BOOK REVIEWS

 

 

Samples of My Book Reviews from The New York Journal of Books

http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/reviewer/charles-weinblatt

Eichmann Before Jerusalem: The Unexamined Life of a Mass Murderer

by Bettina Stangneth

Translated from the German by Ruth Martin
Alfred A Knopf Press (September 2, 2014)
ISBN-10: 0307959678
ISBN-13: 978-0307959676239
608 pages
Genres: History, World War II, Europe, Nazi Germany, Military, Biography, Holocaust

Bettina Stangneth wrote her dissertation on Immanuel Kant and the concept of radical evil. Ever since then she has been researching a theory of the lie and has written widely on anti-Semitism in eighteenth-century and National Socialist philosophy. In 2000 she was awarded first prize by the Philosophical-Political Academy, Cologne, and she received the German NDR nonfiction book award for Eichmann Before Jerusalem in 2011. Bettina Stangneth is an independent philosopher and lives in Hamburg Germany.

There have been many books about Eichmann’s trial and conviction in Israel for the murder of six million Jews. And there have been books about Eichmann while he was the architect Nazi genocide. But few authors have focused primarily upon Eichmann’s escape from an Allied POW camp, his quiet life in Northern Germany and years later his life with his family in Argentina, before he was captured by the Mossad.

To accomplish this, author Stangneth must examine thousands of wide-ranging documents and anecdotal sources, many of which had not yet become available to researchers or the public. She extracts and examines evidence from new sources as well, including Eichmann’s own words about his culpability in the Nazi genocide. This is the essence of Eichmann Before Jerusalem; a profoundly well-researched and authoritative work of scholarship. It is also surprisingly engaging for a work of erudite purpose.

Eichmann Before Jerusalem is a powerful and exceptionally well-researched dissertation revealing the years in which Eichmann had escaped from Allied confinement and then joined with other like-minded Nazis in Argentina, where he and his colleagues were protected by the government from extradition.

One of the key themes of this book is Eichmann’s culpability in the industrial-scale extermination of millions of men, women and children. Stangneth produces ample empirical evidence that Eichmann enjoyed his role as the eradicator of Jews. He was proud of it in the “Sassen Tapes,” where Eichmann expresses regret for not having had the time to exterminate all nine million European Jews.

This does not coincide with the “banality of evil” described by Hannah Arendt. Here we see that Eichmann is no mild-mannered clerk following orders. He relishes in improving efficiencies of scale in the industrial process of killing Jews. Eichmann’s responsibly was to make all of Europe Judenrein (without Jews). He might well have been following orders. But he also helped create orders and through this book we see that he enjoyed improving the process of murdering Jews rapidly.

Stangneth proffers a comprehensive and noteworthy level of research on Eichmann’s life as a POW under the Allies in 1945, his escape to a farm in Northern Germany and later to his life in Argentina under the Peron administration, where escaped German war criminals were treated as valued guests.

Willem Sassen, an Austrian journalist living in Argentina recorded extensive meetings of Nazi leaders who successfully fled Europe and prosecution, including Eichmann, who had escaped from the Allies. This later became known as, “The Sassen Papers.” These “Nazis in absentia” desired to revive the creed of Nazi Germany and to build a better world based upon their reactionary political philosophy. Within the hundreds of hours of recorded voices and from handwritten notes by Eichmann himself, we view their goal – a world without Jews and a fascist state in which these former Nazis could thrive and prosper, as well as pass along Nazi “virtues” to their genetically similar progeny.

Stangneth shows with detailed references that we cannot be fooled into thinking of Eichmann as a simple clerk in the Nazi system, following orders from Himmler and Hitler to murder Jews. She delivers details from the Sassen papers and beyond that prove Eichmann was not only encouraged by his responsibility, but that he had a powerful desire to complete the job worldwide.

Stangneth’s meticulous research and evocative writing style make this book a masterpiece. Her references alone constitute more than 150 pages in this 620-page galley proof. Yet, the book is completely readable by anyone with an interest in Nazi Germany or Eichmann. However, reading a very detailed and lengthy non-fiction book is at times an onerous effort, particularly for visual learners. The addition of maps, pictures, diagrams and other visual tools would enhance readability.

Stangneth’s meticulous research, driving purpose and powerful writing enable us to observe the master of genocide as he escapes prosecution and enjoys recording conversations with like-minded Nazis in absentia. Yet, in the end, Eichmann’s profound urge to be seen, admired and valued as a hero gave him a false confidence in how he would be viewed in a trial and how little time he might have to serve in prison for his nefarious past.

Anyone with an interest in history, WWII, Nazis, Eichmann, the Holocaust, genocide, or the escape of many powerful Nazis to South America will find this book an amazing collection of old and new details. Stangneth has sourced through tens of thousands of documents and countless hours of recordings to produce this empirical book about Eichmann’s escape and his life in Argentina.

Reviewer Charles S. Weinblatt is a retired university administrator and the author of published fiction and non-fiction, including the popular Holocaust novel, Jacob’s Courage.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Seventh Gate by Richard Zimler

Overlook Press; Reprint edition (May 10, 2012)
Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
ISBN: B00B1LBGPA
ASIN: B007T99HMM
436 pages
Genres: Fiction, History, World War II, Holocaust, Mystery & Thriller, Suspense, Murder

Richard Zimler was born in Roslyn Heights, New York, in 1956. After earning a bachelor’s degree in comparative religion from Duke University (1977) and a master’s degree in journalism from Stanford University (1982), he worked for eight years as a journalist, mainly in the San Francisco Bay area. In 1990, he moved to Porto, Portugal, where he taught journalism for sixteen years. Richard has published eight novels over the last 15 years, including: The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon, Unholy Ghosts, The Angelic Darkness, Hunting Midnight, Guardian of the Dawn, The Search for Sana, The Seventh Gate and The Warsaw Anagrams. His novels have appeared on bestseller lists in 12 countries. Richard’s prizes include: the Prix Alberto Benveniste in 2009, and the 1998 Herodotus Award. His latest novel, The Warsaw Anagrams, was chosen as 2010 Book of the Year in Portugal, by both the country’s main literary monthly (LER) and high school teachers and students. Hunting Midnight, The Search for Sana and The Seventh Gate have all been nominated for the International IMPAC Literary Award. He was also granted a 1994 U.S. National Endowment of the Arts Fellowship in Fiction. The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon, Hunting Midnight, Guardian of the Dawn and The Seventh Gate form the “Sephardic Cycle,” a group of inter-connected, but fully independent, novels about different branches and generations of a Portuguese Jewish family. In 2010, a short film he based on one of his short stories won the Best Drama award at the New York Downtown Short Film Festival. It is entitled The Slow Mirror. Richard also writes reviews for the L.A. Times.

Having reviewed The Warsaw Anagrams for The New York Journal of Books, this reviewer was attracted to another novel by Richard Zimler, who seems to have mastered the art of a “murder mystery wrapped within the timeless anxiety and historical significance of the Holocaust.

The Seventh Gate begins in contemporary America. Our infirmed and elderly protagonist, Sophie, is in a hospital. She appears not far from death. Her devoted nephew visits regularly and takes care of all of her needs. He is deeply interested in her past, especially what happened to her as a child and teenager in Germany. After a halting start, the author carries us back in time to her adolescent years, in 1932 Berlin.

Young Sophie is a bright, inquisitive, artistic and sexually articulate fourteen-year-old, living in Berlin with her detached mother, ambivalent father and autistic young bother. She dreams of becoming an actress, cares deeply for her non-verbal and anxiety-prone brother, sexually desires her teenaged boyfriend and fights with her distant parents regularly. Her family is Christian, but not very devout.

Sophie soon finds herself attracted to her enigmatic elderly Jewish neighbor, Isaac Zarco. Isaac is a kind, gentle, mysterious man, consumed with comprehending the Kabbalistic memoirs of his ancestor from Portugal. Isaac believes that the secrets of life, God and the hereafter are hidden within the cryptic writing of his ancestor’s ancient document.

Sophie is also captivated with Zarco’s erudite collection of amazing Jewish friends, most of whom plot against Nazis in a secret group called “The Ring.” The members include a charismatic troupe of former circus performers, including fascinating dwarfs and a tall, shadowy, deformed woman, named Vera. The members of The Ring are intriguing, delightful and amazing characters. When a young group member who has been a close friend to Sophie is sent to Dachau, she realizes that there must be a Nazi traitor in the group. But who?

The remainder of this exciting novel follows Sophie through the war years as she falls deeply in love with Isaac, becomes a full-fledged member of The Ring and conducts a desperate race against time to save her brother and discover the traitor.

Laden within this plot are several juicy sub-plots, including Sophie’s anxious relationship with her cold mother and a love-hate relationship with her father who turned almost instantly from ardent Communist to full-fledged Nazi. Zimler carefully explores Sophie’s loving relationship with her young autistic brother, Hansi. In every way, Sophie is a more devoted and empathetic parent to Hansi than her own parents have been. They are deeply embarrassed by Hansi’s autism. But Sophie’s protective love never falters. Despite his inscrutable silence, Sophie understands Hansi completely.

As time passes, Sophie begins to realize the terrible danger posed by the Nazi-controlled German government, She fears losing her best friend, Rinsi, a Jew, as well as Isaac and the members of the Ring. Sophie’s sexual relationship with a teenaged friend turns sour because of his ardent Nazi views. As time passes, Sophie is drawn farther away from her parents-turned Nazis and much closer to her Jewish friends, who are risking their lives to help Jews flee the Gestapo and concentration camps.

As the years pass, Sophie falls more profoundly in love with Isaac, who is old enough to be her father, much less a Jew – constituting an illegal, if not also immoral relationship. Zimmler plays this liaison marvelously. The burgeoning love between them is a powerful force, played out against a world turned upside down by the Nazi genocide against Jews and the disabled. As the Gestapo closes in on our protagonists, Hansi is removed from home, to be sterilized because of his autism. Just as the Nazi State desires Jews dead, it follows that the disabled must go as well, in order for society to be more properly racially pure and Aryan.

Zimler established himself as a successful murder mystery author during the Holocaust in The Warsaw Anagrams, in which a mysterious murder plot is gradually exposed within the infamous Warsaw Ghetto. Here he describes the fabric of life in Berlin exquisitely, as Nazis push down upon Jews until almost none remain. Zimler creates a murder mystery worthy of the great artisans of that genre. In The Seventh Gate, he ardently describes the traps of injustice upon Germany’s Jewish and disabled citizens. Although one could argue that the Holocaust offers no easier disparity between good and evil, Zimler’s character development is electrifying and his plot rolls along ever faster into the depths of fear. Zimler wraps all of this within the cryptic veil of Jewish mysticism.

As he pours through his ancestor’s Kabbalistic documents, Isaac begins to comprehend the route that humans take on their journey throughout life and beyond, the details of which go far beyond normal Jewish learning. These secrets are made available to him only through years of extensive study of Kabbalah. We learn that humans must pass through numerous “gates” if they are to gain entrance into heaven. Yet only the most learned and humane of us can pass. Zimler’s use of Jewish mysticism within a murder mystery, within the dreadful steady Nazi drive into genocide, adds profound layers of thrilling detail to the novel.

The Seventh Gate builds frustration and anxiety into a devastating and haunting conclusion. This is a shocking, evocative and thrilling novel, fueled by outstanding character development and a plausible murder mystery. Zimler creates heroic protagonists who struggle constantly against overwhelming odds. The elements of fear and death surround and invade each valiant character, made all the more lovable by their individual disabilities and charm. The Seventh Gate is gripping, consuming and shocking. Most importantly, as we contemplate the horrors inflicted upon innocent people by Nazi Germany, it remains all the more plausible. Through charming, brave and bright Sophie, Zimler helps us comprehend what it felt like to be a German with a good soul, within the writhing dark cloud of Nazism and its culture of intolerance and murder.

Zimmler pushes several boundaries in The Seventh Gate. Sophie, a Christian teenager in Nazi Germany, falls in love with and has sexual relations with an elderly Jewish man. She breaks several laws and perhaps the hearts of some readers by loving and living with this endearing elderly Jew. She also explores sexuality at a time and age when it was considered to be inappropriate.

Missing in this exemplary piece of evocative and haunting fiction is an epilogue. Why create a prologue if there is to be no epilog? We are left to wonder what life lessons the elderly Sophie could have given us at the conclusion, had the book returned us to the present-day.

The Seventh Gate is thrilling, shocking, inspiring and unforgettable. Within it, author Zimler delivers taboo sexuality, prejudice, a deeply entrenched murder mystery, Judaism and the Kabbalah, World War II and the Holocaust – all wrapped within the veneer of Nazi Germany’s terrifying shadow of hatred and bigotry. The reader will be haunted by these brave characters and the stirring murder mystery long after the book has been completed.

Reviewer Charles S. Weinblatt is a retired university administrator and the author of published fiction and non-fiction, including the popular Holocaust novel, Jacob’s Courage.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Assimilated Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto: 1940-1943

by Katarzyna Person
Syracuse University Press (May 15, 2014)
Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
ISBN-10: 0815633343
ISBN-13: 978-0815633341
239 pages
Genres: Non-Fiction, History, World War II, Holocaust

Katarzyna Person is a researcher at the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, Poland.

Assimilated Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto: 1940-1943 is a candid, academic analysis of the interrelationships among various types of Polish Jews under Nazi control. Unnoticed by many researchers and historians, Warsaw Ghetto Jews were of many categories and varieties. From Ultra-Orthodox to agnostic and from PhD’s to plumbers, there was no standard classification for these Jews. Instead, they represented every social strata, academic, scientific and economic category and a diversity of religious affiliations. This book presents a focus upon Jews who had assimilated heavily into Polish Christian society prior to the Shoah.

Stripped of their rights and forced to live in coarse conditions, about 400,000 Jews from all ranks of life and religion were pushed together into this foul ghetto by Nazi Germany. Regular deportations to “camps in the East,” signified an even worse destiny. By 1940, almost everyone had heard reliable rumors of Nazi genocide of Jews, primarily in Eastern and Southern Poland.

Within this roiling cauldron of abject terror, brutality, starvation and disease, contrasting groups of Jews were forced to live together. This book meticulously details the characteristics, interactions and outcomes of assimilated Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto before Nazi Germany finally emptied the entire population into the gas chambers and ovens of Treblinka and Auschwitz.

Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto represented everything from the punitive volunteer Jewish police ordained by the Gestapo, Jewish leadership councils, held accountable for enforcing Nazi dictates within the ghetto; and various smaller groups of Jews whose affiliations were based upon their status before the Ghetto.

Professors and professionals were combined with tradesmen and the unemployed. Assimilated and baptized Jews were in close proximity with Ultra-Orthodox. There were the traitorous Jewish Ghetto police and there were the heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto, fighting against Nazi tanks and artillery with grenades and pistols. And all fought and feared starvation and disease as much as the ultimate Nazi deportation to a death camp.

