- Magpie Murders, Anthony Horowitz *
- The Magicians, Lev Grossman
- Between Friends, Amos Oz *
- The Weight of Ink, Rachel Kadish *
- The Beautiful & the Damned, F. Scott Fitzgerald
- The Sentence is Death, Anthony Horowitz
- The Word is Murder, Anthony Horowitz
- Sons & Lovers, D. H. Lawrence
- The Dying Detective, Leif G. W. Persson
- The Alchemist, Paulo Coehlo
- My Cousin Rachel, Daphne du Maurier *
- Between the World & Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates *
- One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
- Twenty Love Poems & A Song of Despair, Pablo Neruda *
- Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, & Finding Joy, Sheryl Sandberg *
- Year of Wonders, Geraldine Brooks *
- A Bookshop in Berlin, Francoise Frenkel
- Haunted, Chuck Palahniuk
- The Door, Magda Szabo
- Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng
- Tender is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald *
- Spinning Silver, Naomi Novik *
- The Boy in the Suitcase, Lene Kaaberbol
- The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro
The past year brought many challenges and great change. Throughout it I made an effort to prioritize reading and was able to finish more books this year than I had in the last several. Titles followed by an asterisk are ones I would recommend:
Resting atop Mount Herzl and looking west over the beautiful Jerusalem Forest, Yad Vashem, The World Holocaust Remembrance Center, has been the world’s leading institution on Holocaust remembrance and education since its establishment in 1953. Welcoming almost one million visitors per year, Yad Vashem focuses its work and mission on four pillars of remembrance: commemoration, documentation, research, and education. Providing educators with innovative and effective methods for Holocaust education is one of the ways that Yad Vashem ensures that the memory of the Holocaust and its victims remains relevant today and in the future. One way that this is accomplished is through intensive teacher training opportunities. In fact, for four days in June of 2018, 360 Holocaust educators from 52 countries convened at Yad Vashem for its 10th International Conference. Thank you to a very generous donor in the Milwaukee Jewish community and the support of HERC’s leadership, I was incredibly fortunate this summer to participate in this deeply emotional and educational conference, learning from some of the greatest minds in the field and broadening my own perspectives on Holocaust education.
The central theme of the conference was “Time, Place, and Relevance” which allowed ample opportunity for discussion and focus on many issues, but one major question in particular: what does Holocaust education look like after survivors are no longer living? One can hardly argue that hearing, first-hand, the personal testimony of an individual who was subjected to the barbaric inhumanity of the Nazis and their collaborators, is not a life-changing experience. As HERC’s director of education I have received feedback from countless principals, teachers, students, and community members, that hearing from a Holocaust survivor deeply impacted them and caused a shift in their perspective.
The power of hearing these testimonies in person was not lost on me for an instant as I sat with a small group of educators during one session of the conference, listening to the testimony of Holocaust survivor Daniel Gold. Born in Lithuania in 1937, Daniel and his family were forced into a ghetto for several years before they managed to escape and find refuge with a Lithuanian peasant family who provided them a safe place to hide. Daniel’s mother was killed by the Nazis, however, after his father was liberated from the Dachau concentration camp, he and his father settled in Israel. Throughout his talk Daniel returned, over and over again, to his unwavering support of Israel, even having served as an IDF air force pilot during the Six Day War. Daniel also told us of his travels to Rwanda where he worked closely with survivors of the Rwandan genocide to speak about the dangers of hatred, bigotry, and racism.
Whether in Israel, Rwanda, or Milwaukee, yesterday or tomorrow, the time and place of crucial conversations about the Holocaust, either with students, peers, children of survivors, or survivors themselves are constantly changing, but the relevance of these discussions – regardless of when or where they occur – remains a constant. Our task, as Holocaust educators, is to ensure that these stories continue being told and that the voices of the six million never go unheard.
By the end of 2016 I was pleased with the fact that I had read 25 books, 14 more than the previous year! While my reading goal had been a bit higher, an ambitious 50, I was still pleased with the fact that I read more than twice as many as I had done the previous year. Here are the books I read in 2016, starting with the most recent, including an asterisk near my favorites of the year:
For Holocaust survivor Susie Fono, family is incredibly important.
Within moments of being graciously welcomed into the home of Susie and her husband, Bob, I was shown into a room adorned with lovely photos of family members, generations past and present. Susie and Bob have been a part of the Milwaukee community since May, 1957. They wed in Milwaukee where they raised two children, a legacy sure to include future photos.
