My mother and I arrived in Montreal, Canada in September 1941 following a death-defying escape that took us from bombed-out German-occupied Warsaw in the winter of 1940 to surviving a Nazi firing squad, to Lithuania’s Vilno (which in June 1940 was occupied by the Soviets). Then a 12-14-day Trans-Siberian train ride to Vladivostok and the Japanese ship “Asakura Maru,” arriving in Tsuruga, Japan in February 1941 (thanks to a Chiune Sugihara visa). We left Japan aboard the “Heian Maru” on what was its last civilian crossing before Pearl Harbor, and docked at Seattle on August 1, 1941. After transferring to a Canadian vessel, we landed in Vancouver then traversed Canada on a spectacular train ride to Montreal.
We settled in Outremont where my mother enrolled me at Alfred Joyce — a Protestant [Anglican] school — where all the teachers were Scots [McLaughlin, McPherson, Longmoore and Darling], while 96% of the all-girls student body was Jewish and wore British school style uniforms. I was its first WWII “refugee child” — and outsider.
A few weeks into the school year, I was invited to join my classmates in a nighttime escapade — “Halloween.”
”What’s Halloween?” I asked.
“You dress up in a scary costume. You knock on someone’s door and yell ‘trick or treat!’ and if they don’t open or give you candy — you throw paint or mess things up.” I was appalled! To me the trauma of knocking on a door and demanding something of a resident who might then be punished sounded terrifying.
“What kind of costume?”
They informed me “anything scary” would do. To me, scary meant German soldiers uniforms so I had no idea what a scary costume was.
“You can’t go without a costume,” I was told. Suggestions ranged from going like a witch, to maybe a ghost — “Cut out eyes from a sheet.” (“You mean ruin a perfectly good sheet?!”)
My mother and I lived at 5236 Hutchison Street in a furnished room, as did other boarders, in an apartment building owned by the Romanian-born Mrs. Rabinovitch, who used to char eggplants [a vegetable I had never seen or heard of] on the stove’s burner. The result: a nasal imprinting that has turned me against that vegetable for life.
A few kind-hearted fellow tenants tried to help. I was given an outgrown pink taffeta party dress, boys’ clothing — nothing worked, nothing fit.
“I’ll make you a Polish costume” my mother insisted. She had always sewn my dresses and coats — including the bulky coat I wore during our escape from Warsaw, which she had made from a rug she found in our bombed-out apartment — a feat I compare to the gown that Scarlett O’Hara had made from green velvet curtains in “Gone With The Wind.”
I don’t know where my mother found the cloth, the ribbons, the sequins, and the fabric flower wreath for my head, but by the time she was finished, I could have passed as a native Krakovianka (Krakow) girl. I did not look scary but when we marched up and down those Montreal-style front steps and knocked on doors — “Trick or Treat!” — my entourage ended up coming home with bulging bags of goodies and — if I remember correctly — never had to “trick” anyone.
It was thanks to that Halloween escapade that I stopped being “the little refugee girl” and was invited to become “one of the girls” — with some of whom I maintained decades’ long friendships.
(Reuters) — A young American woman soaks in Adolf Hitler’s bathtub, her muddy boots staining his bath mat, and an official portrait of the Fuehrer sits on the tub’s edge.
The woman is Lee Miller, the only female combat photographer in Europe during World War Two. She is pictured in Hitler’s Munich apartment on April 30, 1945, by fellow war correspondent David Scherman.
The image is one of the highlights of a new exhibition at London’s Imperial War Museum, “Lee Miller: A Woman’s War,” ending on April 24, 2016.
“This was actually taken on the day that Hitler committed suicide, although Lee Miller didn’t know that until after the event,” said Hilary Roberts, research curator of photography at the museum, who put together the show.
Shortly before, Miller had toured and photographed the Dachau concentration camp. She and Scherman had then made their way to Munich, by this time under U.S. occupation, and headed for Hitler’s apartment, where they spent the night with a group of other people, the curator said.
“The key objects in the photograph are Lee Miller’s boots on Hitler’s bath mat, which when she arrived was pristine white, and when she left was covered with dirt from Dachau,” she said.
Miller walked away with more than just a souvenir snapshot of herself in Hitler’s tub. She also filched a few of his mistress Eva Braun’s personal belongings, which are on view in the exhibition: a smiling portrait of Braun, her powder compact, her large Art Deco-style perfume bottle, and her four-piece rose-patterned desk accessory set.
Before the war, Miller was a model, a Surrealist photographer, and a fashion photographer. Yet her concentration camp pictures are among the ones she is most famous for.
The show displays a few, including one of a group of women at Dachau who were forced into prostitution inside the camp and now awaited evacuation.
The exhibition’s focus is Miller’s depictions of women in Britain and elsewhere in Europe during and right after the war.
Her 1943 images of British women - factory and farm workers, uniformed drivers, nurses, and even a parachute packer - are not as bleak as those taken in the defeated Germany. One particularly chilling German image from April 1945 shows the daughter of a Nazi dignitary - Leipzig’s city treasurer - lying dead on a sofa after committing suicide with her parents.
“On the surface, they may appear to be documentary works, but her background in fashion and in Surrealist art is always there,” Roberts said.
