Tag Archives: Jew Wishes

Five Chimneys, by Olga Lengyel

Five Chimneys, by Olga Lengyel is an incredible and intense personal eyewitness accounting and Holocaust memoir. Five Chimneys was published in 1947, in English, two years after liberation, when Olga Lengyel’s mind and memories were still, fresh regarding the events she witnessed while a prisoner in Auschwitz.

The title, Five Chimneys, stems from the five crematorium chimneys at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

It isn’t enough that she witnessed the horrendous atrocities, but she also lost her family there. They all were exterminated in the gas chambers…her husband, two children and her parents. Her husband was under orders to be deported to Auschwitz. Olga Lengyel was determined, and went to the authorities insisting that she and her children be deported with him, as she assumed that he would be put to work in a hospital, as he was a medical doctor. She did not believe any of the stories she was told, about the actual situtation, and thought they were exaggerations. Her parents decided to go with her and the children, and the entire family went together. Little did she know it would result in the death of everyone, but her.

Her memoir is often harsh and brutal, but so were the conditions she had to live under. Her writing is well-articulated, filled with extremely clear descriptives that make our skin crawl. She doesn’t seek sympathy, but rather wanted the realities and truth to be told. Olga Lengyel writes as if she is a reporter, with an unbiased-like mindset. As a survivor and a witness, she reports what she, herself, experienced, and what she saw. The facts and truth of the events are what motivated her to stay alive, when everyone she loved had been murdered. What Olga Lengyel witnessed and went through in Auschwitz, nobody should ever have to be a witness to, or have to endure.

From watching the crematorium workers load several bodies into the large ovens at once, to having to pile dead bodies atop one another…herself, to standing naked for hours in the freezing cold while waiting for roll call, to the beatings, to lack of food, and having to eliminate in a bucket…the same one used to eat in, and to the unbelievably horrific events that pregnant women went through, etc., the book is intense testimony to the brutality and inhumanity of man. It is also a testament to Olga Lengyel’s strength and courage during the extreme circumstances she endured (that is putting it mildly). Her motivation for survival was the necessity to bear witness to the atrocious inhumanity of the Nazi Germans.

Albert Einstein, himself, read Five Chimneys, and actually wrote a letter to Olga Lengyl. Part of that letter is included in the book.

…Thank you for your very frank, very well written book. You have done a real service by letting the ones who are now silent and most forgotten speak…

With best regards and wishes,

A. Einstein

The infusion of such atrocities, in great numbers, into one memoir is beyond belief, as Olga Lengyel manages to describe with graphic clarity the most minute detail of daily existence (if you can call it that) in the Women’s camp at Auschwitz. She leaves nothing to the imagination, and each atrocious act is written boldly, powerfully, concise and to the point, no stone left unturned. Five Chimneys is heart wrenching, horrific, and overwhelming. It is not for the weak of heart or weak of stomach. Olga Lengyel’s Five Chimneys describes the essence of man’s inhumanity, and is a memoir that should be read with that in mind, as her overpowering documentation of the nighmares she experienced and witnessed is not coated over, in any fashion. The book is extremely haunting.

Olag Lengyel died at the age of 90, in 2001. Olga Lengyel’s spirit and strength will survive through time, within the pages of her extraordinary memoir, Five Chimneys.

We must never forget the events of the Holocaust…

I personally own and have read this book.

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The Dream, by Harry Bernstein

“The Dream“: A Memoir, by Harry Bernstein, is Bernstein’s follow-up memoir to his critically acclaimed “The Invisible Wall“, which I read and reviewed, when it was first published.

When I saw “The Dream” on the shelf of newly released books, in the book store, I grabbed it immediately, because I was enthralled with “The Invisible Wall” immensely. I am not sorry I did, as reading the book paints a picture of America both before and post-depression era. In particular, “The Dream” focuses on the hardship Bernstein’s family went through, both physically, socially, emotionally and mentally.

