WeWriWa—A lucky discovery

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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.

I’ve gone back to my hiatused WIP The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees, which follows a group of young Shoah survivors during the early postwar years. Part II tells the story of what happened to some of them while they were separated.

Mirjam Kovács, a graduate student in Budapest, fled back to her hometown of Abony immediately after the Nazi invasion in March 1944. Though this put her in considerable danger, it also enabled her to find a way to send her youngest siblings to safety. Even in the death train, she still hasn’t given up hope.

The escape she engineers is inspired by the 2006 German film The Last Train (Der Letzte Zug). Last week, she got the inspiration to turn a rock into an axe with help from other passengers.

Copyright Chenspec

“Why didn’t we notice that before?” Zakariás asked. “There’s a small hole in the floor over there.”

Gusztáv, Oszkár, and Fábián crouched around the hole and took turns hammering away as day gave way to night. While they worked, Ráhel recited the Catholic prayers, stumbling over the long Latin words a little less this time.

“The space only needs to be wide enough for a child to fit through,” Mirjam said. “You don’t have to take out the whole floor, though I wish we could all escape en masse. Would anyone else like to give her children to escape?”

Petra clutched four-year-old Mátyás and two-year-old Veronika. “I’m not parting from my children unless I’m under pain of death, and even then I wouldn’t let them go easily.”

“I won’t give up Mórci, Lizi, or Markó either,” Mrs. Heyman said.

The ten lines end here. A few more follow to finish the scene.

Móric’s ears burnt. “I’m thirteen, Anyuka, not a little kid. I became bar mitzvah over half a year ago.”

“You’re still a boy as far as everyone is concerned. I haven’t even put you in long pants yet.”

Móric glared down at his knee-length trousers and said no more.

WeWriWa—Mirjam’s great idea

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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.

I’m going back to my hiatused WIP The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees, which follows a group of young Shoah survivors (almost all of them Hungarian) during the early postwar years. Part II tells the story of what happened to the friends of Eszter Kovács while they were separated.

Eszter’s older sister Mirjam, a master’s degree student in Budapest, fled back to her hometown of Abony immediately after the Nazi invasion in March, under the false impression she’d be safer in a small town. Though this put her in a considerably greater amount of danger, it also enabled her to find a way to send her youngest siblings to safety. Even in the death train, she still hasn’t given up hope.

The last-minute escape she engineers is based on the escape in the 2006 German film The Last Train (Der Letzte Zug).

Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-027-1477-07 / Vennemann, Wolfgang / CC-BY-SA 3.0

A young man with a gash across his face picked up a rock and lobbed it through the window. It found its mark grazing across Oszkár’s face, and Oszkár tripped backwards.

“Is this train ride almost over?” Ráhel asked. “I’m getting tired of standing.”

“We’re all getting tired of standing!” an old man snapped. “You’re not the most important person in this car!”

Mirjam grabbed the rock. “Does anyone have twine and a stick? We can fashion this into an axe, and cut through the door. This is just the right shape and size for a homemade axe, though there’s no time to sharpen it.”

The ten lines end here. A few more follow to finish the scene.

Gusztáv picked up the rock. “We might have some supplies to fashion an axe. Dr. Rozental, may we borrow your flashlight?”

With the light of the small flashlight, Fábián pulled out his boot laces and Oszkár fished around in his bundles.

“You can use this,” Móric’s older sister Petra said, extending a long wooden rod with flares on either end. “This was Veruska’s teething stick, and was still in the bag of children’s supplies when we left Újszász.”

Using Dr. Rozental’s sharpest scalpel, Gusztáv sawed off one of the flares and split the top of what remained. Gusztáv then took a deep breath and submerged the stick in the waste bucket. He gagged as he bent the wood around the rock and lashed it in place with Fábián’s boot laces. While this was going on, Mirjam used another scalpel to remove the star from Ráhel’s blouse.

Oleksiy Oleksandrovych Glagolev (Олексій Олександрович Глаголєв)

Oleksiy Oleksandrovych Glagolev (2 July 1901–23 January 1972) was one of three children born to Father Oleksandr Oleksandrovych Glagolev and Zinayida Petrovna Glagoleva (née Slesarevskaya). His maternal grandfather was head of the Kyiv Theological Academy’s library.

