A Granddaughter’s Holocaust Remembrance

By Rutie Eckdish

Gurs internment camp

Every morning, I get up, walk to my bathroom, turn on the hot water and stand under the shower to get my 60+ year old bones to work, and I think of my grandmother. No, I don’t think of the fake showers of the concentration camps, as you probably thought. When my grandmother, Flora Lotte Paradies, nee Loëwenstein was 60+, she was, indeed, taken from her home, along with most of the Jews of southern Germany, and sent west to one of the many German “holding camps” on the Spanish-French border, known generically as Gurs.
I am now about the same age she was when she was taken away from her home. When she was my age, Flora Lotte had no shower, no hot water, no running water, no food, no paper to write on, no band aid to put on a sore finger, no cream to put on her face. She had no towel, no toilet paper, no toilet to speak of. And in those conditions, she lived for over 4 years.
When she was my age, my grandmother was put on a train with her husband, Julius Paradies, taller than she was by 2 feet and 2 years younger, and sent west to the unknown. The trip took several days, and if she had a place to sit, she probably shared it with him, or with other people. They each had a suitcase, probably, packed with the things you take when going to the unknown. Toiletry? Towels? Toilet paper? Books? What do you take when you don’t know where you are going to nor for how long or what to expect? Do you take slippers? Shoes, I was told by others, was the first thing you lost as you stepped off the train and set foot in the muddy soil of the Pyrenees mountains. Do you take your address book with you? Your favorite fountain pen or a pencil? And what do you do when you ran out of ink? How many clothes can you stuff into one small suitcase, and what happened to the coat you took off in the suffocating, stuffy, airless train ride?
When the train stopped, Omi and Julius and the others on that train arrived in Gurs, or in Récébédou, or in Nexon, or in one of the other satellite camp in the PyreneesMountains. The camps were originally erected as interim housing for 15-20 thousand Spanish refugees after the Spanish civil war by the French government. The Germans took it over in 1940 and housed, by some accounts, over 120,000 people, most of them Jewish, with no upgrades: no baths, no showers, no running water, no food, no shelter from the rain other than leaking roofs, no shelter from the scorching heat other than tar-covers roofs in the long summers, no shelter from the howling winds other than drafty walls in the awful long winters. No place to hide your few valuables you brought along to barter or bribe or maybe save. No where to place your spoon if you brought one or if you found one. No place to hang your towel, if you had one. No closet, no shelf, no cover, no pillow. No safe place to put your glasses when you take them off at night. No soap, once the piece you were smart enough to bring with you was gone, or maybe fell into the mud and you lost it when you walked for the first time to the make-shift sink.
No place of your own.
For over 4 years.
When I was little, I had various nicknames. My favorite was ‘the Little Paradies’, because, so I was told, I looked like her. I could never see it, of course. I recall being about 8 or 10, standing next to her and asking her if I will ever be as tall as she was. In no time, she answered me, though I could not see it. Just a few years later I towered over her 4’-10”, and she reminded me of that conversation. She was protective and she loved me, and she laughed with me. She was all that a grandma should be: loving without reservations, generous, smiling, and above all imbuing in me the sense of worth of my own importance as a person.
I have pictures of my Omi and me as I grew up, and as I age I see the family resemblance. I have pictures at home all around me of both my grandfathers whom I never met and of my Eckdish grandmother who was deported and died in the Piaski Camp, in the east. I have since lost my father, and my mother who died 34 years after him. I come from a line of longevity: My Omi died peacefully at her home in Israel near me and with my mother (her daughter) present, at the age of 92 of heart failure due to old age.
As I grow older, I become more aware of my parents and grandparents. I am less angry at what was not said or not shared; and I understand that much better how they lived, loved, interpreted their realities, what they learned and what they taught me. And what I learned from each. The older I get, the closer I get to the visceral and existential survival of the daily horrors. I get up every morning, gingerly and safely walk to my bathroom, turn on the hot water to the right heat and stand under the shower to rinse my eyes and start the day – and I think of my Omi. I can’t help it: I feel guilty for having the luxuries she was denied for over four year. And I cannot shake the sense that I would not have survived her ordeal. My Omi was not a hero, and I am not a coward. She came out of this imprisonment without ever calling it hardship, imprisonment, captivity, or denial. She put it behind her and never talked about it. My sister and I never asked, fearing of awakening in her nightmares she probably had and never shared. My Omi never told us about it in fear of awakening in us nightmares.
So I have my day-mares.
I feel guilty when I pick up my glasses off the shelf, take out clean underwear from the drawer, pick out another clean shirt I did not wear yesterday, lace my shoes up, and sit down to have a breakfast of champions. Every morning, as I get up and walk to my bathroom, turn on the hot water and stand under the shower to get my 60+ year old bones to work, I think of my warmly smiling grandmother who would probably have the right words to say to sooth my pain of guilt and inadequacy.
Few books were written about the endurance of the concentration camps that were not the crematoria or did not have death march, did not have the horrible factories, the hundreds of camps that were not freed by the Allies, the thousand of people who endured day after day for years in camps that no movie were made for. So, I carry the guilt of mundane forgetfulness, too.
One of my 7th grade students came back from a trip to Europe and asked to share his experience with his the class. No special occasion, no Holocaust day. Steven brought to class 6 x 8 pictures and passed them around. The pictures showed the long benches of the concentration camps, the mounds of shoes and glasses, and the likes. I have to admit I was unmoved by seeing it again. Then, Steven showed a picture of a niche with a bucket and said: this was the bathroom. There were some uncomfortable giggles, and then the questions: where is the door, or a curtain? Water? Sink? And then the giggles became very uncomfortable, when the realization set in: this was not about 6 million, or about the endless rows of torture. This is about the daily humanity stripped. And this bathroom – so to speak – is a universal value, it seems.
The Holocaust is indeed the attempt not only to annihilate the existence of Jewish people, it was an attempt to strip individuals of their humanity and human values. Among the few things Flora Lotte Paradies brought with her from the camp is a piece of brown paper with some colored drawing, a thank-you note from one of her colleagues for the piece of bread she shared on her friend’s birthday. And that is what I think of as I step out of my warm shower into my day.

