Crossing the River
The book is a memoir, covering the years 1940 - 1946, in which the author - from a distance of forty to fifty years - records events he had experienced as a child of eight to twelve. These were the years of Lithuania’s occupation, first by the Russian Red Army, then, during most of World War II, by the Germans, and again by the Russians. The memoir reflects the instability of those six years, emphasizing the horror of the Nazi persecution. The account continues with the boy’s flight across the Russian border through Poland and West Germany, until he sailed in mid-1946 to Palestine.
The account is not a mere retelling of events. Rather, the adult, while recalling the terrorized child that he was and how he then perceived the adult world, also takes stock of his present life and existence. Throughout the memoir, he attempts to reconcile his present life as husband, father, scientist and writer, with the images, feelings and thoughts from the past that have left an indelible mark on his life and that continue to haunt him.
YouTube - A talk given at The Jewish Genealogical Society, New-York Part 1 Part 2 Part 3.
And the Rat Laughed
By Nava Semel
And the Rat Laughed
is a unique book. Unlike other Holocaust-related books that focus on the historical horrific events, this novel deals with the act of remembering them. It resembles a relay race in which the characters transfer memory from one another, while traveling on the axis of time.
The book begins in the last day of 1999, when a survivor grandmother in
Tel Aviv shares her tragic life story as a hidden child in a pit, with only a rat for company with her granddaughter.The day after – 2000 already – the granddaughter tells the legend of “Girl and Rat” to her teacher and in 2009
those who heard it through her classmates establish an internet website with poems. From now on this memory is spread all over the world and becomes a myth. In 2099 the future anthropologist Lima Energelly (Y-Mee Prana) discovers
it and tries to uncover its mysterious roots. In her research, she reveals the
first man who created this myth in the past. Father Stanislaw, a Catholic priest, saved that little Jewish girl (who later became the grandmother inTelAviv)
and returned her after the war to her Jewish people. In his personal journal he documented everything, to make sure the world would never forget. The chain
of remembearers, therefore, moves from the present to the future and back to
The novel is written in five genres: story, legend, poems, science fiction and
diary, creating a cycle of 150 years. And the Rat Laughed got acclaim for its use
of unconventional and original literary devices and became a ground breaker for exploring the act of memory itself. How do we tell our painful story? Does
it change while we recall it? How will our next recipient recall it in their own individual way? Is Art the only way to transfer emotional memory?
The novel was enthusiastically received by both the Israeli public and the critics.
It was adapted for the stage and became a very successful opera, composed by Ella Milch-Sheriff and performed by the CameriTheatre ofTelAviv and
the Israeli Chamber Orchestra for the last three years, representing Israel at the Theatre Festivals in Warsaw in Poland, Sibiu in Romania and Bucharest NationalTheatre.
And the Rat Laughed deals with the influence of this harrowing chapter of
human history on man’s relationship with God, on the understanding of human nature, on the need to forget in order to survive, and on the need to remember, nonetheless.
DOVE ON A BARBED WIRE
By Deborah Steiner-Van Rooyen
"Chilling, riveting, authentic testimony. This is a story about a boy whose walk home from school becomes a 60-year odyssey of instinctive survival: from seven years of brutality under Nazi terror, navigating the post war chaos, fighting to rebuild his life in the fledgling State of Israel, reconnecting with a missing link of his family, and then facing his past with strength and acceptance. You just want to hug this hard, tough man because you know his heart is larger than his pain."
-Dr. Bella Gutterman, author of A Narrow Bridge to Life
"I stayed up most of the night reading this book. It's a brave and beautiful work of the heart, spirit and soul."
-Shira Nayman, author of Awake in the Dark
"Yonah Steiner. A boy of courage. A man of courage. An unsung hero whose powerful words are being heard at last. Let this book be handed down from generation to generation so we never forget to remember."
-Uzi Welish, Kibbutz Ginosar, Israel
To the site
I Never Saw Another Butterfly
By: Hana Volavkova
I Never Saw Another Butterfly is a collection of works of art and poetry by Jewish children who lived in the concentration camp Theresienstadt. This book is named after a poem by one of the children, Pavel Friedmann.
