Posted in 1940s, Israel, Photography, Travel

Machal and Le Meurice



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.


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.


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.


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.


Hotel restaurant, Copyright Janine Cheung, Source Flickr


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.


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.


Copyright Langmuir family, Source Flickr


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.

Posted in 1940s, Historical fiction, holidays, Writing

WeWriWa—Wolfram’s stocking

Happy Christmas, and Happy Chanukah!


Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes a number of pages after last week’s, when Wolfram invited his friends to join him for some Christmas baking. Now, Christmas morning, they’ve come across the hall so he’ll have some company on his holiday.

Glühwein is heated, spiced wine; gedeckter apfelkuchen is a cross between apple pie and apple cake; kranzkuchen is braided, wreath-shaped bread; lebkuchen is gingerbread; eierpunsch is eggnog; and vanillekipferl are small crescent cookies made of ground hazelnuts or almonds and heavily dusted with vanilla sugar.


The breakfast which presently appeared on the table consisted of Stollen, glühwein, hard-boiled eggs, rolls with strawberry and raspberry jam, quark, kranzkuchen stuffed with chocolate marzipan and glazed with apricot jam, gedeckter apfelkuchen with cranberries in place of the usual raisins, lebkuchen, eierpunsch, vanillekipferl, chocolate muffins, chocolate croissants, hot chocolate, a platter of mixed cheeses, and pain au chocolat.  Marie eagerly piled her plate with everything.

After every crumb had been devoured, they went back to the living room.  Of the sixteen gifts under the tree, the biggest by far was from Marie.  A few of Wolfram’s new co-workers, and Marie’s friends, had gotten some little trinkets, and his new boss had given him an envelope of money.


Wolfram first went through the contents of the stocking Marie had put together—chocolates, jellybeans, gumdrops, nonpareils, caramels, a dark green yo-yo, a silver bookmark with embossed swirls and the letter W, a small bottle of Fougère Royale men’s perfume, a pocket-sized copy of The Little Prince, a kaleidoscope, a Chinese puzzle box, a miniature telescope, Nénette and Rintintin good luck dolls, an angel figurine, and an orange.  Marie had individually wrapped everything except for the orange at the bottom, and put the candy in colored gauze drawstring bags.

“You’re such a sweet girl, Mitzi,” Wolfram said as he set the now-empty stocking on the side table. “You didn’t need to get me another present besides all these little things.  If people like me were able to have children, I’d want a daughter just like you.”


Nénette and Rintintin are little yarn dolls originating in 1913. They began as children’s toys, but during WWI, they became very popular good luck charms for soldiers. Parisian civilians also wore them as protection against air raids. Many were made in white, blue, and red, like the French flag.

Posted in 1940s, Historical fiction, holidays, Writing

WeWriWa—Wolfram’s Christmas decorations

Today is my secular birthday (my Hebrew birthday will be the 5th night of Chanukah). I’ve reached an age where I’d prefer not to say how old I am, though I don’t look my age at all! Most people don’t think I’m older than 25.


Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes about five chapters after last week’s. My characters left Florence for Paris after Chanukah ended, and found Marie’s dear friend Wolfram Engel by the depot. Wolfram paid for their stay by the famous, luxurious Hôtel Le Meurice.

After several days in Paris, everyone but Wolfram set out for Marie’s hometown of Nantes. Marie didn’t exactly receive a hero’s welcome home, and suffered a bit of a mental breakdown. Upon their return to Paris, Wolfram took them to an apartment across the hall from his. He moved in all the things they left with him, and bought cheap furniture and mattresses. Wolfram invited them to join him for some Christmas baking after washing off the road dust.


At 7:30, they reconvened in Wolfram’s flat, which had a wreath hung on the door.  The first thing everyone noticed was the large Christmas tree in the living room.  They’d all seen Christmas trees before, but never this up-close and personal.  It dominated the entire room and flat by mere virtue of its presence.

Wolfram had festooned it with bright colored glass bulbs; strings of popcorn and dried cranberries; blue, white, red, and yellow tinsel; artificial birds’ nests with eggs; a string of multicolored lights; miniature musical instruments; and several different types of birds.  It was topped off by an angel.  Underneath the tree was a miniature village with a toy train running around and producing real smoke.  Everyone looked away from the manger scene.

