We kicked off 2012 with another great meeting, during which we once again ran out of time to discuss all the books sitting on the table. So many great books, so little time.
Speaking of great books, check out this link to the “38 best Jewish books of 2011,” according to the literary critic D. G. Myers, writing in Jewish Ideas Daily.
I Never Left Janowska, by Helene C. Kaplan. Our faithful member, Alex Redner, is a treasure-trove of Holocaust memories. He has also been friends with lots of Holocaust survivors (many of whom are unfortunately no longer with us). Alex seems to know, and to have read, every memoir written by a Holocaust survivor, and he has an unerring sense for picking out, and bringing to our attention, the best of them. He knew Helene Kaplan, who died in 1989 in Schenectady, NY, and was able to paint a vivid portrait of this fascinating woman for us.
This book is out of print, but you can borrow it from TBI’s Holocaust Resource Library, courtesy of Alex and Lilly Redner. (Alex’s notes for this review are reprinted in full at the end of this blog post.)
Sima’s Undergarments for Women, by Ilana Stanger-Ross. Our members read books of all kinds, light as well as heavy. This one is closer to the light end of the spectrum, but nevertheless an entertaining and enjoyable read. It is the story of a middle-age Jewish woman who runs a small business in Brooklyn, providing custom made (or as the currently fashionable phrase goes, bespoke) bras to women of all sizes and problems. She is not only a seamstress, but also a confidante and a shrink. The only secrets that she does not share are her own.
Unfortunately, we ran out of time before Bev could finish her presentation, but she promised to tell us more about this unjustly neglected author at our next meeting.
It is hard to believe that we managed to discuss all these books in one short meeting. Those of you who missed it will surely want to make it to our next meeting, on Tuesday, February 7, 2012, at 7:45 pm, at TBI. See you there.
And finally, here are Alex Redner’s notes:
I NEVER LEFT JANOWSKA
By Helene Kaplan
We discussed recently the book on Janowska Concentration Camp written by Simon Wiesenthal, the Nazi hunter who dedicated his life to bring the torturers to justice. The second edition included some 40 comments by top politicians, religious leaders and justices, commenting on the issue that was the central concern of WiesenthaI's book: Can we pardon a German SS who participated in, and is responsible for, the death and torture of thousands of Jews, men, women and children?
It is difficult to follow up or perceive the Janowska camp testimonies without picturing first the camp itself: The camp was located within the city limits of Lwow, along Janowska Street, behind the Jewish cemetery. The camp encompassed some industrial buildings, many barracks built by prisoners, a ravine called "PIASKI" that became the site of daily executions and the final liquidation of Lvov ghetto, and a rail terminal that became the loading platform for trains with the destination of Belzec.
Soon after the Germans took Lwow, they organized the camp as a set of workshops for repairs of uniforms, trucks, and for taking care of whatever needs they had, using Jews captured in the streets for daily forced labor. Since Jews desperately needed an "Ausweiss," giving [the holder] a right to exist, some Jews volunteered for this camp. German "Entrepreneurs" soon arrived to get army business, using cheap Jewish labor, just as Mr. Schindler did in the well-known movie by Spielberg.
As the camp grew, in October of 1941, it was suddenly enclosed with barbed wire, and the workers became inmates. The camp kept growing, using street raffles. The attrition rate was defined as "maximum 3 month survival."
Some inmates, including Simon Wiesenthal, were marched to work to out-of-the camp sites. Many others worked in the offices or workshops in the camp, including Helene Kaplan.
How did I get this book? Leon Richman, a Janowska camp survivor, was our family friend He was working in the truck repairs workshop, with an excellent view of the roll-cal1 field, where he had daily opportunities to witness the sadistic bestiality of the SS guards, killing thousands mercilessly. He succeeded in escaping, survived the Holocaust, and wrote a book, entitled: WHY? EXTERMINATION CAMP, LWOW, 134 Janowska Street, Poland. This book provides the most detailed description of daily life and death in the camp, containing not only facts, but names of victims and perpetrators. His daughter, Sophia Richman gave me Helene Kaplan's book, and we donated this outstanding book to the TBI Holocaust Resources Library.
About the author, Helene Kaplan: Helene grew up in Boryslaw, a booming oil-town, where her father was a managing director of a French-owned oil drilling and exploitation company, an exceptional position for a Jewish industrial manager in Poland. Helene was a child of the "very rich." Her book is an autobiographical account of her life under the Soviet occupation, and then, after the German invasion in 1941, her survival during the Holocaust.
Before the war, she had decided to become an engineer, and enrolled in the Architectural Faculty of the Lwow Polytechnic Institute. When Germany invaded western Soviet Union [which included the eastern half of Poland at that time], she was trapped, like all Jews in Europe. The book describes her heroic struggle for survival. First in Janowska Camp, where she was fortunate to work in the office of an Italian army officer, then back to the ghetto of Drohobych, back to Lwow, where she was survived using forged Aryan ID, constantly fearing a denunciation, and facing arrest on several occasions.
In many instances she was helped by strangers, and remained constantly on the run, moving from one city to another city. One day, she spotted an advertisement, "looking for young, intelligent Polish girl, wanted to work in Bavaria." Helene volunteered, got the slave labor job, and after all kinds of harassment, and fear of being recognized by a co-worker as Jewish, she SURVIVED.