Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Missing Maura & Lou

Posted: December 3, 2012 in Books

It’s no wonder that driving across the Sunsh1130121037ine state with a stack of Needle in the Bone in the passenger seat makes me miss Lou and Maura. The book, which tells the entwined stories of Lou, a Holocaust survivor, and Jarek, a Polish resistance fighter, also weaves in the stories of their wives, Jane (Lou) and Maura (Jarek). When I started it was inconceivable to me that by the time the books came out, two of these four people would be dead.

Last night at the reading at Ellen (daughter of Jarek) and Marek’s home, people repeatedly asked me how I met Lou, Jane, Jarek and Maura, and I had to answer that I don’t know. We were just in the same community, led to each other by the humor and holidays we enjoyed together, the mutual friends or family in between and the great swirling of the big tossed salad that IMG_0005 5is Lawrence, Kansas. Like many people you can know for years with only hearing glimpses of their stories — Jarek’s uncle was president of the Polish underground, Maura was Irish and lost her mother at a young age, Lou survived many concentration camps, Jane practiced law and loves literature like nobody’s business — it wasn’t until I began interviewing everyone that the glimpses turned into coherent and multi-layered narratives.

Part of those layers were the memories we were making together simply through the interviewing process. I sat at Jarek’s dining room table while Maura, in her bathrobe because she wasn’t feeling well that day, put her hands on my shoulders and told me how thrilled she was that I was doing this book. Years later, Maura gone six months from a sudden death due to arrithythmia, we were in Jarek’s living room, in the middle of toasting Jarek with shots of vodka all around for his birthday. Lou, standing beside me, kissed the top of my head. Years before, I sat for hours with Lou in his sun room, visitiIMG_0040ng many Tuesday afternoons, laughing hard at Lou laughing hard as he told me some of the most outrageous turns of living through the Holocaust.

I wish so much that I could place the beautiful copy of the book into Lou’s hands and laugh with him about how it’s finally done, it’s finally out, and here it is. I wish I could point to the photos of Maura getting married with her and tell her that she was utterly gorgeous, in spirit and appearance, her whole life. Yet I  am blessed beyond blessed to have been given all their stories to share, and not just because of how much hard stories put life into perspective. The time with these four people is now part of my own story.

Needle in Bone to be Published!

Posted: December 14, 2011 in Books

I’m very happy to announce that Potomac Books, a wonderful press that specializes in history and political science, will be publishing Needle in the Bone: How a Holocaust Survivor and Polish Resistance Fighter Beat the Odds and Found Each Other. Big thanks to my agent, Neil Salkind, who believed so much in this book, and of course, to the guys — Lou and Jarek — who shared their lives for this book.

Lou, Jarek and Jane celebrated the news with us a few days ago back where it all started: at the round table in Jane and Lou’s sun room for a meal. We met there five years ago over blintzes and with our beloved Maura too when I first asked everyone what they thought of a book. Of course, I had no idea how I would find the time to do all the interviewing, much less the historical research, at the time, but I knew I had to do this. Time is a funny thing, expanding and contracting in ways we can’t imagine, and so here we are on the other side of that beginning, and now we’re eating again, toasting Maura’s memory, talking about the weather, Lou’s cancer, what we’ve been doing lately, and as always, the Holocaust and war. Between the turkey soup, cheese and crackers, Irish Creme and vodka, and some good scones, we celebrated the publication to come.

I’ll be back in touch on publishing dates as soon as I know. In the meantime, look for more blog posts about the book, and the story behind the stories.

Several months ago, I had the pleasure to interview Joshua Greene who is an expert in the Holocaust, Yoga philosophy and Hinduism, and filmmaking. His eclectic publications include Gita Wisdom (on the Bagavad Gita), Here Comes the Sun: The Spiritual and Musical Journey of George Harrison, and Witness: Voices of the Holocaust, and his films include Justice at Dachau. Here’s some of our interview from May of 2010, which I incorporated parts of into Needle in the Bone:

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg: How are we to respond to the Holocaust, to take it in and really understand it?

Joshua Greene: There’s an entire universe of responses. Your question predisposes that we’re obligated to establish a relationship, and some would would say we need to move forward, so there are people who will avoid the issue altogether for one reason or another. I don’t know if it’s possible to say that one response is right and another is wrong. From a purely practical point of view, there are legal safeguards that have been implemented because of the war — legal rights, laws of extradition laws, rights of women and children, ways to establish safeguards not there before Nuremberg. You can look at that and say we’ve made progress. From another equally valid perspective, the genocides continue so what good has our progress done us? That’s a rather cynical perspective. We crawl our way toward civilization, and every inch in an inch closer.