Person’s research also includes the many varied interactions of Jews in the ethos of the Warsaw Ghetto. As Jews were heavily invested in Polish culture, including theater, music, education, civics, journalism, culture and democracy, this book describes a variety of the widespread culture of Polish Jews within the Ghetto.

Katarzyna Person’s research on assimilated Jews within the Warsaw Ghetto is well referenced and it is solid in academic empirical evidence. Her references are clear, compelling and persuasive. Yet the book reads easily, unencumbered by sections of dry data or buried under layers of academic references.

The reader is left to admire the young Jewish fighting groups within the Ghetto, who fought the massive war material of Nazi Germany with Molotov cocktails, ancient guns and chutzpah. But the reader is also left to wonder who survived and if they continued to battle militarily against Nazi Germany. Perhaps that goes beyond the parameters of the author’s intent. Still the reader is left wondering which heroes of the Ghetto later joined with partisans to fight the Nazi menace.

For a well-researched, no-holds-barred analysis of assimilated Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto, this book is an excellent effort. That being said, the book would have been significantly enhanced by the addition of pictures, diagrams and maps. One wonders why the publisher did not add visual aids that are easily obtained and are not copyright-protected.

Additionally, the book barely touched upon the cadre of assimilated Jews that appeared to sometimes serve the needs of the Nazi government or the Gestapo, such as the singer and entertainer Vera Gran. There were a number of Jewish entertainers who either volunteered to entertain Nazis, or were forced into it. This still constitutes a hot-button for countless Jewish and Christian Poles who would rather have been put to death than entertain Nazis. Perhaps this too could be addressed in a second edition.

The assimilated Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto might appear just the same as their Christian neighbors, on one hand; but the definition of a Jew by Nazi Germany forced them into the same demise as religious Jews whom they or their ancestors had abandoned. Nazi Germany focused upon a racial (genetic) codex of who is a Jew and by how much. In the end, even the most baptized and religiously assimilated Jews of Poland became Nazi prisoners, destined for gas chambers and furnaces, just like their deeply religious counterparts.

This is an excellent analysis of assimilated groups of Polish Jews who were forced to live together in the Warsaw Ghetto from 1940-1943 with all other types of Jews. Before that time, assimilated Jews associated more with Polish Christians and abandoned their Jewish history. After the Ghetto had been emptied by Nazi Germany, the assimilated Jews became ashes, just like the most religious of Polish Jews. But there are enough holes in this research to suggest a second edition.

Reviewer Charles S. Weinblatt is a retired university administrator and the author of published fiction and non-fiction, including the popular Holocaust novel, Jacob’s Courage.

___________________________________________________________________

The Seventh Gate by Richard Zimler

Overlook Press; Reprint edition (May 10, 2012)
Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
ISBN: B00B1LBGPA
ASIN: B007T99HMM
436 pages
Genres: Fiction, History, World War II, Holocaust, Mystery & Thriller, Suspense, Murder Mystery

Richard Zimler was born in Roslyn Heights, New York, in 1956. After earning a bachelor’s degree in comparative religion from Duke University (1977) and a master’s degree in journalism from Stanford University (1982), he worked for eight years as a journalist, mainly in the San Francisco Bay area. In 1990, he moved to Porto, Portugal, where he taught journalism for sixteen years. Richard has published eight novels over the last 15 years, including: The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon, Unholy Ghosts, The Angelic Darkness, Hunting Midnight, Guardian of the Dawn, The Search for Sana, The Seventh Gate and The Warsaw Anagrams. His novels have appeared on bestseller lists in 12 countries. Richard’s prizes include: the Prix Alberto Benveniste in 2009, and the 1998 Herodotus Award. His latest novel, The Warsaw Anagrams, was chosen as 2010 Book of the Year in Portugal, by both the country’s main literary monthly (LER) and high school teachers and students. Hunting Midnight, The Search for Sana and The Seventh Gate have all been nominated for the International IMPAC Literary Award. He was also granted a 1994 U.S. National Endowment of the Arts Fellowship in Fiction. The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon, Hunting Midnight, Guardian of the Dawn and The Seventh Gate form the “Sephardic Cycle,” a group of inter-connected, but fully independent, novels about different branches and generations of a Portuguese Jewish family. In 2010, a short film he based on one of his short stories won the Best Drama award at the New York Downtown Short Film Festival. It is entitled The Slow Mirror. Richard also writes reviews for the L.A. Times.

Having reviewed The Warsaw Anagrams for The New York Journal of Books, this reviewer was attracted to another novel by Richard Zimler, who seems to have mastered the art of a “murder mystery wrapped within the timeless anxiety and historical significance of the Holocaust.

The Seventh Gate begins in contemporary America. Our infirmed and elderly protagonist, Sophie, is in a hospital. She appears not far from death. Her devoted nephew visits regularly and takes care of all of her needs. He is deeply interested in her past, especially what happened to her as a child and teenager in Germany. After a halting start, the author carries us back in time to her adolescent years, in 1932 Berlin.

Young Sophie is a bright, inquisitive, artistic and sexually articulate fourteen-year-old, living in Berlin with her detached mother, ambivalent father and autistic young bother. She dreams of becoming an actress, cares deeply for her non-verbal and anxiety-prone brother, sexually desires her teenaged boyfriend and fights with her distant parents regularly. Her family is Christian, but not very devout.

Sophie soon finds herself attracted to her enigmatic elderly Jewish neighbor, Isaac Zarco. Isaac is a kind, gentle, mysterious man, consumed with comprehending the Kabbalistic memoirs of his ancestor from Portugal. Isaac believes that the secrets of life, God and the hereafter are hidden within the cryptic writing of his ancestor’s ancient document.

Sophie is also captivated with Zarco’s erudite collection of amazing Jewish friends, most of whom plot against Nazis in a secret group called “The Ring.” The members include a charismatic troupe of former circus performers, including fascinating dwarfs and a tall, shadowy, deformed woman, named Vera. The members of The Ring are intriguing, delightful and amazing characters. When a young group member who has been a close friend to Sophie is sent to Dachau, she realizes that there must be a Nazi traitor in the group. But who?

The remainder of this exciting novel follows Sophie through the war years as she falls deeply in love with Isaac, becomes a full-fledged member of The Ring and conducts a desperate race against time to save her brother and discover the traitor.

Laden within this plot are several juicy sub-plots, including Sophie’s anxious relationship with her cold mother and a love-hate relationship with her father who turned almost instantly from ardent Communist to full-fledged Nazi. Zimler carefully explores Sophie’s loving relationship with her young autistic brother, Hansi. In every way, Sophie is a more devoted and empathetic parent to Hansi than her own parents have been. They are deeply embarrassed by Hansi’s autism. But Sophie’s protective love never falters. Despite his inscrutable silence, Sophie understands Hansi completely.

As time passes, Sophie begins to realize the terrible danger posed by the Nazi-controlled German government, She fears losing her best friend, Rinsi, a Jew, as well as Isaac and the members of the Ring. Sophie’s sexual relationship with a teenaged friend turns sour because of his ardent Nazi views. As time passes, Sophie is drawn farther away from her parents-turned Nazis and much closer to her Jewish friends, who are risking their lives to help Jews flee the Gestapo and concentration camps.

As the years pass, Sophie falls more profoundly in love with Isaac, who is old enough to be her father, much less a Jew – constituting an illegal, if not also immoral relationship. Zimmler plays this liaison marvelously. The burgeoning love between them is a powerful force, played out against a world turned upside down by the Nazi genocide against Jews and the disabled. As the Gestapo closes in on our protagonists, Hansi is removed from home, to be sterilized because of his autism. Just as the Nazi State desires Jews dead, it follows that the disabled must go as well, in order for society to be more properly racially pure and Aryan.

Zimler established himself as a successful murder mystery author during the Holocaust in The Warsaw Anagrams, in which a mysterious murder plot is gradually exposed within the infamous Warsaw Ghetto. Here he describes the fabric of life in Berlin exquisitely, as Nazis push down upon Jews until almost none remain. Zimler creates a murder mystery worthy of the great artisans of that genre. In The Seventh Gate, he ardently describes the traps of injustice upon Germany’s Jewish and disabled citizens. Although one could argue that the Holocaust offers no easier disparity between good and evil, Zimler’s character development is electrifying and his plot rolls along ever faster into the depths of fear. Zimler wraps all of this within the cryptic veil of Jewish mysticism.

As he pours through his ancestor’s Kabbalistic documents, Isaac begins to comprehend the route that humans take on their journey throughout life and beyond, the details of which go far beyond normal Jewish learning. These secrets are made available to him only through years of extensive study of Kabbalah. We learn that humans must pass through numerous “gates” if they are to gain entrance into heaven. Yet only the most learned and humane of us can pass. Zimler’s use of Jewish mysticism within a murder mystery, within the dreadful steady Nazi drive into genocide, adds profound layers of thrilling detail to the novel.

The Seventh Gate builds frustration and anxiety into a devastating and haunting conclusion. This is a shocking, evocative and thrilling novel, fueled by outstanding character development and a plausible murder mystery. Zimler creates heroic protagonists who struggle constantly against overwhelming odds. The elements of fear and death surround and invade each valiant character, made all the more lovable by their individual disabilities and charm. The Seventh Gate is gripping, consuming and shocking. Most importantly, as we contemplate the horrors inflicted upon innocent people by Nazi Germany, it remains all the more plausible. Through charming, brave and bright Sophie, Zimler helps us comprehend what it felt like to be a German with a good soul, within the writhing dark cloud of Nazism and its culture of intolerance and murder.

Zimmler pushes several boundaries in The Seventh Gate. Sophie, a Christian teenager in Nazi Germany, falls in love with and has sexual relations with an elderly Jewish man. She breaks several laws and perhaps the hearts of some readers by loving and living with this endearing elderly Jew. She also explores sexuality at a time and age when it was considered to be inappropriate.

Missing in this exemplary piece of evocative and haunting fiction is an epilogue. Why create a prologue if there is to be no epilog? We are left to wonder what life lessons the elderly Sophie could have given us at the conclusion, had the book returned us to the present-day.

The Seventh Gate is thrilling, shocking, inspiring and unforgettable. Within it, author Zimler delivers taboo sexuality, prejudice, a deeply entrenched murder mystery, Judaism and the Kabbalah, World War II and the Holocaust – all wrapped within the veneer of Nazi Germany’s terrifying shadow of hatred and bigotry. The reader will be haunted by these brave characters and the stirring murder mystery long after the book has been completed.

Reviewer Charles S. Weinblatt is a retired university administrator and the author of published fiction and non-fiction, including the popular Holocaust novel, Jacob’s Courage.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Alex’s Wake: A Voyage of Betrayal and a Journey of Remembrance

by Martin Goldsmith
Publisher: Da Capo Press (April 8, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0306823225
ISBN-13: 978-0-306-82322-0 (hardcover)
Paperback: 352 pages
Genres: Memoir, History, World War II, the Holocaust
Publicist: Lissa Warren, VP, Senior Director of Publicity, lissa.warren@perseusbooks.com, 617-252-5212.

Martin Goldsmith is the host and classical music programmer for SiriusXM Radio’s “Symphony Hall” and hosted NPR’s Performance Today” from 1989 to 1999. He is the author of The Indistinguishable Symphony and he lives in Maryland.

Alex’s Wake – Reviewed by Charles S. Weinblatt

“Late one night it came to me what I must do. I knew that I needed to retrace their steps, to set foot on the earth they trod upon during those final three years of initial hope and eventual hopelessness; to see what they saw and to breathe the air they breathed before they breathed their last. I would tell their story as a grandson, a nephew and an eyewitness” – from Chapter One.

On May 13th, 1939 the MS St. Louis sailed from Hamburg, loaded with Jewish refugees eager to escape from Nazi Germany. However, denied access to England, Ireland, Canada, The United States and Cuba, the ship’s passengers were returned to Europe, where most were captured, sent to Nazi concentration camps and eventually Nazi death camps. Alexander Goldschmidt (Martin’s paternal grandfather) and his son Helmut (Martin’s uncle) spent three years in six different concentration camps before eventually being murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

In Alex’s Wake: Voyage of Betrayal and a Journey of Remembrance, Martin Goldsmith details his contemporary six-week quest to retrace the journey his grandfather and his uncle made from the SS St. Louis to Auschwitz. Martin has felt guilt for many years because his father escaped Nazi Germany to America, yet his father did almost nothing to try to save Martin’s grandfather (Alex) and uncle (Helmut). The guilt generated by the inaction of Martin’s father must certainly have become a stone upon his heart. He carried this silently, never discussing it. We now see that the guilt has traveled into another generation, cementing itself in the psyche of Martin. Possessed and motivated by this guilt, Martin is compelled to retrace the steps of Alex and Helmut, from the St. Louis through each Nazi concentration camp and all the way to the place of their murder – Auschwitz-Birkenau. The desire to assuage this guilt is Martin’s pure motivation. With his wife in tow, Martin launches a contemporary crusade to experience the terror and hope for redemption that his ancestors experienced decades ago.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the doomed voyage of the MS St. Louis. Martin’s journey and book offer a new perspective on the Holocaust; one that is typically missing from most books and films about the Shoah. This book is two stories, coupled together by familial love and by the motivation to connect love across time and distance. Here we have the story of a father and his son, trapped within the iron gates of Nazi Germany’s genocide against the Jewish people. Another story is irrevocably attached, which is the story of the Holocaust victim’s grandson, who’s guilt incited by his own father’s inaction motivates a need retell the story by retracing the steps from the St. Louis to Auschwitz.

Psychiatrists posit that the most powerful human emotion is guilt. Humans are constantly buffeted and motivated by all types of guilt. In this case, Martin has summoned and acquired the guilt of his father, who failed to save his own father and uncle. He hardly tried to save them.

Just as Martin’s grandfather and uncle breathlessly attempted to escape from clutches of Nazi Germany, Martin’s father ran from his responsibility to try to save them by helping them immigrate to America. The guilt from Martin’s father’s failure drips like poison into the soul of Martin, who absorbs the vile psychological substance. It permeates his emotions and casts a pall upon his life. Martin’s emotional life now depends upon his ability to retrace the deadly voyage of Grandfather Alex and Uncle Helmut. He must find a way to reach back into a deadly past and recapture his soul from the guilt of his father’s inaction.

Alex’s Wake is a powerful memoir of the most ghastly event in human history – the Holocaust. Of course, Nazi Germany’s quest to exterminate the Jews of Europe place them at the top of the list of failed leaders. But Alex’s Wake sheds far more light upon the failure of Allied nations to save those poor, helpless Jews who had escaped Nazi Germany. Instead of granting these poor innocent families a new life in a free nation, the Jews aboard the St. Louis were denied entry by each nation along its doomed journey. England, Ireland, Canada, The United States and Cuba all rejected the ship of hope and its cargo of human misery, even though their leaders knew that the passengers of the SS St. Louis would become genocide victims. Anti-Semitic leaders in the US State Department persuaded President Roosevelt to deny entry to the passengers of the floating refugees, even though the small number of Jewish families could have been easily assimilated into any region or city of America.

