Posts tagged antisemitism

Year-End Report; 4th Distribution; A Plea

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As we bid adieu to an old year, and welcome in a new year, it is always worth doing a bit of stock-taking.

Happily, 2019 was the best year yet for sales of From Day to Day.  Rather than trailing off, sales are still trending upward three- and one-half years since Odd Nansen’s diary was first republished in April 2016.

This was certainly a group effort.  Thanks to all who helped (and this is but a partial list—please forgive me if I inadvertently forgot to include you): Morgan Jordan (again!); Jeanne Addison (again!); Shay Pilnik; Gail Gold; Dan Haumschild; Frank and Monica Schaberg; Eve Gelfand; Michelle Dunn; Kathy Wielk; John and Aelish Clifford; Oliver and Patty Bourgeois; Andy Lubin; Lise Lunge Larsen; Judy Campbell; Jack and Peggy Sheehan; Judy Clickner; Billie Emmerich; Michael Mathews and Mea Kaemmerlen; David Sheinkopf; Sudie Wheatle (again!); Judy Cohen; Pam Belyea; Sherrie Polsky; Bob Copenhaver; Kathy Ales and Richard Levine (again!); and last but certainly not least, my dear friend Marit (Nansen) Greve.

Year-end also means doing a bit of accounting work.  This year’s royalties and speaking fees totaled $4,630.10, which, following custom, are being distributed 50% to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in DC and 50% to HL Senteret, the Norwegian Center for Study of Holocaust and Religious Minorities in Oslo.  To date such distributions now total $15,364.28.

Here’s another brief scorecard for the year:

70 presentations to over 3,000 attendees in 13 states, the District of Columbia and Oslo, Norway.

29,000+ miles traveled.

10,000+ website visitors (cumulative since 2016).

So, all in all, it was a very good year.

But our work it not yet done.  As I write this blog, five Jews were recently stabbed (one critically) in Monsey, NY, in the midst of a Hanukkah celebration (one of 13 anti-Semitic crimes reported in New York State since December 8, according to Governor Andrew Cuomo). Nationally and internationally there has been an upsurge in anti-Semitic incidents over the past several years.

One antidote to such behavior are the inspiring words and actions of people like Odd Nansen.  His diary depicts how just one courageous person can change things for the better, even in the midst of a concentration camp. Thomas Buergenthal is a living testament to Nansen’s humanity.

Seventy presentations in 2019 kept me plenty busy.  Unfortunately, I can only be in one place at a time, and I’ll probably never get to all the venues I would like to reach.

The solution: publicity.  That can come about by word of mouth (i.e., you, my readers) or it can come via social media.  This blog will get posted on my website, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. But an equally powerful social media engine for a book like From Day to Day is Amazon.

And that is why book reviews are essential.

There has been plenty of press lately about retailers who are gaming the system, paying people for positive reviews, or ordering employees to post reviews under various aliases, etc.  This phenomenon has even spawned a new cottage industry, which offers to “authenticate” reviews, and weed out the obvious fakes.

The important takeaway is this: companies go to such great (and sometimes dishonest) lengths because they understand only too well the power of positive product reviews.  So, as I often mention at the close of my presentations, a book review on Amazon is literally priceless.  Please help me make sure Nansen’s words are never again forgotten.  Please, my readers, post a review—of any length—on Amazon.

You’ll be glad you started 2020 off on the right foot.  I thank you, and I know Odd Nansen would have thanked you as well.

I wish you peace, good health and happiness in 2020.  And here’s a proposed resolution: If we all tried acting just a bit more like Odd Nansen, the world undoubtedly would be a better place. Let’s give it a try.

Pittsburgh 2018; London 1942

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On October 27, 2018, Robert Bowers killed 11 Jewish worshipers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA, including a 97 year-old woman, and wounded 6 others, in what the Anti-Defamation League calls the deadliest attack targeting Jews in U.S. history.

On October 29, 1942, almost exactly 76 years earlier, a public meeting was held in London.  In The Second World War, author Martin Gilbert’s encyclopedic history of the war, Gilbert describes this meeting of leading British churchmen and public figures.  The purpose was to protest against the Nazis’ persecution of Jews.

Gilbert adds that Prime Minister Winston Churchill delivered this message to the meeting:

“The systematic cruelties to which the Jewish people—men, women and children—have been exposed under the Nazi regime are amongst the most terrible events of history; and place an indelible stain upon all who perpetrate and instigate them.  Free men and women denounce these vile crimes and when this world struggle ends with the enthronement of human rights, racial persecution will be ended.” (my emphasis)

Have we learned nothing in the intervening 76 years?

Dr. Jeffrey K. Cohen is President of Allegheny General Hospital, the facility that treated Bowers following the attack.  Dr. Cohen, as well as the attending emergency room physician, and an emergency room nurse, are all Jewish.  Dr. Cohen has been quoted as saying: “It’s time for leaders to lead.  And the words mean things. And the words are leading to people doing things like this, and I find it appalling.”

