Posted in 1940s, Photography, Shoah, Travel

Drancy

My IWSG post is here.


Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-B10919 / Wisch / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Drancy was an internment camp in a northeastern Parisian suburb of the same name, in use through 20 August 1941–17 August 1944. It began life as La Cité de la Muette (The Silent City), a luxury high-rise, U-shaped apartment complex, among the first of its type in France.

Instead, it was taken over as police headquarters at the start of WWII, and then turned into a transit camp. An estimated 70,000 people passed through during its four years of operation.

Only 1,542 survivors were found when the Allies liberated it.

Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-B10920 / Wisch / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Over time, Drancy grew to include five sub-camps. Initially, it was run by French police, but the Germans took over on 3 July 1943. In spite of the change in command, French police continued to arrest people and bring them to Drancy.

The vast majority of detainees were Jewish, but there was a very small percentage of political prisoners. Most of the latter were in the French Resistance.

Drancy was only designed to hold 700 people, but it housed 7,000 at its height. Many survivors testified to the brutality of the French guards, and how children were immediately separated from their families.

Some Drancy prisoners were killed in retaliation for French attacks on the occupying Germans.

Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-B10917 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Sixty-eight of the seventy-nine deportations of French Jews (with a small minority of political prisoners mixed in) set out from Drancy, starting 27 March 1942. All but six went to Auschwitz. The other destinations were Majdanek, Sobibór, Kaunas, Tallinn, and Buchenwald.

Of the 73,853 known deportees, 46,802 were gassed upon arrival. Only 913 women and 1,647 men were known to survive by 1945.

Copyright Reinhardhauke

Famous internees included artist and writer Max Jacob (who died in Drancy), Dutch painter Max van Dam, writer Tristan Bernard, choreographer René Blum, and German artist Charlotte Salomon.

After the war, survivors filed charges against fifteen of the French gendarmes who ran Drancy. Ten were put on trial, three of whom fled before proceedings began. The other seven insisted they were just following orders, in spite of the numerous testimonies about their brutality.

All ten were found guilty, though the court ruled they’d been rehabilitated by “acts of active, effective, and sustained participation in Resistance against the enemy.” Two of them were sentenced to two years of prison and five years of national indignity. After one year, they were pardoned.

Copyright Ykmyks

In 1976, sculptor Shelomo Selinger (now 89 years old), a Polish-born Shoah survivor, unveiled a three-part rose granite memorial which was two years in the making. There’s also an authentic railcar on permanent display.

Disgustingly, on 20 January 2005, anti-Semites set some of the railcars on fire and left a tract with an swastika, signed “Bin Laden.” On 11 April 2009, a swastika was painted on the remaining railcar.

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My characters Darya Koneva and Oliivia Kalvik are taken to Drancy after participating in an anti-Nazi protest in Paris in October 1942. They’re among the very small minority of non-Jewish political prisoners.

During their three weeks in Drancy, Darya and Oliivia sleep on wet straw and a hard wooden mattress, with only a thin blanket, and eat lousy rations. Drancy makes Darya long for her early years in a Lower East Side tenement.

As soon as they get the opportunity, they volunteer for transport to the mythical Pitchipoi they keep hearing about. On 4 November, their journey to Hell begins, and they discover Pitchipoi doesn’t exist. Auschwitz is referred to as not-Pitchipoi, Planet Pitchipoi, and Pitchipoi 99% of the time, both in the text and Darya and Oliivia’s speech.

When Darya’s future husband Andrey asks about this, she says it’s her way of dealing with that ugliness and evil. If she doesn’t use the real name, she won’t be confronted by cruel reality.

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.

Posted in Judaism, Photography, Religion, Travel

Twentieth Arrondissement and Tempio Maggiore Israelitico di Firenze

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St. Gabriel Church and Hélène-Boucher Lycée, Copyright Sigoise

The 20th Arrondissement of Paris (a.k.a. Arrondissement de Ménilmontant) is on the Right Bank. It’s bordered on the north by the 19th Arrondissement, on the west by the 11th Arrondissement, and on the south by the 12th Arrondissement. Probably its most famous attraction and landmark is Père Lachaise Cemetery.

Historically, the higher the number of the arrondissement, the more working-class and poor folks (many of them immigrants). This isn’t the wealthy, stereotypically “cultured” population which flocked to the arrondissements with very low numbers. As a proud proletarian, it’s right up my alley!