If there is any lasting guilt to be measured from this accurate and heart rending book, it must fall upon the governments and the political leaders of The Allies, especially The United States and Cuba. Imagine how it must have felt as a Jew in 1939, to have barely escaped the murderous clutches of Nazi Germany, only to be rejected by almost every other “free and democratic” nation and sent back to Europe to be murdered with their parents and their children. If Martin had to live with the guilt passed down from his father who failed to save his own father and uncle, then the guilt of the civilized world who rejected entry to these escaped Jews must remain far more intense and permanent.

Can the world learn from such a disaster? Have we any benefit from watching those innocent souls that we rejected murdered in the gas chambers of Nazi Germany? Given a similar situation, would we once more send refugees back to be murdered by despots? This is the potential benefit from reading Alex’s Wake. We can learn from the mistakes of history and vow to save refugees from genocide.

Mr. Goldsmith is an excellent author. Alex’s Wake is a powerful and evocative memoir of the very worst part of human history. Each chapter offers insight into the history of the Holocaust in each place that Martin’s ancestors traveled, as well as a description of the contemporary location in Europe. The book contains many photos that help the reader delve more deeply into the tale. Sadly, the galley that I reviewed had a surprising number of typos, which is unusual for a publisher of this stature. Hopefully they will be removed in the final published edition.

Alex’s Wake is a powerful book containing two very important stories. The primary story is the three-year journey of Alex and Helmut, upon a road of eventual death. It is also the story of the author’s guilt, carried forward from his father, who failed to save his blood relatives on the St. Louis. In fact, he did very little to try to save them at all. The secondary story is the very same road traveled, through the same towns and cities, by the contemporary author.

No redemption is possible for Alex and Helmut, who were made prisoners of Nazi Germany for the crime of being Jewish. They were murdered at Auschwitz because no nation would take them in. No redemption is possible for England, Ireland, America, Canada and Cuba, who could have saved the lives of the Jewish families aboard the St. Louis – but decided that those Jews were not worth the trouble. No redemption is possible for Martin’s father, who hardly lifted a finger to try to save his father and uncle, even after stories of Nazi death camps and the extermination of Jews had become public knowledge.

At issue here is the salvation of the soul of the grandson of Alex, our author. Frozen in time by the guilt his father had passed along, Martin must retrace the steps of his ancestors in order to find a way to say, “I’m so sorry. I love you, even if I did not know you. I will love you and remember you forever. My father did not save you. But I am here now to understand your agony and to bless your sacred memories.”

Reviewer Charles S. Weinblatt is the author of published fiction and non-fiction, including the popular Holocaust book, Jacob’s Courage:

Gracianna

By Trini Amador

“. . . a compelling and inspiring novel . . .”

Gracianna is the imagined story of Gracianna Lasaga, author Amador’s great-grandmother, as she sets out from her French-Basque home for Paris on her way to start a new life in America near the beginning of World War II. When Nazi troops invade Paris, attractive young Gracianna is recruited by the Resistance to seduce and murder select Nazi officers at the Paris restaurant where she works as a waitress. Her sister, Constance, follows her to Paris, is beaten, arrested, and sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where she labors in the kitchen for the camp commandant. Gracianna vows to find a way to liberate her sister from the infamous Nazi death camp. Ms. Amador proffers surprisingly rich character development. The reader will lock into the personality of Gracianna as she becomes ever more ensconced within life and death struggles. Debut novelist Trini Amador sparkles as this riveting story unfolds. His characters are deeply endowed with vibrant features and flaws and his evocative descriptions allow readers to experience each environment as though they had been there themselves. The story is carefully crafted, flowing smoothly and constantly, with impressive purpose and inspiration. More than a tale of good and evil, Gracianna is spun from convincing and memorable scenes and vivid personalities—a compelling and inspiring novel whose chronicle and characters will remain in the reader’s memory. Charles S. Weinblatt was born in Toledo, Ohio, in 1952. He is a retired university administrator. Mr. Weinblatt is the author of published fiction and nonfiction. His biography appears in the Marquis Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in American Education, and Wikipedia. – See more at: http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/gracianna#sthash.9WXremuQ.dpuf
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The English German Girl

ISBN-10: 1846972086

ISBN-13: 978-1846972089

ASIN: B00796E6EO

342 Pages

Genre:  Fiction, History, Europe, the Holocaust

“An inspiring story of courage and love.”

The English German Girl is a fictional representation of the Holocaust with considerable emphasis on the Kindertransport program.

Prior to Nazi Germany enforcing the Nuremberg Laws against Jews, the Klein family is happy, productive and loving. Fourteen-year-old Rosa, the protagonist, has an older brother and a younger sister. Otto, her father is a physician, a skilled surgeon. Her mother, Inga is loving and supportive. Heinrich, her brother is bright and gregarious, often involved with his Zionist friends. Hedi, her sister is young, innocent and precious. They have a daily housekeeper, plenty of money and many friends.

This idyllic life comes to an end with Nazi persecution. As Jews, the family is forced to move into an undesirable neighborhood. Otto can no longer practice medicine or work in a hospital. Inga is forced to do other people’s laundry to make ends meet. Now comes Kristallnacht. Rosa’s father and brother are arrested, starved and beaten. Her mother and Hedi spend the night at a railway station, pretending to be travelers. Rosa is protected by their former housekeeper, but only for a few hours. Meanwhile, their home is ransacked.

With each passing month, Jews are forced deeper into squalid ghettos. They have very little to eat. Travel outside of the mandated ghetto is forbidden. Synagogues are burned. Jews are beaten on the street. And each day brings new threats of deportation “to the East,” which increasingly means terrible things. In almost all cases, the surviving families of those sent east never again hear from their loved ones.

Otto rejects the idea of leaving Germany for years. Like so many others, he insists that this persecution against Jews will swiftly pass and that they will soon resume their old lives. By the time he realizes that Nazis intend to eradicate all Jews, it is too late to obtain emigration visas. Since Jews are stripped of their passports and have no visas, they are stuck in a Germany already planning their extermination. This becomes more frighteningly tangible with each passing day.

Otto comes home one day with news that one of their children can obtain passage to England as part of a program called Kindertransport. As long as a family in England will vouch to care for a child, Kindertransport will allow passage. But only one child per family may leave.  It is assumed that Hedi, the youngest, will go. But the Kleins change their mind and send Rosa instead. She will live with distant relatives in London. Then, when it is safe, they will send for Hedi. They assume that eventually the entire family will be reunited in England.

Rosa arrives in London and does her best to adapt to a new life in a new country, living with strangers. She corresponds by letter with her family in Germany. But as the months and years pass, letters from her family stop arriving and Rosa’s letters are returned, undeliverable.

The balance of the novel involves Rosa’s new family and her new life in England. Her foster parents have a son about Rosa’s age, named Samuel. Not long after Rosa arrives, Samuel goes off to war. He is injured and returns home to recuperate. During this time, Samuel and Rosa fall in love and soon Rosa is pregnant. Samuel’s parents will not allow such a condition to exist and Rosa leaves. She is suddenly all alone in London, with a dream of one day being a nurse. She believes that Samuel does not love her and she tries to move on with her life. But she misunderstands Samuel and his powerful love for her. Horribly frightened and with no one to help her, Rosa is once more on her own in a strange land.

The English German Girl is an inspiring story of courage and love. The characters are well developed and the novel has good pace. Fear is the traction of this story and Simons wields it at a considerable stride.  The author uses excellent guided imagery, placing the reader in the midst of the horror of Kristallnacht and the blitz in London.  One can feel the terror of being a Jew in Berlin and the reader can almost choke upon the smoke in London’s blitz. On the other hand, the reader does not quite adequately feel the physical attraction between Rosa and Samuel. This portion of the story could have been more effectively explored. And while doing this might have changed the book from a rating of PG to R, the reader would have been far more emotionally engulfed by the result.

There is a long gap between the time when Rosa stops hearing from her family in Germany and the time she understands why. And while this is exactly what happened to Kindertransport children who were old enough to recall their family left behind, the reader is left guessing about their loved-ones’ fortune or demise. This presents a lost opportunity. Perhaps for the sake of concision (the 342-page galley seemed unnecessarily burdensome at times), or to avoid graphic detail, the readers is unable to walk with Rosa’s parents and siblings as they are deported from Berlin to Auschwitz. This represents a lost opportunity in the plot. Whether this decision was made in view of the need for brevity, or whether the author wanted us only to see the Holocaust through the eyes of Rosa, it’s a lost prospect.

Rosa’s life in England expands significantly in two directions – her emotional loss from losing Samuel and her desire to become self-sufficient.  Rosa does her best to become a nurse, following in the footsteps of her physician father. She survives nightly bombing attacks by the Luftwaffe, the terror of which is explored carefully by the author.This reviewer’s galley presents a book in an unconventional format. Dialog does not occur within traditional quotation marks. Nor is it consistently initiated in a new paragraph. When this is blended together with narrative, the reader sometimes has difficulty separating dialog from description.  On some pages, narrative constitutes impossibly long paragraphs, onerous to a reader’s desire for chunks of data, rather than a torrential flood. Was the book purposefully edited in this way? If so, why?

The English German Girl is a grand mixture of excellent description, memorable characters, and viable dialog (minus the lack of quotation marks). The reader experiences the sights, sounds, fear and desire of characters who exist in a time of great crisis and desperate physical danger. Perhaps one more attempt at editing might have earned this book another star.

Reviewer Charles S. Weinblatt is the author of published fiction and non-fiction, including the popular Holocaust novel, Jacob’s Courage (Mazo Publishers).

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Greenhorn

By Anna Olswanger

Illustrations by Miriam Nerlove

“In Greenhorn, an Orphaned Holocaust Survivor is Saved by Friendship”

In 1946, a young Jewish orphan from Poland arrives at a New York yeshiva where he will study and live. Narrated by a stuttering boy named Aaron, this is the story of Daniel, whose parents died in the Holocaust. Daniel is an extremely quiet boy who constantly clutches a tin box, the contents of which remain a noteworthy secret, and who becomes a topic of great interest to the yeshiva boys.

The narrator Aaron, dubbed “Gravel Mouth” because he stutters, has a huge heart. Daniel knows nothing of America; he desperately needs a good friend. Aaron has a heart of gold, but he is bullied by the other students. Their connection is instantaneous and powerful. Daniel is handicapped because he speaks almost no English. Aaron speaks English, but his stuttering is also a handicap. Together, they face an uncertain life, buffeted by bullying from their school comrades and also filled with opportunity.

Anna Olswanger (Shlemiel Crooks, 2005) has crafted a marvelous Holocaust book for youth in Greenhorn. She carefully introduces the Shoah in a poignant and dramatic manner, without revealing the shocking violence and brutality inflicted by Nazis upon the innocent Jewish families of Europe.

Instead, Greenhorn produces a charming tale of boyhood camaraderie within the encroaching shadow of the Holocaust. The terrifying cruelty of the Holocaust is explored within the vague context of Daniel’s yeshiva companions. While the boys possess only a circumstantial comprehension of why and how their relatives in Europe died, Ms. Olswanger opens a doorway into a guided exploration of the Holocaust between the child reader and a responsible adult.

The mystery of the tin box in the unrelenting hands of Daniel drives this fascinating story. The box becomes more than a curiosity or conversation piece to the yeshiva boys. It means everything to Daniel. It is his only physical connection to a loving family, lost on a different continent, growing increasingly distant in memory.

The unbound terror of Nazi genocide, frightful beyond imagination, lives eternally within the tin box. Only at the end do we discover the veracity of its metaphor. While Daniel struggles to hold onto potent memories of lost familial love, the reader learns that we must bury physical artifacts that prevent us from moving past death and into a new life filled with wonder and potential.

Familiarity between Aaron and Daniel evolves as Aaron’s ubiquitous invitations to a close friendship gradually chip away the veneer of Daniel’s frosty countenance. Everyone requires a special friend, someone that she or he can use as a sounding board for special memories and concepts; a person with which to share enticing new ideas, someone whose amity will never falter.

Greenhorn is a book that families can share with children when it is time to introduce the concept of the Shoah. Although the tale exists in a New York yeshiva with Jewish concepts and values, anyone can comprehend the terror of being suddenly orphaned and the powerful healing value of friendship.

Ms.. Olswanger is to be commended for careful attention to detail required by any work of historical fiction. The dialect and idiosyncrasies of colloquial American English (of the period) are reflected accurately and creatively in the vernacular of the boys’ communication.

This book is enhanced further by the addition of many excellent illustrations, each one reflecting the sensory experiences of this unique environment, including emotional stressors, conditions within the yeshiva and the effects rendered upon each interaction.

Thankfully, few of us will ever be in a position of losing all of our loved ones to genocide. Hopefully, humanity will grow beyond the realm of mass murder based upon intolerance. Until then, Ms. Olswanger has created for us a guided tour of the mind of a young boy orphaned by the Holocaust, sent to a strange new world filled with fear and opportunity.

Greenhorn proffers a perfect launching point for a discussion of the Holocaust aimed at youthful learners. Through the vivid perception of a child narrator, Greenhorn explores the pain of being orphaned at a tender young age. Alone in a strange new world, barely able to communicate, young Daniel clutches to his only remaining parental artifacts in a tin box. Driven by abject fear and horrific personal loss, Daniel can only be saved by the tender mercy shown him by a young stuttering yeshiva boy in New York.

In this compelling symbiotic relationship, Aaron and Daniel heal each other.

Reviewer: Charles S. Weinblatt was born in Toledo, Ohio, in 1952. He is a retired university administrator. Mr. Weinblatt is the author of published fiction and nonfiction, including the Holocaust coming-of-age love story, Jacob’s Courage (Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Jacobs-Courage-Holocaust-Love-Story/dp/9657344247/ref=sr_1_1/002-8189239-3149614?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1174846034&sr=1-1; Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1968. His biography appears in the Marquis Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in American Education, and Wikipedia.

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Sheva’s Promise: A Chronicle of Escape from a Nazi Ghetto

By Sylvia Lederman

Syracuse University Press, May 2013

ISBN 13: 978-8156-1018-2

ISBN 10: 0815610181, E-book ISBN: 978-0-8156-5217-5

232 pages

Genre: Memoir, History and the Holocaust

Publicist – Mona Hamlin (315) 443-5547 mhamlin@syr.edu

Sylvia (“Sheva”) Lederman immigrated to New York City with her husband where they worked in the garment industry and spent the rest of their lives in Queens, New York. She was known for being a caring and compassionate person who kept ties to her native Poland by becoming a member of two societies, the Lodzier Society and the Rohatyn Society (presently in The Ukraine). Her life’s work was to publish this memoir so that their story would never be forgotten.