Another wreath was hung on the mantle above the fireplace, and on top of the mantle was an odd piece of cardboard with little open windows displaying pictures of both secular and religious Christmas subjects.  The unopened windows bore numbers, suggesting it were a type of calendar counting down to Christmas.


Wolfram was sent to the camps for violating Paragraph 175, Germany’s anti-gay legislation which was on the books until 1994. He fell away from churchgoing and Confession years ago due to his anger at Church teachings about homosexuality, but still feels a strong pull towards the cultural aspect of German Catholicism.

As Wolfram tells Marie (whom he calls Mitzi), it means the world to him that she’s never judged or feared him. He’s her surrogate father, and later walks her up to the wedding canopy and serves as her children’s grandfather.

I’ve always pictured Wolfram a bit like silent screen sheik and fellow Pittsburgher Thomas Meighan, with thicker and wavier hair, and intense green eyes:


Posted in Photography, Travel

Nantes, France


Aerial view of Le Château des Ducs de Bretagne, image by Jibi44.

La Cathédral Saint-Pierre.

Nantes is France’s sixth-largest city, at about 900,000 people, and the biggest city in Northwestern France. It’s about 31 miles from the Atlantic Ocean. The name derives from the Namnetes, the Gauls who founded a town in the area about 70 BCE. After the city came under Roman rule in 56 BCE, the name became Condevincum, or Condevicnum. In the third century, the name changed to Portus Namnetum. Citizens of Nantes are known as Nantais. Its nickname is the Venice of the West.

The city is on the banks of the Loire River, where the Erdre and Sèvre Nantaise Rivers meet. Because of the convergence of all this water around land masses, the city historically contained many islands. Most of them have sadly been filled in since the early 20th century, but a few remain, such as L’Île Feydeau and L’Île de Nantes.

L’Église Saint-Clément, image by Claire POUTEAU.

Île Feydeau (Feydeau Island), image by Jibi44.

Nantes is the hometown of my sweet little Marie Zénobie Sternglass (later Sklar), one of the ensemble cast of my hiatused WIPs The Natural Splash of a Living Being and The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees, and in planned future books Sweet Miracles (late Forties-early Fifties Newark) and Aliyah After All These Years (2008). She also appears in my hiatused WIP Malchen and Pali and my handwritten magnum opus Cinnimin, first in 1954, and much later in 1997-98.

Marie is just the sweetest little thing. Even after everything she’s been through, she still remains sweet, naïve, innocent, hopeful. She owes her survival in large part to Dr. Caterina da Gama and Wolfram Engel, and she never forgets this. To sweet, naïve little Marie, it’s genuinely baffling why anyone would hate and abuse her angel Wolfram just because he was born gay. Wolfram becomes her surrogate father, even walking her up to the chupah on her wedding day and acting as her children’s grandfather.

One chapter of The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees takes place in Nantes in December 1945, after a long journey from Germany to Hungary, to Italy, and finally Marie’s belovèd France. Marie is eager to find her family and get back her family’s possessions from their old house, but it’s far from a happy homecoming. After finding some old family photos, getting back some things from a friend of her mother’s, and learning how her father died, she and her friends return to Paris.

City panorama from the port, image by Pepie34.

Fontaine de la Place Royale, Copyright Guillaume Piolle / CC-BY-3.0.

During the Nazi occupation, locals assassinated Lt. Col. Fritz Hotz, which resulted in the revenge killings of 48 civilian Nantais. Nantes was also bombed heavily by Americans on 16 and 23 August 1943.

Le Passage de la Pommeraye, image by Philippe Alès.

There are a lot of beautiful things to see and do in Nantes. The city is home to lots of beautiful old churches, the 13th century Château des Ducs de Bretagne, many historic public squares, art and history museums, many parks and gardens, the Jules Verne Museum, a natural history museum, a museum of Nantes history, the Thomas Dobrée archaeological museum, a planetarium, a naval museum, a sewing machine museum, a print and typography museum, many old houses and buildings, and an 18th century theatre and opera house.