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Town Hall, 1908

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Town Hall, 2009, Copyright besopha, Source FlickrMairie

Its population peak and most concentrated density was 1936, with 208,115 residents, 34,779 per square kilometer. It was annexed to Paris in 1859, and formed from the towns of Belleville and Ménilmontant, the municipality of Saint-Mande, and the commune of Charonne. As of 2012, the population was 198,678.

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Besides Père Lachaise, other landmarks include Belleville Cemetery, St. Germain Church of Charonne, Charonne Cemetery, Église Notre-Dame-de-la-Croix de Ménilmontant, Pavillon Carré de Baudouin, Tenon Hospital, Hospital de la Croix Saint-Simon, and many schools and parks. The 20th Arrondissement also has the next-largest Chinatown in Paris.

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Église Notre-Dame-de-la-Croix, Copyright Zantastik

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Église Notre-Dame-de-la-Croix, sometime between 1863–70

My characters are resettled in a cheap apartment in the 20th Arrondissement upon their return from Nantes in December 1945. Wolfram, who’s since left Le Meurice, has the apartment across the hall, and made the arrangements for them to live there for possibly less than the time of a normal lease.

He’s also bought them mattresses and secondhand furniture, put all their tableware and cookware in the cupboards, and moved in all their extra luggage and Caterina’s recovered small furniture. Wolfram insists he doesn’t need to be repaid, and tells them to consider it a belated Chanukah present.

Their apartments are on Rue des Pyrénées, which forms the eastern border of Père Lachaise.

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Église Saint-Germain-de-Charonne, 1900

Everyone but Wolfram goes for a walk through Père Lachaise on Csilla’s 18th birthday, 21 December, before starting their planned walk to Al Syete, a Sephardic synagogue in the 11th Arrondissement. The walk ends in terror and horrific flashbacks for everyone but Imre and Júlia, as they have an up-close and personal encounter with the crematorium.

The moment they realise what the building and smell are, they start going into hysterics, which attracts a lot of negative attention. Marie is so badly affected, she passes out, and Imre has to run back to the apartment to get Csilla’s recovered sled. The boys are shaking too badly to carry her, and Imre only has one good arm, since he broke his left hand last month.

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The monument Marie passes out by, in memory of the victims of a fire at an 1897 showing of Lumière Brothers’ films, Copyright Pierre-Yves Beaudouin / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

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Crematorium (chimneys not visible), Copyright Christopher Lancaster, Source Flickr

Tempio Maggiore Israelitico di Firenze, the Great Synagogue of Florence, was built thanks to David Levi, late president of the Florentine Jewish community, bequeathing his entire estate for the building of a new synagogue. Architects Marco Treves, Mariano Falcini, and Prof. Vicente Micheli combined Italian traditions with Moorish style.

Giacomo del Medici designed the great arch, and artist Giovanni Panti provided the beautiful frescoes and mosaics for the interior. Every square inch is covered in coloured designs with Moorish patterns. The copper roof was oxidised green to stand out in the Florentine skyline.

The cornerstone, sent from Jerusalem, was laid 30 June 1874. Inauguration was 24 October 1882.

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Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas

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During WWII, the occupying Germans used the synagogue as a storehouse. There are still bayonet blows visible on the doors of the ark.

In August 1944, the Italian people once again showed their righteousness by rescuing the synagogue from planned German destruction. The retreating Nazis and their foul fascist collaborators filled the building with explosives, but brave resistance fighters were able to defuse almost all of the explosives. Very little damage was done, and it was restored after the war.

During the terrible 1966 flood of the Arno, the synagogue was damaged, but once again restored.

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Copyright sailko

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Copyright sailko

My characters stay by a vacation apartment overlooking the synagogue when they’re in Florence in November–December 1945. The green dome dominates the Florentine skyline, and it’s just a short walk away.

On the eighth day of Chanukah, before Saturday morning services have started, Imre gives Csilla a three-pearl ring in the synagogue. He reassures her it’s not an engagement ring, but just a promise ring. He wants them to have a serious, committed relationship before they’re in a position to discuss marriage, and also wants to mark his territory so other men know she’s off-limits.

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Copyright sailko

Posted in Photography, Travel

Szent János Hospital, La Samaritaine, and Sant’Ambrogio Market

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View of hospital from Kis–Sváb Hill, Copyright Globetrotter19

Szent János Hospital was founded in 1800, on the corner of Margit Körút (Boulevard) and Hattyú Utca (Swan Street). In 1820, there was new construction (including a statue of St. John of Nepomuk), and in 1873, the number of beds grew from 100 to 234. An 1887 resolution ordered the building of a new hospital, with 300 beds.

