Book Review: Imprisoned: Drawings from Nazi Concentration Camps, Arturo Benvenuti (2017)

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

#Resist

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review from the publisher, as well as an electronic ARC on Edelweiss.)

Humanity continues to kill, to massacre, to persecute, with increased ruthlessness. Before eyes that are increasingly indifferent, passive. When not complicit. There’s no pity for the elderly, for women, for children. There’s no pity for anyone anymore. Man is wolf to man, today as much as – and more than – yesterday.

The older generations seem to have learned very little; the new ones don’t seem to want to learn any more. Wars continue to sow slaughter. Behind the barbed wire of new concentration camps, it has gone one; humanity has gone on being suppressed.

Most of all, this book aims to be – attempts to be – a contribution to the just “revolt” on behalf of those who feel like they can’t, in spite of everything, resign themselves to a monstrous, terrifying reality. Those who believe they must still and always “resist.”

– Arturo Benvenuti, “Without Words”

Born in 1923, Arturo Benvenuti – poet, painter, researcher, accountant, and banker – was just a young man during World War II. Yet his lack of civil engagement haunted him for decades, and the feelings of guilt and powerlessness – reflected in his poetry – eventually proved the impetus for the KZ Project.

In September of 1979, at the age of fifty-six, Arturo and his wife Marucci loaded up their camper and began what would become a lifelong journey: traveling throughout Europe, visiting former Nazi concentration camps (including Auschwitz, Terezín, Mauthausen, and Buchenwald), and meeting with as many survivors and veterans as he could. He also combed through local history museums, public libraries, and public archives, trying to piece together “visual testimonies” of the camps.

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Book Review: Wolf By Wolf (Wolf By Wolf #1), Ryan Graudin (2015)

Monday, October 19th, 2015

“The wolves of war are gathering…”

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley.)

Once upon a different time, there was a girl who lived in a kingdom of death. Wolves howled up her arm. A whole pack of them – made of tattoo ink and pain, memory and loss. It was the only thing about her that ever stayed the same.

Her story begins on a train.

Babushka – the one who gave her purpose.

Mama – the one who gave her life.

Miriam – the one who gave her freedom.

Aaron-Klaus – the one who gave her a mission.

Vlad – the one who gave her pain.

These were the names she whispered in the dark.

These were the pieces she brought back into place.

These were the wolves she rode to war.

An exhilarating and imaginative fusion of alternate history, science fiction, and historical fiction, Ryan Graudin’s Wolf By Wolf mines the many what ifs? surrounding World War II: What if the United States had held fast to an isolationist foreign policy? What if the Hitler had successfully executed Operation Sea Lion? What if the combined forces of the Third Reich and Imperial Japan had won the war, painting most of Europe and parts of Asia and Africa red? What if Nazi scientists successfully found a way of “curing” Untermensch, making them at least appear more perfectly Aryan on the surface? What if these experiments surpassed even Dr. Mengele’s wildest dreams, creating mutants who are able to change their skin at will, the way you or I would change our clothes?

While the first three scenarios were arguably possible at one point or another in history – and Nazi scientists did indeed try to tinker with eye color – that last what if is what catapults Wolf By Wolf into the realm of science fiction/fantasy. And is it glourious. (Misspelling intentional.)

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Book Review: Orphan Number Eight, Kim van Alkemade (2015)

Friday, August 7th, 2015

A Tense Psychological Thriller Tempered With a Heartrending Coming-of-Age Story

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss. Trigger warning for rape and violence, including illicit human experimentation. Also, this review contains a plot summary with minor spoilers.)

The question sounded strange in the present tense. I used to think that orphaned was something I’d been as a child and since outgrown. It occurred to me, though, that was exactly how I’d been feeling all summer.

“I guess anyone alone in the world’s an orphan,” I said.

The year is 1918, and four-year-old Rachel Rabinowitz has just landed in the Infant Home, an orphanage for Jewish kids under the age of six in New York City. After her lying, cheating, rapist father accidentally kills her mother* and then runs from the police, Rachel and her brother Sam are effectively orphaned, taken in by the Jewish Children’s Agency. Two years her senior, Sam is sent to the Orphaned Hebrews Home.

