Thursday, November 16, 2017

1945: A Savage Peace

This morning I watched 1945: A Savage Peace, a BBC documentary on what happened to the ethnic German civilians living in Eastern Europe immediately after the war.

A brutal film.

I knew that they suffered, that the Russians raped and killed many as they moved west, but I had no idea about how the Poles and Czechs took vengeance on these German civilians.

Some of the documentary footage of Czechs shooting and hanging German civilians is very disturbing.

Also the interviews with the German children who survived this brutality are hard to listen too.

My only complaint is that there is too little made of the German atrocities committed during the war that inspired this revenge.  That seems forgotten, and I wonder if this is simply another way of changing how the world sees the Germans and the war.

Overall, the film tells me once again that war is shit.

The film is available on Netflix.

I recommend it.

Here's a link to a Daily Telegraph article about the documentary. Just click here: Link

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Bad People

Bad People

People being evil?  Why do they do it?

I don't know.  But they seem to be doing it a lot more.  There was that book that came out last year or the year before about how civilization is more civilized than it was in the old days.

I find that hard to believe.  I remember giving a reading/presentation about my parents for a class of college students studying genocide.  I don't know if the students learned anything but I learned that more people have died of genocide since the UN establised it's policies against genocide in the early 1950s than died in the Holocaust.

I'm always astonished when I find out stuff like that.  I look around my house and my neighborhood and my city and my state and my country, and I see that sure there's some bad people here and there but where are the millions of bad people who are ready to kill millions of their neighbors.

One of my favorite journalists is Rszyard Kapuscinski (a Pole who grew up under communism)  who wrote a book called Shadow of the Sun about his travels among the genocidists of Africa.  He went here and he went there trying to track down the causes of the killing.  They were always absurd, meaningless, trivial.

What I took away from that book is that people can do bad things for the most absurd, meaningless, trivial reason and no law of God or man can stop them.

My father -- a concentration camp survivor -- felt that all Germans were evil.  When I was a kid, he wouldn't let me play with kids with German names like Mueller or Rickert or Hauser.

Was he right?  I asked my mother -- also a survivor -- what she thought of the Germans.  She said some were good, some bad.

I guess that's what we have to remember.  Some people can be bad, will be bad.

So here I am a 69 year old still trying to sort out the truths my parents left me.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Found Book

A Found Book

You pick up a book of poetry off of one of the shelves in your study, and you wonder where it came from. 

There’s nothing you remember about it. 

The light tan cover? 

The title?

The author’s name?


Was this author a friend whose name you’ve forgotten? Or did another friend give you the book, telling you to read it because it meant so much or so little to him?

You don’t remember.

You turn to the blurbs on the back and discover the book is 40 years old, and you realize it’s probably been sitting on your bookshelves for that long.

You’ve moved it from one house to another through those 40 years and you never once opened it. It’s sat on those shelves through storms and deaths, through crises and miracles, and you never opened it.

And now you do.

You open it.

And the words are magic.

But only for a second.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

First Snow in a Refugee Camp in Germany

I still remember the first time I saw snow.

I was almost three years old, living in a refugee camp in Germany.

The snow fell thick and fast on a convoy of camouflaged army trucks moving through the camp.

I stepped outside of the barracks without shoes on.  I didn't know the snow would be cold and wet, but that didn't matter, the cold and the wet.

I stood in the white swirl and put both hands out to catch the flakes.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Road of Bones -- A Novel of War and Love

Road of Bones

That's the title of my forthcoming novel (Gloria Mindock's Červená Barva Press) about two German lovers separated by war.

It's set in Berlin and the Russian Front during one cold week in January of 1945.  The main characters are Hans, a soldier, and Magda, a widow and his lover.

Hans is a fictional representation of the German soldiers who killed my mom's family in 1942.  I wanted to write about him so I could better understand what happened to my grandmother and my aunt and my aunt's baby.

WIPs -- an online journal that offers excerpts from novels in progress -- has published a chapter from late in the Road of Bones, along with an interview in which I talk about writing the book, my motivation and the problems finding a publisher.

Please take a look.

And buy the book when it comes out!

Click here to read the chapter.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Brothers and Sisters from the Slave Camps

My father always talked about the men and women he was in the slave labor camps as his brothers and sisters. I remember once walking with him on a street in Chicago when he ran into of the men he had been with in Buchenwald. My dad threw his arms around him and hugged him and wept, whispering "my brother, my brother" as he cried. This is a short piece I wrote about his brothers and sisters from the camps.

The Despair of his Brothers and Sisters in the Slave Camps

Even though he had not known them before, they were his brothers and sisters now, brothers and sisters from towns whose names appeared on no maps, villages lost in the marshes of the east and the ravines of the south, men and women from cities who’d known food he couldn’t imagine: bread in the shape of birds, wine as bitter and blue as tears, potatoes soft and warm as summer clouds--and macaroni.

And each day they did the work the Germans forced them to, whether it was cutting the wood, or hauling the pine coffins from the trains, or stacking crumbling bricks in Magdeburg after the American planes bombed it.

At first these brothers and sisters talked about the smell of the dead, the awfulness of the work, and then they didn’t.

And from the same gray metal buckets, these brothers and sisters ate what the Germans gave them soup that was always too thin, meat alive with maggots, bread made from sawdust and sorrow, and they looked at each other with the same cold eyes, and knew that nothing, not even love, could keep them alive till spring.


To read more about my parents please buy my book Echoes of Tattered Tongues.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

My First Death

I remember the first time I knew there was death in the world.  

I was in kindergarten at St. Hedwig's, a parochial school on the near northwest side of Chicago, an area that they now call Bucktown.  

One of my friends and his mom were hit and run over by a drunken driver while standing waiting for a bus on Milwaukee Avenue across the street from the Congress Theater.  

We didn't know what happened to him until a couple of days later when the nuns took the whole class to the church to see him one last time.  

There were two open caskets.  His mom was in one, and Jimmy was in the other.  He was dressed all in white and his hands were holding a white flower to his chest.  The sisters told us that he was in Heaven and that we would see him again when we got there, but still that couldn't keep me from grieving for him, wondering about his last moments, his fear.  

It's 65 years later, and I still think about Jimmy and his mom.  

Sometimes, I see him standing on the corner with her across the street from the Congress Theater waiting for the bus, not knowing a car was going to come and kill him.  He's talking to her about school that day, and how he ran around the play lot with me and two other boys.  She smiles and tells him it's good to have friends.