Wednesday, March 21, 2018

A Roll of the Dice: A Memoir of a Hungarian Survivor


Tonight I had the profound honor of hearing a talk by Agnes Schwartz, who survived the horrors of war and the Holocaust as a young Jewish girl in Budapest. Her message was simple and consistent: Never forget. This can never happen again. She spoke of the deniers, and how when the last survivors are gone, it will up to future generations to know and teach those that come after them about this terrible crime against humanity; this way there will be no opportunity for the deniers to gain a foothold.

Many times I was in tears. She spoke of her happy childhood, growing up in a well-to-do family. Her parents owned their own business and Agnes went to school, excelled in academics and earned a place at a college prep gymnasium. She spoke lovingly of her family, her mother and father. Of her grandparents and spending summers with them in the country. And of Julia, her family's housekeeper, who had known Agnes since birth. But when the Nazis marched into Hungary - and Mrs Schwartz was very specific about this word, as Hungary was one of Germany's allies, and in a deep depression at the time - those happy days came to a sudden end. The deportations started in the countryside, and luckily Agnes' parents had moved her grandparents to Budapest at the time, so the family was together. They were moved from their comfortable apartment into a two-bedroom, cramped apartment a few blocks away. Agnes, her parents, and grandparents shared one bedroom, the other occupied by others Jewish people of no relation to Schwartz and her family. Not long after this move, Agnes' grandfather became ill. So ill, he was taken to a "hospital". Her last memory of her grandfather is him lying on a cot, in a long row of cots. Despite trying to find out what happened to him, she does not know if he died of his illness, or was murdered by the Nazis.

When deportations started in the city, men ages 18-45 were taken first. Agnes had to tell her father good bye. A few days later the Nazis came back, this time for the women in that same age range. Agnes recalled with perfect clarity saying good bye to her mother, her mother telling her to be a good girl. She would never see her mother again, as she died at Bergen-Belsen of 'natural causes', likely starvation and typhus. Agnes would not learn this until after the war. So for a time it was Agnes and her grandmother, in a tiny, shared apartment with little food and lots of bed bugs. One day a knock at the door brought a great surprise - her father. He'd escaped en route to Germany and when two Nazi officers were seeking directions to Budapest. Her father was fluent in German and as a result of him assisting the officers, he was not deported. When he learned that his wife had been taken away, he wanted to go after her, but both Agnes and her grandmother begged him to stay. He did.

A final knock at the door opened up an escape for Agnes. Her family's former housekeeper, Julia, was going to take Agnes with her and keep her from deportation. Agnes had blond hair, and so was passed off as Julia's niece from eastern Hungary. Her story was that her parents had sent her to Budapest to stay with her Aunt Julia as the Russians invaded. The plan worked and not a single person ever questioned the story.

I can not imagine living through the things that Agnes Schwartz survived. She ended up losing her grandmother as well as her aunt and uncle, all three having been moved into the ghetto. Even as the war was on its last legs and everyone knew the end was near, the Nazis were determined to kill as many Jews as possible. Agnes learned that her remaining family members had been taken to the Danube River, shot and left to die in the freezing water. She also spoke of how, as ammunition was running short, the Nazis would tie ten people together at a time with wire, shoot one, and they all would fall into the river together killing ten people with one bullet. Schwartz spoke of how whenever she hears someone talk of the 'Blue Danube', she thinks of it as the 'Red Danube', filled with the blood of innocent Jews, murdered for their only crime of being born Jewish. When the bombings of Budapest finally stopped as the Russians liberated the city, Mrs Schwartz recalled those first moments coming up from the basement of Julia's apartment building, having lived in almost total darkness for nearly two months as bombs were dropped day and night and they had little light inside except for candles. She spoke of first going outside, how bright it was and the stench that even now she says has never left her nose, the smell of death with bodies strewn about the streets. 

Easy to see why I was in tears much of the night, no?

After Mrs Schwartz spoke about her experiences surviving the war, her immigration to the US and her life up to this point, she took some questions from the audience, then signed copies of her memoir.