The children are considered lucky, in a sense: funded by wealthy patrons, the Infant Home and Orphaned Hebrews Home are well-regarded. Whereas gentile kids in their position – and there are many, left penniless, homeless, and/or without a family to call their own by the twin terrors of the so-called Spanish Influenza and World War I – would be left to fend for themselves, Rachel and Sam get a roof over their heads, beds to call their own, three square meals a day – even an education.

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Book Review: The One I Was, Eliza Graham (2014)

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014

All the world’s a stage.

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Member Giveaways program.)

Germany, December 1938. Only weeks after Kristallnacht (“The Night of Broken Glass,” an orgy of organized violence against Jews in Germany and Austria), eleven-year-old Benjamin Goldman boards a Kindertransport train for England. Carrying just his school satchel and his cherished leather football, Benny is traveling light; with his father long since imprisoned by the Nazis, and a mother who lay dying of diphtheria, Benny has no one to see him off, and is eager to put his life in Germany behind him.

Once in England, Benny is “adopted” by Lord Sidney Dorner and his young wife Harriet. The wealthy couple pledged to sponsor twenty Jewish refugees; the best and brightest six boys are to stay at their Fairfleet estate, where they’ll receive a top-notch education from university professor Dr. Dawes. For the next six and a half years, Benny tries his best to assimilate into his new, adopted country. Having always felt an outsider, he’s determined to shed his German roots and become a “proper” Englishman. From day one at Fairfleet, Benny struggles to speak in English rather than German, even outside of the classroom. He excels in his studies and forms tentative friendships with his dorm mates.

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Book Review: Number the Stars, Lois Lowry (1989)

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

“the gift of a world of human decency”

five out of five stars

It’s September 1943, three years since German forces seized control of Denmark. Nazi soldiers patrol the streets and control the government, hospitals, schools, newspapers, and rail system; possessing an illegal newspaper like The Free Danes might very well get you killed. Copenhagen is under an 8PM curfew, and supplies are strictly rationed. And now, three years later, the Nazis are just beginning to “relocate” Jewish citizens, the way they have in so many other occupied territories.

But the Danish government received warning, which it passed on to Jewish religious leaders. Thanks to one German high official – not to mention countless courageous Danes – most of Denmark’s 7,000 Jewish citizens were smuggled to safety in Sweden. In just a matter of weeks. Right under the occupiers’ noses.

Against this backdrop, Lois Lowry weaves a story of courage and compassion that’s only partially a work of fiction. When word comes that they’re in danger, the Rosen family sends their only daughter, ten-year-old Ellen, to stay with family friends the Johansens: Ellen’s best friend Annemarie, her little sister Kirsti, and their parents. When Nazi soldiers come knocking, Ellen poses as the Johansens’ dead daughter Lise. Afraid of arousing the soldiers’ suspicions, the women travel to stay with Inge’s brother, Henrik, who lives by the sea. Before the war is over, young Annemarie will find her resolve tested. Will she undertake a dangerous mission in order to save her friend Ellen – or will she succumb to her fear of the soldiers?

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Book Review: Escape from Berlin, Irene N. Watts (2013)

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

“For those who do not look away”

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program.)

In the nine months before the outbreak of World War II, and thanks to the efforts of Jewish and Quaker delegates from Germany and Austria, some 10,000 children were ferried to safety in Great Britain. Most of the children rescued through Kindertransport were Jewish, living in Nazi Germany and neighboring Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland, and thus in danger of persecution; others were orphans in need of more permanent care during wartime. The children were transported to England, where they were placed in foster homes, hostels, schools, and farms. (Among those rescued? None other than noted American sex therapist – and former Israeli scout and sniper – Dr. Ruth Westheimer. The Wiki entry on Kindertransport makes for interesting reading, and also provides a list of memoirs and historical novels written about this oft-forgot piece of WWII history.)

Author and playwright Irene N. Watts arrived in England via Kindertransport on December 10, 1938. She was just seven years old (the same age as protagonist Sophie) and traveled alone. While the events in Escape from Berlin are not autobiographical, the story is no doubt heavily influenced by the experiences of Watts and children like her. December 1, 2013, marks the 75th anniversary of the first Kindertransport; Good-Bye Marianne, Remember Me, and Finding Sophie are published together here for the first time in honor of the occasion.