Sheva Weiler was born in Rohatyn Poland, where she lived with her mother, Gitel, and her younger sister, Rose Her father had died when the children were young, leaving Gitel to raise her two daughters. Sheva is the strong one, taking care of Rose like a mother while working full time in a bookstore.

Ms. Weiler’s memoir begins with the vivid hopes and dreams that all young people possess. In 1939, when the German Army captures this town, they immediately begin to murder innocent Jews. Most of the Jewish men are rounded up, forced to dig a huge trench and are then machine-gunned into it. Those not killed immediately are buried alive. Observing this, Sheva realizes that to remain in Rohatyn is to face certain death.

Sheva’s family is forced to live in a squalid ghetto, deprived of food, fuel and freedom. There, they face pogrom after pogrom, bringing rape, robbery and murder into the ghetto. The Jewish population is constantly reduced through murder. Rumors come in from concentration camp escapees that a vast genocide is being committed against Jews all over Europe. The Jews of Rohatyn learn about Jews in other ghettos being burned alive. Soon, they hear of massive Nazi gassings and cremations at concentration camps. Jews are no longer persecuted in Poland. They are exterminated.

Sheva cannot persuade her mother and her sister to leave. But her survival instinct is too powerful. One heartbreaking day Sheva departs Rohatyn with Christian identification papers given to her by a generous Polish woman. In doing so, she faces death at every street corner as a Jew with false papers and no travel permit. As she leaves, Sheva’s mother makes her promise something.

“You must survive to tell the world what happened to the Jews here,” her mother pleads. “Above all, never forget us and never forget what the Nazis have done to our religion.”

Sheva escapes, walking among Nazi troops, the SS and the Gestapo in strange towns and cities, bereft of safety and shelter, carrying a few precious keepsakes. Her new Christian identification papers are all that stand between survival and death. She falls very seriously ill twice.

In a nearby city, a family named Krupka gives Sheva shelter and protection. She pretends to be a Christian nanny for their child. The Krupkas do this at the risk of their own lives. Over many months, Sheva is protected by the Krupkas, who occasionally are able to obtain news from Rohatyn. The news is always bad. Finally, Sheva decides to leave. She cannot tolerate the thought of being caught by the Gestapo and having the kind Krupka family sent to prison or worse.

Riding a train to a nearby city, Sheva sits again amongst her enemy. Each railway station is crowded with German soldiers who would be happy to shoot her on-site as a Jewess, or to send her to a Nazi death camp.  Many times she sees emaciated and brutalized prisoners wearing striped pajamas forced into rigorous labor on construction projects. She is certain that they are Jews.

Sheva eventually finds protection in a work camp, posing as a poor, uneducated Polish woman. The camp commandant finds Sheva’s identification papers to be false and he wants her dead. However, a very kind doctor saves her life and provides shelter.

Eventually, Sheva moves to Stuttgart Germany, all the while maintaining her Christian identity. She is employed in a hospital run by nuns. There, she receives a letter from Mrs. Krupka, bearing bad news. The Jews of Rohatyn had been forced inside of buildings which were then burned to the ground by the SS, killing everyone inside, including Sheva’s mother and sister.

Sheva lives and works in Stuttgart for a long time, developing rewarding relationships with the nuns and other workers at the hospital. Towards the war’s end, the Allied carpet-bombing of Stuttgart leaves Sheva traumatized. Eventually, she discovers two other Jewish women in a nearby town who also have false Christian identification papers. While Sheva is heartbroken that her mother and sister were murdered, she is able to maintain this charade until the war ends.  At the same time, she meets a kind, loving Jewish man who has also lost his family to the Holocaust. They soon become husband and wife, gaining immigration permits to America.

Lederman’s writing style is fine, but with under-developed literary skills.  Her character development is truncated, punctuation and syntax errors occur frequently and there are recurring misspelled words and typographical errors. These should have been deleted by an editor before the galley was completed. Hopefully they will be eliminated before the final published manuscript.

This galley provides little detailed information about the personalities of Sheva’s father, mother and sister. However, the book describes WWII Poland and Germany adroitly.  Weiler’s ongoing description of the travail of being a Jew hiding in the midst of Nazis is harrowing and memorable. The reader can clearly feel Sheva’s fierce defiance of Nazi pogroms and her compassion for those who hid and sheltered her. Her enthusiasm for life and love of family resounds consistently.

The memoir is enhanced by a few pictures inserted into the middle of the galley. Certainly these pictures of Weiler, her parents, her sister, the Krupka family and a nun from the hospital in Stuttgart enhance the reading experience. Perhaps the addition of maps, pictures, battle lines, diagrams of the cities and towns where Sheva was able to hide, along with the progression of the war might make the book even more enticing.

Holocaust survivors often feel guilty for existing when their loved ones have been murdered. And many of them feel ongoing guilt for being forced to perform brutal acts upon innocent people. Yet the instinct for survival overpowers all emotions. This is the central theme in Sheva’s Promise. No doubt the reader hopes to have the courage to struggle for survival under similar circumstances and to have the courage to tell the truth to the world, as Sheva has done.

We also gain a measure of respect for those righteous gentiles who hid and saved the lives of Jews at the risk of their own lives or the incarceration of loved ones. This is the true spirit of humanity, rising like a Phoenix over the ashes of Sheva’s Promise and her murdered family. It is the willingness to save another innocent soul, even at the risk of our own life. While many Europeans were only too happy to turn in their Jewish neighbors, some, like the Krupka family, risked their own lives to help a Jew.

Sheva never forgot her mother’s last request, to survive against all odds and then to tell the world about the genocide of European Jews. She fulfills her mother’s promise superbly.

Reviewer Charles S. Weinblatt is the author of the popular Holocaust novel Jacob’s Courage: A Holocaust Love Story (Mazo Publishers 2007).

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Memories of Evil: Recalling a World War II Childhood by Peter Kubicek:

In his memoir, Memories of Evil, Peter Kubicek bears personal witness to the terror of the Holocaust.  His book is a testimonial to those who by strength of spirit and conviction, and sometimes through kind fate, managed to survive humanity’s worst genocide – the Holocaust.

Kubicek describes the degradation and inhumanity felt by Nazi victims. His narration uncovers the horror of incarceration, starvation, forced labor and brutality.  His descriptions are remarkably detailed, especially considering his young age at the time and the decades that have passed since the Holocaust.  Miraculously, Kubicek’s mother also survived at Bergen-Belsen, although his grandmother died there.  His father had managed to immigrate to the United States just before his family and friends were taken from their homes.

Mr. Kubicek hails from a Slovak city called Trenzin. Of the 18.000 inhabitants, about 2,000 were Jewish. Only a few survived the deadly whirlwind of the Shoah.  Kubicek’s life as a child was normal in all respects. His parents were devoted to religious tradition; he enjoyed school, he loved hiking and he participated in the cultural life of the Jewish community.  Zionism was an important aspect of his family’s life. His parents owned a general store in town and he spent much of his childhood there.

In the summer of 1939, as war neared, Kubicek’s father left for America, eventually settling in New York City, where he called for his family to join him.  But it was too late. Jews were denied travel permits and visas. The author and his mother were stranded in a land where being a Jew meant being destined for extermination.

Germans soon evicted Jews from Kubicek’s apartment building, including their valuables and furniture. The family business was also taken. Trains began transporting the Jewish population to Nazi concentration camps, emptying the town of its Jewish inhabitants and their culture.  At age nine, Kubicek was engulfed by the horror of the Holocaust. The first camp was Bergen-Belsen, where their valuables and clothing were taken, their heads were shaved and they were issued striped pajama-type uniforms. There, they were put to work, serving the Nazi war machine.

In various concentration camps, Kubicek had to endure the unendurable.  Separated from his mother, he was left to fend for himself in a nightmarish world of beatings, humiliation, slavery and murder. Everyone that he had loved had been taken away from him. He suffered through sickness, starvation, forced labor, brutal weather and vicious cruelty.  Kubicek soon learned to find work valued by his nefarious Nazi captors.  In one camp, he learned how to mend and darn socks, a valuable skill that aided him greatly in another camp.

As Allied forces neared, in 1945, Kubicek and 32,000 other prisoners were led on a forced march through the countryside. For many days and nights, the march continued. Those who were too slow, who had stopped or sat down, were moved into the ditch and shot. This particular action later became known as “the hunger march.” One morning, Kubicek arose to discover that the German soldiers were gone. They had left during the night. Ironically, the 3,000 prisoners left at the camp because they were too sick to travel were liberated by the Russian Army shortly after the march began.

As the war ended, Kubicek, like all of the prisoners, faced a myriad of physical and emotional problems. Kubicek weighed less than 70 pounds. Severely malnourished, doctors discovered that Kubicek had also contracted tuberculosis. Almost everyone suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome. He was eventually hospitalized and forced to live in a sanitarium because of his tuberculosis.

Miraculously, Kubicek’s mother had also survived, despite being incarcerated for years at Birkenau. Reunited, they seek to join his father in America. When Kubicek had largely recovered from tuberculosis, they returned to Trenzin; where they discovered that Christian neighbors had taken their apartment and furniture. Eventually, Kubicek’s mother found the person who had taken their furniture. Under a false bottom in a china cabinet, the cache of jewelry that she had hid there four years earlier was recovered.

Kubicek and his mother eventually were able to communicate with his father and he helped them immigrate to America. But many of the Jews remaining in displaced persons (DP) camps had no such luck. With no nation, except Sweden, willing to take in Jews who survived the Holocaust, they had had nowhere else to live. These plucky Jews had survived starvation, being beaten within an inch of their lives, survived rigorous slave labor and the loss of everyone that they had loved. Yet they remained homeless because most nations had an immigration quota on Jews, including Great Britain and The United States. Many of these survivors attempted to enter Palestine; the ultimate quest for a Zionist. They were rebuffed by the British, who controlled the Palestinian Territories.

Kubicek is a very competent writer, although a memoir is hardly the medium for a sparkling new talent. Still, Kubicek delivers a panorama of feelings and experiences that one might anticipate in a Nazi concentration camp.  We discover remarkable characters and vivid descriptions.  The flow of this memoir is steady and constant.  The reader is immersed within the cascading bowels of terror inflicted by Nazi Germany upon innocent Jewish families.  In this, Kubicek proffers exactly what the reader expects to discover.

This book might have been enhanced with the inclusion of additional family pictures (if possible). Adding more maps and diagrams, which are plentiful and easily available, would have enriched the experience for visual learners. And while a memoir is not a novel, there is room for enhanced character development and a more evocative description of the senses.

Many memoir authors write about their experiences not for public consumption, but as a gift for their progeny. That is certainly the sense here. Should the author desire, this memoir has the capacity to be turned into a novel.  As such, a vast new universe of characters, situations and emotional responses would open. Of course, it is not for the reader to dictate what the author intends to provide, particularly in a memoir. Regardless, Kubicek has given us an opportunity to live within his Holocaust, which is the quintessential desire of the memoir author.

Peter Kubicek’s memoir produces a powerful historical description of life as a Jew in Nazi concentration camps.  His story is remarkably accurate and insightful.  This is a riveting tale of family, faith, terror and survival.  Memories of Evil is a thrilling, compelling memoir.

Reviewer Charles S. Weinblatt is the author of Jacob’s Courage: A Holocaust Love Story (Mazo Publishers 2007).

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OPEN HEART

by Elie Wiesel

Open Heart by Elie Wiesel

Alfred A. Knopf, Publisher, New York, New York

December 3, 2012

ISBN-10: 0307599582

ISBN-13: 978-0307599582

96 pages

Genre: Memoir

Translated by Marion Wiesel

knopfpublicity@randomhouse.com

Reviewed by Charles S. Weinblatt

“Elie Wiesel delivers a message of hope and tolerance in Open Heart.”

Elie Wiesel has produced many excellent works of fiction and nonfiction. Most of them are in whole or in part related to his experiences as a Holocaust survivor.  Open Heart is very different.

This book is equal parts memoir, treatise, and affirmation of faith as Mr. Wiesel faces sudden death from cardiovascular disease and open heart surgery.

At age 82, in June of 2011, Wiesel is rushed to a hospital with severe coronary artery disease. He has several blocked arteries that only open-heart surgery can resolve. Suddenly faced with the prospect of death, Mr. Wiesel reflects upon his life, his experiences during the Holocaust, and his life since the Shoah.

As he is wheeled into the operating room, he reminisces about the terrifying agony of his imprisonment in the Holocaust, his survival, and the glorious wonders of life, love, family, and work left undone.

Mr. Wiesel comprehends the gravity of his abruptly serious health issue, which frightens his wife and son as much as himself. He gazes into his past, filled with trepidation, gloom, and death.

Virtually everyone he loved as a young man had been murdered by Nazi Germany during the Holocaust. It was the darkest portion of his life and of humanity’s existence. Unexpectedly he is once more threatened with losing everyone he loved.

A devout Jew, Mr. Wiesel wonders how God could allow millions of His children to become Holocaust victims. He considers, as had so many of his peers in Nazi death camps, how God could have turned away. Where is God, Elie Wiesel wonders? How could He abandon us? How could He allow so many generations of devout families to be murdered?

Admitting that there are no easy or swift answers to such questions, Mr. Wiesel proffers cryptic responses, such as, “It is not for us to decide how or why God acts.” Or “God exists within the questions as well as the actions.”

In the end, Mr. Wiesel can deliver no coherent meaning from the Holocaust. He seeks a different direction for salvation. During his recovery from heart surgery, his little grandson asks, “If I loved you more, would you be in less pain?” Mr. Wiesel realizes at that moment that “God is smiling as He contemplates His creation.”

Mr. Wiesel proclaims he is part of a generation abandoned by God and betrayed by mankind. He reflects how humans have attained “perfection in cruelty.” He wonders how humans could have attained such a dichotomy of normalcy, “for the killers, the torturers, it is normal, thus human, to act inhumanely. Should one therefore turn away from humanity?”

These ethical bombshells remain for the reader to scrutinize, while no logical conclusion is apparent from the author. He later resolves “It is up to each of us to choose between the violence of adults and the smiles of children, between the ugliness of hate and will to oppose it.”

Speaking from experience, he tells us “even in darkness it is possible to create light and encourage compassion. It is possible to feel free inside a prison. Even in exile, friendship exists and can become an anchor. In one instant before dying, man remains immortal.”

Mr. Wiesel believes in man in spite of man. He believes each of us can use words to wound or to console, to curse or to heal, to comprehend or disregard, just as “Illness may diminish me, but it will not destroy me.” He proffers that, “the body is not eternal, but the idea of the soul is. The brain will be buried, but memory will survive it.”

“Such is the miracle,” is how Wiesel closes his thoughts. A tale of despair becomes a tale against despair. He finds singular beauty in the smile and love of his grandson that his misery over the Holocaust is diminished.