Entrance to the Château des Ducs de Bretagne, image by Paravane, based on original image by Plindenbaum.

More information:

Posted in 1940s, Historical fiction, Secondary characters, Shoah, Writing


Name: Wolfram Engel

Date of birth: 1910

Place of birth: Germany

Year I created him: 2006

Role: Secondary character

Wolfram was sent to the camps for violating Paragraph 175, the anti-gay legislation Germany had from 1871 to 1994. In 1935, the scope of the law was extended and made male homosexuality a felony punishable by five years’ imprisonment. Up to 63,000 men were convicted and imprisoned under Nazi rule. About 40%, or 10,000, of men with the pink triangle survived the camps. Wolfram is one of them.

For some reason, I’ve always pictured Wolfram as looking a bit like silent screen sheik and fellow Pittsburgher Thomas Meighan, only with somewhat thicker and wavier hair. He has dark green eyes.


We first meet him in September 1944, as a friend of sweet, naïve French girl Marie Sternglass. When Marie returns to France in late 1945, Wolfram resumes the protective, fatherly role in her life. At her wedding, Wolfram walks her up to the chupah. He also goes with her when she returns to the Parisian bridal salon where she and Aranka bought their dresses, convinced there’s been a horrible mistake because the employees gave them the dresses they’d admired most but couldn’t afford (along with complementary jewelry). Wolfram doesn’t want anyone thinking his sweet little Marie is a thief. Of course, the salon ladies felt sympathy for these young teenage girls and gave them their dream dresses, even though they couldn’t afford them.

Wolfram later finds his soulmate, a man who’s (if I remember correctly) six years his junior, and they get married and eventually immigrate to the United States and move to San Francisco. In a yet unwritten storyline, Marie, her best friends, and their husbands are going to finally make aliyah, which makes Kálmán (now Shimron) extremely happy. When Wolfram nears the end of his days, he too moves to Israel to be near his surrogate daughter, and is going to die with Marie holding his hand.

Here are some of the Wolfram scenes I’ve written to date. I haven’t yet gotten past December 1945 with Eszter and her group of friends, so all future storylines with them, including the two visits to the Parisian bridal salon, are memorized in my head.

Two days later Marie’s friend Wolfram maneuvered his way to their barracks as some of the other women were hanging laundry up.  Once behind the sheets he looked both ways and crept into the indoor working area, where Malchen was washing a bunch of silk stockings belonging to the female SS officers.

“My friend Marie sent me a message saying a young new friend of hers was in need of a pair of shoes, so I stole a pair of shoes belonging to one of the little brats touring the factory where I work.  One of the bosses had brought his three children, and one of them is just about your age.  He decided to take them swimming, and they began taking their shoes off before they went into their father’s office to finish changing.  Now here they are.”  Wolfram pulled a pair of shoes out from under the burlap bag sitting in the wheelbarrow he was pushing.  “Don’t ask how I manage to pull off so much smuggling.”

“You must be a political prisoner.  It looks like you’ve been in for a very long time, since your triangle has faded from red to pink.”

“That’s the color it’s supposed to be.  I hate the Nazis, but I’m not a political prisoner.  Pink triangles are for homosexuals.”

“Is that a religion?”

“I was confused too at first,” Marie told her.  “It means dear Wolfram likes men instead of women.  He says he’s felt this way his entire life, having as little control over it as we did over having been born Jewish.  Isn’t it bestial that the Nazis have to do these horrible things to us on the basis of things that weren’t our fault?  I’m not saying I’m ashamed of who I am, but how is having a different religion or preferring to be with your own sex that threatening to other people?  We spent our entire lives minding our own business.”


“As you can see, I’ve only just arrived myself.  After the liberation, I decided I didn’t want anything to do with Germany anymore, so I gave up my citizenship and moved here for the time being.  I’ve been living in Lyon, but decided to see if there might be some more job opportunities in the capital.”


“What, are you jealous of me?” Wolfram asked.  “Do you have eyes for Marie yourself or something?  Why is your first reaction to think we’re sweethearts instead of friends?”

