Tag Archives: antisemitism

Book Diva Review: We Survived

we survived We Survived: Fourteen Stories of the Hidden and the Hunted in Nazi Germany, by Eric H. Boehm is a compelling, intense and frank read depicting the deplorable acts thrust upon the Jewish people during World War II.

All of the fourteen stories are overwhelming, and are a critical and insightful look into survival and what one will do in order to thwart all attempts to be imprisoned in concentration camps or killed at the hands of the Nazis. The book depicts the darkness of the days and the living conditions the Jews faced in order to survive. It portrays the lives of those who opposed the Nazis and how they faced their own dilemmas and demise within a country environment of horrific and atrocious proportions. The ugliness and images within the pages conveys the magnitude and reality of the events that occurred, written soon after liberation, when memory was fresh.

The stories evoke an extremely horrific look at the events the individuals found themselves up against. Yet, they are also a humane and poignant perspective of humanity. We Survived is a book that offers hope and inspiration during the most darkest of times.

In my opinion, We Survived: Fourteen Stories of the Hidden and the Hunted in Nazi Germany, by Eric H. Boehm is a book of historical importance that documents the evil forced upon, the persecution of, and the fear of those whose stories are told. I highly recommend We Survived to everyone.

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Book Diva Review: Until the Dawn’s Light

until the dawns light2 Until the Dawn’s Light, by Aharon Appelfeld is a book that takes place before World War II. As always, his books elicit emotions within me, due to his defining word-imagery.

Of course, I realize the Holocaust will occur, but within the pages of the book, the reader senses there is an underlying feeling, a foreshadowing, that something extremely horrendous is going to set itself against humanity, something brutal.

Speaking of brutal, this is the first book of Appelfeld’s I have read that encapsulates spousal abuse. And, he not only encapsulates it, but describes it with vivid and painful portraits.

The book begins on a train ride with Blanca taking flight with her four-year old son. Her fleeing holds more than just wanting to escape her husband, she is fleeing for her son’s safety, and hopes to make it to safety in a northern town which holds the morals, mores and convictions of her ancestral past. She is wanting to return to the foundations of Judaism that her parents avoided.

Blanca was brought up in a secular environment, and her parents were not practicing Jews. She is a young Jewish woman, and a convert to Christianity. She has converted in order to marry a man named Adolph, who, despite is initial appearance is antisemitic (after reading several pages, I didn’t find it coincidental that Appelfeld named him Adolph). Her family sees this as a positive step, and one that will yield acceptance within the Christian community. Things are not always what we expect, though, as the slim volume of this book presented to me.

Adolph despises the Jews, and never lets Blanca forget it. He blames everything on his life situation on the Jews, but worse than that, he constantly abuses her, physically, mentally and emotionally. The abuse is horrific.

Blanca is meek, and gives in to every brutal beating. She is essentially a slave to his every whim, every abusive word and every abusive act forced upon her, until the day she leaves with her son.

On the train ride she thinks back to the past, the days of happiness, the days of horror, and writes of issues that have caused her to run. She verbalizes to her son the fact that she wants him to save the pages, save them and read them at a later time, when he is old enough to read and understand. That is another foreshadowing of events and the ending, which this reader grasped upon immediately beginning the book.

Until the Dawn’s Light is not a happy read, but one that is depressing due to the content. There is much to ponder within the compelling pages, such as the primary issue of spousal abuse and how it causes fear in the abused, fear so strong they don’t fight back or cry out for help. Fear that keeps the victim oppressed and in prisons that are difficult to fathom.

Other relevant issues such as conversion and acceptance are a constant within the pages. The community of Christians was not the safe hold Blanca thought it would be, and the hatred and resentment of the Jews was quite clearly stated.

Blanca had so much going for her, she was extremely intelligent and headed for university. She was a math wizard and had hopes of becoming a mathematician. The day she meets Adolph and begins tutoring him, was the beginning of the end for her. She fell for him, which is no surprise due to his superficial presentation of himself to her in order to gain favor.

