Tag : Holocaust

October 23, 2020 by


“Here in the Capitol, the lawmaking heart of our nation, in close proximity to the Supreme Court, we remember in sorrow that Hitler’s Europe, his Holocaust kingdom, was not lawless. Indeed, it was a kingdom full of laws, laws deployed by highly educated people—teachers, lawyers, and judges—to facilitate oppression, slavery and mass murder.”

RUTH BADER GINSBURG, remarks at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2004.

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October 23, 2020 by

What’s Embedded in Once-Ordinary Objects Brushed by Violence?


It was early august when I took the Metro out to a suburban station to meet the chief conservator of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM). She was taking me to the museum’s off-site storage facility. I would spend the day in this most unlikely space. As I entered the nondescript suburban building—the museum’s off-site repository had not yet moved into its new state-of- the art facility—I was struck by its bland character, a deliberate choice. This was my impression until I entered the first of many rooms and, eventually, the vast storage space that housed so much of the museum’s collection.

In that first room, a conservation space, I watched a woman seated beside an ironing board, sewing intently. She was working on a damaged blue-andwhite- striped prisoner uniform. I had never been this close to one of these iconic garments. I thought about the uniforms I had seen on display and those I had seen in photographs. This jacket was much more elaborate than any I had ever seen. It was carefully tailored with many seams and pockets, but it was also in terrible shape. There were huge holes and tears in it (why is this word the same as tears?). These wounds were the focus of the seamstress’s careful attention. The room was electric with the energy that crackled from this fragile object, and I was deeply affected by the experience.

I find myself homing in to consider clothing and other material objects as much more intimate. These are objects that cover and hold our bodies. We wear these textiles. We live inside them. The longer we inhabit them, the more of us they contain; skin cells, sweat, piss, blood, saliva, tears, permeate such garments. But clothing that is worn day in and day out for long periods of time is also marked in a different way. It is shaped by our bodies. Not only were these uniforms worn constantly, but because they were handed out haphazardly, they often did not fit, and so were carefully tailored by the very prisoners who wore them, who used whatever was at hand to try to make them fit. The uniform jacket I saw being mended was unusual in its intricate tailoring. It was altered to fit a specific person.

The camp uniforms held in the USHMM collection are so fragile that careful efforts must be made simply to keep them from disintegrating. And because the bodies of those who inhabited these garments have been missing for so long, in order to preserve them, to keep them from falling apart, each uniform has its own body-shaped hanger. These effigies are custom fit. They are specially made for each jacket, shirt, or pair of pants. These stuffed, mannequin-like hanging figures help take the stress off fragile seams and frayed panels. The prisoners are gone but the hangers convey a semblance of their presence. In reverse logic, the bodies beneath the fabric protect the garment, not the other way around. Because these pieces of clothing are also witnesses to the atrocities performed on those who wore them, they attest to those crimes. They constitute a form of criminal as well as historical evidence. Bound to those bodies and those legacies, they offer silent testimony, but their presence in the museum is not simply material.

An aura emanates from these intimate articles of clothing. Once an abiding presence in the lives of those who wore them, these garments carry the traces of those now absent bodies.

The striped uniform, the bloody hoody, each allows us to stitch connections between ourselves and these different violent legacies. Abiding affective engagements reside in these tattered objects. Such objects keep the event tangible, suspended, and within our reach.

Atlanta, November 1989

Early in the evening on the first Tuesday in November, 1989, I was raped in my home in Atlanta, Georgia. As it turned out, this happened just as the Berlin Wall was about to fall. A strange man broke into my home, hid, and then attacked me. I screamed, and this only exacerbated his rage. He choked me. And then he raped me in my own bed. He threatened to kill me.

At the time, I was a graduate student at Emory completing my doctoral studies in religion. After the police finally arrived on the scene—itself a protracted and exasperating experience—they began to ask questions and collect evidence. But I need to say that the police came late, too late to apprehend the suspect. Not only had I waited on hold with 911 until I finally got through to the police, but I later learned that my landlady, having heard my cries, had also called the police to no avail. She too could not get through to report the crime in process. This is a gap in time I still cannot fully fathom. By the time the police arrived, the man was long gone.

I was taken to Grady Hospital for a rape exam only after the Atlanta police had combed the scene for evidence. They took the comforter and some of the sheets that had been on my bed, and after the rape exam at the hospital, I believe, they also took possession of various pieces of my clothing, including my sweatpants and underwear.

But here my memory falters. I hardly remember the order of these events or what the police took. What I do know is that once they left, I threw away the rest of the clothing I had been wearing. I placed these items in a dumpster outside the hospital. At least this is how I remember it, although none of these items appear in any police documents.

