Monday, September 30, 2013

What We're Reading: City of Women

In between preparing for a new school year and the high holidays, the staff book club hasn't had a chance to meet for a while. Luckily, our new book, City of Women by David R. Gillham, is a compelling read full of twists and turns and ripe with moral dilemmas. 

The book blurb reads:

It is 1943— the height of the Second World War. With the men away at the front, Berlin has become a city of women. On the surface, Sigrid is the model German soldier’s wife: She goes to work every day, does as much with her rations as she can, and dutifully cares for her meddling mother-in-law, all the while ignoring the horrific immoralities of the regime. But behind this fa├žade is an entirely different Sigrid, a woman of passion who dreams of her former Jewish lover, now lost in the chaos of the war. 

But Sigrid is not the only one with secrets—she soon finds herself caught between what is right and what is wrong, and falls somewhere in the shadows between the two.

At  once a well researched work of historical fiction, a love story, and a page turning espionage tale, City of Women is notable for its sympathetic but highly flawed characters and for Sigrid’s unique perspective as a reluctant member of the resistance.

We will discuss the book this Thursday, October 3. Feel free to post your reviews and questions in the comments section, or to suggest other books. 

 Image: Book cover courtesy of Amy Einhorn Books.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A Poignant Trip Home to Poland

This blog post comes from Joel Rosenkranz, son of Holocaust survivor, Gallery Educator, and Speakers Bureau member Sol Rosenkranz. This past summer, Sol and Joel traveled to Sol’s hometown of Krosniewice, Poland (near Lodz), and wanted to share their experience.

Right after liberation in September 1945, Sol returned to Krosniewice and saw that the Germans had paved the town square with gravestones removed from the Jewish cemetery — all deliberately placed with the inscriptions up to further the desecration.  That memory of having to walk on these gravestones has stayed with Sol for decades. 

On a family trip to Krosniewice in 2002, we saw that the town square had been re-surfaced though there was no official record of the whereabouts of the matzevot (monuments). In late July of this year, Sol and I took another trip to Krosniewice, specifically to determine if the matzevot were covered over by pavement. With the help of Paul Radensky in the Museum’s education department, Sol contacted Michael Schudrich, the Chief Rabbi of Poland, who took an interest in this issue. Rabbi Schudrich, Sol, and I met with the town's mayor, Julianna Herman, who had independently researched records and interviewed elderly residents. Her conclusion — which we all accepted -- was that the matzevot had been removed from the square by the communist administration in the early 1950s.

That same afternoon we visited what was once the Jewish cemetery in Krosniewice and is now an abandoned, tick-infested, and densely overgrown field in which it is very difficult to keep one's footing. Guided by a sympathetic Pole, Andrzej Urbaniak, we were very conscious that we were walking over unmarked graves — there were of course no gravestones anywhere. Our destination was a place in the middle of the field where half a dozen fragmentary matzevot had been cemented together by a kindly soul. 

At that moment, Sol decided to fund the placement of a fence around the perimeter of the cemetery and to clear a path to the gate so that future visitors could pay their respects. Our goal is to erect gates with a Star of David design and protective fencing all around.  Many generations of Jews are presumed to be buried in this cemetery, including five of Sol's own family members. He is the last surviving Jew from his town and regards this effort as his duty and honor. With the expert help of Monika Krawczyk of the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland, we are moving forward with this project.

Please email Joel Rosenkranz --if you would like to receive a link to the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland for progress reports regarding the cemetery or for information about how you can help. Those wishing to correspond with Sol directly may write him at: 440 West End Avenue, 15F, New York, NY 10024

Images are courtesy of Joel and Sol Rosenkranz. Seen here:  Top photo: Mayor Juliana Herman, Sol, Joel, Chief Rabbi Schudrich, and their guide. Bottom photo: a makeshift memorial in the abandoned cemetery. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

In Loving Memory of Shalom Yoran z'l

On Monday, Sept. 9 the Museum lost a truly special member of our family. Shalom Yoran was a compassionate, generous, and warm person who endured so much as young man and accomplished so much as an adult. Yet he was so unassuming, you would never know these things about him unless he told you. Or you read his memoir, which he wrote in 1946, but did not publish until the 1990s. I remember sitting with him at a dinner many years ago when he introduced me to the idea of slivovitz (plum brandy to you and me). Before describing it to me he spent a good 10 minutes helping me pronounce it.

Below is an overview of his life that we shared with the staff and board today.
It is with deep sadness that I write to tell you that Shalom Yoran passed away yesterday at the age of 88. A partisan fighter at the age of 14, Shalom shared his story with the world through his remarkable memoir, The Defiant, which was also made into a documentary film, and in the Museum’s exhibition, Daring to Resist: Jewish Defiance in the Holocaust.

Shalom described his wartime experiences in a letter he wrote urging people to become members of the Museum: 

In 1939, at the age of fourteen, my family and I fled our home in Raciaz after the Germans attacked Poland. We spent three years in flight and were finally stranded in Kurzeniec, another small Polish town. On erev Yom Kippur in 1942, I awoke at five o’clock in the morning. My father had left to pray at a shteible (small synagogue) an hour earlier. As German soldiers approached our home, my mother, brother, and I fled for the woods nearly six kilometers away, dodging bullets while we ran.

Then my mother disappeared.

I later learned that my mother and father were killed with 1,040 other Jews from the area. They were loaded into trucks, taken out of town, and shot. Others were directed to a barn that was then burned to the ground. I returned to the site of this massacre years later as a grown man and found pieces of bone from those who perished — friends, neighbors, and perhaps my own family.

Before being separated from my mother, she told me, “Go, fight . . . try to save yourselves, avenge our death, and tell the world what happened.” These are the words that guided me through that dark period, what gave me the strength to fight, and what inspires me to share my story today.

As a partisan, I blew up trains, the main mode of transporting food and weapons to the German army. I was also involved in ambushes. I burned factories that produced German supplies. I attacked the enemy’s camp in the middle of the night.

When the war ended, Shalom made his way to Palestine and reunited with members of his extended family. Shortly after his arrival, he recorded his wartime experiences while the memories were still fresh and then put the notebooks away.  Forgotten, they were discovered again in 1990, when with his wife, Varda, he translated them from Polish into English. In 1996, his book The Defiant was published by St. Martin's Press.

After Israel became a state in 1948, Shalom joined the Israeli Air Force and launched his career in aircraft repair and maintenance. Seven years later, he joined the fledgling Israel Aircraft Industries, and for the next 22 years helped to create the largest and most vitally important state-owned company in Israel. It is known today as Israel Aerospace Industries, building rockets, satellites, speedboats, fighter planes, and in-flight re-fuelling systems for the world market.

In 1978, Shalom moved with his wife and two daughters to the United States, where he became the chairman of a private aircraft company in New York City until his retirement in 2003.

Shalom’s bravery was exceeded only by his kindness and his generosity. He was a founding Trustee of the Museum of Jewish Heritage and a governor of Tel Aviv University, where he and Varda were honored in 2011 with the Chairman’s Award.

Most recently, he served as the inspiration for Living with Dignity, a non-profit that provides Invacare recliners to immobile and handicapped seniors. A gala benefit for this important effort is scheduled to take place at the Museum on October 9, which will most certainly be a great tribute to his memory.

We will remember Shalom’s warmth, his infectious smile, and his unflagging devotion to honoring his mother’s last wish through his words and actions.

Our love and condolences go out to Varda, daughters Yael and Dafna, his oldest grandson Kori, a member of the Young Friends, and to his younger grandchildren.

May Shalom’s memory be a blessing always.