Archives for category: Camps
PolishWeddingChairs1939

Red wedding chairs in a forest in Poland, circa 1939.

UPDATED AT THE END…

If a tree grows through a red chair in the forest, is it real?

This photo made the rounds on Facebook recently and I’m inexorably haunted by it.

The accompanying text read:

These chairs were laid out for a wedding in 1939 in Poland. The wedding was abandoned, and so were the chairs due to the German invasion. They were found again after the war with the trees growing through them. Every year they are repainted.

My initial response was OMG (fitting for Facebook, I know). I can’t stop looking at this picture. The lush green grass sprouting at the base of the spindly tree trunks. The vivid red paint on the chairs that reveals some of the wood grain beneath. This image is bold. It feels stylized. Could it be that it was Photoshopped?

I’m trying to figure out how all the trees rose so perfectly through the space in the chair-backs without breaking any of the chairs in the process. Maybe that’s the part that’s stylized; the folks who come and paint them every year (meanwhile, who are they?) fixed the broken ones and manipulated them to create this perfect alignment.

In a reverse-image search on Google the only results I got were from Pinterest. Strange. And I came up empty at Snopes, the hoax-busting website. Does anyone reading this know the origin of this photo and/or the accompanying story behind it? I’m mostly looking for verification and if it is indeed real, I’d like to know more details. It’s lovely and eerie and I can’t take my eyes off it.

Baffled, intrigued, and impatiently waiting for answers. Got any?

UPDATED at 4pm on July 15, 2015

So that was fast. Not sure where the Holocaust tale came from, but this is actually a picture of an art exhibition. From 2001! It’s called “The Four Seasons of Vivaldi” and it was created by a French artist named Patrick Demazeau. The photo was taken in a forest in the province of Namur, Belgium. Here’s the link.

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terezin quote fixedI just learned of another baby that was born in a concentration camp. This is something worth celebrating—another sharp stick in Hitler’s eye! When I learned about my mother-in-law’s birth in a camp, I didn’t understand how that was remotely possible. Then I heard about a few more babies born in camps and was forced to suspend my disbelief. And now, another one.

Although this baby died in January at age 70, his name, Rudi Klobach, popped up in my news feed today. As the much-loved soccer coach of Women’s World Cup star Carli Lloyd when she was a student at New Jersey’s Delran High School (1997-2000), his death is noted for the sole reason that he will not be able to watch Carli go toe to toe with Japan in the finals this year.

As exciting as the Women’s World Cup is, I’m more interested in his family’s history. Born on June 18, 1944 in Terezin concentration camp, little Rudi went on to have a good life that positively impacted many children.

Per an article in yesterday’s New York Times, “Klobach was born in 1944 in the Nazis’ Theresienstadt concentration camp in Czechoslovakia, where his father was given the job of collecting bodies to put in graves,” his wife Barbara Klobach said.

Like so many survivors, he rarely spoke of his family’s experience during the war.

I learned a little bit more about him in his obituary. He and his parents, Klara and Karl Heinz Klobach, were rescued from the camp by the Russians and eventually settled in Düsseldorf Germany, where his sister Maria was born. In 1948, when he was four years old, the family moved to the United States, eventually settling in Pennsylvania after his father, a trained architect, received sponsorship from an American architectural firm.

rudi klobach hall of fame trophy

Photo: courtesy of Mark Makela for The New York Times

In addition to coaching the girls’ soccer team through many a winning season, Coach K, as he was affectionately called, also taught German at Delran High School. In fact, the school’s German program wouldn’t exist without him: he built it from one class to a full-time curriculum with five levels of study. Deepening the school’s ties with all things Deutschland, Rudi established a German Club and traveled with his students every other year to Germany, Austria and Switzerland to enrich their language learning.

In 2011, Rudi was inducted into the South Jersey Hall of Fame in 2011. As a New Jersey native, I appreciate that they left off the “New” in the title. Sometimes Jersey is just Jersey, plain and simple.

Chamber Door courtesy of USHMM

A door to a “de-lousing” chamber in Auschwitz. Sign says: Harmful gas! Entering endangers your life. Photo: Courtesy of USHMM

 

Imagine this: Your 14-year-old son says his history teacher told him that the gas chambers in the Nazi concentration camps weren’t intended to kill Jews.

Really? What were they for then?

Per The News-Gazette in Champaign, Illinois, the town where this incident occurred, the teacher (who has not been publicly identified) said, “These concentration camps were horrific places due to cruelty from the guards, little to no food, as well as extreme overcrowding that led to the rapid transmission of deadly diseases in those conditions, such as typhus.”