Yet what are we to believe about Holocaust survivors who have no loving family members? Can such despair be overcome when the survivor has no adoring grandchildren?

Elie Wiesel delivers a message of hope and tolerance in Open Heart. A successful husband, father, grandfather, teacher, and writer, he is an asset to humankind. He has turned despondency into a message of approval and optimism.

Mr.. Wiesel packages equal parts beauty and astonishing description in an impossibly concise manner. Few authors have possessed such capacity for succinctness and brevity with magnificent dexterity.

At 82 and ill, Mr. Wiesel remains a powerful ambassador of tolerance and hope, for humanity will always require this message, a bright light in the darkness of despair, a signpost on humanity’s road toward destruction and “turn to tolerance and survive.”

This is Elie Wiesel’s eternal message. We are each a spark of light in the darkness of destruction.

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YOU SAVED ME TOO: WHAT A HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR TAUGHT ME ABOUT LIVING DYING LOVING AND SWEARING IN YIDDISH

by Susan Kushner Resnick

You Saved Me Too: What a Holocaust Survivor Taught Me about Living, Dying, Loving, Fighting and Swearing in Yiddish by Susan Kushner Resnick

Copyright © 2013 by Susan Kushner Resnick

Globe Pequot Press

246 Goose Lane

Guilford, CT 06437

203-458-4500

Fax: 203-458-4668 (SkirtBooks.com)

For publicity: Laurie.Kenney@GlobePequot.com, 203-458-4555

For subsidiary rights: Gail.Blackhall@LyonsPress.com 203-458-4540

ISBN-13: 978-0-7627-8038-9

229 pages

Genres: Memoir, Autobiography

“You saved Me Too” is a wonderfully written expose of the love and affection that develops between a young American mother who has fallen into despair and a Holocaust survivor who struggles every day with deep depression. The complex bond between these two disparate individuals helps them save each other in every way that a person can be saved.”

Reviewer: Charles S. Weinblatt

A tall handsome young Jewish man named Aron Lieb is swallowed up into the Nazi genocide machine of Auschwitz-Birkenau. After suffering untold brutality, starvation, sickness,
forced labor and many near-death experiences, Aron and his estranged brother Bill survive the atrocity. Everyone else that he loved and admired had been murdered in Nazi death camps, including his parents and sisters. The terror of this experience produces lasting and devastating emotional consequences. Aron’s shattered psyche becomes a permanent sickness, manifested by an overwhelming psycho-somatic disorder, anxiety and difficulty managing relationships.

Susan Kushner Resnick is a writer, teaching creative non-fiction at Brown University. Suffering from post-partum depression, Susan has deep psychological wounds of her own. Living the American dream in suburban Boston, Susan has every reason to feel happy. She has a warm and loving relationship with her husband and her young children. Yet, something is missing. Life’s vivid beauty has become a pastel afterthought to her depression.

One day, by chance, Susan and Aron meet. Their innocent connection is sparked over coffee. At first, Susan enjoys chatting with the old Holocaust survivor who has a sparkle in his eye and a penchant for charming women. From the depths of her depression, Susan needs to talk. Aron is a good listener. Over time, Susan becomes Aron’s best friend, most trusted companion and confidant, power of attorney and life advocate. In return, Susan falls in love with every attribute and defect of Aron’s personality. Two desperate, hurting individuals sharing only the same religion become locked in a powerful relationship that saves them both in every way a person can be saved.

As an accomplished writer in her own regard, Resnick has crafted a tale that is consistently non-linear and filled with robust metaphor. Staged in first-person singular the story is produced via juxtaposition of accounts and experiences from 1919 through Aron’s death in 2011.  Resnick gradually reveals the terror that Aron experienced in Nazi concentration and death camps. Her dramatic frame of reference is always an unspoken conversation between her and Aron after his death. Rather than refer to him as “Aron,” she calls him, “you.” As the book is consumed, this unusual frame of reference becomes transparent. She also writes letters to Aron’s long-dead mother, revealing Aron’s charms, foibles and personality attributes. This literary frame of reference works magic upon the reader, although its non-linear aspect requires some early adaptation.

As Resnick speaks to Aron following his death, we relive aspects of the Holocaust, yet without the minute details of Nazi brutality. We sympathize with him, despite his constant need for attention and affection, exhibited via his on-going psychosomatic illnesses. Susan is engaged by this man’s majestic survival, his penchant for charming women and later, his slide into unresolved depression, agitation and imagined infirmity. Despite his age and his psychological defects, Susan is completely captivated by Aron.

Resnick maintains the reader’s interest while balancing on-going transformations in time, place and person. Each portion of the book alternates between past and present, revealing appalling historical facts about Aron’s survival in the Holocaust, their burgeoning friendship and his increasingly precarious psychosomatic disorder. Aron constantly complains of chest pains, though the doctors can find no physical cause. As Resnick discovers, it is a broken heart. She weaves a touching story by catapulting the reader back and forth through seventy years of genocide, agony, survival, scraping by in America and their escalating emotional relationship.

This is also a tale of how Holocaust survivors often fall through the cracks of contemporary American life. Poor Aron, who deserved the very best possible psychiatric and nursing home care is shuffled along and pushed aside by a system that fails to comprehend its own mission. The insipid reparations proffered by Germany to Holocaust survivors remains a virtual insult to the emotional and psychological catastrophe that Aron’s life has become. Susan exposes the repeated failure of local community services, Jewish organizations and Germany’s pathetic attempt to pay back what money cannot purchase. She battles unmoved nursing home administrators and frigid social workers who pass the responsibility to help this poor man along to no one. The only success Resnick encounters comes from individuals reached through a synagogue outreach campaign.

Resnick leaves us wondering if she and Aron were “soul mates.” The drama we experience in this evolving relationship is both beautiful and wondrous. Resnick reveals her own emotional weaknesses and the powerful strength uncovered as she fights to save Aron from despair and an uncaring world. In her drive to save the last days of a charming but increasingly feeble Holocaust survivor, she discovers her own inner power. Just as she saves Aron at the end of his life, his love saves her at a time when she required it the most. Aron’s potent charm and his enduring love is exactly what Resnick’s fragile ego required.  Desperately in need of someone to care for, Susan finds a lonely, damaged, charismatic old man who desperately needs someone to care and advocate for him. In the end, they were a perfect match, in a perfect time for each others’ emotional needs.

Resnick’s writing elucidates the complex permanent psychological trauma that Holocaust survivors typically endure. She displays this via a blunt presentation grounded in the artifacts of contemporary American lifestyle, but with painstaking expression of familial love in the time of Holocaust victims. Her writing is clear and concise, delving deeply into the psyche of two injured souls. Resnick’s style is evocative, sprinkled with generous humor and displaying remarkable insight. She reveals the scars of Aron’s death camp experiences without resorting to detailed descriptions of the horror and brutality. This is a necessary and vital part of the story and she carries it off without shocking the reader with gruesome details.

Aron lifted Susan from the depths of depression with enduring amity. Susan lifted Aron from the terror of his lifelong despair into a steadfast and lasting companionship. Apart, their lives might have faded into a dark unrelenting depression, with no end in sight. Together, the bond shared between them healed both of their wounds.  A mature and enduring love remained. This is a story of life, love and fulfillment that will linger long after the book has been finished.

Charles S. Weinblatt is the author of Jacob’s Courage: A Holocaust Love Story (2007, Mazo Publishers).

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BEYOND COURAGE: THE UNTOLD STORY OF JEWISH RESISTANCE DURING THE HOLOCAUST

by Doreen Rappaport

Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust by Doreen Rappaport

Candlewick Press

September 11, 2012

ISBN-10: 0763629766

ISBN-13: 978-0763629762

240 pages

Genres: History, Jewish History, World War II, The Holocaust, Young Adult Non-Fiction

Publicist: Laura Rivas, Candlewick Press, 617-588-4445, laura.rivas@candlewick.com.

“This book is an essential read for anyone interested in one of the most appalling events in history.”

Reviewer: Charles S. Weinblatt

Not all Jews walked obediently into Hitler’s gas chambers during the Holocaust. There are many stories of Jews who took up arms and fought the might of Nazi Germany. Despite being vastly outnumbered, out gunned and out-trained, these Jews refused to succumb to Hitler’s genocide. They fought in city streets, villages, forests, ghettos and inside Nazi labor and death camps. Many Jews who escaped from the camps joined local partisans to continue this desperate fight. Jewish civilians understood that they had no chance to defeat Hitler’s mighty Third Reich. Yet, with remarkable bravery, they refused to surrender.

Beyond Courage author Doreen Rappaport reveals powerful stories of defiance through twenty one scrupulously researched accounts of Jewish courage in eleven nations. The reader can sense the terror that continuously plagued Jews. We learn the names, faces and places of Jewish heroism. Readers sense the valor that drove Jews to accept the ultimate sacrifice, to die fighting rather than accept starvation, forced labor and death in a Nazi camp. Some events are told in book form for the first time.

Many captured Jews believed that they would remain alive as a source of labor. Soon tales of terror and mass murder arrived from Jews who had escaped Nazi death camps. By 1942, fresh stories flourished about thousands of Jewish families rounded up in Eastern Europe who were murdered and buried in huge pits. Jews under Nazi control gradually accepted that their days were numbered. No one heard from Jews deported to the East. Most Jews realized that they had two choices. They could meekly wait, hoping for a swift Allied victory, or they could fight back with whatever means possible. Some of these brave Jews were children, who could maneuver through small spaces in walls, barriers and fences. They brought food and weapons into Jewish ghettos. Since they were destined to be murdered anyway, many Jews decided to fight back. This is their story.

Beyond Courage describes the long, dark path that Jews walked, from their homes in villages, towns and cities, into decrepit ghettos, then to transit and labor camps and finally to death camps. Along the way, many Jews fought back with any form of resistance that they could command. In one instance, Rappaport reveals a large group of Jewish families who escaped from Nazi control and survived deep in a Polish forest, creating their own village, with huts, streets, services and businesses. 1,230 disheveled, starving Jews managed to survive without crops, farm animals, medicine or shelter; creating their own “shetel” beyond the ability of Nazi troops to locate.

Rappaport examines the Nazi destruction of ghettos in Vilna and Warsaw, where thousands of Jews fought against armored German divisions with pistols, Molotov cocktails and home-made bombs. The Nazi transit and labor camps of Holland, Belgium and France reveal stories of Jews who ambushed Nazi troops, fled into the forest, joined partisans and returned to fight again. Other captured Jews dug dangerous tunnels, helping thousands of fellow Jews to escape from concentration camps. We learn how Jews risked their lives to observe Jewish holidays and rituals within the camps. There were many clandestine births and weddings. Imprisoned Jews created schools and orchestras. Not all resistance was armed.

Beyond Courage takes us into Nazi death camps, where millions of Jews were gassed to death, their bodies cremated by Sonderkommando (Jews forced to burn the bodies of fellow Jews). Rappaport details the courage of Jews in places such as Sobibor, Chelmno, Treblinka and Auschwitz, who stole gunpowder and bombed crematoria. Others escaped from certain death, stole weapons and ambushed Nazi troops or destroyed railroad tracks, slowing down Nazi death factories.

This book also details the courage of gentiles who assisted Jews, provided food and shelter, protected them and smuggled Jewish children to safety. Despite the fact that most Europeans did little to aid Jews, or turned in their Jewish neighbors to Nazi and Gestapo leaders, there were many instances of righteous gentiles who risked their own lives to help Jews.

Throughout this excellent book, Rappaport uses detailed accounts from survivors, family members, interviews and witnesses, as well as letters, secret newspapers and poems that survived the camps and ghettos. Enhancing the veracity of these accounts are dozens of written records, pictures, maps, poems and diagrams, some of which had been deeply buried in metal boxes by Jews whose resistance had come to an unfortunate end. Although the galley delivered to this reviewer lacked some of the pictures destined to appear at publishing, there were still many incredible pictures of these astonishingly brave Jews. Rappaport’s writing style is fluid, evocative and concise. This book is an essential read for anyone interested in one of the most appalling events in history. It is also suitable for educating young people.

Charles S. Weinblatt is the author of Jacob’s Courage: A Holocaust Love Story (2007, Mazo Publishers).

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The Hostage

A Novel by Elie Wiesel

Alfred A. Knopf

August 21, 2012

ISBN-10: 0307599582

ISBN-13: 978-0307599582

224 pages

Genres: Fiction History World War II Holocaust

Fiction, Mystery & Thriller Suspense

Elie Wiesel was fifteen when he was deported to Auschwitz. After the war he became a journalist and writer in Paris. Since then he has written more than fifty books, including his masterwork, Night, which was a best seller when it was republished in a new translation. Wiesel has been accorded the United States Gold Medal, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the French Legion of Honor’s Croix, an honorary knighthood of the British Empire, and in 1986, the Nobel Peace Prize. Since 1986, he has been the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Boston University.

Reviewed by Charles S. Weinblatt

Hostage, Elie Wiesel’s latest novel is a powerful examination of the Holocaust, the Israeli/Palestinian struggle, the power of memory, and the desire for emotional resolution.

It is set in 1975 New York City. Shaltiel Feigenberg, a gentle Jewish husband, professional storyteller, and writer is abducted from a Brooklyn street by an Arab and an Italian. He is placed in a basement, bound, and blindfolded. His life is to be exchanged for imprisoned Palestinian terrorists. Although Shaltiel is unknown to almost everyone, his abduction and captivity generate global news attention.

As the world waits apprehensively for his release, Shaltiel regales his captors with stories of his family, his childhood spent hiding from Nazis, the compassion of Russian soldiers who liberated him, and his older brother who turned from Judaism to communism and later escaped from Stalin’s ruthless leaders. All the while, his rescue has become paramount for every police officer and spy, as well as for leaders of the Western nations, the Israeli government, and the global news media.

Tied up and blindfolded in a dark basement, Shaltiel gradually unravels the fabric of a life filled with brutality, captivity, remorse, and fantasy. He struggles to find meaning among memories coated with fear and remorse.

On the emotional front, his Arab captor is filled with anger and cruelty, hurling anti-Semitic invectives, engaging in physical brutality, and he torturing Shaltiel. The Italian captor is less violent; he is a listener motivated by political purpose and an eye toward insurrection. His goal is to change the beliefs and habits of the masses in order to foment revolution.

Author Wiesel’s use of metaphor in Hostage is superb. Through his characters, he examines mankind’s history, meaning, and purpose. The Arab is the killer. His goal is to use imprisonment and murder to intimidate Americans and Israelis. He is willing to capture and kill any Jew in order to further his cause: the destruction of Israel and the establishment of a Palestinian state.

The Italian is the intellectual, fighting for the poor, weak, and oppressed. Less violent than the Arab, he has allowed himself to be influenced by the killer’s tactics and purpose.

Shaltiel is the tormented Jew who, having survived the Shoah, struggles to find meaning in the stories he has spent a lifetime collecting.

