13 August is one of my favourite lesser-known holidays. As a sinistral chauvinist, I never miss an opportunity to be a positive ambassador for left-handedness, to raise awareness of our existence, and to educate people about how lefties have been horribly abused throughout history. It’s so true that if you’re a righty, you assume everyone else is, but if you’re a lefty, you immediately notice other lefties.
I was so delighted to have a little lefty among my nursery campers this summer, after having first met him two years ago as a toddler, when he was already showing left-handed tendencies (his mother is also a lefty). There was also another camper who showed left-handed tendencies. I’m so happy these children can grow up in a world where they’re not forcibly switched and told their natural inclination is sinful, wrong, or unnatural.
Oh, and for anyone claiming left-handedness as some “harmful possible side-effect” of ultrasounds, what century are you from?! Right-handedness might be the majority in most cultures, but that doesn’t mean it’s some kind of norm and default! How dare you claim left-handedness is some kind of birth defect and that everyone is supposed to be right-handed! Go back to the Dark Ages!
Top 10 Tuesday is a weekly feature of The Broke and the Bookish. A full list of instructions and future themes can be found here. This week’s theme is Top Ten Favorite Books with X Setting. Since one of my areas of expertise and interest is the WWII/Shoah era, I chose that. It’s just one of the sub-genres within historical fiction and memoir that I’ve read the most of, and so have more titles to think of off the top of my head. And contrary to how some people claim any book with this setting is an automatic award-winner or deserves high praise, I’ve read some downright awful or dull books with this setting and amn’t afraid to express it.
1. Isabella: From Auschwitz to Freedom, by Isabella Leitner (originally published in two volumes, Fragments of Isabella and Saving the Fragments). This is hands-down the most haunting, memorable book I’ve ever read. I’ve never forgotten a single detail since I first read it in 1995, at age 15.
Reading it again at age 24, I was struck by how it’s devoid of so many usual details to be found in Shoah memoirs. What it is is a tale of love between four sisters, and how they stayed together and alive for one another, because of one another. The successful death march escape of three of my own Shoah characters, Eszter, Marie, and Caterina, was actually based on the escape of Isabella and two of her sisters.
2. Upon the Head of the Goat: A Childhood in Hungary, 1939-1944, by Aranka Siegal. This is not only the book that started my Magyarphlia, but also solidified my then-growing yearning to live a Jewish life. I’ve also long remembered many of the details. Because of these two books, I was inspired to make some of my own Shoah characters Hungarian.
3. The Key Is Lost, by Ida Vos. Her four books that’ve been translated into English are among the most memorable I’ve ever read, but I think this particular one is my favorite. Even though she wrote for what would now be considered a MG audience, I’ve loved her books as an adult as well as a preteen. I particularly love how the poem Eva and Lisa’s mother gives to them before they split up for safety is word-for-word the same poem Vrouw Vos’s mother gave her and her little sister.
4. A Promise at Sobibór, by Philip Bialowitz. I was honoured to meet Mr. Bialowitz when he spoke at Saratoga a few years ago. He was so cheerful, friendly, funny, and sweet in spite of what he’d gone through, which is a very powerful lesson. He and his much-older brother Symcha are among perhaps only 60 known survivors of Sobibór, and participated in the successful uprising and escape.
5. The Wall, by John Hersey. This is an excellent book about life in the Warsaw Ghetto and its own uprising, and the successful escape of some of the characters into the sewers and other parts of Warsaw. I also enjoyed Mila 18, by Leon Uris, on the same topic, but I have to admit that Mr. Hersey’s book is more historically sound. As much as I’ve loved Mr. Uris’s historicals, they did tend towards unrealistically larger than life heroes and soap opera-like storylines! He also needed to lay off the exclamation key.
6. The Ausländer, by Paul Dowswell. I just discovered this last year for my final project in my YA Lit class. It’s not so common to find books set in Germany during this era, about ordinary Germans. It’s a much-needed different perspective. And though it was under 300 pages, it didn’t feel short or insubstantial at all. I wish more American YA historical could be like this!
7. Thanks to My Mother, by Shoshana Ravinovici. This is a valuable different perspective as well, since very few memoirs are written by such young survivors. Susinka, as she was then called, was only 12 at the liberation, and survived in large part because of her mother’s ingenuity and determination. It’s also an unusual POV because her parents were divorced, and she had a stepfather and stepsister.
8. In My Brother’s Image, by Eugene Pogany. I actually met the author when he spoke at a Friday night dinner at my university. It’s a family memoir focused on his father and uncle, who were identical twins. The Hungarian family converted to Christianity before the brothers were born, and one brother became a priest while the other brother returned to his Judaism. The priest brother was in Italy during the War, with the saintly mystic Padre Pio.
9. Hiding in the Open, by Dr. Sabina Zimering. This too is a fresh POV. Sabina and her sister Helka escaped the ghetto before an Aktion and were given fake IDs by a sympathetic Christian family later honoured by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations. They went to Germany to work in first a factory and then a gorgeous hotel in Regensburg, Bavaria. Unlike many memoirs, this continues well after the liberation, when Sabina fulfilled her longtime dream of becoming a doctor.
10. Rena’s Promise: A Story of Sisters in Auschwitz, by Rena Kornreich Gelissen. Rena went to Oswiecim on the first Jewish transport in early 1942, thinking she would protect her family, and was horrified when her dear little sister Danka soon arrived. For the next three years, Rena did everything she could to protect Danka and keep her alive, including many narrow escapes. Rena is also the only Shoah survivor I’ve heard of who had her tattoo surgically removed.