None of my possessions are listed in the inventory from the crime scene, for example, on the official police report. To date, nothing has been found, neither the evidence procured from my rape kit nor any of the clothing or bedding taken from my home and my person that night. I do not know what happened to any of them. Nor do I know whether my rape kit was ever processed. That information cannot be verified. I can only assume that it was not.

Nevertheless, even as I have learned that these possessions are no longer accessible, I am moved by my memory, by the imprint of these once tactile everyday objects on how I think about this past and the fact that I had for so many years forgotten all about them.

Held in such material containers, the trauma is made concrete. These tangible objects testify to the fact that these events are not a figment of the imagination. They are one important way we know that these events actually happened, that this is not a dream.

Laura Levitt is a Professor of Religion, Jewish Studies and Gender at Temple University. Her new book, The Objects That Remain is both a personal memoir and examination of the ways in which the material remains of violent crimes inform our experience of, and thinking about, trauma and loss.

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October 23, 2020 by

No Denying It •

Holocaust survivors, in a powerful video, implore Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, to remove Holocaust denial posts from Facebook. The video, created by the Claims Conference, an organization whose mission over six decades has been to provide a measure of justice and care for Jewish Holocaust victims, wants to ensure future generations learn the lessons of the Holocaust.


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October 23, 2020 by

Holocaust Fiction Now

Over the past 18 months or so, many of the new novels received at the Lilith office have centered on the Holocaust; several, like The Tattooist of Auschwitz, marketed as potential bestsellers. This flood of fiction from women is unlike memoirs written by survivors themselves or conveyed via their daughters’ retellings. Now, a third generation, clearly affected by Holocaust experiences either in their own families or from other exposure, has moved those experiences from memoir into fiction. In the 1970s, Elie Wiesel—himself a writer of Holocaust fiction––famously argued that writers should foreswear fictionalizing the events of the Shoah. Critic Ruth Franklin takes a gentler stance in A Thousand Darknesses: Lies and Truth in Holocaust Fiction, a study of immense depth and range that offers a lucid view of an often cloudy field (Goodreads).

Here, a partial list of recent novels in this challenging category.

The Takeaway Men
by Meryl Ain [SparkPress, $16.95]
“The author’s tale is sensitively composed, a thoughtful exploration into the perennially thorny issues of religious identity, assimilation, and the legacy of suffering.” —Kirkus Reviews

The World that We Knew
by Alice Hoffman [Simon & Schuster, $17.00]
“Set in Nazi-occupied France between 1941 and 1944, Hoffman’s latest (after The Rules of Magic) is a bittersweet parable about the costs of survival and the behaviors that define humanity.” —Publishers Weekly

The Things We Cannot Say
by Kelly Rimmer [Graydon House Books, $28.99]
Truth and lies in Nazi-occupied Poland in 1942 drive this tale from bestselling author Rimmer. The novel is about a Polish Christian family in the U.S. whose family secrets, unearthed in present-day America and Poland, upend the narrative that generations had come to understand as their own. (Goodreads)

They Went Left
by Monica Hesse [Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, $9.99]
“Hesse writes with tenderness and insight about the stories we tell ourselves in order to survive and the ways we cobble together family with whatever we have. When the plot twists come, they are gut punches–some devastating, others offering hope….” —New York Times Book Review

The Star and the Shamrock
by Jean Grainger [Kindle Direct Publishing, $15.99]
The story of two Jewish children fleeing Berlin during the Holocaust, a newly widowed and motherless woman in Ireland, and their unlikely connection.

The Brothers of Auschwitz
by Malka Adler [HarperCollins, $16.99]

Alternating viewpoints between two brothers separated from their families and taken to Auschwitz, this harrowing story describes how they found one another again.

The German Midwife

by Mandy Robotham [HarperCollins, $15.99]
Anke Hoff, a midwife imprisoned in concentration camp, is tasked with delivering the baby of the Führer. The impossible decision: whether to deliver the innocent child, or sacrifice it for a greater good?

Cilka’s Journey
by Heather Morris [Macmillan, $27.99]
“In the stirring follow-up to The Tattooist of Auschwitz, Morris tells the story of a woman who survives Auschwitz, only to find herself locked away again. Morris’s propulsive tale shows the goodness that can be found even inside the gulag.” —Publishers Weekly

The Light After the War
by Anita Abriel [Atria Books, $27.00]
“[Abriel] deftly sketches the postwar world from Naples to Venezuela and Australia,
with attention paid to the changed architectural and emotional landscapes. The rubble of bombed cities, the blank map of lost relatives, and the uncertainty of day-to-day survival outline the anguish of the lost generation.” —Kirkus Reviews

House on Endless Waters
by Emuna Elon [Atria Books, $17.00]
“A story of love, loss, and yearning. Lyrically phrased and often powerfully visual…this deeply felt tale offers a rewarding meditation on survival.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

The Collaborator
by Diane Armstrong [HarperCollins, $16.99]
Past and present come together in this tale of a woman trying to discover the truth
about her grandmother’s rescue from the death camps in 1944 and a Jewish journalist
who attempts to save her and thousands of others.