The essence of Mr. Wiesel’s purpose seems an examination of man’s inhumanity to man. His writing style is vivid, the characters captivating and well developed, manifesting a veritable constellation of emotions and experiences.

Through Shaltiel we feel a prisoner’s trepidation, doubt, humiliation, and degradation. The physical brutality of his Arab captor is contrasted by Shaltiel’s affectionate personality and the warmth and tenderness of his memories.

Beyond this, each of the characters anthropomorphizes the politics of nations and ideological movements in which some fight for Israel’s right to exist and some fight for its— and its people’s—destruction.

Shaltiel’s rocky relationship with his wife, Blanca, is examined as he comes to realize his family name and lineage will end with his death. If the novel has any weakness it could be in overly detailed treatment of both Shaltiel’s married years and Blanca’s personality.

With Hostage, Elie Wiesel has once again delivered a novel of intense, express purpose. The pacing is steady and intense, leaving the reader in a constant state of anxiety as to the kindhearted Shaltiel’s fate: murder or freedom? Elie Wiesel adroitly manipulates this anxiety to the very end. The prose is imposing and convincing as Wiesel delivers a ground zero examination of the Holocaust years, the rescue of a small number of incarcerated Jews, the collapse of tolerance among Soviet leaders under Stalin, Israel’s independence, and finally 1975 Brooklyn—all with beauty, skill, and grace.

Hostage is destined to stand alongside Night as a masterpiece: a convincing story imbued with purpose, meaning, and an elegantly disguised sense of moral conviction.

Reviewer Charles S. Weinblatt is the author of the Holocaust novel Jacob’s Courage: A Holocaust Love Story (Mazo Publishers 2007).

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The Accidental Anarchist

by Bryna Kranzler

Crosswalk Press

October 10, 2010

ISBN-10: 0984556303

ISBN-13: 978-0984556304

330 pages

Genres: Memoir, History, Jewish History, World War I

Reviewer: Charles S. Weinblatt

Bryna Kranzler is a graduate of Yale University with an M.B.A. from the School of Organization and Management, and Barnard College, where she earned a B.A in the Program in the Arts: Playwriting. She was the recipient of the college’s Helen Prince Memorial Prize for Dramatic Composition and was a finalist in the Eugene O’Neil Theater Center Composition for her play, “Do Hermaphrodites Reproduce Only in the Spring?”

“This passionate true story reveals the extraordinary resilience of a truly amazing man, the power of his religious belief in the face of certain death, and stands as a true inspiration for the strength of the human spirit.”

The Accidental Anarchist tells the intriguing true story of the colorful Jacob Marateck, a Jew conscripted into the Russian Army as events leading up to World War I evolve. He became a leader of soldiers in the brutal Russo-Japanese War, many of whom wanted to murder him for being a Jew. Yet he gained their admiration after leading them in ferocious battles.

Marateck is an extraordinary character who faced certain death many times, but with consistently outstanding humor and steadfast faith in God. The reader certainly does not need to be an Orthodox Jew to appreciate the intense commitment Marateck had with his faith and his religious duty. His notes reveal a breathtaking ability to absorb the absurd that life dished out to a lowly Jew in the Czar’s anti-Semitic army with aplomb and grace. Despite being subjected to court martial several times, Marateck escapes under the most amazing and bizarre experiences. At times, he and his comrades faced an enemy within the Czar’s Army more fearsome than the nation’s military enemy at their borders.

Barely surviving terrifying battles, the brutality of his own soldiers and being sentenced to death by his own officers, Marateck faced it all with humor, faith and courage. He later joined the Polish resistance whose membership desperately wanted to end the reign of Czar Nicholas II. After being captured, he was sent to a terrifying prison camp in Siberia, where very few prisoners survived the brutality of the vile Gulag and the notorious Siberian winters. He eventually escaped with a very colorful character known as “The Warsaw King of Thieves,” Together, with no official papers or money; they traveled more than three thousand miles home.

Jacob Marateck was an ordinary man forced into extraordinary courage by experiences that included a lifetime of dreadful events wrapped into the years of his youth.  The incredible tales of war and courage, faith and death reveal unforgettable individuals and colorful experiences. For the reader, this experience is a swift, unrelenting trip down a horrifying rabbit hole of incredible reality.

This story is told by Bryna Kranzler, the granddaughter of Jacob Marateck. Kranzler’s technique envelops the reader with Marateck’s magnetic personality. The reader is immediately struck by Marateck’s depth of intimate historical detail. His notes reveal the uncanny ability to recall minutia of events and conversations that occurred almost a lifetime ago with profound accuracy. These conversations, events that should have been muddied by the ravages of time and history, are rewritten with incredible detail and exquisite narrative that pushes the reader ever-onward, hanging upon baited breath with each sentence. Yet, between Marateck’s notes and Kranzler’s vibrant and consistent ability to wrap it into moving prose, this memoir reads much more like a thrilling novel. In some cases, such as this one, truth is stranger than fiction.

Marateck bares his heart through his carefully detailed notes. They become a symphony of a wonderful, singularly valiant human life, enveloped within the loving care of Kranzler’s dedication. It begins with a powerful allegro of youth, in which Marateck throws his life about in a careless affront to its sacred value. This is followed by an adagio of pain, suffering and grief – a period in which death stalked Marateck around every corner. Here, at the bottom of life’s deepest pit, he discovers the lament of a life unfulfilled and the precious nature of his predicament. A rondo completes the package, filled with hope and desire, tempered by experience and chastened by pure faith.

If a reader could ask for anything more from this moving, powerful experience, it might include maps, pictures, diagrams, images, illustrations or other cues for those unfortunate visual learners such as me. On the positive side, the book includes an excellent epilogue, superb author’s notes, a fine glossary and a detailed index at the conclusion. Having read The Samurai of Vishnigrod would have made this experience more transparent. However, it by no means is a prerequisite. Kranzler has left it all out there for us in this book. Through her, we enter her grandfather’s heart and his life. And what a magnificent experience it has been. We thank you, Bryna!

Charles S. Weinblatt

Author, Jacob’s Courage: A Holocaust Love Story

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MY STRIPES WERE EARNED IN HELL

by Jean-Pierre Renouard

Translated by Mimi Horne

Rowman & Littlefield Publishers

January 16, 2012

ISBN-10: 144221399X

ISBN-13: 978-1442213999

122 pages

Genres: Memoir, History, World War II

Reviewer: Charles S. Weinblatt

“This genuine record of Nazi terror stands as a powerful literary achievement . . . a superb reading experience.”

This is the memoir of Jean-Pierre Renouard, a French gentile imprisoned in Nazi labor and death camps during WWII.

He was a former member of the French Resistance and a commander of the Legion of Honor. Mr. Renouard was awarded the Medal of Resistance and the Croix de Guerre.

As an adolescent underground fighter, Jean-Pierre Renouard was captured by the Gestapo in 1944. Initially sent to the prison camp Neuengamme, in Germany, he was transferred to several other camps, including the Misburg sub-camp and the infamous Bergen-Belsen.

The author’s vibrant descriptions include forced labor, starvation, brutality, and genocide. This genuine record of Nazi terror stands as a powerful literary achievement, with fragmented but eloquently described events.

Mr. Renouard’s vivid imagery and concise writing style chronicles the horrific life of Nazi concentration camp victims. Very concise chapters proffer brief but excellent descriptions of a cadre of fellow inmates in each of the squalid and terrifying Nazi camps.

Along the way Mr. Renouard encountered, befriended, and assisted many memorable fellow victims. The vast majority of the victims perished from sickness, starvation or they were murdered. Mr. Renouard’s record provides them a lasting legacy.

My Stripes Were Earned in Hell captures the interminable, courageous, and ceaseless human effort to survive against the terrible Nazi campaign to destroy human life.

Mr. Renouard was not a Jew. Yet he and his compatriots were subjected to the same inhumanity Jews experienced.

In a heartrending manner, against the backdrop of unforgettable prisoners who befriended, supported and admired each other, this memoir describes the depth of Nazi perversion dealt to anyone deemed unfit.

If the book has a glaring shortcoming, it lies in the fact that each fleeting segment constitutes only a couple of pages before the author moves on to a different event. The reader is often left desiring more detail, enhanced character descriptions, and deeper exploration. The book would also be enhanced with pictures, maps, and diagrams. To the publisher’s credit, it is wrapped within a handsome hardcover with a descriptive jacket.

My Stripes Were Earned in Hell reads like a novel. It is an outstanding and inspiring example of one man’s triumph over insufferable conditions and his courage to survive, making this book a superb reading experience.

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WARRIOR’S SONG

by Thomas Hill

Warrior’s Song, the first in a four-part fictional series by Thomas Hill, studies the life of twenty year-old Parker Shaw. Shaw is a descendent of the famous Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, who commanded the first black regiment of the U.S. Army in the Civil War (made famous in the Edward Zwick film, Glory). This novel explores Shaw’s coming-of-age struggle with identity, family, purpose and career goals. The novel begins on the campus of The University of Virginia in April 2001 and it ends with the airplane hijackings and bombings of September 11, 2001.

In a strangely vivid dream, Shaw finds himself a Native American warrior pursued and murdered by a group of white men.  Like a splinter in his mind, the dream drives Shaw to discover his connection with the murdered Native American. With a friend, he travels to the American Southwest in search of the dream’s meaning. In this quest, he encounters a man who provides some perspective and direction. Shaw seeks a powerful revelation of the person he is supposed to be. In return, he is served nuggets of insight and enigma, bound together by a common thread of purpose.

Like so many college students, Shaw is torn between his father’s dream for his future and his own uncertainty. Shaw’s intellectual self-exploration provides the foundation of this novel. Hill sprinkles the novel’s dialog with references to the fundamentals of a liberal arts education, including American history, science, psychology, sociology and philosophy. At first, these references seem unrelated. However, Hill winds them together in an increasingly pertinent existential rationale. Elemental to this exploration are concepts of the human soul, reincarnation and the integration of purpose, fulfilled as a result of Hill’s use of nuance and association.

Shaw finds within ephemeral out-of body experiences a fleeting but poignant insight. He has grown psychologically, as the boundaries of time and purpose become increasingly clear. He comes to the conclusion that by understanding his past (including a past life) and by deriving insight from the contrasting parts of his personality, he will become a more fulfilled adult. No doubt this insight will serve Shaw well in the next three segments of the series.

Hill is a cogent and descriptive writer. In this initial portion of the series, he provides a clear and descriptive foundation for the rest of Shaw’s journey.  Hill brings to life the eternal coming-of-age struggle for self concept and purpose. If this novel is lacking in any aspect it would be in the fleeting perspectives of secondary personalities. Of course, brevity of purpose pushes the novelist to be concise and Hill will have the opportunity to explore more profound character development in the succeeding chapters of this fascinating series.

Charles S. Weinblatt

Author, Jacob’s Courage

http://tiny.cc/x7n90

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RASPUTIN AND THE JEWS

By Delin Colon

delincolon@yahoo.com

Publisher – CreateSpace

Web site: www.createspace.com/3584659

www.amazon.com/gp/product/1461027756

Publication: April, 2011

ISBN 1461027756

ISBN-13: 978-1461027751

110 Pages – Paperback

Genre: Non-fiction

Sub-Genres: History, Jewish History

Reviewed by: Charles S. Weinblatt

Grigory Rasputin was a spiritual advisor to the last Tsar and Tsarina of Russia and their family.  In the tumultuous months and years after the fall of the Great Russian Empire, many versions of history were written.  Yet all of them include, in one way or another, the tale of the great “Rasputin.”  Even his enemies categorized Rasputin as a powerful historical figure of Russia in the early twentieth century.  And while vilified by some historians, many other more academic and empirical examples of historical research reveal Rasputin’s role as a contemporary activist for equal rights.  It was popular more than a hundred years ago in Russia to mistrust and hate Jews.  Therefore, much of the writing that we find from that time places Rasputin in disrepute, since he pushed the Tsar to help Jews, but his opponents, who hated Jews, wrote the history books of the time.  But not all of history is eventually written by the victorious or powerfully possessed element of that society.  And certainly not all of what they wrote is an accurate characterization of figures foundational to those times.

This exposition explores the insidious foundations of prejudice against Jews in Russia at the turn of the twentieth century and Rasputin’s prodigious efforts to combat it.  Although not a Jew himself, Rasputin fought for the rights of Jews with all of his faculties and abilities.  In this book, we are treated to examples of Rasputin’s unyielding relationship with the Tsar and perhaps in greater depth with the Tsar’s wife.  As a highly spiritual man, Rasputin despised all forms of prejudice and bigotry.  During the period of his adult life, the single greatest violation of human rights in Russia was delivered against Jews.  The popular trend at that time would have been to decry Jews.  Instead, Rasputin defended them.

Rasputin and the Jews contains examples, stories, references, pictures and illustrations that bring the heartbreaking existence of early twentieth century Russian Jews to life in a powerful way not recently experienced.  It delivers the magnitude of anti-Jewish prejudice throughout Russia, offering well-researched examples of why so many people throughout that time found it convenient to hate Jews.

Colon carefully examined the state of anti-Semitism in an age when Russian Jews were forced to be second-class citizens.  Jews in early twentieth century Russia lived in the shadow of their ancestor’s extermination;  from the Crusades to the Spanish Inquisition, from The Reformation and the English Expulsion, to the rise of Russian pogroms against innocent Jewish families, the Jews defended by Rasputin had for centuries been battered, beaten, enslaved, deprived, made despicable and forced into a life of subservience.  Centuries of intolerance produced the Diaspora, in which Jews fled from extermination.  In Russia, Jews were arbitrarily charged with ritual murder and blood libel and the Talmud was universally attacked by Christians, as well as leading political figures.  Jews were almost universally oppressed and degraded.  Violent pogroms against Jewish towns and villages were increasingly common, as my 102-year-old mother can still recall.  Only Rasputin, and a few other brave souls, fought for the rights of innocent Jews.  The examples of this are carefully delineated by Colon in Rasputin and the Jews.

Rasputin and the Jews is a powerful illustration of Russian prejudice – a tool for students of Russian history, Jewish history and the psychology of oppression and bigotry.   Colon’s cogent examination of the relationship between Russian anti-Semitism and Rasputin’s forceful defense of Jews explains with eloquence the magnitude of illogical hatred of Russian Jews and the powerful influence of Russian anti-Semitism, much of which remains today – more than a hundred years later.  Had we wished for any improvement in this book’s goal, it would have been to broaden the breadth and depth of research citations.  Colon relies heavily upon the surviving notes of Rasputin’s Jewish secretary, Aron Simanovitch.  A jeweler by trade, Simanovitch left copious notes behind for his progeny and for contemporary researchers.  This constitutes the bulk of Colon’s research foundation.  While many other Russian figures were cited, Simanovitch remains the person central to this book’s allegations.  The book would have benefitted from a greater profundity of empirical and anecdotal references.  At the same time, we understand that few contemporary individuals have provided a lucid analysis of these events, having had a first person relationship to them.