The family members that made up Bernstein’s family are as different as they are alike. Each member relates to the whole, each member’s personality a reflection of their harsh and abusive environment. The dominant force within the family was Bernstein’s mother, the ever protective mother, the one who held the family together during times of crisis, and held the family together from her emotionally abusive husband.

Bernstein’s father was an alcoholic, a verbally, and sometimes physically, abusive man, who kept the family hanging by monetary threads, as he doled out as little as possible in order for them to survive, and meet the essentials of food, clothing and shelter. He spent most of his earnings in pubs. His own father earned a living as a beggar in New York. This didn’t stop Bernstein’s mother from her goals and dreams.

DREAMS PLAYED AN IMPORTANT PART IN OUR LIVES IN THOSE EARLY days in England. Our mother invented them for us to make up for all the things we lacked and to give us some hope for the future. Perhaps, also, it was for herself, to escape the miseries she had to endure, which were caused chiefly by my father, who cared little about his family.”

Bernstein’s mother had a dream, a dream to move to America and make a better life for herself and her children. When they were sent tickets (anonymously) to emigrate, she didn’t hesitate to leave. She envisioned a new beginning, a life of opportunity.

Without those tickets, and subsequent events, Bernstein would never have met his beloved wife, Ruby. They were married for 67-years, before her death in 2002. Their courtship and romance is deeply touching.

Although 98-years in age, Bernstein’s mind is as cognizant as that of a much younger person. His wit, poignancy and incredible word paintings fill the pages of “The Dream“, flowing from one scenario to the next. Bernstein’s zest for life is apparent throughout the book. He brings us not only a compelling memoir, but an accounting of a dysfunctional family, within the confines of Chicago and New York during the 1920s and 1930s. “The Dream” is an inspiration to all of us, each sentence written with emotion, strength, eloquence and brilliance. Harry Bernstein, himself, is an inspiration to all of us.

If you read “The Invisible Wall“, you must read “The Dream“. It will not disappoint you. If you didn’t read “The Invisible Wall“, I suggest you do so, but in any event, definitely read “The Dream“.

I personally own and have read this book.

~~

Book Diva

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Awake in the Dark, by Shira Nayman

Awake in the Dark, by Shira Nayman…I give it Five Stars!!

Reality is stranger than insanity. It is reality that defies comprehension.”
Shira Nayman’s intense stories are written with insight, courage, and brilliance. This amazingly written collection brings to life, the after-effects of the lives of the characters, all Survivors of the Holocaust.

The passage of time and place, does not necessarily lesson the pain, and in fact, the pain continues, not only within the soul of the Survivor, but also continues on through the generations, with the burdens, history, and guilt becoming a lagacy handed down to the children of the Survivors.

From a woman who returns to Germany, the place of her birth, and discovers the house of her childhood; to another woman, who has traveled through the light, through horrors and demeaning moments, and finally gives birth to a daughter; to a psychiatric patient who intuitively knows she has a connection with her psychiatrist, the stories unfold with intense darkness, sadness and poignancy.

Self-discovery, is found in every story. Secrets, once locked, are unlocked, lives saved, are not necessarily lives that have been lived happily, and we see how the past has formed and molded the mindsets of the Survivors and their children in the present. Secrets that were kept, have repercussions through their silence, superficial faces, put on, to keep out the pain, release the turmoil in ways never expected.
Nayman writes with boldness and courage, never willing to remove or leave out harsh words, to soften the story. We read the pain and emotion, feel it, head on, and are engulfed within the pages, unable to stop reading, and unable to forget the stories, long after we have finished reading them.

~~Book Diva

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The Same Sea, by Amos Oz

The Same Sea, by Amos Oz, is a captivating, lyrical, mystical prose poem for the heart and mind. Oz’s word-paintings fill our senses with emotions ranging from A to Z.

