Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Remembering the liberation of jews, gypsies & gays: 1/27/19945-2015

Found written on the wall of a concentration camp:

I believe in the sun
I believe in love
I believe in G-d
though He may be silent.

I am so into bark ...

Polish Embassy

Another event.  Another embassy.

Last Wednesday, the Polish embassy presented a reading and debate of Michael Fleming's book, "Auschwitz, the Allies and Censorship of the Holocaust".

Falls right in line with "The Imitation Game" and the codes they broke which could have been used to win the war much sooner.  Profoundly disturbing to know that both the British and 
American governments :knew" of the atrocities happening waiting 2 long years and millions of corpses later to take any action.

The event which I have been attending and the whole gamut of events, programs, radio, television, newspapers coverage leading up to the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz are extremeely hard on me but I do it to honor my mother and in rememberance of family lost.  

if Lili can hold up, I can.

The Polish ambassador is a dear and devoted friends of Lili's.  He is seen escorting my mother up the beautiful staircase and sat her next to him.

Thinking of writing a book reviewing embassy buffets!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Let the "Shoah" begin.

The Great Week of Remembrance has begun. 

Last week, I attended two events that kick off the full shebang this week which is Holocaust remembrance week.  The Polish & German embassy both held evenings addressing different aspects of the Holocaust that was World War II.

Television has been jammed full of programming, from documentaries to movies chronicling the atrocities that took place between 1939-1945.

Last night, I bit the biggest bullet of all. 
BBC Four was running a marathon showing of Claude Lanzmann's epic 1985 series, "Shoah".  In fact, I really avoided this type of programming as much as possible.  Lili watches everything and sits, glued as if awaiting a different outcome.

 The 9 hour, 33 minute long documentary consists primarily of Lanzmann's interviews and visits to Holocaust sites across Poland, including three extermination camps.

It presents the testimonies of selected survivors, local witnesses and German perpetrators.  Many of the interviews were conducted using hidden cameras.

Definitely, something that was not even near the bottom of my "must see" binge watching list.

But during this significant time, I decided to bite the bullet and give it a go.

I got three and a half hours into it and had to throw in the towel.  

I was having a very bad recurrence of my "Sophie's Choice" and "Shindler's List" reaction ...  acute nausea, which in the cases of the movies actually manifested in full blown throwing up when we left the theatre on our way home.  Terrible anxiety.  Dreadfully disturbed.  Pained to my core.

I speak a very broken and apparently unique Polish - mine.  But it is good enough to get myself understood and can get by quite well.
When Lili watches Polish television, it is hit and miss as to whether I understand it or not.  When it is the news and current events, it gets difficult but when there is a documentary or series, I understand nearly everything.

"Shoah" was directed by a French man and a large percentage of the documentary is simultaneously translated into French by one of the interpreters and has subtitles in English.

The so-called "Sophie's Choice" effect for me is when the people are speaking Polish, I completely understand them, do not listen to the translation and do not read the subtitles.

This makes my personal experience much more visceral.  It is local people talking the language of my parents and grandmother, particularly as they often came from the same region in Poland.  It becomes much more personal.  Much more intimate.  Not all words translate accurately but for me, the picture becomes even more vivid.  Alive.  Real.

"Shoah" is not a documentary for the feint hearted.  Nor is it required viewing.
But as the second generation of a small hand of survivors, I was finally  compelled by a huge sense of Jewish & possibly survivors guilt that require me to sit, watch and listen to the morbidly gruesome details of the cold hearted murder of innocent, young, children. The SS mandated silence of the local residents surrounding some of the extermination camps.
The pile upon piles of emaciated, skeletal bodies, being bulldozed into mass graves.
The constant talk of the stench that can never be forgotten ...

There is only so much the eye & mind can take.

Tonight, it is off to the prestigious British Library where Lili is one of the 2 invited speakers.

I suck up my own feelings in honor of my family.