That being said, Colon’s dissertation remains a cogent analysis of virulent Russian anti-Semitism of the early twentieth century and of Rasputin’s obdurate effort to combat this prejudice with the Tsar, his family and with various levels of Russian military and political leadership.  It is a brief but well-written exposition on Rasputin.

Charles S. Weinblatt

Author, Jacob’s Courage

http://tiny.cc/x7n90

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A CONVENIENT HATRED: THE HISTORY OF ANTI-SEMITISM

By Phyllis Goldstein

Publisher – Facing History and Ourselves

November 10, 2011

ISBN 10: 0981954383

ISBN-13: 978-0981954387

432 Pages

Genre: Non-fiction

Sub-Genres: History, Historical Study, Social History

Reviewed by: Charles S. Weinblatt

A Convenient Hatred, with forward by Sir Harold Evans, chronicles the evolution of anti-Semitism, from the time of Alexander through the Holocaust and modern Israel. This powerful treatise explores with exquisite detail the pernicious foundations of bigotry against Jews, from ancient times through the dark ages, the enlightenment and into contemporary examples. This book could just as easily been called “A Convenient History,” as it illustrates the magnitude of anti-Jewish vitriol, loathing and detestation over the ages, leading to a unique and mendacious version of history that blames Jews for impossibly disparate and disconnected unfortunate events and catastrophes.

Goldstein has produced a masterful exposition of the vulnerability of Jews throughout history, how malicious pagan and Christian leaders exploited the Jewish people and she addresses the unending value of education within Jewish culture, a trait that has served them well for dozens of centuries. That Jews have been able to survive at all seem miraculous, considering the fact that until recently, Jews were largely forbidden from owning land and property, from most skilled occupations, including crafts and guilds, and were forced to take up the most distasteful occupation among Christians – money lending.

A Convenient Hatred is a profoundly authoritative resource for educators. Its examples, stories, references, maps, pictures and illustrations bring the history of the Jews to life in a powerful way not experienced since James Michener’s The Source – a work of fiction. It communicates the magnitude of anti-Jewish prejudice throughout the centuries, offering well-researched examples of why so many people throughout time have found it convenient to hate Jews. A Convenient Hatred belongs in every high school history classroom globally. With impeccable references and well-researched examples, Goldstein has created a tour de force.

Goldstein carefully examines the origins of anti-Semitism, in an age when Jews were forced from their ancestral homes and temples in ancient Israel to Europe and Asia. She methodically details the separation of Jews from Christians, leading to centuries of Jewish slavery, incarceration and extermination during the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, The Reformation and the English Expulsion. The rise of the Islamic empire and holy wars are also carefully explored. Centuries of intolerance produced the Diaspora, in which Jews fled to safe haven in places far and wide, but were again faced with extermination when blamed for the Black Death (plague) across Europe. This marked a period in which Jews were charged with ritual murder and blood libel and the Talmud was universally attacked by Christians and Muslims. Jews were almost universally oppressed during the dark ages. They sought reprieve in places as disparate as Poland and the Ottoman Empire. But for hundreds of years, Jews remained ostracized, antagonized, isolated and murdered.

The ages of enlightenment and nationalism are painstakingly explored by Goldstein. She proffers “the power of publicity” as a tool used by anti-Semites to attack and condemn Jews in a prolific manner.

The same level of discriminating detail continues in an examination of anti-Semitism in Renaissance France and Russia, continuing into the age of nationalism and World War I. Goldstein carefully describes the consistent deleterious effect of anti-Jewish propaganda in incongruent Renaissance societies, France being democratic and Russia communist. The age of written communication via printing presses almost immediately delivered anti-Semitic books, such as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, one of the most significant attacks upon Jews. She describes Hitler’s rise to power largely upon the backs of Jews, through propaganda and putsches by the proletariat against Germany’s Jewish population. She describes the “turning point” in 1941, with the Nazi establishment of the “final solution to the Jewish question.”

Finally, Goldstein adroitly illustrates anti-Semitism after the Holocaust, throughout the Cold War and into contemporary society, which she calls, “a convenient hatred.” Here, nationalism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism collide in a perfect storm of bigotry and persecution. The result of this collision is a brainwashing of impoverished youth, the economically and socially oppressed and the politically disadvantaged, resulting in a unified hatred of all things Jewish, especially Israel. Goldstein calls to mind a speech by Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, in which he states that we cannot judge contemporary Germans for the genocide perpetrated by their ancestors. At the same time, all Germans can be held accountable for preserving the memory of the Holocaust – for its link from past to future holds in the balance the potential for all humanity, for the survival of the human spirit and the destiny of the Jewish people.

A Convenient Hatred is a powerful contemporary masterpiece of history and a superb illustration of prejudice – a groundbreaking educational tool and an indispensable textbook for students of history, anthropology, psychology and sociology. Goldstein’s lucid and cogent examination of the history of anti-Semitism is a seminal work, explaining with lucidity the magnitude of illogical hatred and its influence against Jews over the centuries.

Charles S. Weinblatt

Author, Jacob’s Courage

http://tiny.cc/x7n90

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THE ARROGANT YEARS

By Lucette Lagnano

HarperCollins Publishers

September 6, 2011

ISBN-10: 0061803677

ISBN-13: 978-0061803673

385 Pages

Genre: Fiction

Sub-Genre: Memoir

The Arrogant Years is the poignant and touching story of a Jewish family’s strength against a myriad of obstacles, from prominence in Egypt to obscurity in America, from wealthy to working class, from illness to heath, from Brooklyn to Vassar and beyond.  Lagnano proffers a tale of how her mother was accepted into the highest echelon of Egyptian society, and later lowered to the status of the unwanted.  This memoir is a vivid and evocative portrait of a family’s struggle against discrimination.  The author’s dramatic personal account presents the experience of growing up as a minority in a majority Muslim land.  Later, as a young liberal Jewish woman in 1960’s America, Lagnano battles against cancer and against bias from within her own religious community.

Lagnano gave us The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit, an expansive portrait of her father in a struggle against massive prejudice in Egypt and his effort to rebuild the family in America. In this new memoir, she delivers the powerful story of her mother, Edith, in a magical Egyptian carpet ride of audacity and faith.  A beautiful, bright and sensitive woman, Edith must deal with a host of pitfalls and travails.   This is a tale of pashas and princesses, of Jews dining with Egyptian royalty; and it is a tale of sadness and frustration as the former life is wiped away by circumstance and an inappropriate marriage.  Later, it becomes the story of a young American daughter who resists the traditional tenants of Orthodox Judaism in favor of women’s liberation and a burning need to assimilate into contemporary American culture.

Through Edith, Lagano introduces us to a stunning Golden Age of Cairo, when Egyptian Jews can hold prestigious positions within the royal Egyptian family.  Befriending the Pasha’s wife, Edith becomes loyal teacher and librarian to the first family.  Here, Lagnado delivers a touching and tender examination of Edith’s powerful reach in an Egypt long bereft of equality and egalitarianism.

It is also the story of young Lagnano in America, who rebels against the strict paternal statutes of Orthodox Judaism. Here we find a young woman of the American 1960’s bursting with passion for equality and human rights.  In violating the orthodox synagogue section designated only for men, Lagnado publicly expresses her courage and commitment to gender equity.

Locked together by the author, past and present radiate in this fervent tale of achievement, abandonment, influence and rejection.  Edith falls from grace and from a desperate and unrewarding marriage.  The family falls from bumping heads with aristocracy to searching for safety and security.  From the palace halls of Cairo to the tenement halls of Brooklyn, this is a saga of constant striving, eternal love and adoration and a restless pursuit for social equality.  In the end, after assimilating into American culture, after fighting for her mother’s care in a nursing home, Lagnano reaches into her past to find a sense of security and warmth lacking in her contemporary life.

Lagnado is a dazzling and expressive writer.  We are enveloped by a family’s yearning for success and its fall from grace, by its love and endearment and by a complex and changing world.  Lagnado’s tender reflection upon her mother’s life in Egypt, as well as her own maturity in Brooklyn, makes The Arrogant Years breathtaking and gripping.

Charles S. Weinblatt

Author, Jacob’s Courage

http://tiny.cc/x7n90

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THE ENVOY

 By Alex Kershaw

The Envoy is Alex Kershaw’s testimonial to Raul Wallenberg and his campaign to save the Jews of Hungary from extermination by Nazi Germany in 1944.

Bestselling author Kershaw dramatically pulls the reader into the diabolical campaign of Adolf Eichmann to send more than 250,000 Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz. With the nail-biting suspense of a winning novelist, Kershaw uses solid research and anecdotal data to show how it felt to be just one step ahead of the SS and their cruel Hungarian proxies, the Arrow Cross.

Based on the latest information from survivors, international archives, personal interviews, and multiple records, The Envoy is a brilliant examination of the rescue of Hungarian Jews near the end of the Holocaust, led by the brave Swiss diplomat, Raul Wallenberg. Kershaw gives the reader a fiery collection of facts as explained in detail by survivors and records, woven into a thrilling and detailed account of Wallenberg’s courageous efforts to save thousands Jewish families from certain death.

Kershaw’s meticulous research opens a comprehensive analysis of Adolph Eichmann and his desperate need to fulfill Hitler’s command to make Europe Judenrien. We learn that the chain-smoking Nazi leader was compelled to do anything that would endear himself to The Fuehrer.  In this case, it was the destruction of the Jews of Hungary. Kershaw describes how Eichmann poured himself into the task with gusto.

By 1944, most of the Jews of Europe had already been shot and buried or gassed to death in Nazi death camps. Only the Jewish families of Hungary remained alive. Eichmann’s job was to send them as quickly as possible to Auschwitz, for Special Treatment. In April and May, Eichmann increased the evacuation of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz to an estimated rate of 12,000 per day. When trains and trucks had been commandeered to the front lines, Eichmann forced innocent Jewish men, women and children onto a terrifying death march. Kershaw deftly employs interviews and recorded data, bringing to life some of the most tormenting and frightening moments of this march.

At that time, the world had begun to discover the vast persecution and genocide of European Jews by Nazi Germany. Upon learning that the Jews of Hungary were about to be exterminated, President Roosevelt ordered diplomat Iver Olson to Stockholm, to intervene. Because Sweden was officially neutral in WWII, only their diplomats could go to Hungary to provide protection for Jews.

Olson named a tall, 32-year-old Swedish diplomat named Raul Wallenberg for the position. The affluent Wallenberg, whose academic credentials came from The University of Michigan, was fluent in German, Hungarian and Russian. His mission was to save as many of Hungary’s Jews as possible by providing them with Swedish protection papers, called a “Shutzpass.” He also financed the purchase of 32 safe houses, protected as Swedish property. He put up signs such as “The Swedish Library” and “The Swedish Research Institute” on their doors and hung oversize Swedish flags on the front of the buildings to bolster the deception. Into these safe houses poured the lifeblood of Hungarian Jewish families. Most Jews caught outside of a safe house were sent to the gas chambers at Auschwitz. Others were shot by the Hungarian Arrow Cross, their bodies dumped into the Danube.

Together with Swedish diplomat Per Anger, Wallenberg distributed thousands of protective passports and bribed hundreds Hungarian officials. In doing so, at the danger of his own life, Wallenberg defied Eichmann and the brutal Hungarian Arrow Cross. Tens of thousands of Shutzpass papers were created; the lucky recipients were boarded in Wallenberg’s Budapest safe houses. There was little food, heat or water. Most buildings had been deprived of electricity through massive Allied bombings. Survivors hid in scorching attics, froze in damp, cramped basements and at every moment faced arrest and deportation to Auschwitz, or summary execution. Parents watched in horror as their children caught outside a safe house were shot. But thousands of Wallenberg Jews remained alive through his courage and determination.

Two days before the Russian Army occupied Budapest, Wallenberg negotiated with Eichmann to cancel a final effort to organize a death march of the remaining Jews in Budapest by threatening to have him prosecuted for war crimes once the war was over.  Then, as Budapest was liberated by Russia, Wallenberg traveled to meet with the leading Russian general, in order to negotiate fair treatment of his Jews. Wallenberg was arrested by Russian authorities and sent to Moscow. He then disappeared completely.

If there is a portion of The Envoy that leaves the reader disappointed it is the lack of data about Wallenberg after he was detained by Russia. Could Kershaw have dug a little deeper? Perhaps this will be the subject of a future work. The photographs at the end of the book enhance the depth of the story. Yet we are left to wonder what really happened to this wonderful, courageous man after his arrest by Soviet Russia.

As many as 100,000 Wallenberg Jews survived and perhaps one million of their progeny are alive today because of his resolve and courage. Kershaw’s brilliant effort is one that should be read by everyone who values freedom, tolerance and liberty. Named a “Righteous Person” by Israel, generations will live on because of Wallenberg’s courage. Alex Kershaw has delivered a masterpiece about Raul Wallenberg, as witnessed from every perspective.

Reviewer Charles Weinblatt is the author of the young adult novel, Jacob’s Courage: A Holocaust Love Story (Mazo Publishers).

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THE WARSAW ANAGRAMS

By Richard Zimler

The Warsaw Anagrams is a fast-moving, powerful and intellectual murder mystery set within wartime Warsaw Poland during World War II.

Author Richard Zimler carries the reader deep into the daily life of Jews trapped within the horrific Nazi genocide.  His striking portrayal of diverse characters is poignant and touching. Mr. Zimler proffers a salient and tender examination of the courage and fortitude exhibited by imprisoned Jews seeking only to survive one day at a time, layered upon a striking murder mystery filled with deception and intrigue. His knowledge of history is surpassed only by his clarity of literary purpose.

In 1940, Nazi Germany forced 400,000 Polish Jews into a dilapidated ghetto in Warsaw. Living in squalor, the Warsaw ghetto Jews began to die. In 1941, Dr. Erik Cohen, an elderly Jewish psychiatrist returns to Warsaw after being interned in a Nazi concentration camp. He befriends a man named Heniek Corben.  Erik unfurls a murder mystery both heinous and complex. Jewish children in the ghetto had been murdered. Worse yet, someone removed a portion of the murdered children’s bodies. Erik confides that the ritualistic murder of Jewish children that took place several months earlier included his beloved great-nephew, Adam.

Corben gradually realizes that he is the only person able to see Erik. Portions of the psychiatrist’s story do not add up. Erik used anagrams for the names of his friends and family.  He also portrayed himself as a secular Jew. Yet portions of his tale resemble ritualistic Judaism, including Kabbalah.

