Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Recommended Reading I: Jews of Eastern Europe

You may have noticed an addition to this blog.  On the right of the page you will find a list of books that I’ve read in the past few years with Jewish content.  They cover a wide range of subject matter, but all have been helpful to me in expanding my understanding.  Many of them are nonfiction although there is also some fiction among them and some of them I’ve written about in these pages.  I find that many of the ones I enjoy the most are written by journalists as they seem to have a unique talent for taking real events and crafting them into a rather gripping story.  As my discussions of recommended books have become buried in these pages, I thought I’d cull them out and in subsequent entries provide brief comments on some of those I haven’t previously discussed.

In this blog entry I’ll focus on the ones I’ve discussed within the blog already and where you can find them.  While I’ve included the books with Jewish content on this list, they provide interesting reading for a broad range of readers, Jewish ancestry not required.

You will find discussion of Masha Gessen’s book Ester & Ruzya: How My Grandmothers Survived Hitler’s War and Stalin’s Peace in Jewish Life in the Soviet Union.  This book provided insight into both the war time and post war period and its impact on Jews in the Soviet Union.  A good companion book on this topic is A Hole in the Heart of the World by Jonathan Kaufman which follows the life of five Jews from the war to post-war in Eastern Europe.  You will find some discussion of it in my entry Readings on the Jews of Eastern Europe.  I found these books both very readable and very important in increasing my understanding of Jewish life in Eastern Europe post-war. 

Also in Readings on the Jews of Eastern Europe is The Great Jewish Cities of Central and Eastern Europe by Eli Valley, a must read prior to visiting Budapest, Warsaw, Cracow or Prague, unfortunately too big to easily carry on your travels.  Filled with historical anecdotes it brings color and context to your travels. 

The Kati Marton books on Budapest are discussed in the The Budapest Brain Drain and I highly recommend all of her work for both insights into post-war experience and the many influences of Budapest Jews on the United States. My favorite book was The Great Escape: Nine Jews Who Fled Hitler and Changed the World

 In Favorite Travel Tools and Books you will find discussion of The Zookeeper’s Wife that I suggest you read prior to visiting Warsaw or to learn more about the Warsaw ghetto.  It is based on actual people and events and we were delighted to find references to the people of whom we read at the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw. Also in that entry you will find discussion of Not Me, a fictional story that was interesting reading that also touched on Madjanek. 

Anton, the Dove Fancier is discussed in How They Lived, short stories based on Radom, Poland by a survivor.  These are beautifully written with a photographer’s eye for detail.  In A Contact, A Book and An Interview you will find mention of Everything is Illuminated and The Heavens are Empty, books based on the virtually all Jewish town of Trochenbrod.

In Across the Pond you will find discussion of the Ponary Diary which I often reference when I speak about my Lithuanian based artwork as it recounts the story of the Vilnius Jews murdered in Ponar.  As background on Vilnius you may also want to read Lucy Davidowicz's From That Time and Place which is discussed in Jewish Ghetto Walk.  While not easy reading and filled with names, it is a first person account of Vilnius in the pre-war period and a sad recounting of the fate of many of Davidowicz's friends.

In addition to these books I also wrote of The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson in the entry The Great Migration.  While not Jewish in content so not on this list, it sparks insights for anyone with an interest in immigration and certainly made me think of Nazi Germany in its description of the South at the time of the Jim Crow laws.

In subsequent entries I will address some of the other readings that have informed my search, deepened my understanding and provided context for much of what I've observed.

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