Archives for posts with tag: World War II

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.


Waiting to hear their names called… photo: courtesy of The Sun

First they were fighting for their lives. Now they’re fighting for the crown?

Yesterday in Haifa, Israel, 14 female Holocaust survivors aged 74 to 97 competed in a beauty pageant for the title of Miss Holocaust Survivor (at the very least they could have extended the courtesy of Ms. Holocaust Survivor.) Shimon Sabag, director of Yad Ezer L’Haver (Helping Hand), the organization that produced this event, said that the pageant was a celebration of life and that “the fact that so many women entered prove that it’s a good idea.”

I beg to differ.

That so many women — the 14 contestants came from a pool of 300 — does not mean it was a good idea. I’m no scientist but if you’re going to use the words “fact” and (a variation of the word) “proof,” it should at least pass the smell test. And this pageant reeks of wrong on so many levels.

Critics have alternately described the pageant as macabre, inappropriate, misguided, offensive, and gimmicky. I believe it is all those things. And it’s surely in bad taste.

Ms. Sabag says  the winners were chosen based on their personal stories of survival and rebuilding their lives after the war.  She’s quick to note that “physical beauty was only a tiny part of the competition.” Grrr.

I wonder if she and the other organizers of this pageant were responding to the fact that survivors  —and their children and grandchildren — are desperate to keep the stories of the Holocaust alive. There are so many books and memoirs out there and many people complain that there’s nothing left to be said, or at least nothing new. This was a nice deflection perhaps, to offer up something new to talk about something that’s becoming increasingly old. But even so, it still feels crass and misguided.

I like what Gal Mor of Israeli site, Holes in the Net, wrote:

“Why should a decayed, competitive institution that emphasizes women’s appearance be used as inspiration, instead of allowing them to tell their story without gimmicks? This is one step short of ‘Survivor-Holocaust’ or ‘Big Brother Auschwitz.’ It leaves a bad taste.”

Indeed it does. What do you think?


Doctors in Germany are sorry. So very, very sorry. Except their apology (if you can call it that) is six decades too late.

According to an MSNBC editorial by Art Caplan, PhD, “The German Medical Association has issued a remarkably blunt and straightforward apology, more than six decades after the end of World War II, for the role it played during the Holocaust in the mass murder, sterilization and barbaric medical experiments done on Jews and many other groups.”

“The declaration says that contrary to popular belief doctors were not forced by political authorities to kill and experiment on prisoners but rather engaged in the Holocaust as leaders and enthusiastic Nazi supporters,” writes Caplan, adding that this statement was “unanimously adopted by the delegates of the Physician’s Congress.”

Pardon my acronym but WTF? And seriously, did it take them 60+ years to craft that statement?

And now I have a cyber-commenter-crush on someone named Eric C who responded to the news with this:

I feel no satisfaction from this apology of the German Physicians Congress. An apology issued for acts committed by others is just so much moral preening. This apology is akin to the congressional apologies for slavery and abuse of native Americans issued in 2009. They are jejune blatherings, a corruption of language. It would have been better for these German doctors to simply condemn their predecessors, rather than to strut through this mummery of apologizing for them.”

Amen Eric C., you took the words I didn’t have right out of my mouth. Thanks for so eloquently stating exactly how I feel.

Photo: Soulbrother V2

Check out this opening line from a recent New York Times arts review:

The astounding thing about American slavery is not that it existed — the enslavement of one people by another may be one of history’s universals — but that it persisted.”

What struck me when I read that, is that it can also be said about the Holocaust. The fact that overt racism and mass genocide still exist doesn’t surprise me — they too are among history’s universals — but that Hitler’s attempt to slaughter every single Jew endured seven years before all of his death factories were discovered, and that it happened in the 20th century, during my own parents’ lifetime. That’s what’s incredible about it, how recent it was.

I saw other parallels to the Holocaust in that piece by Times culture critic, Edward Rothstein, entitled,Life, Liberty and the Fact of Slavery,”

“It lasted into an era when its absence could be imagined and its presence could become an outrage.