The novel has several characters whose lives join together and are intertwined, through the root of one particular person. The characters often cross emotional and societal boundaries in their search for peace, fulfillment, love, comittment and their search for Self. Compromises are made and broken, as familial ties and bonds become unhinged, as lives intersect.

Not far from the sea, Mr. Albert Danon lives in Amirim Street, alone. He is fond of olives and feata; a mild accountant, he lost his wife not long ago. Nadia Danon died one morning of ovarian cander, leaving some clothes, a dressing table, some finely embroidered place mats. Their only son, Enrico David, has gone off mountaineering in Tibet.”

The characters in The Same Sea are interesting, and each one has their own narrative to tell on their journey. There journeys are filled with their yearnings and longings for what was, what is, what could be. They all strive for serenity, and also for redemption. One of Oz’s characters, Rico, is on an odyssey of sorts, trying to find his place in a world filled with the void and loss of his mother. Albert, his father, also feels loss, the loss of his wife, and the loss of his son who has left to journey the world, not knowing exactly what he is searching for. Fathers, mothers, wives, husbands, lovers, friends, acquaintances are all entwined in this magical story.

Oz refers to the Bible in The Same Sea, to the beautiful “The Song of Songs“, with the dislpay of eroticism in some of his pages. The novel moves through time and place, legendary figures and geography, and through several generations of one family whose lives interweave with others. There is an ongoing family dispute. The never ending sea, a bird, and the desert are significant factors to which allusions are made. From dry humor to extreme poignancy, The Same Sea is a beautifully written tapestry, each page a thread in the fabric of life, each page almost a prose poem on its own.

Oz has a deep sense of all things unsettling, of the strong human need and quest for inner peace, and the desire for serenity within an environment of chaos and disquiet. He is subtle in his undertones regarding his nation, but nonetheless the hope is there, underlying, between the lines. A vision of peace hovers in the longings of the characters. Oz’s observations on human behavior fill the pages with words of lament. The Same Sea is extremely mystical and magical. Its pages are not only lyrical, but almost musical, evoking the serene sound of a lute or flute between the eloquent lines. The novel is beautifully written with strong imagery, enticing our imagination, beckoning us to read on. It is a novel of dreams, desires and of hope, a sojourn towards peace. It evokes ideas of life, death and dying alone, and of acceptance of the inevitability that life goes on, no matter what occurs. The Same Sea is an extremely crafted prose poem not to be missed in its creative edge. It is an insightful metaphor for life, and for the desire and hope for peace.