“I am always explaining — often to American Jews — that not all Poles were anti-Semites,” I told Joshua Zimmerman Yeshiva University Associate Professor of History and Eli and Diana Zborowski Professorial Chair in Holocaust Studies and Eastern European Jewish Studies” and author of the just published [Cambridge University Press] “The Polish Underground and the Jews 1939-1945” as we sat down for our interview at his office at Stern College’s campus.
Masha Leon: Benjamin Meed, a founder of the Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and the husband of Vladka Meed [who had been a courier between the Polish Underground and Jewish Ghetto fighters] once told me:’ it took ten Poles to hide one Jew.’ And I am here because a Polish peasant woman risked her life — and that of her family — to hide my mother and me during our escape from Warsaw.”
Joshua Zimmerman: “A lot of Jews have a problem hearing this and try to contest this… My interest [in this theme] began in 1987/88 when I was an undergraduate taking a course on the Holocaust and a student said, ‘My grandfather was a partisan and [he told me] Polish Partisans were as dangerous as the Germans and killed many Jews.’ At the time I was not aware of this Polish factor. I am a third generation American…and the [home conversation] was about the Germans and the Holocaust.”
ML: “Your book is like a crocheted history overview — ten pages of primary sources, interviews, testimonies it’s simply daunting and fascinating reading. What was the spark?
JZ: I came across the  “Times” obit for Simon Wiesenthal’s wife. She had escaped from a labor camp and survived in occupied Poland ‘thanks to the Polish Underground’. I wanted to look into this further. At that time I already could read Polish. In 1991 I was in Krakow — totally engrossed in the Jewish aspect of Poland. What I ended up finding — in the Polish language studies of the Polish Underground—was that the subject of Jews is almost entirely absent except when it involved aid to the Jews. In similar studies, in English mostly by Jewish Holocaust scholars, when Poles appear it was as collaborating with Germans and murdering Jews. Neither was 100% correct… No one had done an impartial study. I ended up looking through archives in four different countries about the Polish Underground… testimonies of Jews and non-Jews—published and unpublished. At almost every turn I’d find [unknown] Jews who were in the [Polish] Home Army who had told their stories.
“In Warsaw’s National Library an archivist in 2005 showed me [an English] a manuscript “Poland War Years 1939-1945 written” by Stanislaw Aronson, a Jew who documents his escape from the ghetto and induction into the Home Army.” Citing other stories, Zimmerman added: “In 2005 I rented an apartment in Warsaw from an Israeli citizen who told me: ‘My father was the only physician inducted in 1942 in the Home Army.’”
Zimmerman recalled a speech that Jan Karski gave in Poland in 1991 during a Polish language course at the Nowym Collegium to an SRO crowd: “ Someone wanting to defend the good name of Poland got up and said ‘Many Jews say that there were many Poles who were anti-Semites during the war…. How can you now stand up and [not] say that was an assault on the good name of Poland…that it’s not true.’ Karski’s response was: ‘I am no longer a Pole. I cannot absolve you. This is a discussion Poles must have among themselves… about your guilt. I am an American now.”
To cite UCLA Distinguished Professor of History Ivan T. Berend’s flyleaf testimonial: “A shocking drama, a wonderfully researched… and written book — a real page turner.”
Just when you think reality television has reached peak absurdity levels, the trashy TV gods deliver something like this. Presenting “Holiday in the Protectorate,” a Czech show that requires a family to live for two-months under World War II-like conditions, Gestapo included.
According to the Telegraph, the lucky three-generations will have to contend with actors playing Nazi informants and soldiers, food shortages on a farm decked out with 76-year-old furniture. The whole thing will play out in period-appropriate clothing and with rare original currency, to add to the sense of terror and uncertainty.
Needless to say, the idea has drawn some criticism:
“On behalf of my family I’m going to launch an official complaint,” one critic wrote on an internet forum. “The programme dishonours the memory of the people who had to live through those times.”
Another wrote: “People know what went on and how bad it was. What are they going to do next? Big Brother Auschwitz?”
For what it’s worth, Czech Television, which produces the show, denies that it is contributing to the trivialization of the suffering of millions.
“When starting the project, we knew that it may provoke a discussion on how far such genre may go. I tried to show that period with utter seriousness and with respect for its tragic character,” director Zora Cejnkova told the CTK news agency.
Looks like ‘Toddlers in Tiara’s about to have some competition for most tyrannical tantrum on TV.
A sickly, wheelchair-bound nonagenarian who sat in court Monday covered in a blanket and hooked up to an IV was acquitted of Holocaust-era crimes. The scene sounds familiar, but it wasn’t John Demjanjuk on trial again.
In this latest attempt to bring World War II criminals to justice, 97-year-old former Hungarian police captain Sandor Kepiro was tried in a Budapest court and found not-guilty of having taken part in the murder of more than 1,000 Jewish and Serbian civilians in the Novi Sad massacre in northern Serbia in January 1942.
Kepiro, who maintained his innocence throughout, was exonerated on the basis of his defense team’s success in discrediting the witnesses’ accounts of what took place almost 70 years ago. The prosecutors claimed that Kepiro had ordered the round-up and murder of civilians, most of whom were Jews.
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