Tag Archives: Nazi Germany

Through a mother’s eyes

Imagine yourself the mother of two young sons, struggling to protect your family from a government that’s deemed you worthy of death. Today, as we recognize Holocaust Remembrance Day, I’m especially mindful of mothers who’ve lived in such a world.

With each passing year, some folks find it easier to equate the Holocaust with a mere historical event — forgetting the families whose lives were forever changed by the twisted terror of Nazi Germany. Today I’m putting a face on those families — thanks to Harold Minuskin, who lives in Northern Arizona.

Minuskin and his younger brother survived the Holocaust while many in their midst perished. Much of their journey is recounted by mother Sonia Minuskin’s memoirs, translated and annotated by Harold Minuskin.

I’ve been reading “My Children, My Heroes: Memoirs of a Holocaust Mother” this week — grateful for the window it opens into the lives of Jewish parents and children during Hitler’s time in power.

Minuskin’s son Harold has translated and annotated his mother’s recollections and reflections, written mostly in Yiddish, about life during the Holocaust. Sonia Minuskin died Nov. 7, 2008 at the age of 102.

Our daughter Jennifer met Minuskin last November, and thoughtfully asked him to sign a copy of the book — which became a cherished birthday gift not long after.

We think we face tough choices today. Which preschool to pick. What foods to feed our family. Where to spend vacations. How to save money for college. But Minuskin’s mother faced harder decisions by far.

They’re eloquently revealed in the pages of Minuskin’s work, despite her insistence that “language is too poor or inadequate to write and to tell you what I went through with my dear ones.”

“It was in the year 1939 when the Germans first entered our small town of Zhetel,” she writes. “The Germans began by asking us for all our good and possessions.” Jews weren’t allowed to use sidewalks or transportation, and were ordered to wear a yellow Star of David.

Her memoir recounts “the panic of the young children in the laps of their mothers,” and shares that parents who considered suicide had to ask themselves this question: “First the children, or first the adults?”

When their village was surrounded on April 6, 1942, Minuskin and her children ran to a backyard hiding place under the toilet. “My children survived,” she writes, “on a lick of sugar that I remembered to bring with me.” Later they escaped to a nearby forest, which was home until their liberation by the Russian army in 1944.

Maybe today we can all fret a little less about white versus wheat and stripes versus solids — pausing instead to remember both those who perished and those who survived the Holocaust. And making our way in the world ever mindful of ways we can stop and prevent such horrors.

– Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about Holocaust Remembrance Day, search for remembrance events in your area or watch a live broadcast of the national remembrance ceremony. Click here for information about the Phoenix Holocaust Survivors’ Association, and here to explore Holocaust-related materials from Yad Vashem in Israel.

Coming up: Exloring the Anne Frank Center in NYC, Bringing a Holocaust museum to Arizona

From sewer to sunlight

Scene from "In Darkness" from Sony Pictures Classics

The sun felt especially warm and bright as I exited Harkins Theatres Shea 14 this afternoon, and I took special note of chirping birds and bits of green in bloom. Normally I leave this particular movie theater with a single burning question: To gelato or not to gelato? But today I had something else on my mind. Sheer unbounded gratitude for the freedom to walk to my car and return home in safety.

I was still dabbing tears from my eyes as I left the theater, feeling profoundly moved and nearly breathless after watching a film called “In Darkness.” It’s based on the true story of a Polish sewer worker and petty thief named Leopold Socha who saved several Jews from certain extermination at the hands of Nazis by hiding them in the sewer system under Lvov, Poland in 1943.

The sewers, filled with filth and rats, become a sort of microcosm of society for the folks who must live there if they are to live at all. Everything we experience above ground happens below ground too — from sibling spats to sexuality — often as noise from life above seeps in. Bombs, beatings and machine guns. Even liturgical fare.

Everyday objects once taken for granted wield new power in this world. Scissors. Crayons. A fringed scarf. A raw onion. Even a belt ripped from frayed pants by a father fraught with desperation. Children see things they ought not witness. Parents make choices that they, and others, will have to live with forever. A couple delights in an odd sort of “Cinderella” moment. And adults are comforted by a little girl’s hushed lullaby.

It feels easy to tell the good guys from the bad as “In Darkness” opens, but things change in a hurry as a simple man is confronted with complicated choices. And days spent in hiding wear down body, mind and soul. Still, nothing in this film feels contrived — a credit to both screenwriter David F. Shamoon and director Agnieszka Holland.

“My main hope,” shares Shamoon, “is that Loepold Socha’s example will inspire others as much as it has inspired me. Like many of the other Righteous, he was no saint, which is what makes this a universal story. He was just an ordinary man who made some crucial choices that led to extraordinary deeds.”

Films that capture the complexity of human nature, at once beautiful and ugly, are rare — as are films that question so exquisitely the place of God in the human picture. Parents, in particular, will appreciate the choices made and chances taken by those in the sewers — and leave wondering how they’d act living either in the sewers or above them.