I suck up my own feeling because I am alive.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Great West Ken Blackout of 24 January, 2015

Striking aerial picture shows swathe of west London plunged into darkness by blackout

A huge chunk of west London was plunged into almost complete darkness 

An investigation was today launched into the cause of a blackout which left thousands of west London homes without electricity for more than two hours last night.
Police were called to major junctions as the outage knocked out traffic lights with motorists reporting long tailbacks on roads through West Kensington and Fulham.
Baron’s Court and West Kensington tube stations were closed and trains passed through without stopping.
Engineers from UK Power Networks were alerted at just before 8pm and spent two hours working to restore electricity.
They were today trying to establish the cause of the outage, which has been blamed on a fault in high-voltage underground cables.
Residents described “eery” scenes as streets were suddenly plunged into pitch dark.
Tube passengers in west London were affected by the power cut Picture: Nigel Howard 
Engineer John Croft, 52, said: “I got off the bus at West Kensington tube station and it was madness. “There was a huge line of cars stretching back as far as I could see.
“After a while they stopped the buses completely and police had to come and direct traffic to keep things moving.”
The shots taken above Fulham and West Kensington show almost total darkness above an area of west London Picture: MPSinthesky 
Asad Ahmad, owner of a convenience store in North End Road, said: “It was really bad, people didn’t know what was going on. We had to close the shop so we stood outside and sold things on the street.
“We sold out of candles very quickly, we had none left at all. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
A man in his sixties in the Famous Three Kings pub, next to West Kensington Tube, said: “The tube station was closed because there were no lights.
Really bad situation: Asad Ahmad, owner of a convenience store in North End Road
“It was chaos. It’s fortunate there were no accidents on the roads because without traffic lights it was dangerous for pedestrians. Just trying to cross the road was terrible with cars coming from everywhere.”
Dozens of police were rushed onto the streets to “increase reassurance” for residents, Scotland Yard said last night. Hammersmith and Fulham council also deployed wardens in the affected areas.
The Met’s helicopter posted an image on its popular Twitter feed showing a swathe of west London north-west of Earl’s Court plunged into darkness, with the caption: “How do you make an entire London borough vanish?”
While many residents in one of the capital’s wealthiest boroughs told of their anger at enduring a cold, dark evening of “eerie” darkness, others saw the lighter side.
Local MP Greg Hands wrote: “Power cut in my part of Fulham. Time to tell the kids all about life in the 1970s and the danger of another Labour government.”
A traffic light taken out in west London by the power cut Picture: Nigel Howard 
Jack Layer said: “Powercut in Fulham. I’m very concerned that the Gressingham duck I bought may defrost. Emergency confit may be needed. “
Ben Wiltshire added: “46 minutes into the Fulham powercut and things are desperate, there’s quinoa all over the floor and no-one can find the maid to clean it up.”
And journalist Guy Adams wrote: “There is a power cut here in Fulham. We are cooking fettuccini by the light of some scented candles.”
A spokesman for the UK Power Networks said: “UK Power Networks would like to apologise to several thousand customers in the Fulham Palace Road area who were affected by a power cut this evening.
“A fault on the high-voltage underground electricity network occurred at 7.48pm. The cause is being investigated but our engineers worked as quickly and as safely as possible on rerouting supplies via other cables. The final supplies were restored at 10.20pm.
“We appreciate how difficult it can be to lose power and apologise for the inconvenience caused by this incident.”

Ohmmmm .....


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Music heals the soul.

Yesterday's weather forecast was hostile with strong gusts of sarcasm.

I was seriously zipped up, protecting myself from the hypothermia generated by a very frosty Mother.

I have had to establish some serious boundaries which may seem easy for some but trust me, it is not so easy here.  It takes a tremendous amount of mindfulness not to sucked deep into the vortex of pain and misery.

As luck would have it, I had a dinner date with a very ancient friend who I have not seen for at least 45 years.  Yes, we are that old!  He used to live around the corner from my grandmother and we used to play together.  It was really amazing recalling memories that involved none of my other friends.  He remembered just how often I stayed at "Mrs. Abraham's", my grandmother.  Apparently, a whole lot more than even I recalled.  He remembered details of people that astounded me.  It was a great evening, not just because of the great company but also for just getting me out of the house of pain.

Things had deteriorated throughout the day, as is becoming the norm.  A Himalayan pile of Jewish guilt being dumped on me as I continued to primp.  Only one thing left to do.  Music time! 