He explained that this is based on his own research of the subject. What are your sources Mr. Teacher? Are they fact-based and reputable? Well, here’s a fact: The gas that came out of the showers killed lice, for sure, but it also killed the host, the HUMAN BEINGS that carried the lice. What you read is propaganda, that the ‘showers’ were to clean the prisoners, when in reality, they were to extinguish them, to choke the life out of them, to MURDER them. These are facts, witnessed by people who are still alive (!) and archived in legal documents around the world.

I don’t know what is going to happen to this teacher, and I don’t need to know his name or anything about him. Going forward, I just want him to share historical facts, not propaganda.

cynthia voelkl John Dixon The News-Gazette

Cynthia Voelkl. Photo: John Dixon/The News-Gazette

 

Thank you for saying something, Cynthia Voelkl. It’s easy to spout outrage, but to actually do something and attempt to effect change, well, that’s to be commended.

I think she sums it up best with this line: “I know it’s a complicated issue, especially with laws about free speech, but I don’t think historical facts are a matter of opinion.”

 

LeRoy “Pete” Petersohn, 1945

Pete Petersohn 2001-v3

LeRoy “Pete” Petersohn, 2001

I’d like to introduce you to a really important person who unwittingly made a huge difference in my life. His name is LeRoy “Pete” Petersohn and he was a medic in the United States Army during WWII. He’s the other protagonist in my book, along with my mother-in-law, Hana. He’s truly the yin to her yang. Without him she wouldn’t exist. I’ve been working on the chapters about him recently and well, Memorial Day just snuck up on me. I want to dedicate this post to him, because without him my husband would not be here, and as you can gather, neither would my children. Pete saved Hana’s life when he discovered her at three-weeks-old at Mauthausen concentration camp in 1945, and swiftly administered medical care that staved off fatal infection. He was a war hero through and through.

He died in 2010 at age 87, but I did have an opportunity to meet him in 2008 when he was presented with the Golden Shofar Award in Albany, New York. I am in regular contact with his youngest son, Brian Petersohn, who has been generously sharing all of his father’s clippings, writings, photos and other war-related mementos with me over the past few years. Most endearing, however, are Brian’s own memories and stories of growing up with him. He sounds like one of those dads every kid wishes he or she could have, someone who’s loving, kind, fun and funny. It gets emotional at times, but it’s been so beautiful to share my journey with one of Pete’s kids. Pete really feels like family now, and indeed, he is. Thank you Brian, for bringing your father vividly to life for me and for the future readers of the book.

Screen shot 2013-06-05 at 10.36.55 AM

As a Brooklyn-dwelling former spelling bee champ (4th and 5th grades, thank you very much), I was delighted to learn that the winning word at this year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee was knaidel and it was spelled by a New York City kid who’d never eaten a matzoh ball in his life. He is the child of immigrants from southern India.

But as many who have cared to follow have since seen, the Yiddish-intelligentsia are up in arms over what they deem an incorrect spelling.

Oy vey!

At first I thought they were overreacting. But then I read this cogent essay in today’s New York Times and now see this is a much deeper issue that has its roots in anti-Semitism. According to Jewish scholar and professor Dara Horn (bold text mine),

 The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, which created the standard Yiddish transliteration now used in libraries around the world, holds that the correct spelling is ‘kneydl.’

Yiddish is a thousand years old, but YIVO, founded in 1925 in what is now Vilnius in Lithuania, finished standardizing the spelling of Yiddish words in the Hebrew alphabet only in 1937. YIVO (an acronym for the Yiddish Scientific Institute) was created by scholars who saw Judaism as a nationality based on language, not religion — and who insisted, amid rising anti-Semitism, that the Yiddish language was as rich as any other. For Yiddish to matter, spelling had to count — which is why this orthographic debate is far more fraught than it appears.

…In 19th-century Europe, religious writers spelled Yiddish words by imitating Hebrew, using vowel markings where none were necessary so their new writing would resemble ancient Hebrew texts. Meanwhile, Jews who wanted to assimilate into European life wrote in a Yiddish spelling that openly imitated German.

…[In the early Soviet Union] government control over Yiddish schools and presses led to the invention and enforcement of a literally anti-Semitic Yiddish orthography by spelling the language’s many Semitic-origin words phonetically instead of in Hebrew. (Imagine spelling “naïve” as “nigh-eve” in order to look less French.) It was an attempt to erase Jewish culture’s biblical roots, letter by letter.

These psychologically destructive spellings — implying, as they all did in various ways, that Jewish culture didn’t belong in Europe — were what YIVO was fighting against.

…By 1945 the Nazis had killed the majority of the world’s Yiddish speakers. YIVO itself survived only through the efforts of Jewish prisoners, including celebrated poets who were forced by the Germans to loot YIVO’s archives for a Nazi-created “Institute for the Study of the Jewish Question.” Members of this “paper brigade” risked their lives to smuggle out cultural treasures, including documents that scholars had painstakingly collected to record and standardize Yiddish spelling.”