I waited in line with my friends, and when it was my turn, I asked if I could hold her hand. I clasped her hand between my own, and she patted the top of mine. I did not know what else to say, but "Thank you." I told her thank you, for sharing your story, for passing this on to those who have come after you. I must have said thank you five times. We chatted briefly, and she asked my name before signing my book.

This interaction, these experiences with living history, people who have survived these greatly traumatic events, must continue to happen. Hearing a survivor tell their own story is so much more powerful than reading a chapter from a text book. Every day there are fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors left in the world. We must hear their stories before they are gone, and continue to pass them on.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Blech...(To The Subject, Not The Books)

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Fire and Fury - 3.5 Stars

Unbelievable - 5 Stars

I am doing a joint-review because I really don't like giving this douchenozzle any more attention than he's already received for the last couple years. I also don't feel it necessary to do any kind of in-depth review. No one supporting him is going to change their mind because of anything I write, and I am not going to waste the time. Trumplethinskin sucks and I look forward to the day when he is out of office and we can start correcting the massive mistakes piling up daily under this "administration".

I read Fire and Fury because, of course. I went into it knowing that there would likely be very little new information. Because of the intensity of coverage due to the giant man-baby waddling around the White House and his various golf courses, we know everything. All the time.


I long for a simpler time when I went a few days without hearing President Obama's name and it was okay, because he was an adult doing his job and taking his responsibilities seriously as the president of the greatest nation on earth.

Anyway. There is nothing new or groundbreaking here. If you recognize the fact that Trumplethinskin is among the dumbest of the dumb and is surrounded by scum-sucking gutter rats, nothing in this book will surprise you. It's basically a summary of the shit we have been living through since he was "elected". We already knew that a lot of the people in the book are awful. I did enjoy, however, the constant reminders about how dumb Trumplethinskin's sons are, and that Ivanka is not much better. In fact, Ivanka and her husband are collectively referred to as Jarvanka. Bannon is there is in all his grizzled, disgusting glory, and it is all so stupidly ridiculous that THIS is what is currently operating our government.

So, because this book was such a bombardment of complete and utter grossness, it was necessary to follow it up with a look from the outside, of sorts.

Tur's book follows Trumplethinskin in the same chaotic way, but the chaos comes from life on the campaign trail as Tur alternates between those details and then episodes from Election Day. I can not imagine doing her job, and for covering him as long as she did. When a candidate running for office to lead the most powerful country on the planet, perhaps that candidate should not be implying that he admired(?) Putin for executing journalists. But this is true. He discussed it at a rally. Probably more than once.

I initially rated this book a four-star, but the more I reflected on it, I decided it deserved five. After all, Tur survived the constant movement as the campaign went city to city to city. I can barely stomach seeing this moron's face on the book cover, I don't know how she managed it for months on end.

Here are a few of my fave quotes from each book:

Fire and Fury
"There was a lack of coherent message because there was nobody to write a coherent message - just one more instance of disregarding political craft" (page 148).

"After months of defending Bannon against liberal media innuendo, Kushner had concluded that Bannon was an anti-Semite" (page 140). Um hellooooo....what took him so long????

"George W. Bush, on the dais, supplied what seemed likely to become the historic footnote to the Trump address: 'That's some weird shit' " (page 40). I hate to say it, but I have said it for a while now, pretty much from that event on January 20th - W is looking better and better in the review mirror as this clusterfuck of a presidency rolls on.

"He is the polar opposite of President Obama. Where Obama's rhetoric soars, Trump's rhetoric slithers. While Obama eats arugula, Trump scars Burger King. Where Obama is controlled and calculating, Trump is petulant and loud" (page 80). Yes, this, a thousand times.

Overall, you already know if you are going to read Fire and Fury. I would recommend Unbelievable if you are choosing between the two. Honestly, Fire and Fury needed a bit better editing, there were some typos and errors of that nature. And like I said, reliving it constantly is exhausting. Unbelievable is less exhausting, but no less frustrating. There were so many times his campaign should have been sunk.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Learn By Reading...