Some of the photos are inclusive of an experience of such devastation that it’s impossible to capture with words, even with photographs. Susie is a Holocaust survivor. Some of her family members survived, some weren’t so fortunate.
It wasn’t until 2006 that Susie began telling her family’s story to large audiences. Since then, she has become a dedicated and highly involved member of the Speakers Bureau of Holocaust survivors, a valuable component of the Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center (HERC) located on Milwaukee’s East Side. Through coordination with HERC, Susie, and other survivors, travel throughout the state in order to speak to groups of children and adults, students and community members. They tell their personal stories of survival during the Holocaust, one of the darkest times in the history of the world.
Susie was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1937, to a close and loving family that included her parents, an older sister named Judy, and doting grandparents. Some of her earliest childhood memories were playing on the banks of the Danube River with her friends, hiking in the Buda Hills, ballet lessons and visiting her grandparents.
These happy childhood moments abruptly ceased in 1940 when her father, a successful businessman in the Hungarian grain exchange, was forcibly taken away to a labor camp. A few months later, her father and other inmates were loaded onto a train and shipped to a different camp. Thankfully, someone managed to pry the small train window open whereupon Susie’s father narrowly escaped, miraculously returning home to his wife and two daughters.
Soon after his return, their immediate family moved into a ghetto where they lived in an apartment with eight other people. In another fortunate turn of events, on January 18, 1945, Susie’s Uncle Gyozo snuck the family out of the ghetto and they returned to their old family apartment. They remained there through the end of the war.
In 1956, Susie and her sister Judy moved to the United States. Seven years later, their parents entered the same shores as their daughters. Though her parents have since passed away, Susie continues to tell her family’s story.
The sad reality is that Holocaust memory is in jeopardy as we are quickly lose the survivors who currently act as living witnesses to the horrors of the Holocaust. These men and women, who have for so long carried on the memories of those lost in their own testimonies, are slowly passing, leaving the responsibility of remembrance to the personal narratives of those who remain alive. Despite these concerns, the Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center and its Speakers Bureau will continue fulfilling its important mission to bring awareness of the hatred and prejudice exhibited in the Holocaust. It further acts to inspire ethical behavior in present and future generations in the hopes that such atrocities to humankind should never occur again.
The Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center consists of multifaceted programs and resources, including the Speakers Bureau, a group of second generation speakers, professionally trained Holocaust Educators, a library, Holocaust curriculum. Community programs include book talks, public lectures, and films. The Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center is determined to continue its work in Milwaukee and in the greater Wisconsin community.
Fortunately, HERC has the honor of working with dedicated volunteers like Susie Fono. It will continue to facilitate these incredibly important Holocaust survivor visits to schools and community organizations around the state, so long as time remains for our survivors. These survivors selflessly tell their stories to engaged audiences, volunteering their time and efforts, oftentimes in the midst of declining health. In fact, many of the Speakers Bureau members are approaching their early to mid-90s. One survivor still volunteers to tell her story as a young 97 year old!
When Susie Fono visits schools, she hopes students will gather from her story the important message of tolerance and diversity. She encourages students to get to know people who come from different backgrounds, culturally or religiously, than their own. And she also encourages them to love their family.
“How many of you have spoken to your old grandmother on the phone recently?” Susie asks students. To Susie, family is not to be taken for granted, a luxury that was stolen from her. She remembers the last time she spent time with her maternal grandparents, Rose and David, before they were taken away to their deaths in 1944. “Grandma Rose,” said Susie, “let me sit on a little stool in the kitchen and talked to me while she was cooking. Wearing a grey suit, she had her hands on her hips, smiled at me, and called me her ‘little flower’.” These are the precious memories of lives lost during the Holocaust that are on the verge of being forgotten. But thanks to survivors like Susie Fono who tell their stories, they carry on.
View full PDF of article here.
At the start of the summer this past year I wrote a blog post titled "Summer Reading" with a list of 14 books that I had placed on my to-read list for the break. I managed to read a few from that list during the course of the summer as well as several others throughout the year. While I had hoped to read many more books in 2015, the books I did read were enjoyable and I have outlined them briefly below, beginning with those read most recently. Please comment below with any of your favorite books from 2015!
The Terror, Dan Simmons
Colorado author Dan Simmon's The Terror is what I would consider a "historical-horror" novel that I had started several years back, but for whatever reason didn't finish. I picked it up again over Thanksgiving break and was NOT disappointed! Simmons is an excellent story teller with a knack for detail and pulls you into his narrative to the point where it is hard to get out-this is a good thing! I loved the component of historical fiction which focuses on the mid 19th century Northwest Passage expedition of the HMS Terror & HMS Erebus which was ultimately lost. Simmons also weaves in a unique component of Inuit folklore which was very intriguing. This is not your typical Stephen King horror novel, but equally engrossing and well written.