As Ms. Horn tweeted, “My piece on #yiddish spelling [w]as a matter of life and death,” and although perhaps a bit overstated, I somewhat agree. What do you think?

AshesHolocaustSweden

The mausoleum at the Majdanek concentration camp outside Lublin, Poland. Photo: CC BY-ND Kasia/Flickr

You know the definition of chutzpah wherein a man kills his parents and then begs for leniency on account of being an orphan? Well, here’s something that closely adheres to that definition: a Swedish artist used the remains of people murdered at Majdanek concentration camp in Poland for his painting, currently on display at a gallery in Lund, Sweden.

The artist, Carl Michael von Hausswolff, defends his use of the ashes, per his artist statement at the gallery: ‘The ash has followed me, always been there …  as if the ash contains energies or memories or souls of people … people tortured, tormented and murdered by other people in one of the 19th century’s most ruthless wars.’”

Uh, yeah, and that’s why you should not have used their ashes in your art. Those ashes are sacred. And they don’t belong to you. According to The Blaze: “[von Hausswolff] apparently collected the ashes 20 years ago, however there is not much information regarding how he acquired them. The Telegraph claims that he ‘took the ashes during a 1989 visit to Majdanek.’ A translation from a description on the gallery’s web site seems to indicate that the artist nabbed the ashes directly from cremation ovens during his visit.”

What an ash-hole.

The eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. I remember and I honor you. With me, this is personal: Without you my mother would’ve perished in the death camp. Thank you to that one vet who saved her from certain death and to the countless others who risk their lives every day to save the innocent. – Thomas Berger (aka, my husband)

This blog post is in honor of LeRoy “Pete” Petersohn, who made my husband’s existence, and subsequently my two children’s, possible. Below is an abridged version of his obituary from the Beacon News, his employer of 44 years.

LeRoy Emil Petersohn LeRoy “Pete” Emil Petersohn, 87, of Montgomery, [Illinois] passed away Monday June 14, 2010 at his home. He was born August 14, 1922 in Aurora the son of the late Emil and Minnie (Schmitt) Petersohn.

Pete retired from the Beacon News after 44 years and was a 60 year member of the Chicago Typographical Union. He was a life member of Montgomery VFW and a member of the American Legion.

A veteran of World War II, in October 2008 he received a prestigious Shofar of Freedom award from Temple Israel in Albany, NY; for being a liberator, witness, and providing much needed medical care to the victims of the Holocaust at  Mauthausen Concentration Camp near Linz, Austria. He was a medic with Patton’s Third Army, Eleventh Armored Division Headquarters Combat Command B. He entered the war at Bastogne, Belgium and received his purple heart during the Battle of the Bulge. He was an original liberator at  Mauthausen concentration camp, while there he convinced his Major that a very ill, three-week old baby was worth saving. Sixty years later, the baby and he were reunited during a celebration of the liberation, at Mauthausen. Their story has recently been published in a book titled The Liberators: America’s Witnesses to the Holocaust, by Michael Hirsh. In 2005 he received the Golden Badge of Honor from the Austrian government.

He is survived by a very close and dear friend Dolly Wilson of Montgomery, his daughter Sandra Whiting of Black Forest Colorado, sons, Gary (Bobbie) May of Aurora Colorado, David (Sally) Petersohn of Oswego, Randy (Donna) Petersohn of Lombard, Brian (Debbie) Petersohn of Montgomery, a special niece Bonnie (Dwight) Evinger McConnell of Montgomery and a very special “Baby” Dr. Hana Berger Moran of Orinda, California, 13 grandchildren, 10 great grandchildren, numerous family members and an unbelievable amount of wonderful and supportive friends.

That “very ill, three-week old baby worth saving” refers to my mother-in-law, Hana Berger Moran. Her only child, Tom Berger, is my husband and the father of my two children, third generation Holocaust survivors.
Thank you Pete. It was an honor to meet you in Albany when you received the Golden Shofar Award. My family and I are forever grateful for your service.

2nd and 3rd generation Holocaust survivors display their honorary tattoos.  Photo: Uriel Sinai for The New York Times.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rolling Stones reference aside, many children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors are getting replica tattoos of their relatives’ prisoner identification numbers, permanently etching history — a very personal one at that — onto their arms.

New York Times reporter Jodi Rudoren writes in today’s paper how the kin of Auschwitz survivors “are memorializing the darkest days of history on their own bodies.”

Rudoren writes, “Only those deemed fit for work were tattooed, so despite the degradation, the numbers were in some cases worn with pride, particularly lower ones, which indicated having survived several brutal winters in the camp.”

