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The German for 'Oy Gevalt!'

On a trip to Worfelden, Germany, where my great-grandparents once lived, local residents welcomed my mother and me with a specially compiled pamphlet for our visit that told of the town's Jewish history. In addition to the copies of the original blueprints for the synagogue and brief biographies of the Jews who once lived in the town, the pamphlet listed Yiddish words commonly used in Germany today. Under the heading, ...

The Forgotten Adults

After I give a speech, many people come up and tell me their experiences of immigration, loss, or the legacy of the Holocaust. One woman told me her poignant story many years ago and it has stayed with me. Here’s what she said: “I escaped Vienna as a child in 1939. The Nazis killed my parents so I never had a mother or father to love me after the age ...

The Forgotten Children

World news spotlighted another heartbreaking story of child immigration this week. Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologized to thousands of British who were shipped to Australia as children. They were promised a better life; instead, they had a Dickensian existence. More than 500,000 children were placed in foster homes, orphanages and other institutions during the 20th century, according to a 2004 Australian Senate report. Many experienced emotional, physical and sexual ...

When does childhood end…

...and when does adulthood begin? • Nineteen-year-olds can drive tanks in Afghanistan, but they aren’t considered responsible enough to drive a rental car. • Courts treat 13-year-olds as adults, yet they cannot rent adult DVDs. • Executing convicts for offenses committed before age 18 is unconstitutional. • In Judaism, a boy becomes a man (the bar mitzvah) at 13. “For drinking, driving, fighting in the military, compulsory schooling, watching an ...

An apple for teachers

Last Friday, I gave seven back-to-back presentations to students at Marian Central Catholic High School in Woodstock, Illinois. Whenever I spend a day teaching, I rediscover that the occupation is grueling and exhausting, but deeply satisfying. Next time I walk a mile, or I should say, run a marathon as a teacher, I’ll remember that those are big shoes to fill…and they are high heels.

Art informs life

When I was writing Motherland, I relied on notes for all the chapters except one. For that chapter, I had taped an interview with a key source and, when I sat down to write it, I listened carefully to the tape and captured what I heard. "What happened to you?" my agent asked upon reading that chapter. "This doesn't work at all? What happened to your voice?" I explained that ...

Stockstadt am Rhein: On the map

Once, when I was eight years old, my mother raised a subject she had never discussed before – her hometown. “I’m from Stockstadt am Rhein.” “Where?” The town’s name was foreign, but the way she said it, with a thick German accent, revealed a part of her I never knew existed. She went to the shelf, dragged the oversized, heavy Rand McNally Atlas of the World to the kitchen table ...

Fishing for readers

For authors, publishing a book is a little like dropping a fishing line into a pond. We never know who will take our bait. When I wrote Motherland, I imagined telling the story to a good friend whom I have known for decades. I wished she could have come with me on my trips to Germany. Instead, I tried to give her the experience through the book. I couldn’t have ...

Burden of memory on both sides of the ocean

In 1938, when my mother fled Stockstadt am Rhein -- the small German town her family had helped settle in 1721 -- it had 2,000 people and two Jewish families totaling eight people. That means the Jewish population in Stockstadt was about one half of one percent, a statistic that mirrored Germany at large. In 1939, 350,000 Jews lived in a country of 50,000,000 people. By 1945, the German Jewish ...

My Neuro Hero

Dr. Robert Sapolsky and friend I stumbled upon Professor Robert Sapolsky’s lecture series at a local library. His presentations gave me an amazing understanding of stress. Dr. Sapolsky, a MacArthur Fellow and a professor at Stanford University, spends each summer in Kenya studying a population of wild baboons, trying to identify the relationship between an animal’s personality, environment and stress levels. What Dr. Sapolsky has discovered is that low-ranking baboons ...
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