Main article: Concentration camp Theresienstadt
During World War II the Gestapo used Terezin, better known by the German named Theresienstadt, as a concentration camp. The majority of the Jews sent were scholars, professionals, artists and musicians. Inmates were encouraged to lead creative lives, and concerts were even held. Within the camp, parks, grassy areas and flower beds, concert venues and statues were installed to hide the truth; that most of the inmates were going to be killed. This was all part of a Nazi plot to deceive International Red Cross inspectors into believing that Jews were being treated humanely. This façade masked the fact that of the 144,000 Jews were sent there, about 33,000 died, mostly because of the appalling conditions (hunger, stress, disease, and an epidemic of typhus at the very end of the war). About 88,000 were deported to Auschwitz and other extermination camps. At the end of the war there were 17,247 survivors.
Youth in Flames
By: Aliza Vitis-Shomron
The book by Aliza Vitis-Shomron combines passages from her diary with a pool of memories and reflections, set down after many years and changes in her life.
One of the chapters in her book is entitled “Between two worlds”. The two sources that forged Aliza’s inner world were her parents’ home in Jewish Warsaw and the youth movement “Hashomer Hatzair” that she joined as a young girl in the Warsaw Ghetto. The significance of the concept youth movement in the ghetto is totally different from that with which we are familiar elsewhere. Normally, a youth movement provides experiences imbued with the spirit of youth, appreciation of nature and concern for problems of the society and the individual. Between the two wars, a Jewish youth movement was created, fostering dreams for the future as well as preparation for their actualization, in particular for life in the Land of Israel, in a kibbutz. In the ghetto, where the Jews were imprisoned by the Nazis, living cut off from the world of nature, from contact with people outside its walls, without schools – and in homes where the adults were overburdened by great hardships, worry and constant anxiety – there the Movement became a second home, a different reality.
The Movement was a home where one was allowed to think and speak about everything, to sing and laugh, read books and forget the gloom permeating the parents’ home at all times, and engulfing all the people in the ghetto. The Movement was a type of oasis of freedom, drawing upon its roots in the past and looking towards the future. The friendships that sprang up in the Movement’s underground center and in its small cells, the contact with the youth leaders, who projected self-confidence and possession of knowledge about everything, provided support and instilled optimism, unshakeable willpower, belief in human beings and a different view of life, for which the young members yearned.
The framework for the younger group, set up in the ghetto, was abolished for security reasons a short time before the expulsion from the ghetto and the creation of the Jewish Fighters’ Organization, but the spiritual strength the Movement had instilled in the youngsters, and the contacts kept up in a different way, as described by Aliza, forged profound life-giving roots sustaining the few who survived.
Aliza gives a powerful and detailed description of the horrors of the great deportation from the ghetto in the summer of 1942, which sentenced to death 85% of the population of 350,000 in Warsaw at the time. The episode of the family’s struggle for survival and search for a way of saving themselves reflects presence of mind, courage, and rare coincidences. After escaping from the ghetto, Aliza remained for some time with some of her family on the “Aryan” – the Polish - side of the city, which was out of bounds for Jews, where they were not permitted to enter, and discovery by hostile eyes meant death. Then Aliza, together with her dear ones, ended up in a camp, a death trap for many, and again, miraculously, they survived.
Aliza Vitis-Shomron’s journey, lasting several years, resembles walking through a minefield. However painful the experiences, the author succeeds in highlighting some positive aspects, the warmth of love and kindness; thus a ray of hope penetrates even the darkest pages, in manifestations of inner freedom and in the relationship between friends and relatives. The author asserts that even now, as an elderly kibbutz member, “the beautiful and the evil” live side by side in her mind, and adds that “the hope that eventually there will be some kind of peace between the two nations living in this land, strengthens my belief that my grandchildren will live a good life, happier than my generation’s and that of my children”.
Professor Israel Gutman