Oleksiy graduated with honors from Kyiv’s renowned Third Gymnasium, and attended Kyiv Theological Academy from 1919–23. Though religious schools had been closed by the Bolsheviks, this school nevertheless continued to function informally.

In 1926, Oleksiy married Tetyana Pavlivna Bulashevich, the daughter of a sugar plant owner. They had three kids—Magdalina (b. 1926), Mykola (b. 1928), and Mariya (b. 1943). It stands to reason that Mariya was a late-life surprise!

Copyright Половко Сергей Николаевич (Polovko Sergey Nikolayevich)

On 7 May 1932, Oleksiy was arrested on charges of counterrevolutionary activity but released a week later due to lack of evidence. However, he was branded the son of a “cult minister” and thus disenfranchised. To make money, Oleksiy first found employment as a concrete worker, then as guard for the nursery school of a jam factory.

In 1936, Oleksiy entered the Kyiv Pedagogical Institute, studying math and physics. After his 1940 graduation, he went to Georgia to secretly accept priesthood in the Georgian Orthodox Church, but refused at the last minute. Though they shared the same faith, their national churches were different, and Oleksiy was confident that someday soon the Georgian church would have their own bishops.

In 1941, shortly after the German invasion of the Soviet Union, Oleksiy was ordained in his own country and served in the Church of the Intercession in Kyiv. 

Church of the Intercession in Kyiv, Copyright Posterrr

During the war, Father Oleksiy and his family (nine people in total) risked their lives to rescue Jews by providing false documents and hiding people in their own homes and in church buildings. Father Oleksiy’s wife Tetyana also gave a woman her own passport with a new photo, which almost cost her her life. It was a miracle the Gestapo didn’t arrest her.

The Glagolevs also rescued a Russian Red Army lieutenant colonel, his wife, and their six kids. Tetyana was pregnant with her surprise third child at this time, and she and everyone in her family would’ve been murdered had they been caught. Despite the huge personal danger, the family continued to shelter people and provide phony papers.

In autumn 1943, Father Oleksiy was arrested by the Nazis, beaten up twice, and deported to Germany with his son Mykola. Miraculously, they were able to escape and come home. 

Church of the Exaltation of the Cross in Kyiv, Copyright Thez

After the war, upon the urging of fellow clergy, Father Oleksiy wrote a detailed letter about his rescue of Jews to Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchëv, then First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. He continued serving in the Church of the Intercession until its 1960 closure, and then moved to the Church of the Exaltation of the Cross and the Florov Monastery.

During Father Oleksiy’s five final years, he served in the Church of the Intercession of the Mother of God in Solomyanka. The brutal beatings from the Nazis had a lasting impact on his health, and caused a long, serious illness at the end of his life, requiring several operations.

Father Oleksiy doubtless got his courage and righteousness from the example of his father Oleksandr (seen above), who was also a priest. In 1905, he strongly protested against the bloody pogroms in Kyiv (putting his own life and safety on the line), and in 1909 published an article strongly condemning antisemitism in the Church.

During the 1913 blood libel trial of Menachem Mendel Beilis, he was a key expert witness for the defence, explaining why the consumption and spilling of blood are contrary to Jewish Law. Father Oleksandr also regularly helped poor and needy Jews and Muslims in Kyiv, not just other Christians.

Sadly, he was arrested by the NKVD on 20 October 1937 and was tortured to death in prison on 25 November.

In 1991, Yad Vashem honored Father Oleksiy and his wife Tetyana as Righteous Among the Nations. Seven other members of the Glagolev family received the honor in 1992—their older daughter Magdalyna; Father Oleksiy’s brother Serhiy and his wife Mariya; Mariya’s sisters Klavdiya and Tetyana; Serhiy’s mother-in-law Oleksandra Yehorycheva; and Oleksandra’s brother Hryhoriy Maslennikov. Father Oleksiy’s son Mykola was honored in 2000.

Serhiy and Mariya’s daughter Zoya is currently recognized as a righteous person of Ukraine, but hasn’t gotten the honor from Yad Vashem yet.

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

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?

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