“Oh, I don’t know.”  Artur hoped Marie didn’t suspect anything.

“As beautiful as Marie is, I’m far too old for her, like she said, and besides, I only like other men, not women.  That’s why I was thrown in the camps.”

“Other men?” Aranka asked.  “Such a thing exists?”

“Didn’t you see any men wearing pink triangles while you were there?  That’s another reason I left Germany, because they didn’t repeal Paragraph 175 even after the Nazis were no more.  I think I’ll find more freedom to be myself in France, though of course ultimately I’d like to move to the United States.”

“But why?” Klaudia asked.  “Why wouldn’t you like women like a normal man?”

“I’ve just always felt this way.  There’s no reason.  It’s as uncontrollable as having blue eyes, being left-handed, having red hair, or being born into a Catholic family.  We can’t help the way we are.”

“Please don’t hate Wolfram,” Marie pleaded.  “He did so much for us, and doesn’t need to be hated and persecuted twice just because he was born a homosexual.”


Wolfram looked hard at Artur as the group began moving out of the depot, waiting till Marie was out of earshot.  “I might prefer other men to women, but I’m not stupid.  I know what certain body language and expressions mean when a man is interested in a woman.  You have a crush on Marie, don’t you?”

“Is it that obvious?” he whispered.  “All this time she’s believed I’m just a good friend who looks out for her.”

“What’s been stopping you from telling her?  Afraid she doesn’t feel the same way?”

“She’s just too pure, too innocent, too sweet, to be sullied by such things.  It seems wrong to even touch her, in more than a friendly way.  And she’s barely fifteen years old.  I’m seventeen.  It doesn’t seem right.”

“What won’t seem right, young man, is when you see her walking with some other fellow someday, someone who took her away from you because you hesitated and made excuses too long.  You have my permission, in lieu of her father’s, to ask her to be yours.”

“No, I can’t do that.  I’ve made my peace with never being more than friends with her.”

“Then prepare to be heartbroken for real when she ends up marrying some other guy, someone who isn’t afraid to ask her out.”


“Nothing about the war made any sense.  I might as well be the only one left in my family too, since my own parents and other relatives were Nazis.  The boyfriend I was caught with was tortured to death before I was sent to Poland, so I arrived all alone.  I had to leave that bastard country as soon as possible after I recovered, since I knew that if the authorities found I were alive, they’d reimprison me.”

“After all you’d been through, you would’ve been put back in prison by the new German authorities?” Marie asked in horror.  “But you’re not a criminal.  You didn’t wear a black or a green triangle in addition to the pink one.”

“I told you yesterday, they never repealed Paragraph 175, the statute I was imprisoned under.  My sentence wasn’t yet up as of late June, when I left Germany behind.  You saw how badly I was treated, worse than other categories of prisoners.  Most of the men who wore pink triangles weren’t as lucky as I was.”

Marie put her arms around his shoulders.  “No one should’ve mistreated my angel.  Now that you’re in France, no one will ever harm you again or treat you like a criminal because God saw fit to make you different from most others.”

“If only your attitude were shared by more people, and people in power, I never would’ve been put through that.  I wonder if your parents would’ve allowed you to even associate with me.”

“I don’t care if my own parents might’ve thought you were a criminal or diseased or a menace to society.  You took care of me when I needed it.  I don’t understand why so many people are afraid of your kind.”

“I told you, people hate and fear what’s different,” Eszter said.  “Are you really still so naïve after everything you’ve been through?”

“I hope she stays just as sweet as she is.”  Wolfram ruffled her hair.  “At least her ordeal didn’t turn her into a bitter, grumpy, unpleasant person like your friend Kálmán.”


“You’d really do that for me?” She jumped up and threw her arms around him.  “I knew Caterina would’ve walked me down the aisle in place of my mother, but I had no idea you’d want to stand up in place of my father!”

“Of course I would.  I’d do anything for my sweet little Marie.”  He set her back down.  “I’ll even see the two of you off to the train station.  And you know what, when you and Artur decide to have children, since they won’t have any natural grandparents, I’ll be their grandfather too.  No child deserves to grow up without even one grandparent.”