Silvia Fishbaum, author of the upcoming Dirty Jewess, remembers her mentor Ludovit Feld

9789655242775The unusual bespectacled face of a little 40-year-old man with a black cap atop his head leaving Auschwitz together with surviving children is captured in one of the most famous photographs of the 20th century. His tiny body is seen onscreen leaving the camp every day in an endless loop at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum.

Far from being forgotten or remembered only as prisoner A-7740, Ludovit Feld (or Lajos Baci – Uncle Lajos) is, twenty-five years after his death, widely recognized and even revered.

This little giant of an artist spent his entire life painting and portraying the people and daily life in his beloved Kassau (Kosice) – the second-largest city in the eastern part of Slovakia, known for its rich Jewish history. He was also an art teacher who taught children how to draw with their heart and many of his students made names for themselves in the world of art.

Feld had three strikes against him: He was a Jew, a dwarf, and poor. The ninth child in his family, he was the only one stricken with a handicap. As an adult he barely reached a height of four feet and the bullying he suffered during a time of growing anti-Semitism was almost too much for his small shoulders to bear.

In the spring of 1944, when he turned 40, Feld’s family and the other Jews in Kosice were loaded onto truck beds and driven to Teglagyar (“brick factory” in Hungarian) on the outskirts of the city, which served as a Jewish ghetto. Nearly thirteen thousand Jews were crammed into that small area.

As it turned out, Ludovit’s name was not on the deportation list due to the intervention of an art student of his who happened to work as a typist in the local Gestapo office. She deliberately omitted his name in the hope of sparing him from almost certain death.

Family was very important to Ludovit, so after a sleepless night he filled his little backpack with art supplies and walked to the brick factory ghetto. His family was happy to be reunited with him but knew his chances of survival were much greater outside the ghetto gates. Every day he would sit on his little stool drawing countless scenes of daily life in the ghetto, portraying the despair and the grief and the ever-present armed guards.

When they were deported to Auschwitz, Feld, because of his size, was assigned to the children’s barracks housing the twin boys known to history as the “ Twins of Auschwitz,” victims of the unspeakably sadistic experiments of the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele. Although he never had any children of his own, Feld became a father figure to all the twins. He rescued fifteen boys he believed wouldn’t survive the last death march by hiding with them for ten days and nights under the lowest bunks on the frozen ground. The boys in their testimonies all referred to Ludovit as their savior.

Feld’s entire family, with the exception of a sister and a brother, perished in Auschwitz. After the war he returned to his beloved city where he lived alone until his death.It was in Auschwitz that Mengele discovered Feld’s talent and, together with Czech artist Dina Gottlieb and Polish photographer Wilhelm Brasse, became part of the team drawing and documenting the doctor’s hideous experiments. Because Feld was a dwarf he was also subject to Mengele’s depravity. Adding insult to injury, Mengele demanded that Feld draw portraits of him so often that Ludovit could practically do it with his eyes closed. Continue reading “Silvia Fishbaum, author of the upcoming Dirty Jewess, remembers her mentor Ludovit Feld”

Hazy Hints of Memory: After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring

by Claudia MoscoviciAftertheHolocusttheBellsStillRing9789655241624.JPG

Early childhood development specialists emphasize the importance of having a nurturing and stable environment for infants and toddlers. That’s when the foundations of a child’s personality are formed and influence the rest of their life. Studies have shown that many of the children who grew up in the Communist Romanian orphanages during the 1980’s, living in deplorable conditions and deprived of love, attention, adequate sanitary facilities and healthy food, developed personality deficiencies that marred their lives. Many felt emotionally detached from others and could barely communicate, even as adults.

What about the youngest children of the Holocaust, growing up in the most hellish circumstances imaginable? Most of them perished in the fires of the crematoria, being the first to be selected for immediate death. The few so-called “lucky” child survivors recall bits and pieces of might have been an even worse fate. Rabbi Joseph Polak’s recent memoir, After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring (New York, Urim Publications, 2015), winner of the 2015 National Jewish Book Award, depicts surviving as a toddler in environments whose only certainties were suffering, squalor, misery and death. Continue reading “Hazy Hints of Memory: After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring

‘He Was A Man Capable Of Enormous Happiness’: Remembering Holocaust Survivor And Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel

AftertheHolocustWeb1Joseph Polak, author of After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring, remembers his friend Elie Wiesel.  Rabbi Polak joined Morning Edition to remember the legacy and impact of Wiesel.

