Tag Archives: Holocaust

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: Wandering Star

wandering-star1

I have just finished reading J.M.G. Le Clezio’s historical novel, Wandering Star, which I found to be a compelling, mesmerizing, masterful and brilliant novel.

The two main characters are Esther, also known as Helene, and Nejma. Their stories are told separately, yet blend as one.

Esther is a Jewish girl who is coming of age during the Nazi invasion of France, when her family is forced to flee to the countryside. The village they seek refuge in is under the protection of the Italian military. Within the confines of village life Esther begins to view the lives around her, and we watch her slowly turn from naive girl to a young and aware girl on the border of womanhood.

Her maturity eventually causes her to almost become mother-like and nurturing to her own mother, as they must eventually leave the countryside in order to board a ship so they can make their way to Israel. They are making the journey minus Esther’s father, as he is involved as a Jewish partisan. The trek from the village to the coast where they await the ship is arduous and plays not only on the mother and daughter’s physical strength, but their emotional strength, as well. Esther constantly thinks about her father, and loving moments that she had with him.

She dreams of a reunion with him, of eventually having her family unit together and whole, again. Some of her thoughts and dreams take on almost mystical proportions, and Le Clezio’s ability to write with vivid imagery often overwhelms the senses with poetic beauty. His prose turns from delightful imagery to harsh reality, and back again, leaving the reader wrapped within the pages, unable to stop reading.

Esther and her mother eventually reach Israel. Their ideal “promised land” doesn’t seem to be so promising, initially. Israel is in a state of flux. It is in the midst of its War of Independence, and devastation, destruction and fear surrounds them at every turn. They have left one life of turmoil and surpression for another life under almost similar conditions. Mother and daughter eventually become involved in kibbutz life, each with their own contributions to the whole.

Within the daily life, there is an underlying horror occurring, the atrocities of the Palestinian refugees being herded into camps like cattle. Esther is witness to this, and her path crosses that of a young Palestinian girl named Nejma. Each girl looks the other in the eye, and can almost read the other’s mind. They exchange names on pages of a notebook. They are never to meet again, but each one remembers the other, thinking of them throughout the years.

Nejma’s story is told in the last third of the book. It is relayed to us through her diary, which is an account, not only of her daily life, but the daily struggles involved as a Palestinian refugee repressed within the confines of camp life. From growing up by the sea, to surviving under the adverse conditions of desert terrain, we are a witness to the horrors and genocide of war from a differing perspective and environment, other than that of the Holocaust. We are witnesses to the cultural mores of time and place, and of repression of women.

The air is often stifling, difficult to breathe in, yet Esther and Nejma inhale and exhale as best as they can given their circumstances. They are both survivors, strong, and remain hopeful within the brutalities of life and war. Wandering Star is a metaphor, in my opinion, for displacement and survival under the harshest of circumstances, circumstances that include glimmers of hope for a new beginning and better life.

This message is the brilliance of Le Clezio’s writing. He has an almost innate ability to understand culture clashes, diversity and tradition, and how the differences affect the modern climate. Le Clezio melds the lives of the two girls into one absorbing novel that depicts the similarities that each of them have journeyed through. The scenes and landscape in Wandering Star are bold, beautiful, brilliant, and often surface with mystical and other-worldly illuminations. J.M.G. Le Clezio is extraordinary in his ability to blend two young women and their lives into one story with sensitivity and poetic loveliness is incredible. Their two individual stars illuminate the pages. I highly recommend Wandering Star to everyone.

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Book Diva Review: We Were Europeans

wewereeuropeans We Were Europeans, by Werner M. Loval, is book that portrays an incredible, personal, family/ancestral journey, both before World War II, and post war.

Loval came from a respected, well off, German-Jewish family, and before the war they were treated with dignity within their community. That all ended beginning on January 30,1933, when Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor of Germany. From that point forward, Loval’s story takes on dimensions that are precarious and horrendous, as he and his family fight to survive.

He and his sister eventually became part of the Kindertransport to England, while his parents eventually were able to escape to Ecuador, via Siberia and Japan, where the entire family was reunited. The family emigrated to America after the war. Loval eventually emigrated to Israel and played an intricate and highly professional role within the Diplomatic Service for the State of Israel. His religious foundations were strong, and he was involved in the Reform Jewish movement, and played a high profile role within it.

To say I am impressed with the format would be an understatement. I am in awe of We Were Europeans and the way Loval presents it to us. He infuses the pages with incredible documentation, amazing photographs, documents and maps, that enhance the pages of this compelling memoir, adding more drama to the presented depictions of the turbulence. From personal reflections and stories, the pages hold eye witness accounts to history as it happens, through Loval’s writing and presentation of supported evidence and documents.