My Mother is used to a variety of sounds coming out of my room.  In retrospect, she never complained as my turntable went from Led Zeppelin to Joni Mitchell to The Monkees to Carole King to Black Sabbath and back to James Taylor and so forth.

For my part, I had to suffer live broadcasts from Covent Garden Opera House on Saturday evenings which blared from every radio in the flat - bedroom, bathroom, living room, kitchen.
The lighter operettas I enjoyed but once Wagner hit the airwaves, my ears were subjected to the tortured screeching sopranos and deep baritones.

OK, back to last night.  Mother sat vigil over a very confused Peter and I went about the business of getting tarted up.  When someone hasn't seen you in decades, you are a) grateful its a dark night and b) lots of spackling paste is needed!  A Kardashian glam squad would have been challenged.  I didn't want to look 10 but then I didn't want my life to show all over my face either.  Sequestered in my coffin-sized room, I pondered whicht soundtrack would fit the mood?

I went for a random hit.  Boom!  Sly and the Family Stone reminded me to "Thank you (Fallettin Me Be Mice Elf Again)".  

Perfect!  Just what I needed to hear.  I had been muttering a prescribed mantra, "thank you for reminding me that I am a piece of shit" but this is just what I needed to hear.

The evening before, we had watched a wonderful television program about Mozart, my favorite classical composer.  

As fate would have it, the track that followed Sly was Mozart.  A "messy soprano" (thank you, Victor Borge) gave it her all in the aria, "Der Holle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen"  from Die Zauberflote" - "The Magic Flute".

If there were to be complaints about my choice in music, it certainly would not be voiced during a Vienna Philharmonic performance and trust me, my Mother knows her orchestras, conductors, sopranos, tenors, altos, bassos.

I could only imagine how confusing it must have been as Mozart was followed by Neil Young's "Heart of Gold".  One of the great soundtracks of my angst ridden teenage years.  What a great classic and why did I have to wait until I was in my late 50s to understand the depth of his lyrics? 

The irony of my musical selection was that I was listening to the soundtrack from "Eat, Pray, Love"!!!

Monday, January 19, 2015

On the virtues of wrinkles.

Hooray for the Beauty Update section of the Sunday Times magazine.
Edwina Ings-Chambers wrote a wonderful article extolling the joys, virtues and beauty of aging. Apparently, there is no "negative equity" in having wrinkles.

She validates her theory by citing examples such as Dame Helen Mirren who, at the age of 69, is the new face of L'Oreal.

Helen Mirren, the face of L’Oréal at 69

On her recent visit to Vero, my best friend bought a mirror that had magnification of 20.
20!  Even without my glasses, I swear I saw the roots of  evolving hairs on places of my face that should be hirsute free!Absolutely terrifying.  Why is it that the older we get, the more hairs sprout up in areas in which they have no business?  Why is it that the white ones require the likes of a pair of pliers for removal?  It is as if the hairs have a team of elves who are pulling back as strongly as one tries to pull them out.

Due to the fact that I put on wayyyyy too much weight over the past 18 months, I no longer had a chin.  Merely, one extended neck that was close to resting on my sagging boobs.
I would avoid mirrors at all cost, truly loathing my own reflection.  

"At least I still have a sense of humor" was how I would console myself.  

More like fool myself.

It took a long time for me to get off my diet of salt and vinegar chips, washed down with gallons of apple juice.  These were my go-to comfort foods and will power was not winning over the need for instant gratification.

Once I finally got a grip, I churlishly started returning to the gym, profoundly embarrassed by what I had become.  What I had done to myself.  I had no one to blame but myself.  I knew that my age compounded with a sluggish metabolism would mean that I had to work out twice as hard as I used to to make even the slightest dent in my immensity.

The fact is, for my height I was "'morbidly obese".  Christ, what a confession.  When my Dad, bless him, would waddle in on stick sized legs that miraculously balanced his rotund frame, Vic would just look at me as I scarfed another piece of cheese down and just say "it's in your genes".


I am not the best at self-discipline, unable to resist the little red devil's voice whispering high caloric words of pleasure into my ears.  