Career of Evil, Robert Galbraith
Ah Robert Galbraith, the mystery author pen-name of our beloved JK Rowling. The third book of the Cormoran Strike series, Career of Evil is very similar to the first two. The brooding detective and his unlikely partner find themselves in the midst of another puzzling case that is unique and certainly keeps the reader entertained. While this isn't the best mystery novel I've read, it certainly served its purpose as a quick, entertaining read that kept me occupied for a few days. Needless to say, I am a proud part of the Harry Potter generation and can say without hesitation that I will continue to read whatever JK Rowling has to offer.
The Girl in the Spider's Web, David Lagercrantz
The latest book in the Millennium Series did not disappoint. David Lagercrantz stayed true to Steig Larsson's characters and storytelling while bringing his own style and depth to The Girl in the Spider's Web. Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist engage in yet another thrilling investigation, this time centered on Salander using her hacker skills to bust into the network of the NSA. Granted a part of me felt a little guilty for reading the book based on the controversy surrounding Larsson's estate following his passing, however I am so glad that I read it. And I will anxiously await the next two books in the series with Lagercrantz is also scheduled to pen for publication in 2017 and 2019.
A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini
Of the 10 books I read in 2015 A Thousand Splendid Suns was hands down my favorite. Khaled Hosseini is a flawless writer and his narrative is exquisite. The book follows the lives of two women independently in Kabul but goes on to explore how these lives not only intersect but later become intertwined after the Taliban establishes its power in the city. Hosseini's novel is a story of women, their struggles, and ultimately their strength. He focuses on themes of family, forgiveness, and ultimately the condition of women in Afghanistan under control of the Taliban. I would highly recommend this tile for your next book club, as a stocking stuffer for a friend, or for this year's summer reading list.
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, Katherine Howe
This was a really fun book to read and it held great appeal for the archivist in me. The protagonist is Connie, a hard-working Harvard graduate student struggling to find a unique angle for her dissertation who is pulled away by her free-spirited mother to do some cleaning at an old family cottage near Salem. The story follows Connie as she searches not only for lost family history, but also for a primary source that holds incredible implications for her research on the Salem witch trial era. While the passages that flashback to the Salem witch trials are a little overdone, this is overall a solidly entertaining novel.
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg
Charles Duhigg's book is an excellent study on habits and habit forming actions. He establishes what he calls the "habit loop" and how that impacts a person's decisions, both conscious and unconscious. Throughout the book he utilizes the habit loop to explain not only individual habits, but also the habits of companies/organizations, as well as the habits of society and groups of people. This is certainly an interesting book that can help you understand how habits start (if you are coming from a business standpoint) and how habits can be stopped (if you are coming from a self-improvement standpoint.) Either way this is a great book that might be a good way for you to kick off the new year and stick to those New Year's Resolutions!
Born Survivors: Three Young Mothers and their Extraordinary Story of Courage, Defiance, and Hope, Wendy Holden
I was fortunate to attend the North American launch of this book in May 2015 and was highly moved by the stories of these three young women who, despite all odds, carried and gave birth to children in the final months of the Holocaust, all who survived. As any account of the Holocaust, parts of this book are particularly hard to get through, but those horrific struggles make the story of survival even more compelling. Wendy Holden beautifully weaves the lives of these three women together, despite having never met one another even though they were liberated from the same camp, Mauthausen, as possibly the only three women there with newborns.
The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins
While this was certainly an engaging read, it was also very dark. Hawkins takes the reader into the minds of several individuals who are all, in their own way, deeply unstable. Throughout the story it is impossible not to get enmeshed in each of the characters' issues which is relatively disturbing, however speaks to the writing abilities of the author. While I did enjoy the mystery aspect of the book I would have to admit that I felt relieved and as though a burden had been lifted off of me once I had finished reading it.
The Nazi Officer's Wife: How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust, Edith Hahn Beer
It is always really interesting to read a book after having met and gotten to know the subject of the story. Or her daughter. In March of 2015 my employer, the Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center, hosted for one week the daughter of the Nazi Officer's Wife, Angela Schluter. Angela expounded on her mother's incredible story of survival during the Holocaust by hiding in plain sight. This was a very fluid book and incredibly captivating. Edith Hahn Beer tells her story with a sort of fierce honesty and straightforwardness that is incredibly down to earth and refreshing.
