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

February 14, 2017

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. Read the rest of this entry »


Review of A Girl From There

December 29, 2015

by Jack RiemerAGirlFromThere web2

I suppose that within every adult there are the memories of childhood living inside, struggling to get out. If the childhood has been a healthy one, then the adult and the child within live together in peace. If the childhood has been horrible, then the struggle never ends.

This is a book of poems by an adult, who lives with the constant presence within her of an unimaginably awful past. These poems describe what life was like for a child who lived in the Warsaw ghetto where you had to hide every time there was a knock on the door, and you were not allowed to sneeze or cry or make a noise until it was quiet outside. These poems describe what it feels like to be an adult who, when she was a child of three, was given away for safekeeping by her mother to a Polish neighbor, and whose mother taught her how to pretend to be a Christian before she left. These poems recall what it was like after the war to be the only Jewish child in a Polish school, and then what it was like to be a foreigner in an Israeli school at a time when the other children in your class simply could not understand what it was like to come from a world so unimaginably different from theirs.   Read the rest of this entry »


After the Hoolocaust the Bells Still Ring on NY Journal of Books

November 1, 2015

By Charles S. Weinblatt AftertheHolocustWeb1

Joseph Polak is from the same nation as Anne Frank, The Netherlands. As Jewish children, they are taken captive by Nazi Germany, deported to Westerbork and then to Bergen-Belsen, where Anne dies from typhus. Joseph has the rest of his life to make sense of the Holocaust, to find a way to re-connect with a God painfully absent from the destruction of his people.

Joseph is an infant when he and his parents are forced onto Nazi train transports and sent to Westerbork. Joseph’s father dies shortly after their next train transport. He and his mother face years of starvation, brutality, and deplorable conditions. They, along with other Jews, await final transport to a Nazi death camp. Read the rest of this entry »


Portland Book Review The Jewish Dog

June 23, 2015

Asher Kravitz writes from a unique perspective of a Jewish dog in 1935 Germany. From the first chapter, the reader will know this will be a The Jewish Dog9780983868538delightful little book, even given the topic of Nazis and the Holocaust. Caleb, the Jewish dog, has an immediate love for his Jewish family. Caleb is smart and understands love and loyalty. When his family’s fortunes turn, due to an increasing number of rules against Jews, Caleb is given away. His next family is less than loving and Caleb realizes his own fortune has changed, too. He runs away and ends of with a Nazi family and then as a stray. Finally Caleb becomes a dog trained to smell out Jews and is relocated to Treblinka. Caleb wrestles with his Jewish past, as well as, his own need to survive while being fed by the Nazis. Read the rest of this entry »


Review of The Jewish Dog

June 17, 2015

Review by Miriam Kates LockThe Jewish Dog9780983868538

The Jewish Dog tells the story of the Holocaust from a point of view that has presumably never before been explored. In this curiously original tale, Caleb, an intelligent and pensive pup, is born in the home of the Gottlieb family, a traditional Jewish family living in Germany in the 1930’s. From the very beginning Caleb is sensitively aware of his surroundings and tries to figure out the world around him. He is particularly interested in humans, their language and the role they play in his life. He loves the Gottliebs and is relieved when he is the only one of his mother’s litter who is not separated from her. Unfortunately, he ultimately does get separated from her and from the Gottliebs as well, as the events taking place in Germany begin to affect not only the lives of Jews but even the lives of dogs.

When a law is decreed that Jews can no longer own dogs, Caleb is taken in by a German family who mistreats him terribly. When this family passes him on to an SS officer whose young son is thrilled with him, at first he thinks he is lucky but later he runs away to look for  the Gottliebs. Eventually he is captured by Nazis who send him to be trained as a guard dog. Read the rest of this entry »


On the Death (and Life) of Martin Gilbert

February 15, 2015

By Seth Mandel

Early in my career in Jewish journalism, I was working on a column about the ideological considerations of interwar Zionists’ appeals to Western leaders. Winston Churchill obviously figured in this story, and so I knew immediately the best person to reach out to for input: Martin Gilbert. His response to that inquiry always stuck with me, and it’s only added to the sadness of the news today that Gilbert has passed away.

I emailed Gilbert my question. He responded with a warm note and emailed me a digital copy of a page of his manuscript for his book Churchill and the Jews. The book was already published (indeed it was already in paperback), so he could have referred me to the book. Had he wanted to be even more helpful, he could have given me a page number. But he sent me the page from the manuscript that he thought might be of the most help to my column in part because the page had his own notes on it. He was giving me not just the finished copy, but the thought process that led to it.

A few things struck me about the exchange. The first was that Sir Martin Gilbert, Churchill’s official biographer, had essentially volunteered to do my research for me. The second was that I had never met nor spoken to Gilbert before that, so it wasn’t as though he was taking this effort for a friend. Then I realized just how generous he must be with actual friends and colleagues.

But far more important for Gilbert’s legacy was what it said about his approach to historiography. Martin Gilbert had a rare combination of intellectual ambition and personal humility. On an issue related to Winston Churchill and also to the events leading up the founding of the State of Israel–two monumental subjects of the 20th century–there was absolutely no question that Gilbert was the man to ask. That is an accomplishment in itself. Read the rest of this entry »


BU Rabbi Emeritus: ‘After The Holocaust The Bells Still Ring’

January 23, 2015

Rabbi Joseph Polak, author of After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring, was interviewed on Radio Boston with Meghna Chakrabarti.

Among many questions, Rabbi Polak was asked about his memories of the Holocaust.

AftertheHolocustWeb1 “The early memories are impressionistic. The poplar trees stir something in my body…even now, that I know comes from there. So, do I have visual memory of it? No. But the first time I saw poplar trees, certainly in Europe, I knew that this was associated with the Holocaust. It took me years to figure out what it was…They were part of the topography of Westerbork. And Westerbork is at the youngest point of my childhood in the Holocaust.”

