WeWriWa—Chanukah in Amsterdam

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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. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

My first winter holiday snippet this year comes from And Jakob Flew the Fiend Away, which is set from 1940–46 in The Netherlands and the Dutch East Indies. Chapter 4, “Heroes and Cowards of History,” is set during the first Chanukah of the war.

Fourteen-year-old Jakob DeJonghe and his mother Luisa moved into the apartment of their friends Kees (Cornelius) and Gusta at the start of the book, after Jakob’s father was coerced into suicide by three Nazis and his little sister Emilia mysteriously disappeared. Jakob is quite angry about everything going on.

Chanukah party in Salonika, Greece, 1945

This year, Chanukah came “late,” compared to the Gregorian calendar. The first night was on Christmas Eve. While most of the people of Amsterdam had fancy Christmas trees in their windows and bright lights and decorations, Jakob’s new home had chanukiyot in the window. When he was a boy, Jakob had asked his father why the Christians had their big Christmas celebration on December fifth when the actual holiday was twenty days away, and Ruud had told him perhaps they were trying to make up for how their religion didn’t have so many holidays. Now Jakob wondered if Emilia had gotten presents from Sinterklaas earlier in the month, and if Heer Krusen and Vrouw Peerenboom, if they still had her, were raising her as a Christian.

“I never thought I’d live to see a day when we’d be in the same position as our ancestors during the first Chanukah,” Kees commented as he put a heaping spoonful of applesauce on his plate. “Then again, I also believed the last war was truly the war to end all wars.”

“We’ll emerge victorious soon enough,” Gusta said as she cut up a latke. “Only this time we have large, professional armies to save us, and don’t need to depend on a group like the Maccabees.”

Pedantic, politicised Polish pilpul

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Warning: Any hateful comments from historical revisionists will be deleted and the commenters blacklisted. If you can’t agree to disagree respectfully, you can leave.

Since today marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, I wanted to discuss Article 55a of the 2018 amendment to the Act on the Institute of National Remembrance–Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation.

Sections 1a and 1b of Article 55 outlaw historical denialism of Nazi and Soviet crimes against Poles, crimes against peace and humanity, war crimes, and political repression. Shoah denial isn’t outright mentioned, but is understood to be included as a criminal offence.

In 2007, an amendment was passed regarding lustrations in Poland; i.e., limiting the participation of former Communists in government, esp. members of the secret police.

It sounds great so far! Many other countries have similar laws.

And then came the infamous 2018 amendment, which has drawn international criticism.

What makes that latest addition so controversial?

The amended Article 55a makes it illegal to honestly discuss the difficult issue of Polish complicity in the Shoah. Article 2a, now null and void, was also criticised for condemning crimes against Polish citizens by Ukrainian nationalists, since most of those Ukrainians were Polish citizens at the time.

Historical consensus agrees:

1. The most Righteous Among the Nations (as per 1 January 2019) are Polish, 6,992 out of 27,362 total. (The Netherlands is #2 with 5,778, France is #3 with 4,099, Ukraine is #4 with 2,634, and Belgium is #5 with 1,751.

2. Poland disappeared from the map during WWII, carved up by Germany and the USSR.

3. There’s a strong case to be made for Poland suffering the most of any occupied nation during WWII.

4. While many local authorities were left in place, Poland was directly governed by Germany instead of a puppet government.

5. Poland was hurt by the postwar borders decided at the Yalta Conference. She lost 20% of her land, and the Polish residents east of the Curzon Line were expelled.

6. The Polish government-in-exile was actively involved in matters regarding their country, and gave the Allies some of the earliest and most accurate reports of the Shoah.

7. Under Lebensraum, 923,000 Poles were expelled to make room for ethnic Germans. Sometimes entire towns were expelled, and everyone was forced to leave most of their belongings behind. Many houses were left with half-eaten meals and unmade beds.

8. The Polish Resistance was very active, and never stopped fighting the enemy in their midst. There were also strong underground rescue efforts.

9. The penalty for being caught helping Jews was death, as compared to the prison terms meted out in most other occupied countries.

10. After the war, the Polish government prosecuted and executed many collaborators and people guilty of crimes against humanity.

11. There was a LOT of anti-Semitism in countries without Jewish emancipation. Interfaith relations in 1940s Europe were a far cry from what they are today, and many survivors say they never felt at home in their own native countries, were afraid of local Gentiles, spoke Yiddish instead of the national language.

12. Many people in Nazi-occupied countries were active collaborators and silent bystanders.

13. The Shoah couldn’t have happened on its tragic scale if not for the above. E.g., the swift, brutal process in Hungary was carried out entirely by native gendarmes. Many people never saw a German till the death trains changed hands in Košice, Slovakia.

14. More than a few people in Poland shouted epithets and made throat-slashing motions as death trains came through.

15. Many people in hiding, and their helpers, were betrayed by locals.

16. During the war, there were pogroms in Jedwabne, Szczuczyn, and Wąsosz, carried out by locals. After the war, there was a pogrom in Kielce.