The Last Train to London
by Meg Waite Clayton [HarperCollins, $27.99]
This is a standout historical fiction that serves as a chilling reminder of how insidious, pervasive evil can gradually seep into everyday lives.” —Publishers Weekly

The Things We Cherished
by Pam Jenoff [Random House, $17.00]
“A skillfully rendered tale of undying love, unthinkable loss and the relentless grip of the past on the present” —Kirkus Reviews


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September 29, 2020 by

Harbor From the Holocaust: The Jews of Shanghai

By Aileen Jacobson

In 1941, Laura Margolis, the American Joint Distribution Committee’s first female field agent, was sent to Shanghai to help the nearly 20,000 Jews who had fled there to escape Nazi Germany’s persecution. In an audacious move, she negotiated with the Japanese officials who controlled Shanghai and was able to secure funds (partly from Russian Jews and other communities who had found shelter in China in previous generations) to build a hospital and expand a soup kitchen. She saw to it that the neediest refugees got at least one meal a day to keep after they were forced, in 1943, into a mile-square area known as the “Shanghai ghetto.” The thousands of Chinese people who already lived there stayed.  


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July 16, 2020 by

Reading The Diary

Had she lived, Anne Frank would be turning 75 in 2004. Her diary has sold millions of copies in more than 55 languages since it was first published in Dutch in 1947. Naomi Danis elicits some new reactions to the most-read book about the Holocaust.

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July 14, 2020 by

Stitching for Survival: the Story of Holocaust Survivor Trudie Strobel

Some artists work with a brush; others with a pen, and still others with their voices, bodies, or a musical instrument. Trudie Strobel’s instrument is a slender needle, and she wields it with fierce and incredible power. Lilith first learned of Trudie Strobel’s recovery of her Holocaust past when she told Rabbi Susan Schnur of recreating the treasured doll the Nazis had torn away from her when she was a small child. When Jody Savin encountered Strobel’s work, she knew she had to tell her story (Stitched & Sewn: The Life-Saving Art of Holocaust Survivor Trudie Strobel, Prospect Park Books, $35).  Savin talks to Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough about the delicate process of excavating Strobel’s harrowing past and how her art was a way of coming to terms with it.

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June 25, 2020 by

The Impact of Reality

When I was nine years old, I ordered a biography of Adolf Hitler from the Scholastic Book Club. I read it in one mesmerized, horrified sitting. It was my first graphic exposure to the horrors of the Holocaust, and when I finished it, I burst into tears. Nothing I read before had given me such a sense of vulnerability or peril, all based on the mere accident of having been born Jewish. I read that book many times in the next two years, perhaps with the unconscious and certainly unarticulated hope that, this time, Hitler would be stopped and the tragedy averted.

Yona Zeldis McDonough lives in Brooklyn, New York. The author of several books for children, her biography of Anne Frank (illustrated by her mother, Malcah Zeldis) will be published by Henry Holt and company.

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April 20, 2020 by

More Holocaust Materials •

In remote areas of Eastern Europe and Ukraine, elderly Holocaust survivors in
desperate need of food, medicine, suitable shelter, and lovingkindness, have, received
direct financial aid from the Survivor Mitzvah Project. Now its founder, television comedy director Zane Buzby, is completing SMP’s Holocaust Educational Archives, making available hundreds of hours of never-before-recorded videography and documentation of first-person Holocaust testimony from local witnesses, rescuers and survivors. Thousands of letters of Holocaust testimonies and life histories and with photographs, will be part of a dynamic approach to teaching about the Holocaust. It’s part of an important dialogue on justice, tolerance for cultural differences, and appreciation of commonality.


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January 27, 2020 by

How Family Separation in the Holocaust Affected My Life Forever

I am up watching the news on my phone, and I am fixated on the pictures of small children alone with tinfoil blankets in our own country’s detention centers. Caged like animals, they look alone. Huddled. Despondent.

The feeling in the pit of my stomach from seeing these beautiful children on the news hits me because I feel like I know. I don’t know what it feels to be torn from your parents at a young age, but I know what it feels like to be a child of someone torn from their parents at a young age. Because of my experience with my father who was on the kindertransport in the Holocaust, I not only feel for these children, but feel for their children and generations to come that will feel the burden of this horror.

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