He was also asked what he thinks child survivors of the Holocaust should have been told.

“What I think they should have said was, ‘Yes, you feel something. Yes, your body remembers something.’ That would have been very helpful…And this did not come just from one person in my life. It was universal. Whenever you met an adult survivor and you started talking about the Holocaust, they said, ‘Oh, you don’t remember anything. Thank God you were a child. Thank God you were a child.’ And I have these conversations with Eli Wiesel, thank God I was a child? Eli Wiesel was 14 when he was taken to the camps. I said, ‘You had 14 fabulous years with your family. You had a wonderful family, you were at your grandparents’ house, you’re at your parents’ house. It was a happy, warm family.’ I had three months with my family, and then I was taken to Westerbork and to Bergen-Belsen. I had nothing. And my group of survivors really, really suffered, sometimes to the point of madness in adult life, because of this.”

The final question was geared toward his views on forgiving the perpetrators of the Holocaust.

 “I think that it is not up to the survivors to forgive the Germans. I don’t think it’s up to the Jewish people to forgive the perpetrators. I think it’s something they have to take on themselves, and something they have to deal with themselves. We cannot speak for the dead, we cannot speak for the murdered. Who can?”

You can listen to this fascinating interview, and read more about it, here.


A Review of The Unwilling Survivor

May 1, 2014

From the Life in Israel blogUnwillingSurvivorWeb1

I don’t even know where to begin with The Unwilling Survivor. That’s how good of a book it is.

The Unwilling Survivor, by Michael Kopiec, published by Devora Publishing, is an amazing book. It is a true story, but is written and reads like a gripping fiction novel. The story is tragic, it is courage, it is faith, it is honor, it is horrific and there are probably more words that I just cannot think of.

Misha Kopiec, the father of the author, tells his son this story, beside the deathbed of Liza, Misha’s wife and Michael’s mother, when they decide it is time for Michael to know who his father really is, how he survived the war.

Mishe was a Polish boy, in a Polish village, son of a Jewish-Polish soldier. Misha’s father was all about courage and honor and discipline. He trained his son in his ways, and Misha grew up seeing his father defend the family from anti-semitism, and was trained, by his father, to be prepared for any and every eventuality, with the knowledge that the discipline to stick to his training would be what would save his life in a world of anti-semitism.

And his father was proven right, time and time again.

Misha grew up and became a soldier himself. The story follows Misha as a Polish soldier watching the Polish army overrun dishonorably by the Germans. Eventually Misha ends up captured by the Germans, more than once, and escapes, more than once. Misha ends up on the Russian side and becomes a Russian soldier, and again ends up captured by the Germans. Misha, however, is a survivor, and an honorable one. He refuses to do anything that will harm other Jews, despite the difficulties that puts on his attempts to escape or survive.

Misha somehow survives, against all odds. the gripping story is how he survives as a Jew in the German POW camps, the Russian army, behind Russian lines, in Polish towns full of anti-semitism, in the ghetto, on a train full of Nazis – filled with both SS and Gestapo officers, on a POW death march, in work labor camps, with partisans with unknown loyalties…. He tells the most unbelievable stories. With Misha not being a religious man, he does not talk about the hand of God being what saves him rather than others, but later in the book he begins to realize that is survival was so unusual while so many around him, including his family, were killed, and near the end of the book he is made to realize that it is clear he is meant to survive.

To avoid giving away too much of the story, anything besides Misha surviving Read the rest of this entry »


Nowolipie Street: A Review

May 2, 2013

by Emily AdamsNowolipie Street

Nowolipie Street, a fantastic memoir of how one young Polish man’s life was changed forever by the horrific events of World War II, will deeply impact its readers. The author begins by tracing memories of his childhood, the early years of his education, and the years leading up to the Second World War. He then recounts his family’s heart-wrenching experiences.

The horrors of war are dramatically highlighted by Hen’s descriptions of the simple beauty of Polish urban daily life during the ’20s and ’30s. However, the author does not merely speak in generalities. Hen uses a generous smattering of anecdotes to give readers a glimpse into the life of his family. For instance, he writes, “When I was very young, the rhythm of life in our courtyard was determined by holidays. Later, in the thirties, more and more families surreptitiously began avoiding the tradition, and many forms of religious life disappeared.” In this way, Hen skillfully shows the reader the life of the average Jewish Pole during this time in history through the lens of his specific experience.

The author’s style is quiet and nostalgic. He effectively portrays the innocence of a Jewish Polish boy’s pre-war world and the drama of a child’s universe through charming descriptions of episodes of daily life. For instance, he tells of a play during which he was so taken by the stage set that he forgot to play his part and, instead, stood stock-still, amazed, in front of a surprised audience. He writes, “Eventually, I was jostled off the stage. Mother blushed for the shame of it all, and Mr. Director gave me a talking-to. I know I cried after that, defeated again. Life could be unbearable sometimes.” The emotion and pettiness of this story and others against the backdrop of the actual events that followed, highlights the tragedies Hen describes.

The author also effectively utilizes foreshadowing throughout his story. Read the rest of this entry »


Na’amat Woman Fall 2012 Waltzing With the Enemy

November 4, 2012

 

Waltzing With the Enemy: A Mother and Daughter Confront the Aftermath of the Holocaust  (Penina Press). 

Rasia Kliot and Helen Mitsios, mother and daughter, respectively, tell the story of Mitsios’ Catholic upbringing in Arizona and Kliot’s Jewish life in Lithuania where the Nazis murdered her father and imprisoned the family in the Vilnius ghetto.

– from Na’amat Woman Fall 2012