Loval’s
endeavors and arduous research has brought the reader into the depths of the Nazi turbulence, adversity and shocking horrors that overtook Europe during Hitler’s reign. First-hand accounts abound, and Loval leaves nothing to the imagination through his stark imagery. From correspondence to diaries during the haunting war years and afterwards, to diaries and letters during the Six Day War and so much more, the reader is painted vivid pictures of family inspiration during time of crisis. The post war events are just as compelling and intensely stated, as Loval involves himself in trying to get restitution for property owned by his family.

Loval and his family lived their lives to the fullest with a positive attitude, no matter the extreme harshness of their circumstances, no matter how far spread, at varied points in time, the family separation was across the global perspective. The illuminating photographs, documents and word-paintings are incredible testimonies to eras gone by, to familial bonds, to the determination and strength to persevere and survive, both during and after World War II.

We Were Europeans is a book of extreme importance and historical value for historians, for researchers, genealogists, for those who are interested in the Holocaust and World War II, and for those individuals, in general, who want to learn more about the turbulent times depicted within the pages. The intensity of the memoir is beyond imagination and comprehension. It is a powerful statement and testimony, not only to the decades, events and circumstances depicted, but to the Loval family unit. Their story is extremely inspiring, and I highly recommend We Were Europeans, by Werner M. Loval to everyone.

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Book Diva Review: The Periodic Table

the periodic table2 The Periodic Table is a well-written book, giving us insight into the scientific mind, thoughts and emotions of its author, Primo Levi. The book is basically a memoir, and the 21 stories are written through the perspective of a chemist and also through the perspective of a writer. Chemistry and writing were the two primary passions of Levi.

“There are the so-called inert gases in the air we breathe. They bear curious Greek names of erudite derivation which mean “the New,” “the Hidden,” “the Inactive,” and “the Alien.” They are indeed so inert, so satisfied with their condition, that they do not interfere in any chemical reaction, do not combine with any other element, and for precisely this reason have gone undetected for centuries.”

Thus begins the book, and each of the 21 stories are named for a chemical element in the Periodic Table (not to be confused with the Title of the book). The actual Periodic Table contains 118 elements.

After finishing The Periodic Table, one might assume that it is a book that was written about the Holocaust. The primary structure of the book (including the opening lines), has an undertone of the Holocaust within its pages, as it was of extreme importance to Levi to bear witness. If one pays attention to the titles of the individual stories, it is obvious the Holocaust has an important “between-the-lines” synthesis tying the stories together, subtly, without being mentioned outright. The element of Fascism has strong overtones in the book. Levi is astutely cognizant of the fact that many Italian Jews grasped Fascism, without realizing its consequences. A large percentage of these Jews were not “practicing Jews”, and were assimilated within the Italian culture, ignorant of the possible outcome their choices would inflict on them and their families.

The main reflection in Levi’s book is the growth of Levi from his childhood and chemical experimenting with a friend, attending a university where Levi studied chemistry and experimented in university labs, and to finally graduating and becoming a chemist by profession. He also become a well-known author of novels and poetry, mingling his scientific mind with poetic emotions, creating chemistry and chemical reactions of his own, in written form.

Each element in the book coincides with a time period of Levi’s life, and we see him move through prewar Fascism to World War II where he was sent to Auschwitz. His brilliance in formulating this book and its structure has amazed me. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I was not disappointed, and in fact, I was in awe of Primo Levi as an author, in extremely impressed with his ability to blend chemistry and prose and create such a compelling book. After finishing The Periodic Table, I wanted to read more of his works, especially his poetry, and I have done just that.

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Book Diva Review – The Marriage Artist

The Marriage Artist: A novel, by Andrew Winer, is an incredible literary feat, in my opinion.

The novel is a a brilliantly composed saga of two stories that alternate within the pages. It is a book with broad and deep expanses, beginning in current times, and sweeping back to Vienna, beginning in 1928.

The stories blend magically, with the magnificent word-imagery of Winer.
In the present, we have Daniel Lichtmann, a well-respected art critic. His positive, stunning and admiring critiques of the native American, Blackfoot sculptor, Benjamin Wind, has made him (Wind) famous.

The novel opens with the bodies of Wind and Lichtmann’s wife laying on the sidewalk in front of a New York City apartment building. By all accounts, it looks as if they plunged from the terrace. From there, the suspense begins, as the reader is taken on a trip through time, as Lichtmann tries to discover whether his wife was having an affair with Wind, whether they committed suicide together, or somehow fell off the terrace.