That was one of the chilling peculiarities of slavery in the United States: As revolutionary ideas of human rights and liberty were being formulated, slavery was so widely accepted that contradictions between the evolving ideals and the brutish reality of enslavement were overlooked or tolerated.

We look back now, shocked at the cognitive and moral perversity.

It’s not a direct correlation, of course, but we 21st century beings also look back in shock at the moral perversity of what Hitler was able to accomplish right under our noses. We weren’t primitive beings in Western Europe circa 1939. For all intents and purposes, we were a civilized people. But maybe electricity and indoor plumbing are not enough to engender civilized behavior among certain people, because although what the Nazis did to the 11 million people they killed was calculated, it was also savage to the core.

Curious to learn more, I Googled, “American Slavery” and “Jewish Holocaust,” which led me to an article about a cool art exhibit at Philadelphia’s Vivant Art Collection (note: it’s no longer there) called, “Transcending History: Moving Beyond the Legacy of Slavery and the Holocaust.” It was organized by the Idea Coalition, a self-described “network of Black and Jewish young professionals who work to build bridges between our communities.” As described by the online journal Zeek, the exhibit showcased 30 different artists, Black and Jewish, “in a deliberate attempt to highlight both parallels and distinctions between the experiences of the two groups who have moved through history on parallel tracks—in both pain and response to it.”

Broadway, The Divide, by Elke Riva Sudin

The piece I was most drawn to (above) is by local Brooklyn artist, Elke Riva Sudin and is called,
“Broadway: The Divide.” It is part of her Hipsters and Hassids series. Cool stuff.

But I digress.

So, what is the connection between American Slavery and the Jewish Holocaust? Or, maybe a more relevant question would be, What is the relationship between Blacks and Jews today? Last night I asked my husband what he thought and he drew upon his middle-school and teenage years living on Chicago’s South Side. He said he remembers a strong bond between the Black and Jewish communities back then [the 1980s] but remarked that it no longer exists.

He followed it up this afternoon with an email:

I grew up in Jackson Park Highlands, which was on the South Side and was a remarkably diverse neighborhood. My next door neighbors were Al and Mary Taylor, successful African Americans with rich southern pedigrees from Mobile and Atlanta, and my neighbors on the other side were Dick and Vivian Handel, who were Jewish. It seems like the houses, which were big and surrounded by leafy yards, alternated Jewish and African American. Ramsey Lewis, the famous Jazz pianist, lived down the street, and Jesse Jackson lived in the neighborhood as well, which was only four blocks by four blocks. So my context was built from that: where we all loved Chicago, and we were all trying to make it, and we were all close friends. It almost felt like the color of our skin didn’t matter. I used to sleep over at Al and Mary’s, and I just adored them.

Interesting and heartfelt, but it doesn’t really answer my question. So instead I’ll leave you with Funny or Die’s Black and Jewish rap, which in internet parlance had me ROFL and LMAO. “Shalom to your mother,” indeed!

Writing books for children with the Holocaust as its central theme is not easy. So when someone seems to do that successfully, I take notice.

This new graphic novel about the Holocaust that is not by Art Spiegelman, is called Lily Renee, Escape Artist: From Holocaust Survivor to Comic Book Pioneer and was written by Trina Robbins. It tells the story of Lily Renee Wilheim, who fled Nazi Germany at age 14 on the kindertransport to England. She eventually reunited with her family in America and went on to have an illustrative career in the comic book industry.

There are a few reasons why I’m excited about this book (that I haven’t yet read but plan to) that I don’t even know where to begin. Of course, making something pretty with pictures is a great way to get reluctant readers interested in a tough subject. It’s also fitting, and of course intentional, that a graphic novel is the chosen medium  to tell the story of a comic book industry heroine.

According to reviewer Lori Katz, who goes by the name LibraryLady, World War II is one of the most requested non-fiction topics in a school library. Who knew? Not me. (I’m also writing a children’s book about my mother-in-law’s discovery of her American soldier hero, and their ultimate reunion, thanks to the powers of Google. I plan to test-drive it on my first-grader son).

Oh, and is Lily Renee stunning, both 60 years ago and today. Found both these photos of her on Women in Comics wiki. The additional biography about her in the wiki is pretty fascinating, like this little tidbit:

“She received a lot of fan mail from soldiers overseas (who all referred to her as “Mr. Renée”) and occasionally wrote back and sent sketches, as a token of her appreciation for them fighting Nazis.”

