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Only The First Four Hurt: Part V October 3, 2010

This is the fifth part in a series documenting my Uncle Irving’s account of his personal and family history during and after the Holocaust.  Previous entries include Only the First Four Hurt , Only the First Four Hurt: Part II, Only the First Four Hurt: Part III and Only the First Four Hurt: Part IV..slf

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We had bunks and I don’t remember who was next to me or who was my neighbor. We were all in our private worlds.  Trying to survive.  That’s what we thought about all day long.

I remember one guy who was with me in Auschwitz from the town I came from.  I didn’t even know he was there in the camp.   But he must’ve known that I was there because one day — we each got a small piece of bread every day to eat.  It wasn’t really bread.  It was made of sawdust.  Every person got half a loaf of those sawdust breads every day –  A few months into being in the camp this man from my town came to me with half a loaf and said:  ‘Take this. I can’t eat anymore.  Maybe it’ll help you.’  Maybe he knew something I didn’t.  I never saw him again.

There are a lot of things you try to push away.

Irving’s face crumbled.  He bowed his head and with shoulders heaving with sobs, he divulged:

All these years I tried to black all this out.  For me it was natural.  That’s why I’m breaking down now. For me it was always natural.

He continued sobbing quietly.  And then he wiped his face with one of the white, paper napkins on the table and pressed on:

Things continued like that until February 1945.  The Russians were coming close to the camp.  Of course we didn’t know that.  But the Germans decided to clear out the camp and sent us marching.  I don’t know how many days we marched in the snow and rain without food.  But if anyone fell, they were shot dead on the spot.

Irving was referring to the death marches.  As Russian troops advanced from the East and U.S./British troops approached from the West, a panicked German army attempted to clear out concentration camps and “erase evidence” of the atrocities committed within by marching camp prisoners to remote locations. Lacking food, water or insulation from the freezing cold, scores of already weakened and ill prisoners died en route.

After walking many days without food or water we got to a camp.  It wasn’t a camp but that’s what they called it.  It was a forest called Gunzkrhin.  And I remember that when we walked into this forest area, dead bodies were piled one on top of each other as high as a building.

I fainted.  And from that point I don’t remember any more until…I have no idea how long I was unconscious but it must have been a very long time.  The next thing I remember is that one day  the army – the SS army – came in and they were passing out food.  Gift packages to everybody with drinks and food and bread and chocolate and I don’t remember what else.

Nobody could believe they were doing that.  We thought they just wanted to bribe us before killing us.  The Red Cross came in the same day to see how they were treating the prisoners.  Then it was clear why they were feeding us.

I don’t remember if I ate anything but I lost consciousness again.  I do remember that whoever stayed alive….

Irving trailed off here…crying quietly.

Most people died.  There were only a few hundred of us left that were even able to move anymore.

The next thing I remember is that the Germans disappeared.  People were laughing and screaming, saying that the Americans had come.  I was in and out of consciousness.  But I remember them yelling and screaming that the Americans had liberated us.

The Americans were passing out food and feeding people.  But whoever ate dropped dead.  I wasn’t strong enough to eat or get up onto my feet. I guess I was just lying on the ground. I was lucky.

When liberating concentration camp survivors, unknowing soldiers offered food to the starving victims.  The sudden onslaught of solid nourishment was such an overwhelming shock to survivors’ systems that many died of “food overdose”.

I remember the American soldiers had taken SS as P.O.W.’s  and they were helping to feed us.  After people died from the food, they sent SS people with porridge and very light food to eat.  I was there for two days.

Then I was taken to a sanitorium in Lindz, Austria at an American army camp. I was unconscious and I woke up in the sanitorium a month or maybe a few weeks later.  I don’t have an exact recollection of time but at the beginning May or something similar, they took me to a recovery place.  That’s when I got my mental faculties and consciousness back… he indicated, tapping his head.

We were there until they got ready to send people who had stayed alive off to different places.

Some of the long time of blackout from the time I was in the field to the time I was taken to the  sanitorium I was unconscious.  Sometimes today I try to remember things like the day before the Red Cross visited us when the Germans gave us those nice things. I also try not to remember other things.

But there must have been a time lapse from the time the SS left the forest to when the Americans came in.  I’ll tell you why: I was weak but I left the camp with one of the boys and found a dead horse in the town where normal Germans lived. We decided to cook the head for ourselves.  I remember this and the horse very clearly but then I don’t remember all of it.  Maybe it was a delirious nightmare.