Daniel is committed to uncovering what actually led up to the tragic event. Through is efforts, he uncovers information regarding his wife, information he didn’t know. He also uncovers information regarding Wind, his background and his artwork, and how is own critique of Wind’s last exhibit may have been far-fetched.

The next chapter begins in 1928, a time of uproar and persecution towards the Jews, with ten-year old Josef Pick, as he visits his grandfather, in the less than desirable Jewish section of Vienna. The Pick family has converted to Catholicism in order to avoid the repercussions of being labeled Jewish. While there Josef becomes enthralled with his grandfather’s business of creating ketubot (prenuptial marriage contracts) for those who are looking to have a creative and ceremonial document of the groom’s rights and responsibilities concerning the bride.

Josef’s father is with him, and watches as his son tries to create a ketubah of his own. The final result is one that brings awe to his grandfather Pommeranz, and causes Pommeranz to use Josef’s talent to earn extra money for his own needs. What transpires after that is nothing short of incredible, as the reader is taken on Josef’s journey of artistic development and creation with his amazing talent, one that brings him recognition in the world of art. Winer infuses the pages with the defining imagery, defining moments of the ravages of war. The journey continues through Josef’s adult life, through the days of the Holocaust and the antisemitism geared at the Jews.

The story line had me thinking about the title, and alternate meanings. Aside from a ketubah, a marriage artist could be one who is creative in their own lives, one who tries to manipulate their marriage. After all, an artist is not just one who paints, draws, creates beautiful documents or etches on paper. An artist can be defined as so much more than that in the realm of daily life.


The Marriage Artist
moves forward and moves backward in the time continuum, and in history’s darkest hours. I was engulfed in the book, and could not put it down. I read it straight through, except for small breaks to eat, etc. I was mesmerized and absorbed with Winer’s use of beautiful and sensitive language. It was so beautiful that I was in awe of his prose. There were moments that I was emotionally caught up in the folds of the story.

Andrew Winer is masterful at telling the tale of The Marriage Artist and blending families together. It is a lovely, sensitive and poignant story, one filled with the affects of assimilation, love and loss, and effects of lives caught in the maelstrom of evil, leading to an epiphany towards redemption.
The novel is one of educational and historical worthiness. The drama and the intensity that is displayed is something that I feel should not be missed. I highly recommend The Marriage Artist to everyone.

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Remembering Kristallnacht – 74 Years Later

Today marks the 74th anniversary of Kristallnacht, also known as the Night of Broken Glass. It was a horrific moment in time as Jews were discriminated against by Nazi storm troopers, their businesses and homes destroyed, their lives lost, and the survivors rounded up and sent to Nazi camps.

If you are seeking an in depth and compelling book to read about Kristallnacht, I highly recommend Sir Martin Gilbert’s Kristallnacht: Prelude to Destruction (Making History).

It is an intense and deeply researched study of Kristallnacht, as only Sir Martin Gilbert can bring us. His brilliance in depicting the horrific moments of the event are written with masterfulness and directness. He leaves no stone unturned.

I have this book in my own library, and refer to it often.

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The Black Seasons, by Michal Glowinski

The Black Seasons by Michal Glowinski is a poignant rendering of portions of Glowinski’s childhood memories from the Warsaw Ghetto to his life while hiding from the Nazis, to being rescued by Catholic nuns and becoming a Holocaust Survivor.

The word drifted into my ears as people around me deliberated: will they lock us in the ghetto or not? I didn’t know what this word meant, yet I realized that it was connected with moving; I sensed that it was something adults were speaking of with fear, but to me it seemed that moving would be an interesting adventure.”

Glowinski writes with visual descriptives so vivid and clear that one can almost feel them and inhale the scents of ghetto life. The struggles of daily existence within the confines allocated to the Jewish people is written with deep clarity. The Black Seasons might seem disjointed at times, but that is due to the fact that events are remembered in that fashion. Can one fault Glowinski for writing in such a manner? No! One is transported by the word-paintings, and the canvas and back drop are not a pretty.

The Black Seasons is painterly, the horror well-articulated by Glowinski, and he documents his accounts of fear and anxiety in fragments, remembered through a young boy’s pieces of visual and emotional memory. Glowinski brings us insight into the human condition of the Jewish family unit during the Holocaust. Glowinski illuminates within us the fact that life is fragile. Combining the transition from childhood to adulthood, Michal Glowinski manages to transport us through history and time, effectively, brilliantly and with skillful writing. I highly recommend The Black Seasons. It belongs in every school library, college and university library, and on your own book shelf.

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