CMG: Many believe the Holocaust is different from all other genocides because of the cold calculation of the Nazis and how they mechanized killing like never before. What do you make of this?

JG: The difference of the Holocaust isn’t of much consequence, and some people do see a specificity and difference with the Shoah. I would rather call it the Shoah than the Holocaust, which is a word preempted, out of sensitivity to those who survived that period and those who didn’t survive, and to the second and third generations. It behooves us to acknowledge their reaction, even if it may not be our own, and they have every right to say the Holocaust is different. Comparing who suffered more is a rather cold and useless exercise.

CMG: You mentioned last night that there are things we can learn from studying the Holocaust. Could you elaborate on that now?

JG: Are there things we can learn? Yes, but we should do it with our feet on the ground. It’s very easy for people to go along, even intelligent men and women under the wrong circumstances will completely revert to some less civilized mindset. We can learn a lot of things. The tendency has been, at least in the popular media, to imposed redemptive messages, probably because we’re obsessed with closure, finding some way to get on with our lives if we can at least say we’ve got the state of Israel now, we’re so much better off than we were (and I mean without the Hollywood version, the Shindler’s List and Jakob’s Liar versions — even Spielberg, who should have known better because he’s a storyteller).

CMG: Back to my first question, how do we stand in relation with the Holocaust in a way that has integrity and doesn’t just fall into the Hollywood version of it all?

JS: How to stand in relation with this? Don’t manipulate the Holocaust into some message about the indomitable human spirit. A group in Long Island was going to make a film about survivors living in Long Island, and they wanted to call them heroes. So the six million who died, they weren’t noble? They didn’t have human spirit? We view having survived as having a heroism that isn’t there. Survivors talk about being dehumanized. We don’t want to look at something so dark because we’re afraid we can’t handle it, so we pigeonhole it, have our two-week unit on Anne Frank, and then move onto [to a unit in school curriculum on] environmentalism. It’s tragic that such complex subjects are forced into easily digested capsules. Someone who refuses to know is saying ‘I can’t live with confusion and doubt, I can’t deal with not knowing. The idea of confusion and doubt terrifies me.’ It’s impossible to understand the enormity of it but we have to understand what we’re capable of understanding. It doesn’t work to say that “We’ll be part of humanity, we’ll be part of a progressive human culture, but this little pocket of history has to stay outside our realm of interest.”

CMG: How do you reconcile your studies of the Holocaust with your studies of Yoga?

JG: You don’t reconcile it, and you shouldn’t try, yet the Holocaust does show us when we fall from our nature, we can fall very far….There’s as much risk in over-simplying history as there is oversimplifying theology. Both lead to fanaticism. These people mean well. Well, they think they’re on a mission. I have no doubt that Nazi propogandists believed their own rhetoric, that these races are not truly human. If you look at the dominant philosophy of the Nazi era, it was very heavily Darwinism [based on] biochemical, real physicality…and what it means to be a human being. If you define human life in very biochemical terms, this set of biochemicals is better than that set because it functions more efficiency and is more pure, then obviously we have to eliminate the inferior biochemicals. There was no room in that period for any transcendent vision of the self, no place for a nefish — a soul — would have meant having to acknowledge the divinity of life.

CMG: How does yogic philosophy fit into what you believe about the divinity of life?

JG: I find it very engaging and fascinating to look at the Holocaust through the yoga lens, the transcendent process of yoga, which alters our perspective on policy-making. Are we — from the perspective of the law — are we moral, ethical creatures responsible for our our behavior or subconscious creatures, vulnerable to unbringing and self-conscious. Laws are formed accordingly. How you define humanity affects policy. It also affects our relationship with the environment. There comes a point where you can’t rule by coercion. That pain in this life is inevitable, suffering is optional. How much you suffer is a quesiton of the itnernal story they tell themselves. If someone is shot in battle, thinking, ‘I’m still alive, I will be sent home, I’ll probably get decorated, they’ll welcome me as a hero, I’ll go to a military hospital, and maybe there’ll be a cute nurse…’ then when the paramedics come with morphine, the soldier says, ‘I’m good. Give it to someone who needs it more than me,’ and then there’s the opposite story [which is a story of suffering as much as possible, which increases the suffering]. Yoga changes the internal story we tell ourselves.