Off to the side, my Aunt Babe had been listening.  She signaled and shook her head ‘no’.  “Hallucination” she said, looking at Irving.  “There’s no way you would have had the strength to go into town and get a horse and cook it.”

But I do remember waking up and discovering that the SS were working for the Americans. 

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Israeli Oscars September 27, 2009

Last night I slipped into a little black dress and a pair of heels and made my way to Haifa for Israel’s version of the Oscars: The Ophir Awards.

Attending Israel’s upscale events is always an interesting venture. Because, compared to the U.S., they’re pretty scaled down and lacking pretense. Dress codes don’t rule and most anyone can get away with whatever their personal interpretation of gearing up or down might be.  That includes nominees, as demonstrated here by Best Actor winner Sasha Avshalom Agronov for his role in The Loners. Dig the hat.
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Also glaringly absent at these affairs are hulking bodyguards (unless government ministers are present). Sure, there’s security at the entrance but once inside, the press mingles with celebs and it’s a sort of everyone hangs out with everyone free-for-all at the bar and buffet kinda thing.

Which is why I was able to walk straight up to Ajami Producer Mosh Danon, congratulate him on taking best film and wish him luck at the Hollywood Oscars. I grabbed this shot of the film’s Israeli director Yaron Shani as he was being interviewed for radio.  His Arab co-director Scandar Copti was, unfortunately, in Europe.     IMGP0047

I also shook Lebanon film director Samuel Maoz’s hand and congratulated him on his Venice win.  I felt truly sorry that his film didn’t clinch the top seed.  Because imho, the movie based on his personal experience as a soldier during the 1982 Israel incursion into Lebanon, would have been a serious Academy Awards contender for best foreign film.  I’m not sure about Ajami, a story about the crime ridden mixed Arab-Israeli neighborhood of the same name in southern Tel Aviv.   Yes, it’s a microcosm of the Israel-Arab flashpoint conflict at large but it somehow feels too local.

But then, I’ve seen neither  and am basing that rather broad opinion on trailers,  discussions with colleagues and the reception for Lebanon thus far in the world arena.

Here’s a clip.  A reportedly super intense film, it takes place entirely inside an Israeli tank  in Lebanon.  Last night the movie nabbed top honors for Best Supporting Actor, Best Soundtrack, Best Cinematography and Best Design.

A few notes about the ceremony:  The high point was seeing Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Assi Dayan take to the stage.  A legendary Israeli actor and director, he has been plagued by negative press throughout his career for drug abuse, mental instability and domestic violence.  But he is talented.  And his peers gave him a standing ovation.

Heart wrenching, on the other hand, was witnessing producer Uri Segev’s widow and two young children take to the stage to receive an honorary award in his name.  46-year-old Segev died last year of heart complications during the wrap of  Lebanon. The audience, on their feet again, applauded warmly as his wife and children stood at the podium. And there was neery a dry eye in the house as his wife thanked the film academy with broken voice and his 8-year-old daugher sobbed quietly beside her.

A final note to self:  MUST SEE A Matter of Size – a film about a diet club support group that decides to start up their own Sumo Wrestling team.  It looks poignant, funny and visually beautiful.  And Best Actress recipient Irit Kaplan made a distinct impression upon the uber looks-conscious crowd by advising in her acceptance speech that we all go beyond exteriors and start digging deeper to the core where it really counts.

Lacking pretense, indeed.

 

Crying on the Job May 6, 2009

I think I committed a faux pas.  But I’m not 100% certain.

I cried during an interview.

The interviewee didn’t seem to notice – I didn’t wail or tear at my hair or anything.  My face simply went screwy and got hot and a few tears spilled over my lower eyelids.

That’s probably not something you’re supposed to do if you’re a truly professional journalist.

It happened when I was out on assignment for my Manhattanite book-author friend who I’ve been helping on his latest project.  I interview concentration camp survivors living in Israel in their Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, etc. homes asking questions e-mailed by my friend.

So far the work has been incredible:  hearing stories, witnessing two survivors compare numbered arm tattoos,  looking through old photo albums…

Spending time with survivors I realize how very privileged my life has been and how honored I am to sit with them and document their lives.