I never knew that. My mother-in-law’s mother was deemed fit to work and did so at a slave labor camp in Freiberg, Germany. She also had a number, but it was never tattooed on her body. I’m not sure why but when I inquired my mother-in-law told me she believes it was because it was the very end of the war and the Nazis were just trying to process the prisoners as quickly as possible. Tattooing, apparently, slowed them down.

I learned a few other things in Rudoren’s article: Auschwitz was the only camp to employ this method of identification. Also, they started out branding chests but eventually moved to the left forearm.

“After the war, some Auschwitz survivors rushed to remove the tattoos through surgery or hid them under long sleeves,” writes Rudoren. “But over the decades, others played their numbers in the lottery or used them as passwords.”

Some Jews find the act of tattooing a relative’s number on one’s forearm offensive and disrespectful.

Rudoren writes, “The 10 tattooed descendants interviewed for this article echoed one another’s motivations: they wanted to be intimately, eternally bonded to their survivor-relative. And they wanted to live the mantra ‘Never forget’ with something that would constantly provoke questions and conversation.”

In July 2011 I wrote about a grandson who has his grandfather’s number inked on his bicep, a gesture I am just now realizing shows strength rather than subservience. In the accompanying photo he is flexing his tattooed bicep, proving his point.

Thanks to my friend Liv Nilsson Stutz for bringing this article to my attention.

Why am I not surprised? (And, really, how much uglier could Todd Akin‘s story get?)

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Akin’s source about the rarity of pregnancy resulting in rape is from a 1972 study by Dr. Fred Mecklenburg, an obstetrician-gynecologist at the University of Minnesota Medical School at the time. The Post-Dispatch writes:

In supporting his claim about trauma and ovulation, Mecklenburg cited experiments conducted in Nazi death camps.

The Nazis tested this hypothesis ‘by selecting women who were about to ovulate and sending them to the gas chambers, only to bring them back after their realistic mock-killing, to see what the effect this had on their ovulatory patterns. An extremely high percentage of these women did not ovulate.'”

I’m shocked to silence. Luckily, this commenter, who goes by the name of DriveBy, isn’t:

It would appear that the links between the Republican brain and the Nazi brain are even deeper than the obvious.”

Barak Levi Olins of Zu Bakery, courtesy of The Bakery Diaries

Bread. It conjures up all sorts of things. Crusty, hot and fresh. Slang for money. A 70s rock band. But for baker Barak Levi Olins, it brings up something else altogether. The Holocaust.

Owner of Zu Bakery in South Freeport, Maine, Olins approaches breadmaking like an artist, as he should. After all, bread is his life’s work, and bread is the staff (and stuff) of life. Five years ago he had an art installation that was borne of an epiphany he had. Art history professor Rebecca Duclos discusses it here:

“Firing across associative junctions that link bread to the body, utensils to weapons, and his own baking oven to the crematoria of the Holocaust, Olins’ work is at once visceral, poetic and neuralgic,” she writes.

“His installation at Whitney Art Works consists of three separate pieces in diverse media. Together a video, sculpted tools, and Olins’ homage to a baking oven express aspects of the physical and mental space in which the artist-baker himself labors every day. Olins’ own bread oven has come to represent an inevitable and inextricable connection between himself and the Holocaust, an extraordinary link that at first took him by surprise:

“The realization came from when I was building my bread oven and realizing that if I ever had to repair that thing I would have to climb inside of it. And then I had this incredible reaction, almost like a sense of suffocation or something. I didn’t realize right away why I had that reaction. I’m not inherently claustrophobic. Then I started to put it together.”

Duclos continues: “Olins acknowledges the ‘poetically dangerous’ territory that his work circumscribes. His determination to make conscious and make tangible the unthinkable leap between bodies burning and bread baking is disturbing precisely because it is so raw, so purely possible. Barak Levi Olins lives with this possibility every day he bakes.”

My friend Amy Halloran, an urban homesteader in upstate New York, met Olins at The Kneading Conference in Maine a couple of weeks ago. She sent me a link to his bio and told me, “Barak has such a lovely presence, I liked him right away. And he mills Maine grains for his bread, so I loved that. Then I read is bio and I thought, ‘This guy is a charm! The bread bomb!'”

Olins doesn’t mention on his site whether or not he has a direct link to the Holocaust but as a Jew, it’s a visceral connection to make, that of working the ovens to cremate fellow Jews and other prisoners in Auschwitz and then here in the States 70 years later baking bread for fellow Jews and people in the community. It’s uncomfortable to think about and write about but I’m pleased Olins was compelled to put it out there. Only wishing he would bring the installation here to New York. I, for one, would make a point to see it.