– Lynn

Note: “In Darkness” is an Agnieszka Holland film from Sony Pictures Classics starring Robert Wieckiewicz, Benno Fürmann, Agnieszka Grochowska, Maria Schrader and Herbert Knaup. Rating: R. Languages: Polish/German/Yiddish/Ukranian (English subtitles). Click here to read the reflections of those whose directing, cinematography, music, production design, costume design and editing make this such a truly exceptional work.

Coming up: Exploring the Anne Frank Center’s new home, Wall of words, A journey home

National Days of Remembrance

"Never Again" Sign at the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site

Update: Click here to watch video of the May 17 national remembrance ceremony at the U.S. Capitol, which was broadcast live on the USHMM website. The ceremony included remarks by Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, who spoke of how “human compassion was out of fashion” during the Holocaust, and Isreal ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren, who shared that remembering alone is never enough — because goodness must be “galvanized by action.” Other speakers included U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, who spoke about justice and the law, and USHMM director Sara Bloomfield. Click here to follow Twitter comments on this ceremony.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. has been charged by the United States Congress with leading our country’s national commemoration of the Holocaust.

This year’s Holocaust remembrance week is May 1-8. The theme is “Justice and Accountability in the Face of Genocide: What Have We Learned?” But you don’t need to visit D.C. to participate.

Observances are being held by state and local governments, military bases, workplaces, schools, synagogues and civic centers throughout the country, according to the USHMM.

Arizona events include the “CMS 3rd Annual Days of Remembrance Community Event” in Cottonwood — taking place Thurs, May 5, at 6pm at Cottonwood Middle School. Students will open the event “by sharing their published books about genocide and the Holocaust.”

A special USHMM program titled “Life After Death: Holocaust Survivors in the Postwar World” takes place that same evening in Scottsdale. It features Mark Roseman, Ph.D. , the Museum’s 2010-11 Ina Levine Invitational Scholar and the Pat M. Glazer Chair in Jewish Studies at Indiana University Bloomington.

Roseman will “explore the trajectories that survivors’ lives took after World War II and how popular perceptions of the survivor became central to the late 20th-century consciousness” at 6:30pm at the Ina Levine Jewish Community Campus in Scottsdale. RSVP by May 2 to Gerry Hoch at 972-490-6300 or southwest@ushmm.org.

Visit the website for Jewish News of Greater Phoenix for additional information about Holocaust remembrance and related events. If your organization is hosting an event, please share details by commenting below to let our readers know.

Click here to share a comment on the USHMM website about how you plan to remember the Holocaust this week, here to watch a webcast of the May 17 commemoration at the U.S. Capitol and here to learn how you can participate in a virtual names reading ceremony remembering victims of the Holocaust.

If you’re looking for additional information about Holocaust remembrance for children and teens, read “Remember and Act: Engaging children in social justice” in the May 2011 issue of Raising Arizona Kids magazine.

The article ends with the following reflection: Memory is never passive, and silence never neutral. We must remember, we must remain vigilant and every one of us must act.

– Lynn

Note: Information about the Holocaust, as well as Holocaust remembrance, is also available from Yad Vashem in Israel. Click here to learn more about “Jewish American Heritage Month,” celebrated in May.

Coming up: Bringing a Holocaust museum to the Valley

Museums and Mountain Dew?

Recently a cable television newscaster wielded his blackboard and chalk to chasten four American cities for their support of public arts such as museums and opera–likening public art projects to Mountain Dew and Cheetos.

So I got to wondering which Arizona museum he might classify as “junk food.”

Would it be the Arizona Capitol Museum, where my young children first learned how ideas evolve into legislation that becomes law?

Would it be the Heard Museum, where my children learned about cultures of the Southwest that thrived long before Arizona gained statehood?

Would it be the Musical Instrument Museum, where my grown children can now get a glimpse of how music shapes identity and builds bridges between people for whom it may be the only common language?

Would it be the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, with its many opportunities for youth to find and express their individuality outside of sex, drugs or violence?

What about our national museums?

Should we do away with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum so our country can invest the money in other causes?

What could possibly be more important than remembering the darkest days of our past in order to illuminate our mutual path to the future?

And what of other arts–such as opera, ballet, poetry, film or sculpture?

Should families who enjoy the arts together stay at home instead armed with remote control or joystick?

Would children whose love of art classes like theater or chorus keeps them in school be better off dropping out?

Should the theater and dance companies, the symphonies and the galleries, who employ all those artists, costumers, musicians, set builders and the like simply shut down, leaving artists unemployed and governments without the tax revenues and other benefits these organizations provide?

Today, in a television studio far removed from the arts and culture that has fueled so much of America’s progress, a man still toys with his blackboard and chalk.

I can only hope that elsewhere there are artists working their magic with soft drink containers and puffy cheese snacks…

–Lynn

Note: There’s another museum our country desperately needs–a museum dedicated to the understanding and appreciation of the world’s many religious and world views. For the wisdom of the ages is far too expansive to be contained on a single chalkboard.

Coming up: “Curious George” escapes Nazi Germany, More musings on art and civics