But maybe I’m hardened.  Because in all the years I have covered all sorts of stories nothing has reduced me to tears.

And there have certainly been moments.  Like interviewing a man hours before he was to attend the double funerals of his wife and daughter, both killed in a Tel Aviv suicide bombing.  Or witnessing an elderly man sitting despondently in the rubble of his just-bulldozed home.  Or sitting with an inner city teen who stared blankly into space in the aftermath of his sibling’s shooting death.  Didn’t cry.

What did it for me yesterday was a certificate.

To be exact:  The Certificate of Liberation i.e. the “Provisional Identification Card for Civilian Internee of Buchenwald.”

On April 22, 1945 the survivor I interviewed was liberated from Buchenwald Concentration Camp by the American army.  He has held onto the wallet sized, brown leather-bound document signed by American General Bertel something or other  for 64 years.  It’  states that “Herr (blank blank in the interest of privacy) was kept in captivity from 16.4.1944 to 22.4.1945 in Nazi-German concentration camps and was liberated from the concentration camp of Buchenwald.”

It blew me away to see the authentic signed military document.  I traveled in my imagination to the place and time  that document was received and imagined the officer handing it to the survivor and the incredulity on both parts.  The significance of holding onto that document for six decades struck a chord.

I know, though, that I’m not the only journalist who has ever broken down on the job.

Some years ago B.Z. Goldberg’s documentary Promises was shown in cinemas worldwide. In what was the film’s most poignant scene, Palestinian and Israeli children are shown sitting together in the West Bank living room of one child’s home after having spent the day playing, laughing and getting to know each other.  Separated by politics and army checkpoints, they live a mere 20 minutes apart but would have never met had the filmmaker not brought them together.

Suddenly, one of the Palestinian boys begins crying.

What’s wrong? director B.Z. queries.

They’ll go back to Israel today and then we’ll never see them again, the boy answers, knowing all too well the reality of his situation.

The camera then pans to B.Z. who is also crying.

I was awed by that scene because  B.Z. allowed himself to spontaneously shed tears and he kept the shot in the film.

It was nominated for Best Documentary Oscar in 2001.

So about the crying thing…I dunno.  Mypersonal jury’s still out.

 

Mid-East Advertising April 6, 2009

What kind of crazy advertising do they get up to in Israel?  Judge fer yerself.

Thanks to my very funny friend Benji for this one – Benji blogs over at What War Zone.

I am trying to imagine this mini-van with its logo and image of the guy on the magic throne bumping along the streets of my parent’s manicured, Ohio condo community. AHHHH!!!

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Israel Pee Pee Campaign February 6, 2009

If you were wondering how Israel’s election advertising campaigns differ from, say, the U.S. or Europe, take a look at this ad.

It’s for Brit Olam, a co-existence advocating party that warns against “letting  them continue to urinate on us .”

Yikes.  Disgusting and tasteless.

 

Obama…Fly January 30, 2009

My mother e-mailed me this image.  Thought I’d share…

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Quotes of the Week. . . January 22, 2009

My parents back in Philly were freaking out.  I talked to my mom for the first time in three weeks today.  It was very traumatic.  But it’s over and my prayers were answered.  All I kept asking God for was to be able to see my parents again. . .U.S.-born soldier serving in Gaza since the start of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead

Mom, you’re the best most wonderful mom in the whole world.  I’d give you a shekel just to prove it but I don’t want to waste the money. . .My 7-year-old son

What happened to the good old days when you could kill people and dispose of the bodies in a field and nobody had to know anything?  Now you have to fill out paperwork, file reports and account for every single dead person!  God!  . . .Anonymous person in Tel Aviv cafe

We heard some stories in Gaza about miracles that made me think: The messiah is here.  It’s time.  It’s finally time.  The messiah has come. . .Israeli soldier at Gaza military base

“My daughters, they killed them, Oh Lord. God, God, God.”. . .Gaza physician, Dr. Izeldeen Abuelaish sobbing during a phone interview following the deaths of his three daughters and a niece after an Israeli army shell penetrated the wall of their home.

“I think this broadcast will change public opinion in Israel. . .It feels to me as if some of our audience is seeing and hearing about the high price ordinary Palestinians are paying in this conflict for the first time.”. . . Israeli television journalist Alon Ben David in an interview with the BBC after airing Dr. Izeldeen Abuelaish’s anguished phone call.