The Distant Hours, Kate Morton
This is the first book I've read by Kate Morton after many people suggested her books. She tells this story beautifully and every word in the text is well thought out and intentional. She utilizes flashbacks to tell how the life of a young woman in contemporary times intersects with three sisters who experienced their heyday in the midst of the second world war. The Distant Hours is a powerful, captivating book and definitely provides enjoyable reading entertainment.
Born Survivors: Three Young Mothers and Their Extraordinary Story of Courage, Defiance, and Hope (Non-Fiction: History)
In her 2015 book Born Survivors: Three Young Mothers and Their Extraordinary Story of Courage, Defiance, and Hope author Wendy Holden tells the story of three young Jewish women in Nazi occupied Europe who were torn from their idyllic lifestyles and thrown into the horrors of the Holocaust. Holden follows each of these women through their separate yet parallel courses through various ghettos and camps, never losing sight of the unique characteristic of these three women’s experience.
Born Survivors is the story of three women each of whom, despite horrific conditions, managed to carry and give birth to a child in the midst of the malnutrition, disease, filth, and abuses imposed upon them by the Nazi regime during the Holocaust. Mothers Priska, Rachel, and Anka were in a group of over 1,000 prisoners who were first in the Frieberg labor camp before being packed into cattle cars and transported across Eastern Europe for sixteen days, ending their journey at Mauthausen just a few days before its liberation in 1945. Throughout their struggle the three women never came into contact with one another nor were they aware that they were not alone in their situation.
Despite the women’s lack of knowledge of one another, Wendy Holden has artfully woven together these three stories in a way that leaves the reader feeling personally invested in the fates of these expectant mothers facing the most dire of conditions. Not unusual to many Holocaust survival narratives, Holden’s book illustrates the extreme, inhumane conditions in which people fought to survive and in which many ultimately perished. However what makes this research on the Holocaust so unique is that it not only tells the stories of the three mothers and their harrowing experiences, but it also tells the story of their children who, against all odds, would live to become the youngest of today’s Holocaust survivors.
Earlier this year I had the pleasure of attending the North American book launch of Born Survivors in Skokie, Illinois and was delighted to hear not only from the author of the book, but from the born survivors themselves. Hana Berger Moran, Eva Clarke, and Mark Olsky, a doctor and long-time Wisconsin resident, reaffirmed Holden’s depiction of the three children who met for the first time at the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Mauthausen on May 8, 2010. “We have been brought together by chance but we now have a permanent bond and feel such a sense of togetherness. I am absolutely delighted to call them my sister and brother.” The connection between the three “siblings” is no doubt a reflection of their shared experience, but also a result of the bond they share in remembering the incredible courage of their mothers in ensuring that their children would not only be born, but that they would live to survive.
In honor of National Read a Book Day, I am taking some extra time to focus on getting some reading done! The first day of the fall semester of grad school starts is in 3 days, so National Read a Book Day falls at a perfect time for me to cram in some end of the summer reading. This summer was very productive in regards to completing some very good books (reviews of which will follow in the next few days), but I still have a few days to finish another book.
Right now I am reading Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. I have owned this book as well as The Brothers Karamazov for several years, but thanks to a great endorsement from a co-worker I decided to move Crime and Punishment to the top of my "to-read" pile. I started reading it last weekend at the airport on my way to Colorado and by the end of my flight that day I was already a good 40 pages into the book. Dostoevsky is a very engaging writer and his prose is very fluid. So far I am really happy that I chose to pick up this classic novel and get drawn into the story of Raskolnikov ahead of all of the other options in my "to-read" queue.
After Crime and Punishment I will be diving into A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini followed by The Girl in the Spider's Web. While the start of the school year always begins the intricate balancing act of reading for fun vs. reading for school, I intend to keep up with my for fun reading this fall as a way to make everyday, "Read a Book Day!"
Comment below with what you're currently reading!
I am choosing to make a bit of a diversion from my usual blog content considering that this summer has kept me very busy with fun activities and therefore unable to make posts for the past two months. Wisconsin is notorious for its bitter cold winters which highly limit the amount of outdoor activities one can do without layers upon layers of insulating, frost-bite preventing protection during those months. It is because of this that Wisconsinites use their short summer to cram as many outdoor festivals and activities into their weekends as physically possible, sometimes hitting festival after festival after festival in just one day! Peter and I have been delighted to have the opportunity to partake in some of these activities on the weekends this summer, especially considering that school begins in a month and soon after that we will be getting married, both which will require a lot of time and attention. However for the next month we will continue spending time in the sunshine, partaking in fun Milwaukee activities, and overall enjoying our free time in warm and pleasant weather. Here is a look at some of the Milwaukee activities we have done this year.