Marianne Kohn has spent all of her eleven years in living Berlin with her mother and father. The growing air of anti-Semitism, while sometimes puzzling, is part of Marianne’s daily landscape: she’s used to signs barring admittance to “Jews and dogs,” and public park benches (or entire parks) which are reserved for Aryans only. In the days leading up to World War II, however, life grows increasingly perilous for her family. Marianne is expelled from school when the government passes a new law preventing Jews from attending public schools; similarly, the Nazis prohibit Jews from owning businesses, thus forcing her father to sell his beloved book shop. Even this doesn’t save him from scrutiny, however; the new owner finds some banned books in stock and promptly reports him to the authorities. (“Berlin was full of eyes,” Marianne recalls.) Though he’s ultimately released by the Gestapo, Vati goes into hiding. Faced with dwindling options, Mrs. Kohn decides to do the unthinkable: send Marianne away to England, where she’ll be safe from persecution. Thanks to her volunteer work at an orphanage, Mutti is able to secure a place for Marianne aboard the very first Kindertransport run. The adults wait with bated breath: will the Nazis honor their agreement and allow the train to leave undisturbed? What will become of their children? Is this goodbye their last?

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Book Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Ransom Riggs (2011)

Monday, January 7th, 2013

Freaks, Geeks, and Vintage Photography

three out of five stars

As a child, Jacob Portman delighted in his grandfather’s fantastical – yet supposedly autobiographical – stories. Abraham claimed to have lived a rather extraordinary life that began during World War II, when his parents sent him to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. A magical orphanage-slash-boarding school located on a faraway Welsh island, the home was inhabited by a motley crew of children possessing supernatural powers. A girl who could levitate, a boy who burped bees, and human-faced dog (as opposed to a dog-faced boy, I suppose) – these were but a few of the home’s unusual residents. Abe’s contribution? Why, he battled monsters, of course!

Now 16, Jacob recognizes the stories as fiction – at best, fairy tales meant to entertain a child; at worst, a kind of practical joke that hinged on his naivety and willingness to believe. (More astute readers may also identify Abe’s tales as allegories for the persecution of Jews during the Holocaust. Abe’s family – both of them – were decimated during the war.) That is, until his grandfather dies suddenly and under mysteriously circumstances. Abe’s last words to his grandson set Jake on a path that will eventually carry him to the island of Cairnholm – and to Miss Peregrine and her peculiar children.

The highlight of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is, without a doubt, the photographs. Riggs weaves the story around forty-four oddball vintage photographs, culled from the archives of ten collectors (including that of the author himself). The result is both arresting and charming; while the photographs merge seamlessly with the plot, you’ll find yourself wondering about the true context of each. (Some historical background would’ve been awesome, but likely there’s little information to be had – the appendix notes that many of the photos were rescued from “giant bins of unsorted snapshots at flea markets and antiques malls and yard sales.”) Many of the subjects look as though they’d be at home in a David Lynch project. Twins in ruffled collars, I’m looking at you!

– Minor spoilers follow! –

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Intersectionality ‘Round the Interwebs, No. 1

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

Life Is Beautiful (1997)

I’ve decided to start a new feature (yet another!) on easyVegan.info. In “Intersectionality ‘Round the Interwebs,” I’ll highlight blog posts and news items that examine the various ways in which speciesism parallels or intersects with the oppression of marginalized human groups. In a word, intersectionality.

Previously, I was linking to these stories in my weekly weekend activist posts, but since they’re easily overlooked in a sea of links, I’d rather give ’em their own home. Deconstructing the patriarchy is hefty shit, yo!

So let’s get started, posthaste:

Stephanie @ Animal Rights @ Change .org: Pregnancy at Slaughter: What Happens to the Calves?, Part 1 and Part 2

Over the past few months, I’ve spent some time examining how modern animal agriculture subjects female animals to especially brutal and prolonged exploitation, turning their reproductive systems against them. Their children suffer greatly, too; the daughters of “dairy cows” are enslaved in the same conditions as their mothers, while brothers and sons, an otherwise worthless by-product of milk production, become “veal” calves; females born to “laying hens” become egg machines as well, eventually replacing their “spent” mothers, while males are simply disposed of in garbage bags and wood chippers; and so on and so forth.

In “Pregnancy at Slaughter: What Happens to the Calves?,” Stephanie turns her attention to the fate of newborn calves and late-term fetuses at the stockyard, where their mothers are faced with imminent slaughter. As she explains, some fetal calves die with – inside – their mothers, while others are harvested for use in “science.”