Under Article 55a, points 11–16 can’t be discussed honestly and openly. History is a dialogue between past and present, not a forced narrative with a political agenda avoiding difficult questions and conclusions.

This has led to people demanding journalists “correct” articles which dare say, e.g., “Auschwitz was in Poland.”

Showing WWII maps with Poland and referring to Poland as simply Poland isn’t a cruel act of Polonophobia or historical ignorance. It’s a geographical reference everyone understands, not an implication Poles created and ran those camps. Likewise, the term “Polish death camps,” used as early as 1944 but now widely rejected as misleading, is in reference to geography, not culpability.

Should all books about the Shoah be rewritten to specify the country as “German-occupied Poland,” even when no one would’ve spoken or thought like that in real life? E.g., “I could tell by the road signs we were heading towards Poland,” “It’s a good thing we’re still in Poland, since the natives might be kinder to us, and we speak the same language.” How many Poles thought of themselves as suddenly really living in Germany?

Also, how could Poland celebrate 100 years of independence in 2018 if they didn’t really exist during WWII? By that logic, 2045 should be their centenary. Are these people saying they accept Germany’s annexation as legal and valid?

Compelled speech hurts everyone. We need simple, immediately-understood words, not hair-splitting, pedantic verbal gymnastics avoiding calling a spade a spade. It’s like TRAs using grotesque terms like “womb havers,” “cervix owners,” and “people who menstruate” instead of “women.” And why use 5-10 extra words when a single one easily suffices?

WeWriWa—An unlikely celebration

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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.”

WeWriWa—Treasure found

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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. I’m now sharing from Chapter 45, “Imre’s Revenge,” of my hiatused WIP The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees.

It’s November 1945, and Imre has chosen to stay behind in Budapest instead of being smuggled into Italy with his girlfriend Csilla and their friends. He claimed important business, among other reasons, to cover up his plans to go to Csilla’s hometown Abony to recover important possessions she hid last year.

Matters are complicated by Csilla’s old house now being owned by a gendarme who tortured her.

Copyright Gerard Dukker; source Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed

In the dim light, Imre prowled around the cellar, keeping his eyes peeled for big, dark lumps. The cellar had a funny smell to it, so he didn’t want to spend too long there. After endless investigation, he stumbled against a medium-sized pile of coal in a darkened corner full of cobwebs. He moved the coal aside with his feet, not wanting to get his hands dirty, and found only bricks. On closer inspection, there was no mortar holding these bricks together.

Imre removed about twenty bricks, his heart racing, and found exactly what Csilla had described. A mid-sized bundle wrapped in her orange, yellow, and brown scarf; a pair of orange skis and matching poles bound together at several junctions with yellow ribbons; a globe in a very nice dark wooden stand; a brown carrying case which revealed a portable victrola; and an orange carrying case which revealed the orange Remington Portable typewriter. He could go through the items in the bundle once he was in a secure location.

Imre put the bundle and victrola into the postal bag and tested its weight. It probably weighed about twenty pounds, maybe less.

WeWriWa—Imre’s dangerous mission

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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 week, I’m switching back to my hiatused WIP, The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees. I unfortunately lost the entire file on my computer in August 2017, but thankfully had a near-complete backup on my flash drive. It’s missing about two to five thousand words, but it could’ve been so much worse.

This comes from Chapter 45, “Imre’s Revenge,” set in November 1945. While 17-year-old Csilla and her friends have been smuggled out of Hungary and into Italy before the Soviets could completely take control, Csilla’s new boyfriend Imre begged off on going with them.

Imre claimed important business in Budapest, among other reasons, but he truly planned to go to Csilla’s hometown of Abony to recover important possessions she hid before being taken to the ghetto. Matters are complicated by Csilla’s old house now being owned by a gendarme who tortured her.


Downtown Abony, Hungary, Copyright Civertan Grafikai Stúdió

Csilla’s house was near the avenue’s genesis, not too far from the intersection with main thoroughfare Szolnoki Út, and just a bit before the intersection with Cserép Utca. It was a simple one-story brick edifice with a wooden door and yellow shutters. There was dim light behind the windows, but not much noise. The chain-link fence around the backyard wasn’t padlocked, so all Imre had to do was push down on the tension band and swing open the latch.

He didn’t dare try the back or side door when he knew full well the house was occupied, so he dropped to his knees and crept along the back of the house till he found a slightly ajar window. He pushed it the rest of the way open and slid inside, onto the top of something he quickly realized was a modern washing machine. It would’ve been much worse if he’d landed on a blazing coal heater or boiler. Landing on the washing machine also meant his entrance hadn’t made much noise. There was no time to wonder whether this time-saving wonder had belonged to Csilla’s family, or if the gendarme’s family had added it. Imre was only here to dig up the valuables hidden underneath the coal.