One of my most favorite quotes. Do you have any book-related quotes that you especially love, or certain lines from books that have stuck with you over time?

Friday, March 16, 2018

Stacking the Shelves 11

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly feature co-hosted by Tynga's Reviews and Reading Reality. It is a chance to showcase all the goodies you've collected in the last week, whether they're bought on-line or in-store, an ARC or a final copy, borrowed from a friend or the library, physical or digital, you get the idea. If nothing else, this treat shows how much of an addiction I really have when it comes to acquiring my precious books.

Random House Gift
(via NetGalley)

Fave Library #1
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Fave Library #2
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What treasures did you haul this week?

Happy Reading!

More Missing Scotland Tonight...

Here I am getting all emotional again over a place I love dearly and can not wait to visit again.

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(photo taken by my mom in November, 2009)

So we might have stayed a smidge too long at Stirling and they closed the gates!

Below is one of my favorite photos I took on the whole trip. I am standing at the entrance to Stirling, and the stone bridge in the lower left corner is thought to be roughly where the bridge was where William Wallace and his men obliterated the English foot soldiers. The monument on the next hill is the William Wallace Monument, but unfortunately our tour didn't stop there.

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(photo taken by me in November, 2009)

Until we meet again, Stirling 😘

Pustules, Pestilence and Pain: Tudor Treatments and Ailments of Henry VIII


Rating: 4 Stars

An oft-heard lament today comes in the form of there being very little left to write about in regards to one of the most infamous dynasties to ever rule. Given the larger-than-life caricature Henry has become, it is easy to believe that there is nothing new to write. Here we are shown that is not quite true after all.

Many of Henry's health issues have been documented, though we do not usually get anything in-depth about the actual treatments. Instead they are typically looked at as an explanation for his behavior, particular in the later years of his life. Here the author sets out to explain said treatments and we are given a wonderful and terrifying glimpse into the world of Henry and his health.

The author does a fantastic job in going back to the primary sources - some from Henry VIII himself (who even came up with some of the treatments himself) and relays the information first as it was written then, and then goes on to explain it in modern terms. That was perhaps my favorite part of the book, to see that information side by side. He then goes on to explain in terms of what we know as effective medical treatment today and whether or not said treatments would have really worked. I was endlessly intrigued by the various treatments, though not surprised by the lead and mercury elements, as those have been documented before. The author also uses contemporary letters to explain some of the injuries, in addition to the medical recipes.

The only real complaint I have about the book is not even anything that could have been better - it is something I would need to take care of myself, and that involves the photos. The blurb talks about beautiful color photos (as do a couple other reviews), but sadly mine were black and white, as I was reading on my Kindle. Even then, the photos looked great so I can only imagine what they would like in full color. The author participates in reenactments as an apothecary, so he was able to show off many of the tools of the trade that would have been used in Henry's day. That background experience is always interesting and lends much credibility to the topic.

I really enjoyed the book - don't be put off by the title! The author looks at just a small handful of Henry's injuries, though there were more. I hope the author continues to study the topic and continues writing, as I found this short read to be informative and interesting. I would recommend it both to those who have a general interest in Tudor history, as well as those who feel like they have read everything there possibly is to read - you won't be disappointed with this one!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Happy Birthday RBG! (and book recommendations!)


Big surprise, I have a fave supreme court justice - none other than the amazing and awe-inspiring Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Today is her 85th birthday and I pray every night that she will live forever.

I first introduced my Mighty Girl to Ginsburg last year, with this book:


We both enjoyed the story and I will continue to teach Eleanor all I can about the remarkable women who have gone on to become justices of the Supreme Court.

I picked up this treasure when in St Louis (meeting Dan Jones, no big deal):


I enjoyed it, and have a few other titles I will be reading (hopefully) within the year about this most remarkable woman.

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Also, for Halloween in 2017, I even went as RBG. I could not convince Eleanor to be a gavel - nor could I convince her dad to go as Zombie Antonin Scalia. But no worries, I rocked my costume anyway, no?

Happy Reading!