On June 22, in my role as the Coordinator of the Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center, I chaperoned a group of 2 middle and 2 high school students to the Washington DC. These students were winners of the 2015 Holocaust Essay Contest and their prize is a visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. We spent about 3 hours at the USHMM where we went through the permanent exhibit as well as a few of the temporary exhibits. I was also fortunate to walk through the "Remember the Children: Daniel's Story" exhibit. This was an exhibition based on the 1993 book by Carol Matas and it provides a glimpse into the life of a family living in the Lodz ghetto during the Holocaust, through the eyes of a child. Intended for children, the exhibit provides a hands on and very creative look at the Holocaust in a very visual and digestible manner for ages 8 and up. While this was not my first time at the USHMM I was once again awe-struck by the "Tower of Faces", created out of hundreds of photos of the Jewish people in the Lithuanian shtetl Eishyshok between 1890 and 1941. In 1941 Nazi mobile-killing squads entered the shtetl and massacred the entire Jewish population in 2 days. These portraits still haunt me.
In addition to visiting our favorite Estabrook Beer Garden, we have also been spending a lot of time enjoying the serenity of our own gorgeous backyard where we have done a lot of planting and have a comfortable patio set up. I really love flower gardening and Peter loves vegetables, so we have a nice variety plants to care for and watch grow this summer. We have a lovely deck and patio set so we tend to eat meals and read out there (when it's not too hot). We have also been spending time with our upstairs neighbor's puppy, Oliver! He loves to take us on long walks in the evening so he can chase squirrels and look at the fireflies that are always on peoples lawns as dusk settles. Here is Oliver running up to greet me on our patio.
This past weekend was jam-packed with activities as well. We took our inaugural trip to Alpine Valley Music Theater which is absolutely gorgeous to hear my all-time favorite: Dave Matthews Band. It was my third time seeing them and Peter's second and I have to say that yet again they did not disappoint. Unfortunately we didn't stick around for the encore and of course as we walked across the parking lot towards the car we heard the crowd explode with excitement at the opening of "Ants Marching"... Oh well; we cranked it up in the car on the way home. The following day we visited Germanfest where I wore my Dirndl, which I think is adorable! While there we of course enjoyed beer, brats, pretzels, and strudel: so worth it. While Germanfest is of course my favorite of Milwaukee's array of ethnic festivals, we will be visiting Irishfest in a few weeks and I'm sure that will be a blast too. No Dirndl for Irishfest though... it will just have to wait for Oktoberfest season. Prost!
After posting my intended summer reading list last week, I knew that I would need to get off on the right foot and get into the list with plenty of momentum, so I decided to choose a book that had been recommended to me by multiple people as a real page-turner. I selected The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Thanks to summer break I was able to complete the book in less than 24 hours. So yes, it was a page-turner.
However that is not to say that the book was easy going. I can honestly say that I have never encountered the types of characters created by Hawkins in my life. Every single one of the main characters in the book are completely depressing. Between alcoholism, depression, anxiety, and pathological lying the reader is exposed, from the first page, to the extreme issues plaguing the primary players throughout the story. The author has created characters so troubled that to learn what goes through their minds throughout the story proves incredibly challenging to read...to the point of causing physical discomfort to the reader. But maybe this is an example of Hawkins' writing abilities.
She has created a story that weaves the viewpoints of three different women together in such a way that the troubles of each woman, emotional and psychological, are completely real. This writing style in Hawkins' book is very engaging and overall well done. The plot itself, an absolute mystery thriller, is very good and complete with a stellar twist. If readers can stomach Hawkins' characters then they are in for a well done and fast paced story.
Finally. The last assignment of the school year has been turned in. And you now have THREE FULL MONTHS of *mostly* free time that you can spend, not on homework, but on reading. FOR FUN. Even if you're not a student or teacher whose brain works in terms of semesters, summertime is still the perfect opportunity for catching up on your reading list. As you begin earmarking certain titles as "must-reads" for this summer, I will leave you with my list of 14 books which I intend to devour (some for the first, second, or third time!) this summer. If you have read (or want to read) any of these titles please leave your comment below; I'd love to hear your thoughts. Also, feel free to comment with YOUR 2015 summer reading list! Enjoy!