All rivers flow to the same sea.”

~~~~~~

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The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million

Daniel Mendelsohn will be signing his book, The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million on Wednesday February 13, 2008, at Davis Kidd in Memphis, TN. I wish I could be there for it. Unfortunately, I can’t.The Lost is an excellent book, and compelling family chronicle that takes us on a journey all throughout the world. It is part tour-de-farce, at times comical, yet the undertones are serious, strong and insightful. It is searing, tearing, and our hearts are in our throats, flying along with him through so many countries, jetting across the world in a frenzy. He didn’t have time for jet lag, he only had time for truth and knowledge.

Mendelsohn’s childhood was somewhat bizarre. His grandparents and other extended family members would cry whenever he walked into a room. To them he was the spitting image of an uncle he never knew, his uncle Schmiel, who died during World War II. He became curious, wondering what was it about that uncle that made his relatives cry. What are the stories behind the man, the mysteries of his life, and the lives of his other long-lost relatives. What evoked such tears in his aunts and uncles. It was a given, it never failed to happen. This was the spark that caught the flames of his curiosity.

Mendelsohn was fascinated with genealogy as a youth, and considered himself to be the family historian. Little did he know, then, that the history he would be researching, documenting and accounting, would take him on a journeys and escapades to Israel, Australia, the Ukraine, Scandinavia and other countries in order to interview witnesses who knew his family members. He would become passionate, obsessed, untiring in his quest for the truth. Mendolsohn was like a man possessed, and he couldn’t stop to even breathe until he put his family members to rest, in his search for identity, and truth. We feel Mendelsohn’s urgency, his unrelenting need to know, and feel anxious, ourselves.

Reading Mendelshon’s The Lost is involving, a page turner, like an intriguing mystery or spy novel. The historical content is extremely well-researched and amazing. The documentation of Mendelsohn’s and some of his family members’ travels in order to to find out what happened to six relatives during the time of the Holocaust is a descriptive blend that fills our senses and tears at our emotions. It is heart-wrenching, yet Mendelsohn does bring us a bit of comic relief here and there, between the pages. He also writes with intensity about ancestors and the past, and how families hand down tales and stories (often shielding their own pain or shame), from one generation to the next until the distorted truth is even believed by the original story teller.

Mendelsohn refers to The Bible, alluding to The Book of Genesis and Cain and Abel, in order to demonstrate brothers, betrayal, loss, familial ties, love, destruction, war. He ties the Biblical references together with the history of the Holocaust, contrasting and comparing events of The Bible to his own family’s background…they were from a small Shtetl, Bolochow, in the Ukraine. He scrutinizes each word verbalized, each word in each document in order to find the truth of the fate of the missing family members. The Lost is a book about the choices we make, and the consequences of those choices, whether positive or negative. It is also a story about origins/beginnings, and a story about travels towards truth, answers and endings, written in almost mystical fashion.

The historical Holocaust accountings in this book are amazing…so many witnesses…so little time. Stories needing documentation, and needing telling, stories needing remembering. Witnesses needing to speak, lest we forget. And, Mendelsohn, himself, along with other family members…I can’t even begin to describe my thoughts and feelings, while reading their reactions to what they see and discover in Bolochow…there’s a lump in my throat while I am writing this. I read this book a while ago, and it has continued to stay with me. That is the power of Mendelsohn as an author.

Mendelsohn is brilliant, and a masterful story teller and writer. His almost mystical manner of writing is not only articulate, but beautiful. Word images prevail on every page, and in almost every line, with drama and flair. His book is a tribute to those “Six of Six Million“, and a tribute to his own perseverance and endurance to set the story straight, to write it correctly, unedited and uncolored in time’s continuum. Mendelsohn’s journey was a personal one, and a sojourn and commitment to family, to those who perished and who were lost, to those living, to future generations. But, most of all, it is a compelling and poignant read, and it is an incredible tribute to life…life in every realm.

I personally own and have read this book.

~~~~~~

© Copyright 2007 – All Rights Reserved – No permission is given or allowed to reuse my photography, book reviews, writings, or my poetry in any form/format without my expresss written consent/permission.

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The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit, by Lucette Lagnado

The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit: My Family’s Exodus From Old Cairo to the New World, by Lucette Lagnado is a vividly written book, descriptive of the plight of the Egyptian Jews from Cairo during the 1940s through the early 1970s. Lagnado writes from the perspective of her childhood memories, memories of a loving daughter, one who adored her “boulevardier” father, Leon, who she felt gave her more attention than her mother, Edith.

Leon was much older than Edith, and expected Edith to wait on him hand and foot, leaving her more like a doormat. She was a wife who was not viewed as an equal in any aspect, and was a compliant, passive, demure, tragic figure in their lives. Edith hardly had time for herself. Lagnado’s father, Leon, was in his own mind, a legend in his own time, while living in Cairo, demanding respect and devotion wherever he went. The man who liked to be known as a “boulevardier” (repeated many times throughout the book, as if it was a title fitting a king, rather than that of a man who walked the streets of Cairo wheeling and dealing) felt he was a worldly man, although he never did travel the world (other than to flee with his family to Paris, before emigrating to the U.S). He didn’t actually work to earn a living, but gambled daily, and also played the stock market, and even kept that a secret from his wife, until he was hospitalized and she needed to access funds to pay rent, etc. Lagnado said that gambling was Leon’s passion, not really understanding it was much more than a passion, and it was an interference in his family life. He enjoyed his nickname “The Captain”, and dressed sharply in white sharkskin suits, staying out until dawn.