"Chips.  Cheese.  Bread".

For the first time in my life, I really started thinking about the possibility of the benefits of a short cut via plastic surgery.  The neck would be the first to go.  Then my jowls.  Then, as my list started expanding, I went down to tummy tuck, thigh and bum lipo ...  I couldn't believe it.

In a country that values youth, it would take more than a sense of humor if I were ever to get back into the dating game.  I was getting older and I was fat.  

That was that.

As if by miracle, something amazing started happening during my recent sojourn in London.  Even though I was unable to take my usual walks, due to circumstances at home, my clothes started loosening.  So much so that when Peter was in the hospital, I saw a scale standing in a corner of the corridor.  

"Do it!" angel on my left shoulder said.  Strangely, Devil on the right agreed.  Normally, when I weigh myself, (which is a rarity), it is stark naked, first thing in the morning in the privacy of my own home.  It is also a machine that I tend to avoid like the plague.  If I am at a doctor's office. I will take off my shoes, belts, glasses, anything and everything to keep that nasty balancer as near to the left as possible.

When the corridor coast was clear, I gingerly stepped on the scale, boots and all.
I registered the number in kilos and quickly got out my iphone to translate the information into pounds.

"No freakin' way!"

I was down.  A lot!  With jeans and boots and glasses on.  Suddenly, I felt hope.  I call it the "London Stress Diet" and although it comes at a very high price, I am thrilled with the results!  No starvation involved.  Just a house lacking in cheese, breads, juices and those pesky, delicious salt 'n' vinegar chippies.

Emboldened, the other morning I snuck a peak at my face in Peter's magnifying mirror for a laugh. Apart from seeing my mother looking back at me, my neck was retreating and a chin was showing signs of a springtime reemergence.

Maybe I would not need to go under the knife.

And then came article, titled "Read between the lines.

If Joan Didion is the new face of Celine at 80, and Jessica Lange fronting Marc Jacobs Beauty, there sure is hope for me!


At night at the German Embassy

Tonight, Lili was invited to attend one of many events commemorating the Holocaust Generations Conference.  As her "plus one", I had the privilege of accompanying her to a cocktail party at the private residence of Germany's ambassador.

I go to these events with her as a family representative of the "2nd generation" of Holocaust Survivors.  The more of these events I attend, the more I realize that the survivors are all getting on in age and there is an urgency for their stories to be told and not forgotten to history.   It behooves their children and grandchildren to carry on the legacy of telling their stories that we may never forget the horrors they suffered as a result of anti-semitism, particularly as rears its ugly head once again, 70 short years on.

The German ambassador, Dr. Peter Ammon, gave a moving speech on the occasion of the liberation of Auschwitz at the end of January, 1945.

He spoke of the Nazi regime as being "utterly criminal". As the former ambassador to the USA & France he said "we must & will stand united against the forces of evil" referring to the recent tragic events in Paris.

Many of the attendees had spent the day at a lengthy conference and closed the event out at the embassy.  It was interesting to hear some of the European jews speaking in hushed tones how they never thought they would be invited let alone attend an event at a German embassy. Most of the ones who directly suffered in Europe during WWII are required to present themselves once a year to prove they are still alive and therefore still eligible for reparation or restitution monies owed to them as decreed and agreed by Dr. Konrad Adenauer in approximately 1950. 

Dr. Ammon's words were warm, welcoming and contrite, firm in its apology for the past and reassuring that today's Germany is a safe place for Jews to call their home.

It was freezing cold inside.  No heaters were on in the magnificent Belgravia mansion, as seen in such great classic BBC series as"Upstairs, downstairs".  To make it worse, the front door was open and there was a nasty draft blowing through the rooms.  As the speeches came to a close, we were pleasantly surprised when we were invited to an ante-room which had a most delicious buffet with some much appreciated hot pumpkin soup - how Germanic.

The irony was that pumpkins represent one thing to me: Halloween and carving.  Not one for dessert, I have never had pumpkin pie in my life and rarely ate the seeds.  But the frost bite that was overtaking my toes screamed "eat it" and I was more than pleasantly surprised! Not only was it piping hot, but it has given me a new soup to make.