Why is Antisemitism suddenly since 2017 on the rise here in America, a country that defeated the Nazis 73 years ago?

Where are our national leaders?

Where is our Churchill?

Where?

ADRESSAT UNBEKANNT [ADDRESSEE UNKNOWN]

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It amazes me that, after years of immersion in the field of World War II and the Holocaust, I can still discover works of which I was totally unaware.  I had one such experience recently.  While reading The Borrowed Years 19381941: America on the Way to War by Richard Ketchum (an excellent book, by the way) I learned of a short story titled “Address Unknown.”  Written by Katherine Kressmann Taylor in September 1938, the story first appeared (appropriately enough) in the magazine Story.  It created a literary sensation; never in the magazine’s seven-year history had any story generated so much comment.  It was reprinted in the January 1939 issue of Reader’s Digest, and then reprinted in book form the same year, where it sold 50,000 copies.  Soon it was on the Reichskommissar’s list of banned books.

The story is told entirely through the exchange of 19 letters between close friends and business partners Max Eisenstein and Martin Schulse, and covers 16 tumultuous months, from late 1932 to early 1934.  You can read it in less than an hour. Its very brevity adds to its impact.

In the first letter (dated November 12, 1932), Max, who is Jewish, writes to Martin, who is not.  Martin has just relocated to Munich, Germany, the country of origin for both men.  Once an impecunious artist, Martin has become sufficiently successful through their jointly owned art gallery in San Francisco that he can return to his homeland with his wife and three boys, leaving Max behind to run the Schulse-Eisenstein Galleries.

Writing the day after the 14th anniversary of the Armistice that ended World War I, Max rejoices about the  “long way we have travelled, as peoples, from that bitterness,” as well as the fact that the “democratic Germany” to which Martin returns has been purged of “Prussian arrogance and militarism.”

On a personal note, Max reveals he has just heard from his younger sister, Griselle (living in nearby Vienna), an aspiring actress who, we learn, once had a torrid love affair with Martin.  Does Max have Martin’s permission to notify Griselle that Martin is back in Germany?

Martin’s reply (December 10, 1932) depicts a poor and downtrodden Germany—so poor that Martin is able to purchase a 30-room house on 10 acres and employ 10 servants.  Martin comments on the political turmoil prevailing in the country, even under the presidency of Paul von Hindenburg, a fine liberal that Martin much admires.

As for Griselle, by all means give her Martin’s address, so she can know a home for her is close at hand.  After all, “for Griselle I keep a tenderness that will last long.”

By January 21, 1933, Max waxes lovingly about his deep friendship with Martin, but inquires, with concern, about “this Adolf Hitler” who is rising toward power.

Over the course of the next few months, Max expresses growing concern about conditions in Germany, while Martin, who initially expressed ambivalence toward Hitler, becomes increasingly dogmatic in his replies.  At first, he expresses distaste for the Jew-baiting he sees, but calls it the “little surface scum when a big movement boils up.”  By July, Martin is explaining that scapegoating Jews “does not happen without a reason,” and further asks Martin to stop writing to his home address.  Under the strict censorship rules, correspondence with a Jew is anathema to a Nazi official, which Martin has become.  Better to write, if at all, in care of the bank where Martin works.

By September 1933, Max, “of necessity” sends a brief message to Martin at work.  It concerns Griselle.  She has joined a theater company in Berlin, oblivious to the danger, and Max is worried about her safety—will Martin watch out for her?  No response.

When Griselle subsequently disappears, Max becomes desperate and writes again—can Martin try to find and help his old lover?

Martin finally responds—prefacing his reply with a “Heil Hitler.”  He informs Max that Griselle is dead.  She came to Martin’s home with stormtroopers at her heels, and Martin turned her away.  He simply could not “risk being arrested for harboring a Jew and . . . los[ing] all I have built up here.”

Hearing the news, what can Max do now?  He is thousands of miles away, a Jew, and his erstwhile best friend will never face justice in a Germany awash in anti-Semitism and besotted with a fanatical leader.  (Martin has since had a fourth child, a boy naturally named Adolf).

But Max does have one way to exact revenge and achieve justice.  Less than a month after Martin’s startling revelation of the depths of his heartlessness, Max begins to pepper Martin with letters—now written to his home address.  These letters are sprinkled with overt references to “the Fleishmans,” “Uncle Solomon,” and “Aunt Rheba,” implications that they share a Jewish grandmother, as well as cryptic instructions to prepare “the following reproductions: Van Gogh 15 by 103, red; Poussin 20 by 90, blue and yellow; Vermeer 11 by 33, red and blue.”