Rutie Eckdish is currently a full time freelance Hebrew – English court and conference interpreter as well as medical and legal translator. She is a veteran Hebrew teacher and now teaches adults in private setting.

Sen. John Sidney McCain III (1936-2018)


The Last Stop on the Maverick Express

— by Michael Bihovsky

If the past is any indication, some of my fellow liberals will take issue with the nice things I’m about to say about Senator John McCain, but today we lost a hero in an age where heroes are so very hard to find…especially, let’s be frank, on the Right.

But John McCain was a hero. For starters, he risked his life time and again to defend our country, and was tortured beyond most of our comprehension for doing so. I honor him for that.

In an age of nearly unanimous hate and vitriol, McCain called for civility and respect in our discourse. I honor him for that as well.

And for most of his career, McCain acted – and voted – like a true moderate. Moderation has become a toxic word on both sides of the aisle, but not to me. Life, and government, is often about compromise – and although McCain recently voted with Trump on a lot more issues than I’d care for, he never did so out of cowardice or to fall into his party line. He voted what was, to him, his conscience – and even if I disagree with the specifics, I respect the integrity.

Which leads me to the main issue I will remember and praise John McCain for: he – along with Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski – defeated the repeal of the the Affordable Care Act, which has literally saved the lives of so many people I know and love. Why? Because his fellow Republicans had provided no alternative, and because it had been pushed through without any Democratic consultation (let alone support). Therefore, according to McCain, supporting the repeal would be utter negligence and hypocrisy, and since it would lead to tens of millions of people losing health insurance, he voted no. If he had voted yes, a lot of people who are alive right now would not be.

I think that I, even more than most Republicans, long to see a day when the Republican Party is restored to some semblance of honor, conscience, and integrity. To me, John McCain represented those admirable traits. Was he perfect? Far from it. But I will take an imperfect official doing his best over someone who is perfectly corrupt and self-interested any day.

Thank you for your service, Senator McCain, and for your example. Rest in peace.

The post Rest In Peace, John McCain. And Thank You. appeared first on Michael Bihovsky’s Blog.

What’s Happening in Philly’s Jewish Young Professional Scene

Rachel Abramowitz. Photo: Tribe 12.

By Rachel Abramowitz

In a person’s life, the longest time between Jewish rituals is the duration from bar/bat mitzvah to marriage. For Millenials today, that gap is only getting wider.

So what does Judaism look like for young professionals when there isn’t a ritual in sight to connect them? What does Jewish community look like outside the bounds of traditional rituals? As the engagement associate for Tribe 12, a non-profit that connects 20s/30s in Philadelphia to the Jewish community, it’s my job to “mind this gap” of the young professional experience. In this interim of milestones, I create programming that not only fosters community, but also connects 20s/30s with all the  Jewish Philly happenings and opportunities.

[Read more…]

CHOP Pediatric Oncologist Honored as Citizen Diplomat

Dr. Stephan Grupp. Photo: Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Thirteen-year-old Emily Whitehead, who six years ago was suffering from an aggressive form of leukemia, is alive and well and in remission, thanks to the pioneering work in immunotherapy by Dr. Stephan Grupp, M.D., Ph.D., at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). Grupp has since traveled throughout the world to teach doctors in other countries about using this therapy to treat children and young adults with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. As a result, Citizen Diplomacy International, an organization that seeks to foster connections between Philadelphia and the global community, honored Grupp this month at its second annual “Citizens Soiree: A Dinner for Diplomacy” at the National Museum of American Jewish History. [Read more…]

A New Approach For Personalizing Learning In Jewish Day Schools

A laptop. Photo: Raimond Spekking

By Andrea Helling

San Francisco-based education technology company, AltSchool, is kicking off a nationwide search to partner with innovative Jewish day schools. Thanks to a grant from Philadelphia-based Kohelet Foundation, select day schools will have the opportunity to join the growing network of schools and districts using AltSchool’s personalized learning platform, which includes access to Judaic Studies milestones built into the technology. In addition to comprehensive training and services for teachers, schools also get the unique chance to collaborate with the Pengineers and designers to help shape the tools. Longtime Jewish day school education leader, Bryna Leider, has joined AltSchool to spearhead the initiative and support day schools in the network.