January 18, 2015

Saturday, January 17, 2015

On caring for the aging.

I read this today & all of it applies to the situation with Peter & Lili. 

It validates my mantra of patience, kindness & compassion.
Even when you want to pull your & their hair out!

My dear girl, the day you see I'm getting old, I ask you to please be patient, but most of all, try to understand what I'm going through. If when we talk, I repeat the same thing a thousand times, don't interrupt to say: "You said the same thing a minute ago"... Just listen, please. Try to remember the times when you were little and I would read the same story night after night until you would fall asleep.
When I don't want to take a bath, don't be mad and don't embarrass me. Remember when I had to run after you making excuses and trying to get you to take a shower when you were just a girl?
When you see how ignorant I am when it comes to new technology, give me the time to learn and don't look at me that way ... remember, honey, I patiently taught you how to do many things like eating appropriately, getting dressed, combing your hair and dealing with life's issues every day... the day you see I'm getting old, I ask you to please be patient, but most of all, try to understand what I'm going through.
If I occasionally lose track of what we're talking about, give me the time to remember, and if I can't, don't be nervous, impatient or arrogant. Just know in your heart that the most important thing for me is to be with you.
And when my old, tired legs don't let me move as quickly as before, give me your hand the same way that I offered mine to you when you first walked. When those days come, don't feel sad... just be with me, and understand me while I get to the end of my life with love. I'll cherish and thank you for the gift of time and joy we shared. With a big smile and the huge love I've always had for you, I just want to say, I love you ... my darling daughter.

Friday, January 16, 2015

To be Jewish in the 21st Century

This article was on page three in The Daily Telegraph in London on January 15, 2015.

The London I visit is a far cry from the London I grew up in, during the 1960's and 1970's.
Yes, there was still a degree of xenophobia then but the country was still reveling in the end of World War II and Britain was rebuilding itself with a succession of Conservative and Labor governments.

As a very young girl, of 9, I was sent off to a boarding school, deep in the English countryside.
It was a Church of England school and the pupils all came from very English families.

My upbringing, by east European holocaust survivors, did not prepare me for the world in which I had been sequestered.  I knew I was different upon arrival.  It began with the matron going through our personal items.  One that was required was a "tuck box", something well known among the landed gentry.  It was a wooden box, approximately 3' x 2'  x 18" or so with a hasp for a padlock.

When it came to presenting mine, I produced what my mother gave me:  an empty, over-sized cardboard chocolate box.

Everyone laughed and I felt confused and deeply humiliated.

This was just the beginning for me.

I was totally unfamiliar with the foods they served, such as steak and kidney pie, Shepherd's pie, haggis, black pudding ... the list went on and on.  My diet at home revolved around soups and potatoes with every meal, sour dill pickles, rye bread, gefillte fish according to my family's Polish, Jewish traditions.  My duvet was a continental one, unlike the British ones which were more like the thin comforters sold in the US today.

Sunday mornings were spent in church where I learned the Lord's Prayer, many psalms, hymns, liturgy, etc.  I participated in all of it and rather liked the hymns which were more patriotic than religious ... lots of Benjamin Brittain, "There'll always be an England", "Onward Christian soldiers" and so forth.  I liked going to Church because it was always followed by a trip to the local bakery, Wakefields, whose aroma of freshly baked delicacies filled the small town of Horsham, Sussex.

I only had one friend there.  She was a 13 year old girl which for a 9 year old made her the epitome of maturity and wisdom.  What brought us together was that she was also Jewish.  Our heritage linked us and we were virtually inseparable.  Even though her parents spent the war in Britain, we shared traditions and that bonded us deeply.

I was desperately unhappy at Springfield Park and on the few occasions that my mother visited, I remember watching her from a top floor window walking down the long, winding road of the school's former manor house walk until she disappeared behind the trees.  
I cried and cried, begging her to bring me home.

By the end of the school year, it was recommended that I be removed as I did not "fit in".  During school holidays, classmates went off to their homes deep in the English countryside, to their horses and hunts.  I went to Switzerland, Israel and the US to visit my father.
This made the divide between me and the others even greater.
No one could understand going 'abroad" when there was the English coastal towns of Brighton or down south in Devon and Cornwall.  I could not explain it.  It was what we did.