Lily Renee, 2010; photo: Jo Ann Toy

Holocaust trunk by Crabapple Middle School students in Roswell, Ga.

For years Holocaust survivors have been visiting schools telling wide-eyed students about their days spent in camps and ghettos or hiding in the forest or someone’s attic. But it’s not often that a retired Army General from World War II visits schools, telling the same story from a different vantage point.

Middle school students in Georgia are lucky. They get to meet Brigadier General Russel Weiskircher in person. And he’s quite the storyteller, channeling the gravely voice of George C. Scott as General Patton.

Gen. Weiskircher; Photo: Tom Reed

He tells 50 rapt sixth graders at South Hall Middle School: “We asked the people in Dachau, ‘Where’s the prison camp?’ They didn’t know. Shook their heads.”

Gen. Weiskircher, WWII-era

He pauses for a moment and deepens his voice: “One old man!” he booms, “held his nose and pointed. In sign language he said, ‘Follow your nose, you’ll find it.’

There’s an inaudible gasp in the room. “I don’t mean to be vulgar,” says the retired General. “But the stench, I cannot describe to you.”

Although the 5:44 video is rough-shod, the General also had my rapt attention. (I recommend stopping at 4:34, though, as it’s mostly background noise after that).

South Hall Middle School sixth grader, 11-year-old Mason Barnes, said he could have listened all day to the General, says Access North Georgia.

As vice chairman of the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust, a state agency that uses the lessons of the Holocaust to teach about injustice, stereotyping, discrimination and bigotry, 88-year-old Weiskircher’s goal is to help today’s students cultivate an open mind. To do this, he goes from school to school as part of the Commission’s Holocaust Learning Trunk Project.

If the video wasn’t of such poor quality, I might have felt the same way. It’s a short video and I would love to know more of what the general spoke about. (Do I sound like Woody Allen when he complained about how terrible the food was but in such small portions?).

One thing that caught my attention, because I’ve heard about it before but never from someone first-hand, was IBM’s role in the war. Here’s what he told the students:

“[When] we pried the gate open [at Dachau], the first thing we found was a room with IBM key-punch cards. With a card for every prisoner in the German political system. It was being maintained by former IBM employees, Germans who had been trained to do it. There was a key-punch card for over 11 million people. That covered all over Europe, all of the prisoners, many of whom were dead.”


What do the words ‘booty’ and ‘holocaust’ have in common? Both have been replaced in the bible to better reflect their meanings.

According to an article in the Huffington Post, the word ‘booty’ today has sexual connotations (as in ‘booty call’) and has thus been changed in the bible to ‘spoils of war,’ which was its original meaning.

The Post explains: “The word ‘holocaust,’ which for most people refers to the World War II genocide of Jews, was changed to ‘burned offerings,’ which clarifies the original, positive idea of making offerings to God.”

There are many words whose meanings change over time, and booty and holocaust are just two recent examples. Holocaust, however, is one of those words that seems like it can never go back to beginning with a lower case ‘h’. Over the past 60 or so years it’s gone from noun to proper noun and it’s difficult to imagine it otherwise.

An article on says, “The word holocaust was not created to specifically describe the death of Jews in World War II, but within forty years of that event taking place, the word holocaust has become synonymous with the evil deeds of the Nazis . . . Because our society has molded such a horrific event with the word holocaust, we are now compelled to react strongly to said word. We would not react at all to that same word if it did not have these implications and meanings.”

The word holocaust comes from the Greek holocaustros, which means ‘burnt whole’.

Here’s the definition as it appears in Webster’s:

1: a sacrifice consumed by fire

2: a thorough destruction involving extensive loss of life especially through fire <a nuclear holocaust>

3a often capitalized: the mass slaughter of European civilians and especially Jews by the Nazis during World War II — usually used with the

b: a mass slaughter of people; especially : GENOCIDE

For those of you who dig root words, it comes from Late Latin holocaustum and the Greek word holokauston. It’s first known use is from the 13th century.