Martin responds—once—in desperation, in a letter smuggled out of Germany with an American acquaintance, begging Max to stop.  The authorities want to know what “the code” means.  Martin is losing his job, his son is no longer welcome in the boys’ corps, his wife is snubbed on the street.  Won’t Max have pity, and stop?

Yet Max persists, and his final letter (March 3, 1934), which ends with the injunction that the “God of Moses be at your right hand,” is soon returned by the German postal authorities with a simple stamp, in bold Gothic letters: Adressat Unbekannt [Addressee Unknown].

Katherine Kressmann Taylor

The back story to Address Unknown is almost as interesting as the book.  Katherine Kressmann was born in 1903 in Portland, Oregon.  She later married Elliott Taylor, worked as an advertising copywriter and wrote for literary journals in her spare time.  The inspiration for Address Unknown came from two sources, according to her son.  Shortly before the war some “cultivated, intellectual, warmhearted German friends” of Taylor’s returned to Germany after living in the U.S.  Within a short time, they became devoted Nazis, “refused to listen to the slightest criticism of Hitler,” and during a return visit to the U.S. turned their backs on an old, dear friend of theirs who happened to be Jewish.

More importantly, around the same time Elliott noticed a small news article about some American students studying in Germany.  Their fraternity brothers thought it would be funny to write them letters poking fun at Hitler.  They wrote back: “’Stop it.  We’re in danger.  These people don’t fool around.  You could murder one of the Nazis by writing letters to him.’”  Katherine took the idea of a letter as a weapon, and wrote Address Unknown.  Interestingly, the editor at Story magazine thought the tale was “’too strong to appear under the name of a woman,’” and shortened her byline to the more neutral sounding “Kressmann Taylor,” the pen name she used for the rest of her life.

In 1944 Columbia Pictures turned Address Unknown into a movie directed by William Menzies (of Gone With the Wind fame), which received two Academy Award nominations (Art Direction and Music Score).    But, much like From Day to Day, her story fell into obscurity following World War II.

After the war Taylor continued to write, and taught journalism and creative writing at Gettysburg College for almost 20 years (where she was the first woman to earn tenure).  To commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps, Story Press reissued the book once again in 1995.  Address Unknown has since been translated into 20 languages and has been a bestseller in Israel and France (where it sold 600,000 copies).  A BBC radio dramatization is available on YouTube (here).

Katherine Kressmann Taylor died in July 1996, age 93, almost sixty years after the publication of her short story; long enough to see it recognized the world over as a classic.

[For reasons that I have been unable to uncover, the title of the story and the book was Address Unknown, rather than Addressee Unknown, which is the correct translation of Adressat Unbekannt.]

 

Upcoming Events

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Book Signings

  • July 21, 2020: Norwegian History Roundtable (Virtual)
  • July 23, 2020: Del Webb at Grande Dunes, Myrtle Beach, SC (Virtual)
  • August 18, 2020: Norwegian History Roundtable (Virtual)
  • August 25, 2020: Montgomery County Library, Potomac, Md (Virtual)
  • October 7, 2020: The Adult School, New Jersey (Virtual)
  • October 30, 2020: Osher Life Long Learning, Furman University, Greenville, SC
  • November 4, 2020: Sun City Huntley, Huntley, IL
  • November 4, 2020: Shorewood Glen, Shorewood, IL
  • November 5, 2020: Admiral on the Lake, Chicago, IL
  • November 15, 2020: Kristallnacht Commemoration, Congregation Or Shalom, Orange, CT
  • November 18, 2020: The Adult School, New Jersey (Virtual)
  • February 5, 2021: Osher Life Long Learning, Furman University, Greenville, SC
  • May 13, 2021: Sons of Norway, Grand Forks, ND
  • May 14, 2021: Norwegian Heritage Week, Thief River Falls, MN
  • SPRING 2021: Notre Dame H.S. Alumni Club of DC, Washington, DC,
  • SPRING 2021: Sons of Norway, Fargo, ND (Kringen Lodge)
  • SPRING 2021: Sons of Norway, St. Cloud, MN (Trollheim Lodge)
  • SPRING 2021: Tuesday Open House, Mindekirken, Minneapolis, MN
  • SPRING 2021:  Georgetown University Bookstore, Washington, DC
  • SPRING 2021: JCC of Central New Jersey, Scotch Plains, NJ
  • SPRING 2021: The Adult School, Bernardsville, NJ
  • June 9, 2021: Bet Shalom Hadassah, Jackson, NJ
  • October 19, 2021: Shalom Club, Great Notch, NJ

People are talking


"Your presentation was outstanding, and the audience was captivated by your deep and touching involvement in this amazing web of World War history, intrigue, and tragedy. Your deep understanding of the Nansen/Buergenthal connection really helped to bring history alive for our members."

Thomas Huber, President
Life Long Learning at Sun City Carolina Lakes

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