Listen here.

Review of The Jewish Dog

by Jeff Fleischer, Foreword Reviews

The Jewish Dog9780983868538Kravitz’s canine narrator describes the events around him without understanding their full impact, offering a new perspective on the Holocaust.

With The Jewish Dog, Asher Kravitz succeeds in the difficult task of finding a new approach to a Holocaust story by telling the tale through the first-person perspective of a family pet. Kravitz treats the material with the appropriate respect while using the dog’s changes in ownership as a clever way to flesh out history and provide an additional perspective.

The story opens with the dog, Caleb, introducing himself and explaining his circumstances, as one of several puppies born in the household of a Jewish family in 1935 Germany. Kravitz drops in hints about what’s on the horizon, whether through Hitler’s voice on the radio or another dog owner bragging about his pet’s pure breeding,

Because of the real-life Nazi decree that banned Jews from owning dogs, the family has to give up Caleb, handing him over to a German with a fondness for the animal. Caleb eventually passes through several owners, who range from kind to cruel, including some involved in the worst crimes of the Nazi era. At various points in his journey, the dog is on the run with a pack of strays, being molded into a prison guard by Nazi trainers, or taking part in a prisoner uprising. At times, Caleb, whose name changes throughout his ordeal, even takes part in atrocities, following the orders of new masters. In doing so, he offers a window into the soldiers or citizens who committed similar crimes, without excusing their behavior. He is haunted by an incident when he was a puppy, when he stood by while a fellow dog hunted and killed a harmless kitten, and thinks about that experience whenever he fails to do right.

Kravitz has some fun with the dog’s food-driven motivation, and the humor does not undermine the story’s tragedy. Because Caleb’s circumstances change so often, the story maintains its suspense, as it’s never obvious which parts of history the dog will experience directly.

This review originally appeared on Foreword Reviews.

Review of A Girl From There

A beautiful book describing the effects of brutality

by Israel DrazinAGirlFromThere web2

This is a significant work of art and a singular testimony to the holocaust and the memory of it in a woman who was just an infant at the time. She was sick with typhus when she saw her dad die, she remembers how her grandparents were transported to be killed. She was hidden by non-Jews, returned to her aunt and uncle after the war and the butchery, and was later reunited with her mom in Israel.
Her free-flow descriptive poems in this book are beautiful. They prompt readers to think. They raise questions, some of which have no answer. She describes not only the time of butchery, but also the difficulties she faced after she was free.

 

After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring Won!

NJBA winnerUrim Publications is honored to announce that After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring is the winner of the 2015 National Jewish Book Award in the category of Biography / Autobiography.

After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring
by Joseph Polak
Foreword by Elie Wiesel
Hardcover, 141 pages
978-965-524-162-4

AftertheHolocustWeb1“Another book on the Holocaust? Yes and no; this book is about a different Holocaust—the one that survivors of concentration camps endured after April 1945. That is when survivors began to experience the horrific and persistent memories of what they had lived through, according to Joseph Polak, who entered the camps when he was just a toddler.”
-Eleanor Ehrenkranz, Jewish Book Council

“As one of the last witnesses to the Shoah, certainly one of the youngest, Joseph Polak has written a memoir that is an essential contribution to the body of Holocaust literature….This is a must read for anyone not afraid of grappling with the unfathomable.”
–Blu Greenberg
.
“Joseph Polak has written a memoir that begins where Anne Frank’s diary leaves off…. We don’t have many books like this one, books that tell what Hell was like for children who were too innocent to understand where they were, and too young to remember it clearly afterwards. So read this book and absorb what it has to say. And take some comfort from the fact that its author grew up to be a teacher of Torah and a counselor of young people on campus, hard as that is to comprehend.”
-Jack Reimer, South Florida Jewish Journal

“The story is so fantastic that, as Polak himself says, it goes against what we know of the Holocaust and the concentration camps. Every page teaches the reader something new, in language that is fresh and original.”
-Alan Rosen, PhD

“It is haunting and melancholic, unforgettable and poignant. Polak is a wonderful writer, proffering a terrifying truth while speculating about the wisdom of the Torah and the apparent absence of God.”
-Charles Weinblatt, NY Journal of Books

Lola Lieber: Faithful Holocaust Heroine

a_world_after_thisWhen Lola Lieber’s husband, Mechel, was arrested by the Nazis during the Holocaust, she did the unthinkable. Pretending to be a gentile, she walked into Gestapo Headquarters and asked to speak to whoever was in charge. She was taken to the office of SS Lieutenant-Colonel Adolf Eichmann, Gestapo Chief and overseer of Hitler’s “Final Solution” – the extermination of European Jewry.