Through Erik’s eyes, we learn the abject terror of living as a Jew in a Nazi-controlled ghetto. A sordid tale of murder and mystery gradually appears. Erik lived with his niece and her bright, sensitive and loving son, Adam. The bond between boy and great-uncle intensifies. Erik loves Adam like a son. When the boy’s murdered body turns up with a missing portion, Erik transforms from a mild-mannered psychiatrist to an aggressive investigator. He interviews one person after another, following a trail of deceit and surreptitious behavior.

Erik is joined by his lifelong friend, Izzy. Relying upon each others’ strengths, they follow the trail of intrigue, coming ever closer to knowing the identity of the murderer. As life in the Warsaw ghetto deteriorates, Erik and Izzy close in on the murderers. Woven into the story are well-developed characters, playing their part in the grand deception.

Mr. Zimler, an accomplished novelist, brings to life evocative characters via controlled and convincing prose. His protagonists and the other primary characters are intense and expressive. They provoke profundity and passion. Erik is commanding and persuasive. The reader never seems to lose hold upon reality, despite Corben’s casual observation that the psychiatrist might be an angel.

The pace of this novel is steady and intense. The reader gradually observes signs and symbols pointing to the horrific perpetrators of this ritualistic murder of Jewish children. Mr. Zimler provides layer after layer of intrigue and excitement.  This is not simply a novel about the Holocaust. It is a murder mystery that will challenge the reader to uncover a frightening truth within a world turned upside down by war and genocide.

Reviewer Charles Weinblatt is the author of the young adult novel, Jacob’s Courage: A Holocaust Love Story (Mazo Publishers).

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ANYA’S WAR

By Andrea Alban

Anya’s War is a tender coming-of-age tale of a Jewish girl whose family escaped to Shanghai from the impending Nazi takeover of their home in Russia.

Fourteen year-old Anya Rosen’s father believed that China would be a safe reprieve for Jews escaping from Hitler’s vow to punish the Jewish people. Although the characters are fictional, the story is real and based upon the author’s ancestors.

Ms.. Alban’s compelling characters elucidate the very real terror of Jews living in China during the early years of the Holocaust. Anya’s War is rich with metaphor and reality, a powerful combination during an explosive era of world war and genocide. Ms. Alban delivers a persuasive dose of a dichotomous society where timeless class structure results in domination of the wealthy over the poor. Anya was raised in a moderately wealthy family in Odessa, which was transformed into an upper-class family in China. She soon became immersed within a culture that included suffering, yet devoted servants and the condescending wealthy.

Anya arrives as a typical adolescent, filled with curiosity, plans within plans and a burgeoning interest in boys. Like many adolescent girls of the time, Anya has natural heroes. She greatly admires Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt. She also plans to live in The United States and become a physician, like her aunt. Like all teenagers, Anya fights with her parents. She is especially defiant with her dominating mother, who has other plans for Anya’s career. At the same time, Anya explores deepening feelings for a boy in her class at school.

Woven into Anya’s life are her doting parents, grandparents, brother, friends, and servants.  Except for her parents, these characters possess rudimentary depth. Yet, the events and circumstances surrounding Anya are described with delightful depth. Ms. Alban’s descriptions of life in China are terrific, and she pulls the reader along with vibrant flow and intensity.

Because she lives in relative wealth and attends the Jewish school in Shanghai, the morass of subjugation, starvation, and hopelessness prevalent among Chinese remains just below Anya’s radar. Anya races around Shanghai in her bicycle, visiting friends and running errands. She has a new camera which she uses to take pictures along her way.  Anya takes advantage of her newly-acquired ability to bargain with sellers in the market.

One day, Anya discovers a discarded newborn girl in a basket. She brings the baby home, to the horror of the entire household. Anya immediately loves and cares for the abandoned child. She is determined to keep the baby and proffers the child a name. At the same time, her father brings home a new Jewish family in Shanghai, including a boy who sweeps Anya off her feet.

One day, Anya’s younger brother follows her on an unapproved trip into Shanghai, during which a Chinese bomber accidentally drops bombs upon the city. The resulting disaster leaves Anya’s brother seriously injured. Alone and deeply frightened, Anya must find a way to save her brother’s life.

Ms. Alban brings to light that mystifying, confusing time of life in which Anya is neither child nor adult, but some stage in between. This story becomes an exploration of adolescent desire and passion, a newfound freedom chained with responsibility, underpinned by the desire to remain a part of a nurturing, loving family.

Alban’s writing style is structured, cogent and evocative. Her protagonist and the primary characters are entertaining, well developed and delivered with expressive dialogue. They induce depth and fervor. Anya’s character is powerful and seductive. One can feel her empathy, defiance, curiosity and passion. However, the secondary characters are less well developed, leaving the reader with a somewhat murky sense of their personality features. The family’s Jewish identity is carefully elucidated through the manner in which they honor the Sabbath, observe holidays, recall the past and enjoy valued traditions. Interspersed in the dialogue are Yiddish words used to convey more expressive meaning.

Anya’s War is a powerful novel of cultures, adolescent emotions, aspiration, passion, fear and anticipation. Within it, we glimpse wartime China, its deep-seated traditions, structures, classes and beauty. Ms. Alban also delivers the devastation, anxiety and terror of war. Here we find a bright, expressive teenager named Anya, who is struggling to become an independent young adult, learning valuable life lessons from venerable servants, friends and family. The pace of this novel increases exponentially, with an explosive conclusion.

Reviewer Charles Weinblatt is the author of the young adult novel, Jacob’s Courage: A Holocaust Love Story (Mazo Publishers).

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THE AUSLANDER 

By Paul Dowsdell

“The Auslander is a powerful piece of young adult fiction that appeals just as comfortably to adult readers.”

Paul Dowswell proffers an intriguing young adult novel of a Polish boy’s experiences in the Hitler Youth program, his gradual recognition of the inherent evil in Nazi philosophy, and his brave actions to deter it. Mr. Dowswell provides a wonderful character study of an average Polish boy searching for the resolve to fight Nazi propaganda and help victims of persecution.

As the story begins, Piotr’s parents are killed in their car when it is destroyed by a German tank. Piotr is sent to an orphanage in Warsaw. Suddenly removed from his parents’ love and their comfortable family farm, Piotr is a destitute orphan, left to fend for himself just as his adolescent years begin. Author Dowswell offers a wealth of colorful images and allegory, as the reader begins to experience Piotr’s desperation and sadness.

Feeling abandoned and forlorn, Piotr grows deeply frightened and morose. Upon examination by Nazis, it is determined that Piotr’s blond hair and blue eyes make him emblematic of the pure Aryan boy envisioned by Nazi propagandists. With this in mind, a prominent German family decides to adopt the young Pole. His “new” father is a high level operative in the Nazi Race & Resettlement Bureau.

The entire family is enveloped within the strict culture of Nazi Germany and Aryan superiority. They despise Jews and other “lesser species of humanity.” They merrily hang swastikas on their Christmas tree while millions of innocent people face brutality, starvation, forced labor, and murder in Nazi concentration camps.

Piotr has fallen into a family of rabid Nazis. They change his name from Piotr to “Peter.” He has no choice about it. Peter obeys their austere commands and joins the iconic Hitler Youth, the Hitler Jugend. There, he is taught to detest Jews, Poles, Russians, Communists, and all manner of people proclaimed lower forms of humanity. At first, the propaganda works. But over time, Peter begins to wonder why Nazis are required to hate and incarcerate Jews and other innocents.

Peter gradually begins to question the strict Nazi culture from the viewpoint of an “Auslander,” a foreigner. Mr. Dowswell explores the escalating feelings of a young boy on the verge of being accepted into the bold, new society of Nazi Germany. Here is a story of deep penetrating desire to be accepted by his new family conflicting with the constant feeling that something is not right about the Nazi edicts and its frightening consequences.

In a turning point, Peter falls in love with Anna, a lovely girl whose father is a high-ranking Wehrmacht officer. At first it seems impossible that Peter, whose attitude toward Nazi culture is changing so drastically, could find common ground with such a staunchly Nazi family. But beneath the slick veneer of Anna’s family presence lies an amazing truth: Anna and her parents despise the Nazis. They are helping Jewish families in hiding, doing whatever they can to stop them.

Together, they engage in helping to conceal and feed Jews. Eventually they are discovered. Missing in this portion of the story is any clear definition of the burgeoning physical attraction between Peter and Anna. The reader is left to guess whether their relationship is platonic, sexual or both.

The Auslander will be remembered long after its covers are closed.

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GRETEL’S STORY

By Gretel Wachtel and Claudia Strachan

Gretel’s Story is the tale of a young woman living in Hamburg, Germany, during WWII. This memoir of Gretel Wachtel reveals her feelings and thoughts about parts of the devastation of WWII, and about how she experiences the destruction of her beloved city and the beginning of the vast genocide against the Jews in Europe.

Through Ms. Wachtel’s eyes, we feel the devastating results of the constant bombing of Hamburg by the Allies, a stark reminder of the collateral damage and devastation of modern warfare. While we rightfully think of Hitler’s primary civilian victims (Jews, Roma, mentally retarded, homosexuals, political prisoners, etc.) as the real victims of WWII, hundreds of thousands of innocent German citizens also succumbed to the devastation of contemporary warfare, particularly the carpet-bombing of German cities such as Dresden and Hamburg. This perspective forms the central focus of Gretel’s Story.

Ms.. Wachtel is a liberal, free thinking young woman who has no fear of speaking her mind—even when it is against Germany’s military conquest over Europe. She makes no bones about abhorring Hitler, Germany’s subjugation mentality, its bigotry, and its hostility toward Jews and other minorities. A careless anti-Nazi comment results in Ms. Wachtel’s forced labor in an ammunition factory; however, she never loses her desire to fight the totalitarian regime. This is the story of a strong young woman who fights hard against social injustice. Ms. Wachtel is open minded in many ways—including her sexual behavior. Eventually, she marries a resistance fighter, although she does not love him. Ms. Wachtel helps a Hamburg priest protect innocent people persecuted by the Gestapo. She begins a series of dangerous humanitarian tasks by hiding her Jewish doctor in her own home. While working for the Wehrmacht, she passes military secrets to the resistance. Her primary motivation in all of her endeavors is to help innocent people placed at peril in Nazi Germany.

Perhaps Ms. Wachtel’s most successful method of survival is to sell black market goods. During the war years, she connects with important figures inside the Third Reich, in her own community of Hamburg, and within the resistance—all of whom are committed to fighting the tyranny of Nazi Germany’s annexation of Europe and the growing genocide. At one point she is supervised by members of the Stauffenberg Hitler assassination plot. In one of the book’s most poignant moments, Ms. Wachtel cares for her family’s Jewish physician who has become a fugitive under Nazi rule. Near the end of the war, in 1945, Ms. Wachtel is sent to an internment camp.

Gretel’s Story is well written, succinct, and concise. Several individuals might have deserved more powerful character development, especially her mother, the Hamburg priest, and the Jewish doctor that she saves (at least temporarily). But the personality of the protagonist is clearly explored. And the circumstances surrounding the devastation of Hamburg by Allied bombing are very clearly established. The reader comes away with some sympathy for the average citizen of Hamburg who saw his or her beloved city flattened by bombing.

However, this book does not address the massive genocide that occurred in Nazi death camps. We hear about, but fail to see evidence of, the murder of European Jews, Roma, the mentally retarded, political prisoners, and others who were remanded to Nazi death camps. One can sense a desire for justice in the author and her colleagues, but the sheer magnitude of genocide in the telling of this story is only hinted at.

Gretel Wachtel, like so many other righteous people, was catapulted into heroic behavior because of extraordinary circumstances. Her strength of character and purpose helped her to defy Nazi dictates that not only led Germany down a path into darkness, but also helped her to save innocent victims of war. Her defiance of the Gestapo and her willingness to serve time in a concentration camp gives Ms. Wachtel special status, similar to others like Oskar Schindler: those who are considered “Righteous among Nations.”

Reviewer Charles Weinblatt is the author of the young adult novel, Jacob’s Courage: A Holocaust Love Story (Mazo Publishers).

Read the entire review here.

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FACES IN THE SAND

By Richard MacLeod

Richard MacLeod’s novel of family and love is brimming with well-developed characters, a stirring plot and a thrilling ending.  MacLeod is a gifted writer.  The panorama of feelings and experiences in Faces in the Sand reads as an epic novel – filled with charisma and beauty.  Here, we find inviting characters and vivid descriptions.  There is nothing dry or sluggish about this novel.

We are quickly immersed within the mind of Portia, a therapist who searches desperately for the true memory of her dying father.  MacLeod deftly reveals the warm longing and devotion of a loving daughter and her desperate search for experiences lost and found.  Her father, like so many others, was a victim of World War II.  After twenty-five years of absence, Portia searches for meaning in their missing relationship.  They had become strangers, absent in a life of warm wishes.  She felt deserted, betrayed and unloved; yet on his deathbed, Portia gently strokes his head, as she would a dearly-loved child.  As she reflects upon her childhood and beyond, MacLeod showers readers with a rich
tapestry of descriptions, layering vivid imagery and metaphor adroitly.

MacLeod’s comprehension of psychology is revealed through Portia as she ruminates over the people parading through her life.  It is a tapestry of conceptions; thoughts leading to new ideas, leading to new understanding.  Through the eyes of her patients, Portia, a skilled therapist, explores the same vivid feelings of abandonment, fear and desire that she so desperately desires to work out in her own life.  Through her father’s old friends and a myriad of letters, her father’s idyllic and heroic life pours out to her.  Portia grows through the experience, as do all abandoned children who seek to understand life, love and opportunities lost.

Revealed through letters from Portia’s father in Faces in the Sand is the agony and abject fear of battle via soldiers in World War II.  MacLeod explores the terror of battle in North Africa and beyond.  But memories became reality and reality fade into conjecture.  The ending is shocking and thrilling.  No one is who they appeared to be.  Reality turns fantasy upside down.

MacLeod explores the feelings of children whose parents are not who they appear to be.  In this case, the protagonist has a father who becomes larger than life.  Portia’s father is a hero, who deeply loves her, yet fails as a father because of circumstances well beyond his control.  Here is a story of lost love, the terror of war and one child who wishes to pull all of the pieces together. The ending is shocking and penetrating.

Faces in the Sand is a powerful piece of fiction that appeals to everyone who has had a mysterious or lost parent or spouse.   Life is often far from our expectations or understanding.  MacLeod proffers a depth of character penetration within a believable story of war, family, love and lost relationships.  This is a book that will remain with the reader for an eternity.

Charles S. Weinblatt

Author, Jacob’s Courage

OTHER BOOKS BY

CHARLES S. WEINBLATT:

http://tiny.cc/kvioa

Other Reviews by Charles Weinblatt at The New Your Journal of Books include:

The Auslander
Gretel’s   Story: A Young Woman’s   Secret War Against the Nazis
Faces in the Sand
Anya’s War

Other Reviews in Crime Mystery & Thriller:

Three Seconds
The Sentry   (Joe Pike)
Burn
Gideon’s   Sword

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