The new hospital, with 420 beds, opened 3 August 1898, to great ceremony. That year, the hospital began adding new departments to treat all the sick people of both Buda and Pest. It also served as a teaching hospital. Among the new departments were an X-ray lab (1910), a modern maternity ward (1935), venereal urology (1934), orthopaedic surgery (1918), and eye disorders (1898).

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Entrance to Hospital in the Rock, 1944

Though the hospital was partly damaged during WWII, it wasn’t destroyed or bombed, and the doctors and nurses worked overtime to tend to all the wounded. They hid deserters, dissidents, and Jews, and Prof. Boldizsár Horváth saved a group being held hostage by the Óbuda brick factory. Sadly, the chief physician was taken away, another doctor was shot dead on hospital grounds, and not everyone from the brick factory was able to be saved.

During the Siege and Battle of Budapest, doctors and nurses also used the Hospital in the Rock (Sziklakórház), a hospital carved into the caverns under Buda Castle in the 1930s. By night, the dead were smuggled out and buried in bomb craters. There were times when, due to a total lack of food and supplies, hospital staff had to take them off dead bodies and sterilise them. Horses were also killed for food. It was only meant for 60–70 patients, but it treated up to 600.

Both hospitals again saw heavy use during the 1956 uprising. In late 1956, a spin-off, Royal Children’s Hospital, was created.

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Copyright Solymári

During their stay in Pasarét in October–November 1945, my characters Caterina and Marie find temporary employment by Szent János Hospital. All hands are needed on deck, even though Caterina isn’t currently in possession of her medical license or anything else to prove she’s really a doctor. Marie is only 14, but she’s accepted too, since she served as Caterina’s assistant in three camps. They’re put to work with pediatric patients, much to sweet little Marie’s delight.

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Copyright Pergl Pergl from On the move, Source Flickr

La Samaritaine is a massive Parisian department store founded in 1869 by husband and wife Ernest Cognacq and Marie-Louise Jaÿ. Ironically, Mme. Jaÿ was the first clothing vendor at rival department store Le Bon Marché. It’s in the First Arrondissement, not too far from Le Meurice and the Tuileries Garden.

The couple decided to transform their boutique into a department store by buying up surrounding buildings, and from 1883–1933, the closest blocks were completely renovated and reworked. From 1903–07, Belgian architect Frantz Jourdain gave the building an Art Nouveau style. Final architect Henri Sauvage converted the style to Art Deco.

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Copyright Ana Paula Hirama, Source Paris – France, Mar2015

The 11-story complex takes its name from a hydraulic pump by the nearby Pont Neuf (the oldest surviving bridge over the Seine), which operated from 1609–1813. There was a bas-relief of the Samaritan Woman drawing water for Jesus on the front of the pump, and Cognacq’s original stand was on that very site.

My characters visit La Samaritaine in December 1945, on their first full day in Paris. They take lunch at the rooftop café, which has a lovely bird’s-eye view of the city, including the Eiffel Tower. While there, Imre buys Csilla a tiger fur coat (which she wears out of the store), and replacements for some of the clothes and shoes she lost when she was deported.

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Copyright Groume, Source FlickrSamaritaine

Sant’Ambrogio Market opened in 1873, in Piazza Ghiberti, open every day but Sunday, 7 AM to 2 PM. On Wednesdays and Fridays, they’re open until 7:00. Though the most famous Florentine market is the Central Market, Sant’Ambrogio has a more relaxed atmosphere.

Pretty much everything you could want is sold here—bread, meat, eggs, fruit, vegetables, crafts, cheese, fish, spices, clothes, housewares, pastries, et al. Part of the market is inside, and part outside. Famous restaurant Trattoria da Rocco is also inside the market building.

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Copyright sailko

My characters Caterina, Marie, Eszter, and Júlia go to Sant’Ambrogio in November 1945, since it’s a very short walk from their vacation apartment (financed with the large sum of money Imre and Júlia got from their mother before leaving Budapest). By the market, they pick up almost everything they need to make a grand Italian culinary Chanukah feast.

