Posted in 1940s, Food, Historical fiction, holidays, Shoah, Writing

WeWriWa—An unlikely celebration

Copyright Jüdischen Museum Im Stadtmuseum, Berlin
Yad Vashem Photo Archives 5409/3094

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. For my last Chanukah-themed snippet this year, I’m sharing something from Chapter 17, “Evacuated Westward,” of my hiatused WIP The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees.

It’s December 1944, and a group of nine young women from Abony, Hungary, along with two non-Jewish friends, have recently been moved from the privileged Kanadakommando sorting detail at Auschwitz to the all-female Breslau–Hundsfeld factory. Because this factory was run by the Wehrmacht, not the SS, prisoners had rather good treatment, including the chance to clandestinely celebrate Chanukah.

This has been slightly tweaked to fit ten lines.

Copyright Posner Family Estate, courtesy of Shulamit Mansbach, Haifa, Israel

A week before the holiday, one of the women had organized some leftover cotton and thread from the factory and hidden them under the mattresses. She had also gotten hold of some precious potatoes, cut them in half, created indents for oil, and twisted wicks. Since the prisoners had relative freedom in their living quarters, they were able to gather to light candles, sing holiday songs, and bless one another. As always, they talked about food too.

“My mother always made noodles and cabbage with poppy seeds,” Hajnalka said on the fifth night, rubbing her stomach. “My favorite was chicken paprikash.”

“I wish we had lots of latkes to fill our stomachs,“ Klaudia said. “I’d dunk mine in an ocean of applesauce, sour cream, lecsó, quark, you name it. Next Chanukah, I’m going to stuff myself silly with sufganiyot. My favorite filling was blueberry, but I’d take any filling after this crummy diet, since I’ve got to build my voluptuous figure back up.”

Posted in 1930s, Atlantic City books, Historical fiction, holidays, Writing

WeWriWa—Resisting assimilation

Copyright Jüdischen Museum Im Stadtmuseum, Berlin;
Yad Vashem Photo Archives 5409/3083

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP.

As last year, my Christmas- and Chanukah-themed snippets come from Chapter 20, “Dueling December Holidays,” of the book formerly known as The Very First (which is set during 1938). The new and improved title will finally be revealed upon its release next year!

It’s now the eighth night of Chanukah, which coincides with Christmas Eve, and the Smalls and Filliards are having a joint holiday meal. Cinnimin’s mother tries once again to talk the Smalls into adopting secular Christmas symbols, but they steadfastly refuse.

Mrs. Filliard helped herself to more pierogi. “Are you sure you don’t want to put up a Chanukah bush and a few secular decorations? The Christmas season ain’t over till January seventh, Russian Christmas. Even many people who ain’t Orthodox celebrate Twelfth Night on January sixth with special foods.”

“We’ll never celebrate Christmas,” Mrs. Small said. “It’s your holiday, not ours.”

“Chanukah is about resisting assimilation,” Gary agreed. “The Maccabees fought against the Seleucids’ attempts at introducing Greek customs, language, and religion into Judea. If our ancestors had given in and accepted foreign religion and culture, we’d be as much in the dustbin of history as the Seleucids are now. The holiday is about so much more than the oil lasting for eight nights instead of only one.”

Posted in 1930s, Atlantic City books, Cinnimin, Historical fiction, holidays, Writing

WeWriWa—Unwrapping presents together

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This year, my Chanukah- and Christmas-themed snippets come from Chapter 20, “Dueling December Holidays,” of the book formerly known as The Very First (which is set during 1938). The new and improved title will finally be revealed upon its release next year!

This week’s snippet comes a few pages after last week’s, as the Smalls (originally the Brandts) and their sponsors/hosts the Filliards sat down for a dinner jointly celebrating the eighth night of Chanukah and Christmas Eve, which fell on the same night in 1938. Now they’re going to unwrap some of their presents together.