Leon considered himself a devout Jew, going to Synagogue early in the morning, afternoon and evening to pray. Yet, the patriarchal man who prayed, also strayed on his wife, often returning home in the middle of the night, after frequenting the gambling houses and bars, thriving within the fast, night life of Cairo. To him, religion, prayer, drinking, gambling, and other external pleasures outside the marriage could coexist. This behavior continued, even after they lost a daughter, and Edith was in mourning. Nothing could keep him home.

The first half of The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit deals with their lives in Cairo and is well-written with its historical content. Lagnado writes with reverence for her father, but much of that adulation is from the point of view of a child, aged five through eleven. She doesn’t display the same sense of adoration for her mother.

The second half of the book deals with their emigration from Cairo to Paris, and eventually to their final destination in Brooklyn, New York. The family had to sell off all their furniture and belongings, and could only leave Cairo with a little over $200, due to Egypt law. We see Leon and the family go from riches to rags, immediately upon leaving Cairo. They were a family in transit, no country, and living off of the handouts of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) in both Paris and Brooklyn. Leon sold ties, not earning much, and the “silk” ties he sold were not actually made of silk, and not made where the tags stated they were made. They were made in New York with phony labels, and not sewn in the exotic countries he claimed they were made in. He often took Lagnado with him when selling ties, introducing her as his granddaughter, not his daughter, in order to gain sympathy so he could sell a tie or two.

Lagnado writes of their difficult times in Brooklyn, and her father’s inability and/or refusal to assimilate into his new environment, causing stress on her mother and the rest of the family, who protested his attitude. Her father wanted to borrow $2000 to start a business, and was refused the loan. He complained to no end, and continually blamed his dire circumstances on everyone but where the blame belonged, on himself. There were medical issues, also.

Lagnado had been misdiagnosed with “cat scratch fever” in Cairo. This diagnosis lasted through the years. After moving to Brooklyn, and going to medical hospitals, she was finally diagnosed with Hodgkins Disease by one Dr. Lee, a specialist, and she was given a course of treatment. The family never failed to demean the hospital staff, the resident medical doctors, etc. Other than Lagnado, herself (she remains close friends to this day with Dr. Lee), the rest of the family never seemed grateful for the fact that Lagnado’s Hodgkins Disease had finally been diagnosed correctly and was given a treatment program (unlike the misdiagnosis in Cairo). It almost seemed as if they wanted to believe the doctors in Cairo. The family was, seemingly, in denial, unable to comprehend and cope with the situation.

The Lagnado family’s difficulty in assimilating, and Leon’s refusal to heed the HIAS’s instructions left me with no sympathy for them and their situation. They expected that everyone but themselves should pay for their wants and needs. They were a family in crisis who could not, or would not, help themselves. Their indecisiveness was often the root of their problems. They helped to create much of the chaos and emotional distress in their depressive lives.

When Lagnado returned to the old neighborhood in Cairo in 2005 for a sojourn, she realized how well off they actually would not have been, had they stayed, or if they had returned to live there, again. The same street today, now called Ramses Street is by no means the Malaka Nazli of her remembered childhood. Of course she initially wrote about their lives in Cairo from the perspective of a child, her formative years. And, she wrote from her father’s own stories. As an adult she viewed things differently, with the clarity of a grown woman.

The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit was well-written, descriptive, vivid with word visuals, describing life in Cairo, and their lives in Brooklyn. Lagnado has a sense of time and place, and her research proved effective in conveying it to the reader. It is an excellent family historical accounting. Although the last half of the book left me feeling a bit empty towards the family and their circumstances, it was just as descriptive and well-written as the first half. Lagnado does illuminate the pages of The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit with excellent word-paintings of the history of Jewish Cairo, of Jews in transit and stateless…Jews with no country, and Jewish immigration and assimilation.

I personally own and have read this book.

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