveled to Poland in order to find out the truth of her mother’s history, and to see if the house was still standing.

Irena was born in 1942, in Bedzin, Poland, within the walls of the Jewish ghetto. Irena’s parents were deported a year later, and while on the train, her father managed to jump off the train. He managed to make his way back to the Bedzin, and made a arrangements with a Polish woman…he would give the woman authority over his property if she would hide his daughter. He promised to return for his daughter as soon as the war was over.

True to his word, he did return for Irena (her mother died in Auschwitz). She was a frightened child, and her father was a stranger to her. The only “parents” she had memory of were the Skowronskis, the family who Irena’s father left her with. He took her to Switzerland, and from there they eventually emigrated to America.

The years pass by and the story begins with Irena’s daughter, who is a reporter, living in Krakow, with her roommates Krys and Magda. The purpose of Einhorn being there is to try to find the family “that made my life possible“, and try to locate the house that had belonged to her grandfather. She knows where to begin, how to get to Bedzin, but is hesitant, afraid of failure. She is more or less on her own, as her mother, Irena, won’t reveal much to her, and is totally uninterested in finding out about the family that saved her life. Irena’s attitude is uncaring and unconcerned. Anxiety exudes from Einhorn’s pores.

The Pages In Between is a fascinating story, taking the reader on an ominous trip back through time, and forward again to the legalities of the present. One is left to ponder several issues, such as greed and entitlement. Is it greed to want monetary compensation for helping to save a life? Doesn’t there come a point when boundaries are crossed in the expectations of those who saved others? Is an individual financially responsible to those who saved the life of their child/loved one? Does one save a life without expecting compensation or reward because it is the correct thing to do? Where does greed begin and gratitude end? Where does gratitude begin and greed end? Are those who are the living indefinitely bound to support those who helped them survive? Who owns the property left under duress and horrific conditions? Who are the victims in the process…the child who was saved, those who helped save her, the succeeding generations, or are they all victims in a sense? There are these and more questions to think about.

I recommend The Pages in Between: A Holocaust Legacy of Two Families. It is an extremely compelling memoir, and one that evokes a unique perspective on the Holocaust. It is a book of historical depth and documentation, depicting the continual after-effects of the Holocaust, and how WWII and the Holocaust affected families, in the long-range. It is a book of historical depth and documentation, depicting the continual effects of the Holocaust. Erin Einhorn writes with stark frankness, and at the same time is sensitive to the issues she confronts on her journey of discovery. Her story is an incredible psychological study on the interplay between family dynamics and the Holocaust. For those interested in Holocaust History, this is an excellent resource and a must read.

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Review: A Long Way Home

A Long Way Home, by Saroo Brierley, is a book that is heartfelt in so many aspects, beginning with the author getting lost on a train at the age of five. From that moment, onward, Brierley’s journey, where it took him, and how he managed to find his way back home, begins.

He was with his brother. His brother had left him at a train station while he ran errands, before coming back for him. Brierley saw a train, went on it to rest until his brother came back. He fell asleep and woke up with train moving along, and there was no way for Brierley to get off of it. Throughout the trip, no conductor asked for a ticket, and nobody questioned him. The train finally ended up in Kolkata (Calcutta). The city was teaming with people, and he was more or less engulfed in the crowds, the streets and harsh realities of survival.

Some individuals who passed through his life were not so kind. But, survive he did, using his intuition, the bit of five-year old logic he had, and at times, the kindness of others. Finally, the kindness of one young man who gave him refuge for a few days led Brierley to a police station, where he was held in a cell, overnight (imagine the fright). From the police station he was taken to an orphanage in Kolkata (Calcutta), by a woman named Mrs. Snood.

She was a kind woman, and very motherly in her ways. She treated him and the other children with caring and dignity. Brierley needed that after experiencing street life. Even though the orphanage was crowded, it felt comfortable to him. A couple of months passed by, and Brierley was told he was going to have new parents, because, with the little information he was able to give her, they could not locate his birth family.

From Kolkata, he journey to Tasmania, where he grew up with the Brierleys. They were a loving, kind and understanding couple. They treated him with the utmost of respect and compassion. Their house was decorated with Indian accessories. They had even provided a map of India on one wall of his bedroom, so he would feel at home.