Artwork by Yelena Flerova

After the table had been cleared, everyone went into the living room to unwrap presents. The Filliards had wrapped the Smalls’ gifts in innocuous, secular paper, without any Christmas symbols, not even snowflakes. Both the paper and ribbons were solid green, red, and blue. The gift tags likewise were devoid of any hint of Christmas, and could’ve easily been affixed to gifts for any occasion.

Cinni watched expectantly as the Smalls opened her gifts. She’d gotten a small, no-frills compact mirror for Mrs. Small; a tin of shoe polish for Mr. Small; a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle for Gary; a book of Heinrich Heine poetry in German for Barry; and pearl hairpins in the shape of hearts for Sparky. Barry’s earlier Chanukah present had been a dark blue and white plaid beret, so he’d have a more stylish, modern way to cover his head. Though Cinni had itched to put a more personal inscription in the book, she didn’t want Barry to suspect her true feelings. Instead she’d settled for “Dec. 24, 1938, to Barry from Cinnimin. Happy Chanukah.”

Posted in 1930s, Atlantic City books, Food, Historical fiction, holidays, Writing

WeWriWa—A joint holiday celebration

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This year, my Chanukah- and Christmas-themed snippets come from Chapter 20, “Dueling December Holidays,” of the book formerly known as The Very First (which is set during 1938). The new and improved title will finally be revealed upon its release next year!

There have been a lot of religious conflicts during December 1938, as young immigrant Sparky (real name Katherine) and her family are inundated with symbolism of a holiday they don’t celebrate, and a variety of responses to their refusal to adopt Christmas as a secular holiday “everyone” celebrates. However, Sparky’s family has agreed to come together with their hosts the Filliards for a joint celebration of the eighth night of Chanukah and Christmas Eve.

This has been slightly tweaked to fit 10 lines.

Painting by Yelena Flerova

The Smalls had brought schnitzel, Kartoffelpuffer, chicken soup, brisket, candied carrots, bolussen, applesauce, and, best of all, plenty of Berliner Pfannkuchen, while on the Filliards’ side of the table sat roasted goose with stuffing; dried fruit compote; mushroom soup; gołąbki; pierogi stuffed with chopped mushrooms and mashed potatoes; kotlety; stuffed mushrooms; mazurek stuffed with dried almonds, chocolate, and apricot jam; chocolate sernik; zefiry; and several heaping platters of cookies. There’d be more than enough for everyone.

“You don’t know what you’re missing,” Mrs. Filliard said as she cut into a gołąbek. “You’ve been generous to share your food, and oughta taste some of ours in return.”

“Perhaps next year, we can cook by your recipes in our kitchen,” Mrs. Small said.

“It’s ‘with,’ not ‘by,’” Gary gently corrected her. “You’re making the mistake of directly translating a German expression into English. Sometimes being too literal results in improper English.”

“My mother and I made that mistake too, when we were learning English,” Mr. Filliard said. “That expression translates from Russian the same way it does from German, and it took a long time for me to realize I wasn’t being grammatically correct.”

Kartoffelpuffer are German latkes; bolussen are Dutch sweet rolls; Berliner Pfannkuchen are jelly doughnuts. Among the traditional Polish and Russian Christmas foods, gołąbki are cabbage leaves wrapped around a savory filling (usually including meat); kotlety are small, pan-fried meatballs; mazurek is a sweet, flat cake; sernik is cheesecake made with quark; and zefiry are similar to meringues.

Posted in Books

2017 in Review (Books read)

Some of the books I read in 2017 were:

I highly recommend this book by a fellow Pittsburgher. It tells the amazing story of how, of all the 27 known hominin species who’ve walked Planet Earth, Homo sapiens sapiens emerged as the only one left standing. (Hominin is the more scientifically up-to-date term, and refers to both anatomically modern humans and our ancestors. Hominids are modern and extinct great apes, and include non-human primates such as orangutans, chimps, and gorillas.)

So many seemingly little things, like neoteny (having a childlike appearance into adulthood), a shortened gestational period, and the development of a sense of right and wrong, led to major evolutionary advantages contributing to our survival and emergence as the world’s most dominant species.