If you eat “meat,” drink milk, or wear leather, you’re complicit in this species-, sex- and age-based atrocity.

Stephanie @ Animal Rights @ Change .org: Women, Girls, and the So-Called Achievement of Killing

Following up on an earlier criticism of Feministing for celebrating a woman bullfighter as a feminist hero, Stephanie laments the pseudo-feminist news coverage of Teressa Groenewald-Hagerman, a 39-year-old Kansan whose major “accomplishment” is being the “first woman in the world to shoot an elephant dead with a bow and arrow.”

As Stephanie and others have noted, Groenewald-Hagerman’s slaughter of an elephant – someone’s father, brother, son, partner, friend – is no more a feminist victory than Aileen Wuornos’s unprecedented killing spree.

Elaine at Vegan Soapbox also weighs in:

Teressa was “inspired” to kill an elephant after a male friend said “women could never draw such a heavy bow.” But archery is NOT necessarily a hunting sport. My grandmother was an archer and she did NOT kill. She shot targets, not animals.

In order to prove the male “friend” wrong, Teressa needed only to show strength and skill, not a barbaric blood-lust.

Indeed. Sex-based discrimination in athletics (or any field dominated by men, for that matter) is a pervasive problem; the solution, however, does not lie in the slaughter of even more marginalized beings.

Vegetarian Star: Dan Matthews: Get Obamas Naked, Madonna Is Middle Aged Witch

PETA’s Dan Matthews on Madonna:

I was a fan of Madonna in the 1980s but she became this middle-aged witch who thought her style should be defined by wearing fur coats and eating foie gras. We had a long argument over her glamorising bullfighting in her music videos.

While I agree that many of Madonna’s actions are reprehensible, let’s not pretend that 1a) “witch” isn’t a G-rated euphemism for “bitch”; 1b) “bitch,” when used as an insult, isn’t misogynist; and 2a) “witch” isn’t also a sex-based slur, inasmuch as one never hears a man so insulted (e.g., “You warlock!”); 2b) “witch” isn’t also ageist and lookist, inasmuch as (bad) “witches” are conceptualized as old, wrinkled, ugly, scraggly, disagreeable, hideous creatures.

Alternatives one might employ instead of “witch”: killer, butcher, murderer, social carcinogen, Madge the Bunny Slayer. Lose the -ism in favor of creativity – you get the idea.

And also: fuck you, Dan Matthews.

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"Useless eaters"

Saturday, April 4th, 2009

While compiling my final post about the intersections of misogyny and speciesism – which are evident in Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s The Pig Who Sang to the Moon: The Emotional World of Farm Animals – I stumbled upon this memorable exchange, in the chapter on chickens. It doesn’t quite fit with the post I’m writing, but it’s such a powerful piece that I’d like to share it anyway.

In addition to highlighting another type of intersection, it also helps to illustrate how similar processes are at play in the animalization of humans and the objectification of animals (both humans and non).

I had wanted to see how broiler chickens are raised commercially for some time. Not easy to do. Such places are off-limits to the general public. Chicken suppliers do not want people to know the intimate details of how their cheap chicken comes to the dinner table. Recently, though, Tony – a friend of a friend of a friend – said he would let me visit his chicken farm, as long as I did not identify him with a last name or say exactly where the farm was. A few weeks ago, I drove to Tony’s. He took me to four shed-like barns secluded behind giant cypress shrubs, well out of view of the public.

“We are expected to keep them out of sight,” he said. […]

As I walked in, I was almost blinded by the sight of 25,000 pure white chickens, packed up right against one another as far as my eyes could see. […]

Every day, Tony explained, he walks through this stiflingly packed room and picks up the dead and the dying chickens and disposes of them. He eyed me warily.

“You’re not from one of those crazy animal rights groups, are you? Okay, then, well, I guess I can tell you, I also take out the ones that are not growing. It wouldn’t pay, would it, to keep them there? No profit, they are just useless eaters.

Masson places the following thought in parentheses, but it’s so important an observation, I think it deserves more. Instead of parentheses, bold type:

The phrase resonated for me. “Useless eater” was used by the Nazis to describe the inmates of psychiatric institutions whom the Nazis wanted dead, and indeed did kill.

(pages 91-93)

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