She told Eichmann her husband wasn’t a Jew, had been picked up by accident, arrested by mistake. When Eichmann picked up the phone to call the jail where Mechel was being held, it became obvious the ploy wouldn’t work. All the jailers would have to do to determine if a man was Jewish, was check if he was circumcised. Understanding how badly things would play out, Lola turned and as calmly as possible, strolled out. Miraculously, no one stopped her. Mechel escaped later and reunited with his beloved bride. Continue reading “Lola Lieber: Faithful Holocaust Heroine”

Review of After the Holocaust the bells Still Ring

Review by Eleanor EhrenkranzAftertheHolocustWeb1

Another book on the Holocaust? Yes and no; this book is about a different Holo­caust—the one that survivors of concentration camps endured after April 1945. That is when survivors began to experience the horrific and persistent memories of what they had lived through, according to Joseph Polak, who entered the camps when he was just a toddler.

In the camps, the goal was simply to survive day to day. At night, the constant noises of people crying and climbing up and down the bunks to go to the bathroom, and the smells when they didn’t make it in time, did not give anyone time to meditate. So it was only after liberation that survivors who had physically recovered fully realized and relived the subhu­man lives they had been living.

That is when the nightmares began, mostly because of guilt; many knew they had behaved badly under duress. How many Dutch Jews, given a little authority, sent other people’s children off to Auschwitz to save their own, and how many inmates stole life-saving slices of bread from sleeping inmates? Who created those lists of people the Nazis used to round up the Jews in Holland? Why is it that 90% of the Jews in the Netherlands were slaughtered? These questions have obvious and disturbing answers.

Since this book is told from three different time periods, Polak asks many questions related to each of the periods, and not all of them have answers. At the beginning of the book, Polak is revisiting Troebitz (where his father is buried) in 1995 with a group of sur­vivors; his memories of what happened fifty years earlier surface and he recounts some of them. He wonders why he, a boy of three when he entered the camp, found a Nazi guardian who watched over him but asks why his father was so soon stricken with typhus and died. He intersperses these periods with a timeless, surrealistic philosophical discussion with an angel. And he asks the eternal ques­tions of the Angel of God: How did He allow the slaughter, especially of so many children? Why hasn’t He avenged this slaughter?

As an example of one atrocity, Joseph Polak’s beloved Uncle Anton, a widower, had the job of soothing people selected for deportation. And what happened to him? He, ”together with his four children, Isaac, age 11, Judith Hadassah, age 10, Shulamith Ruth, age 8, and Ben Zion Baruch, age 6—all were forced to run nude down the chute in Sobibor, where on July 9, 1943, they were gathered into the gas chambers. The powerlessness of it all—a father in his thirties, huddled naked with his four children, waiting for the gas.” Why?

This wrenching vision is only one of the stories Polak tells of the humiliation and de­struction of body and soul that went on daily and toward which Polak periodically questions God’s attitude.

And yet, there is something to be learned from the way in which two types of people survived in larger numbers than others. One group was composed of Zionist teenagers who kept planning to get to Palestine and sang their pioneer songs together. About 80% of them survived. The other group was com­posed of Orthodox Jews who spent over an hour a day in deep Torah study and met three times a day to pray together. These groups had one thing in common—they did not succumb to despair.

Another major point seems to be reflected most in a photograph most people have never seen before, of a seven-year-old boy on a sunny day, walking down a path in Bergen Belsen lined with dead, unburied bodies. He doesn’t look at them and seems unconcerned. Is this denial or is he following the dictates of Jewish law, which forbids one to look at a dead body? Perhaps the boy represents the world’s attitude toward what happened during the Holocaust.This is one of the many unanswered questions we are left with after reading this profound book.

This review originally appeared on The Jewish Book Council