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Copyright sailko

Posted in 1940s, Israel, Photography, Travel

Machal and Le Meurice

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Machal is an acronym of Mitnadvey Chutz L’Aretz, Volunteers from Outside the Land. During Israel’s 1948–49 War of Independence, about 4,000 volunteers from around the world (some Gentiles) came to the newborn state’s assistance. Right after Israel declared its independence, she was attacked by Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and the Arab Liberation Army. All hands were needed on deck.

Most Machalniks were WWII Army vets from the U.S. and U.K., but many also came from other countries. A total of 58 countries provided volunteers. The majority of Machalniks served in Israel’s fledgling Air Force, since they had a lot of experience with flying planes during WWII, and were able to purchase used planes for relatively cheap.

In all, 123 were killed in action, 119 men and four women. Possibly the most famous Machalnik who was killed in action was American Mickey Marcus. Another important Machalnik was Milton Rubenfeld, father of Paul Rubens (whom I as an Eighties kid will always think of as Pee-wee Herman). Many returned to their countries of origin, but some stayed in Israel. Some of the founders of El Al airline were Machalniks.

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My character Imre Goldmark leaves his studies at the University of Montpellier to fight as a volunteer after his girlfriend Csilla and her friends leave for Israel in 1948. Imre is a hopeless intellectual, romantic, and dreamer, but he wants to prove his manliness to Csilla by fighting on the front lines. Csilla has no idea he’s in Israel, let alone in uniform, until she hears him screaming her name in hospital, in the throes of the worst pain of his life.

Csilla, who doesn’t know the true extent of his wounding, vows to take care of him and nurse him back to health. However, before Imre can be discharged and released to her care, his mother and professors intervene and have him taken back to France against his will. It’s a long, twisted road to happily ever after for these two.

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French Machalniks

Le Meurice is a gorgeous 5-star hotel in the First Arrondissement of Paris, opposite the famous Tuileries Garden, on the Rue de Rivoli. The Louvre is a short walk away. Its 160 rooms and suites are decorated in the style of King Louis XVI.

The first Hôtel Meurice opened in Calais in 1777, and the Parisian branch opened in 1815, at 223 Rue Saint-Honoré. In 1835, it moved to its present location, in a new, beautiful, luxurious building, with all the same amenities and perks.

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Copyright Axou

In 1891, electric lights were added, and in 1905–07, the Hôtel Métropole on Rue de Castiglione was added and the building underwent a thorough rebuilding under the direction of famous architect Henri Paul Nénot. Modern, tiled bathrooms were added; Louis XVI style was introduced; telephones and electric butler bells were added; reinforced concrete was added for privacy; public rooms were relocated; a wrought iron canopy was put over the lobby; a grand salon and new restaurant were added; and the lift was a copy of Marie Antoinette’s sedan chair.

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Hotel restaurant, Copyright Janine Cheung, Source Flickr

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Copyright Langmuir family, Source Flickr

From September 1940–August 1944, the occupying Nazis used the hotel as their headquarters. During that final month, General Dietrich von Choltitz, the military governor of Paris, stayed there. He was under orders to destroy Paris, but he disobeyed Hitler and surrendered to Free French forces. Supposedly, Hitler screamed “Is Paris burning?” to him over a Le Meurice telephone.

Many famous guests have stayed by Le Meurice, such as Salvador Dalí, King Alfonso XIII of Spain, FDR, the Shah, Rudyard Kipling, Plácido Domingo, Ginger Rogers, Yul Brynner, Mata Hari, and Elizabeth Taylor.

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Copyright Langmuir family, Source Flickr

The cheapest lodgings, the Superior Room, starts at 830 Euros a night, and the priciest option, the Belle Étoile Suite, starts at 14,500 a night. Other options include the Presidential Apartment, Executive Junior Suite, Deluxe Junior Suite, Superior Junior Suite, Prestige Suite, and Superior Suite. It’s a very child- and pet-friendly hotel, and has an amazingly beautiful restaurant, with fine dining.

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Copyright Langmuir family, Source Flickr

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Hotel restaurant, Copyright Janine Cheung, Source Flickr

My characters spend a thrilling week by Le Meurice in December 1945, financed by Marie’s dear friend Wolfram Engel. They run into one another by the depot, as Marie and her friends have just arrived from Florence, and Wolfram has just arrived from Lyon. Without a wife and children, Wolfram has a lot of disposable income.

Staying by Le Meurice is a dream come true for these young survivors, a complete turnaround in their fortune in less than a year.