In my own innocent way, this was my first personal experience of anti-semitism.

In the 1970's, the situation in the middle east blew up and with it came a huge influx of predominantly Lebanese refugees but Syrians and Jordanians followed suit.  Those that abandoned their motherlands in search of freedom and security came with huge amounts of money.  These were not the people seen in the growing refugee camps.

Money was no object and thus began the rapid rise in real estate prices.  At the time, I worked on Saturday's at the then exclusive Harrod's department store.  What was once the go-to destination of the British landed gentry, warranted by assorted members of the royal family, etc., was quickly being overrun with the harems of hijab cloaked women, children having their nappies (diapers) changed on the floors of the shoe aisles between the Queen's official shoemaker, Rayne and Ferragamo.
All "decorum" had gone to hell because, despite these displays of unacceptable behaviour came lots and lots of cold cash.  Huge sums would be dropped in each department and what was once an elegant department store, with discreet assistants and softly spoken landowners buying their Barbour hunting jackets was quickly devolving into a shouk.

One lady who worked at the Chanel counter told me that a sheik had come in with several of his wives.  He pointed to the huge, display bottle of Chanel no. 5 which dominated the display.  He wanted that.  The sales woman explained that if he wanted that much cologne, he would be better off buying a substantial quantity of smaller bottles as the large one would evaporate at best, at worst, lose its scent.

"I don't care.  I want that big one there.  It is going in the bath anyway".

Such was the spending that went on, unheard of by citizens.  A dear friend who was a doctor told of us several occasions that he had treated members of the Saudi Arabian embassy, who vehemently complained about their bills.  He would break it all down according to x-ray, blood work etc.  It was not the size of the bill that bothered them.  They did not feel they were paying enough and thus felt that they might not be getting the proper treatment.

Examples of this over spending of petro-money caused real estate to sky rocket making home ownership harder and harder for the British themselves.  I found that I did not stand a chance in this type of economy, based on what I was earning and knew I had to make a change.

I returned to the States in August 1980.  Oil became the standard by which countries wealth and status were judged.  As tensions grew in the middle east, London became more and more popular due to its great location and easy access to Europe, the Middle & Far East as well as the United States.

Small, corner shops that used to be the domain of immigrant Indians and Pakistanis (members of the Commonwealth) were slowly being taken over by Arabic speaking nationals.  Many came seeking political asylum, for which England is a huge sucker.  Many just loved the freedoms afforded here while still actively practising their religion freely.

Over time, let's jump thirty years, the United Kingdom is now overrun with Muslims.  I stood at a bus stop last year and I was the only western woman amongst 12 others waiting for a bus.  They were all dressed head to toe in traditional black garments, their eyes staring out from the slits in their hijabs.

With this huge influx, came many wonderful, peace seeking Moslems.  It also opened the flood gates for many radicals who took full advantage of their refugee status, espousing hatred and spewing vitriol from the safety and sanctity of their numerous mosques.  The imams do not limit their hatred to just the Jews and the destruction of the state of Israel.  They hate the very country that has given them security and a safe haven not to mention all the benefits that come with asylum status.

65 years after the end of the World War II, anti-semitism is on the rise again.  Not just in England but in many countries across the world.

When I used to proudly wear a Star of David, I now hide it, something which shames me personally.

I am a Jew.  I feel it deep within my soul.  It's embedded in my DNA.  Although I am a very liberal one, I remain Jewish to my core.

It is tragic to see what the legacy of Abraham's sons, Isaac and Ishmael has done to this world.  Both Jews and Muslims share the same father of a monotheistic religion.  Abraham.  Both are fighting for right to worship their branch of the family.

As the child of three holocaust survivors, I fear for our future while I still hold hope and pray that peace will come to pass.

For the Jews, for the Muslims.

For the planet human.

My family in Krakow, Poland prior to the outbreak of war. 
My  grandmother and mother survived.
Mother's father and young brother were exterminated in the local concentration camp.