Aharon Appelfeld’s Until the Dawn’s Light, is aptly titled. His writing is brilliant within the darkness of the story line. He illuminates the past and how it can lead to the decisions of the present. He vividly relays how dismissal of the Jewish identity, and the resulting experiences of assimilation can lead one back to the religion they left behind. I recommend Until the Dawn’s Light to everyone. It is thought=provoking and compelling, and offers a lot to ponder.

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Book Diva Review: The Jump Artist

thejumpartist The Jump Artist, by Austin Ratner, is a novel that studies the relationship between a father and son, and the psychological impacts of that relationship and how it directed the emotional and life-altering course of the son.

Max, the father was a powerful force in his son, Philipp Halsman’s life, and often energetic, bordering on overpowering, in his quests and activities. He saw himself as able to perform any task, and no matter how strenuous, he never failed to exhibit his dominance and strength. And, exhibit he did, to a fault, proceeding to conquer even when his physical impairment should have quelled his goal.

Philipp, a 22-year old Latvian Jew, on the other hand, was diminished in his father’s presence (Philipp Halsman is not a fictional character, but is a factual person). He had no ambition to compete on his father’s level, and no motivation to drive him forward. Throughout the pages, he evokes a sense of detachment from his father, and a bond that is less than strong or close.

One day while out hiking in Austria, Max fell off a cliff and died. Philipp looked away for one quick instance, and when he looked back, his father was gone. From there the story line becomes more morose. Philipp is accused of murdering his father and taken to jail. He is found guilty of murder, and the reader surmises (at least this reader did), that he did not kill his father, from the way the story line is written.

The prison scenes are extremely layered with graphic imagery, and Ratner’s masterful writing is stark and straight forward. Nothing is left to the imagination. The inhumane treatment is apparent, and Philipp’s depressive state is fostered within the disgusting prison conditions.

While in jail Philipp becomes a tortured soul, unable to fathom why nobody believes him. He is unable to cope with his detention under the circumstances surrounding the fact that nobody believes him, and everyone is against him. His only saving soul is his lawyer, who defends him to the best of his ability, under the extreme and the microscopic efforts of the prosecution.

Within the pages the reader is given vivid portrayals of a man depressed, a man racked with guilt, not the guilt of a murderer, but the guilt of burdens he has bared, and the guilt of a man who is in a constant state of self-hate. His only allies are his attorney, his mother, Freud and Einstein. They rally behind him, and Freud and Einstein vouch for him and use their status to help him gain a pardon.

Once out of prison, he realizes he must move to another country in order to start life anew. Also, the fact that war is imminent plays a large factor in his decision to relocate to France, where he is welcomed, where he feels at home, and where he believes he will be harbored. Within his new environment his efforts at portrait photography are enhanced, and he becomes known for his work. Living in France does not last long, and Philipp eventually moves to America.

In America his photography flourishes, it becomes his life, his reason for living. He photographs famous celebrities, including Marilyn Monroe. His signature becomes the fact that he photographs his subjects as they jump, therefore, he is known as a “Jump Artist”. His life takes on new meaning, yet his detachment to humanity is still obvious.

Ratner is brilliant in his writing, and in his portrayal of the human condition, both in prison and in society, as antisemitism rears its ugliness. If this were today, I doubt that Philipp would have been convicted, even through all the discrimination inflicted upon him. There was no conclusive evidence, and the few witnesses that were present used drama tactics to infuse the court’s decision.

For those looking for an intense read, this book is for you. It is not a quick read, not a light read, but a dark and compelling read. Phillip Halsman’s life is the basis for the novel, and Ratman used his life history loosely in portraying the man and his thoughts and feeligns. I applaud Austin Ratner for his brilliant writing, and for bringing to light the circumstances surrounding a man who was wrought with burdens, and a man who overcame some of them, and went on to become a well-known photographer.

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