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The Power of One

How can writers capture an unfathomable historical event? How can they give readers a grasp of the dimensions of genocide? How can they portray the legacy of the Holocaust? "The death of one man is a tragedy," Joseph Stalin once said. "The death of a million is a statistic." Statistical historians try to quantify the truth through numbers; writers attempt to assign meaning and context to those numbers. Writers know ...

Biking and Blogging

This week, Chicago was blanketed in snow. That put an end to my daily bike rides. I fear my blogging is at risk. Most writing ideas strike me while I'm riding. That's not surprising, given the research that exercise enhances creative thought. For me, biking is a way to stoke my brain. I'm often asked, why not use a stationary bike? Not the same. The combination of exercise and nature ...

Thousands of Jewish memorials in Germany

My mother's childhood home in Stockstadt, Germany In Germany, the same house remains in families for generations, handed down from parents to children. My mother's childhood home, built in 1721, belonged to the family for over 200 years. Restrictive policies on teardowns and renovations assure that houses do not change in appearance. Often, former Jewish homes serve as German memorials to those who once lived in them. "I could never ...

The ultrasound of a book

If a book is like a baby, the Advanced Reader's Copy (ARC) is its ultrasound. ARCs are uncorrected proofs or galleys released by the publisher before the book goes to press for a complete printing. These proofs are printed in softcover and they still may have some unexpected typos. Used for promotional purposes, ARCs are distributed to book buyers at large chains and reviewers at magazines and newspapers three to ...

Memories that don't morph

Edvard Munch, "The Scream" Many Holocaust survivors and escapees suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a condition characterized by intense fear, helplessness, or horror. PTSD is rooted in exposure earlier in life to extremely stressful life-threatening experiences. For healthy people, memories are recalled as stories that change over time and do not evoke intense emotions and sensations. But those who suffer with PTSD relive the experience in the present ...

The art of blogging

Blaise Pascal, anonymous portrait, 17th century Blogging brings to mind philosopher Pascal's apology for writing a long letter. "If I'd had more time," he said, "I would have written a shorter one." Blogging requires discipline; it is an exercise in the art of short letter writing. 'nuf sed.

'The tea set belongs in your family'

The tea set: What remains of my mother's childhood home On my first trip to Germany in 1991, I wondered whether there would be any physical evidence of my mother’s past. I wrote in Motherland, “What can remain of a family destroyed fifty-two years ago?” But the past has strange ways of inserting itself into the present. When we visited my mother’s dear childhood friend Mina in Germany's Oldenwald Mountains, ...

Trauma, from one generation to the next

In describing the legacy of the Holocaust, I wrote in Motherland that some of the most defining moments of my life happened long before I was born. They were the experiences “I never had, but couldn’t escape.” Now I know that that statement is true emotionally…and it could be true physiologically as well. Recent reports show that health and well-being begin in the womb. In fact, the life in the ...

The story of two abandoned synagogues

My mother’s town, Stockstadt am Rhein, had 2,000 people and only two Jewish families. On the Sabbath, my mother’s family walked to one of two neighboring towns – Biebesheim and Erfelden – where Jews from towns along the Rhein River gathered to form a small congregation. Decades after the Holocaust, all that remains of Jewish life in the two towns are the synagogues. In 1988, fifty years after Kristallnacht, "Night ...

Missing pieces

At a speech, I told students at Kennedy Middle School in Naperville, Illinois that when I was growing up, it seemed to me that my mother had divorced herself from her past. As far as I knew, she had no mother, no father, no cousins, no childhood friends, no stories, no family legends, no religious traditions. She never spoke of her early life and I knew I was never to ...