The book also examines the other hominins who’ve walked the Earth, some of whom have only recently been discovered. A number of these hominins inhabited the Earth at the same time, contrary to the formerly-held beliefs casting human evolution as a simple, direct line of descent.

Our 26 cousins may be long gone, but at least two of them, the Neanderthals and Denisovans, live on in the DNA of those of us with European and/or Asian ancestry.

By hashgacha pratit (Divine Providence), the authors (a married couple) had just had twins when their proposal for this book was accepted in 2007, and decided to take some time off to focus on their babies. Had they gone ahead and written this book by the September 2008 deadline, it would’ve immediately become obsolete. So many amazing new discoveries have come to light in the years since.

This book can feel a bit academic at times (esp. the sections on stone tool-making), but I really enjoyed it. There’s also a section on Neanderthal tourism, listing museums and archaeological sites linked to our awesome, unfairly maligned cousins.

The authors are committed to accurately portraying Neanderthals and trying to undo the damage from over a century of slander and misinformation. Like them, I can’t stand when someone with no knowledge of paleoanthropology uses the word Neanderthal as a synonym for stupid, brutish, unenlightened, behind the times, grotesque, etc.

The Neanderthals were good people, the closest cousins we ever had. Many Homo sapiens sapiens aren’t as kind, helpful, and loyal as Neanderthals were.

This book introduced me to the modern development of spelling Neanderthal without an H. It’s because the modern spelling of the German word thal (valley) is tal. I’ve long pronounced the name without an H (since that is the authentic pronunciation), but it’s a little harder to adapt to the new spelling as well.

This book examines the paleoanthropological and cognitive science evidence to show how Neanderthals may have thought about many things (family, love, hunting, security, etc.). They also speculate on what Neanderthals may have dreamt about, and how they used symbolism and language.

This book presents a cultural history of Chanukah in the U.S., going from the Colonial era to the modern day. Chanukah didn’t become a prominent public holiday, or associated with gift-giving, until about the mid-20th century, for reasons we can probably all figure out.

The book also examines the history of Judaism in America in general over the last few centuries, and how hard it was to maintain a religious lifestyle as a minority. Many Christians in the 18th, 19th, and even early 20th centuries matter-of-factly pressured their Jewish friends and neighbors to convert.

As late as the 1940s, it was perfectly legal to have numerus clausus (anti-Semitic education quotas), employment restrictions, limitations on where one could reside, bans on staying by hotels, and many other barriers to the Jewish community’s full, equal participation in American life.

Women were one of the primary forces in shaping Chanukah into an American holiday, since that was one of the relative few religious rituals they could perform in that era. This wasn’t a time when most Jewish women could expect to have a full religious education or role in public life.

The embrace of Chanukah as a major holiday also perfectly illustrated its lessons of staying true to one’s identity and resisting conversion attempts. Chanukah falls at a time of year when we’re most keenly aware of our minority status.

I enjoyed this memoir, one of several books I’ve read about Easy Company since watching the Band of Brothers mini-series. I love how Sgt. Malarkey noticed the exact same thing about the Stephen Ambrose book as I and many other readers did, how he focused WAY too much on bit player David Kenyon Webster!

The WWII generation is dying out, and Sgt. Malarkey himself passed away this September. We’re so lucky so many of them have left behind memoirs and recorded testimonies.

This was a cute collection of Dr. Seuss’s early cartoons and stories, many from college newspapers and humor magazines of the 1920s and 1930s. He wrote and drew many of these under the name Dr. Theophrastus Seuss. A particularly strange story is about his purported sex ed lessons to his nephew, where he says a whole lot of nothing.

I really enjoyed this book about the women of Paris during WWII and the early postwar years. It covers women from all walks of life, who did all sorts of things during the war. There are sheroes as well as victims and women with complicated actions. Some of them never had normal lives again, even the survivors or the ones who were rehabilitated after suffering national degradation.

Real history is often much more complicated than declaring such and such a person or action 100% good or 100% evil. There are so many shades of grey.