He had a good life with his parents. He was never in need, and never lacking love. He went to university, worked with his father in his father’s business, had all of the comforts of home and life.

As he grew older, he wanted to learn more, and attempted to find the town he was from, through internet research. He thought that the little he remembered would help him. He failed, and let it go for a few years, when he began anew, through Google Earth. Google Earth became his life, in his off hours. He was addicted to his search.

He remembered the station he had left from, remembered everything about it. He remembered his village and his way around the streets. He remembered names, sights, landscape. He devoted every spare minute to roaming cities, villages, streets, through his ardent and ambitious research.

Then, one day, bingo! He was following train tracks, and found his home town! He was elated, to say the least. He knew he had to travel there to see if his family was still living in the same place, and/or to see if they were alive. Alive they were!

He met his mother, brother, and sister. He met in-laws and nephews. He had journeyed the face of the earth, through Google Earth, and had come home.

The memoir is poignant and had me turning one page after another. I became involved in Brierley’s life, his search for family, roots, and identity. What was illuminating, was not only his journey, but also the outcome regarding his family in India. They fully understood that he defined his parents as the Brierley’s. It went without his having to say so, as his birth mother verbalized that fact. She was just elated that he had found her. She never left the village, and moved around the corner from the house he initially lived in. She stayed in case he came searching. As it turned out, that was such a wise decision.

I enjoyed A Long Way Home so much. Foundation, family and identity are blended together in a beautiful story of strength and perseverance. Saroo Brierley has written an inspirational memoir. I highly recommend it to everyone.

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Review: The Late Starters Orchestra

The reluctance to fulfill our dreams and goals is explored in The Late Starters Orchestra, by Ari L. Goldman. I found the book to be illuminating as to the fact that it is never too late to commence our dreams, dreams long-held but not sought. Some times it takes the first step forward, which then becomes the journey towards completion.

Our fifties is often a time of life when one can accomplish what they had not begun. Other commitments in life, such as job, family, etc., take priority over one’s personal passion. This time of life gives a person contemplation regarding what they have fulfilled in life.

Ari Goldman certainly explores that theme in every aspect. His dream has been to play the cello for his sixtieth birthday, and he begins the process, anew, in his fifties. His reluctance, initially, turns to his defining and setting goals. Step by step, he embarks on the journey to endeavor to reach his goal.

He involves himself in music groups, some are filled with experienced musicians, and some are amateur groups. No matter the expertise and experience, he learns from all the groups and the individuals he encounters along the way.

Can one man reach his dream of playing cello? Can he not only play it, but become part of an orchestra? Read The Late Starters Orchestra, and find out.

The Late Starters Orchestra is an inspiring memoir, in so many ways. I enjoyed reading it.

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Review: Hold on to the Sun

hold on to the sun2 Hold on to the Sun, by Michal Govrin is a compelling book of stories and essays, stories and essays bound together by themes of despair and hope, love and loss.

The author’s life as a young woman is depicted through some stories that are magical or fantasy-based. Other stories are compelling through their Holocaust-themed prose. All of the stories come full circle with Holocaust connections, and how that horrendous event formed the foundation of her life. Govrin is a first-generation, Holocaust survivor, family member. She is a woman searching for depth and meaning in life after the Holocaust.

The Holocaust was a secret within her familial life, as far as her mother is concerned. Yet, within those unspoken words, there was always a sense of something hidden. Children feel these things, instinctively, although they might not be able to put a name to it. Much of Govrin’s early life was formed through the unspoken, which in itself spoke resoundingly.

Her essays are strong, and deal with her travels to Poland. She traveled there to see the death camp her mother was imprisoned in, and where her mother’s first husband and their son perished. She did not know for many years that her mother had been married before, and did not know about her half-brother. Her journey there was a form of witnessing the site where they perished, and a form of remembering them. Her essays honor them.


Hold on to the Sun
is not an uplifting book, but a book that imparts the importance of remembrance. It also is a book that enhances the importance of hope in a world that does not seem to offer much in the way of illumination.

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