“Educators know that technology alone cannot improve learning,” said Leider, AltSchool’s Head of Partnerships for Jewish Education. “That’s why teachers using the AltSchool platform play an essential role in the design of the tools being developed to empower a learner-centric education. This marks the first time a coalition of teachers from day schools around the country will be able to work alongside Silicon Valley engineers and product designers to improve Jewish day school education broadly.”

[Read more…]

Sharing Stories Across Generations

By Rosie Gertzman

This spring, students from the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy Holocaust Education and Reflection Club (HEAR Club) loaded up a bus and headed to Wesley Enhanced Living (WEL) in Media, a senior living facility previously known as Martins Run. The eighth- through 11th-grade students embarked on a day of sharing, learning and growing with the WEL residents. It was a day filled with laughter, tears and thought-provoking questions. [Read more…]

Lower Merion Yeshivot March Together at the Celebrate Israel Parade

The Lower Merion Jewish schools at Celebrate Israel Parade in NYC. Photo: N. Aaron Troodler

By N. Aaron Troodler

Carrying their large banners and waving Israeli flags with pride, three local Orthodox Jewish Day Schools from the Greater Philadelphia area marched together up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Sunday, June 3rd as part of the Celebrate Israel Parade.

For the first time ever, Caskey Torah Academy in Wynnewood, Kohelet Yeshiva in Merion Station and The Mesivta High School of Greater Philadelphia in Bala Cynwyd marched jointly under the banner of “The Yeshivot of Lower Merion, PA.” The three schools, which collectively educate over 600 students in the Greater Philadelphia area, traveled to Manhattan to take part in this exciting celebration marking 70 years since the founding of the modern State of Israel. Approximately 200 students, parents and grandparents from the three Lower Merion schools walked proudly, danced and sang Hebrew songs along the parade route.

[Read more…]

Make Your Counting Count

Rabbi Shaya Deitsch. Photo: Twitter

By Rabbi Shaya Deitsch

While you were on your way to the polls or at home in protest or apathy for last week’s primary midterm elections, did the inevitable thought creep up on you: “Why do I even bother? Does one vote even matter?” Spiraling further into self-depreciation, you may have even compared yourself to the “big decision makers” and questioned your right to have a say at all: “Who am I to have an opinion?”

True, our democracy gives us this right to vote, but beyond this right, does it really count for anything?

As we think about counting, and whether our counting—well, counts—it may have thematically dawned on us that we have just finished counting down the Omer, the tradition of counting the days between the Jewish holidays of Passover and Shavuot.  Daily, we verbally counted as a community and as individuals—one day of the Omer, two days and so forth for the last 49-days.

[Read more…]

Musical Program Tells the Story of Two Jewish Pianists in Nazi Germany

Two Pianos: Playing for Life uses music, live readings and narration to depict the story of two female pianists, who played for all-Jewish audiences after the Nazis had banned Jewish musicians from German public performances. The program premieres on June 9 in Philadelphia at the Mary Louise Curtis Branch of the Settlement Music School.

Romanian-born Anna Burstein and Polish-born Halina Neuman met in Germany in 1926 at the Leipzig Conservatory. Seven years later, by the spring of 1933, Hitler’s new regime was moving to exclude Jews from German life. Doors to orchestras with Jewish conductors were padlocked. Jewish performers and professors were attacked in the press and interrupted by uniformed thugs shouting, “Schweine Jude!” Their concerts and lectures were cancelled “to ensure public safety.” Then, new laws began excluding Jews from government employment, including over 50 city orchestras. Within two years, Jews were legally barred from nearly all aspects of German economic, political and social life.

Anna Burstein’s 1936 Leipzig Jüdischer Kulturbund card. Levin Family Collection. Reprinted with permission.

The Jüdischer Kulturbund (Jewish Culture Association) was formed by dismissed Jewish artists, enabling them to continue performing before segregated all-Jewish audiences. It was approved by the Nazis in July 1933, and branches quickly spread from Berlin to over 60 German cities, including Leipzig. Anna Burstein and Halina Neuman played two-piano concerts with the Leipzig Jüdischer Kulturbund under the Third Reich.

Concert photo of Anna Burstein, c. 1942. Levin/Hoffman Collection. Reprinted with permission.

Years later, in 1938, Burstein came to Philadelphia. She was among the exiles who fled the Third Reich to ultimately enrich their new American home with their talent. For 15 years, she performed at local venues, receiving strong reviews. In 1945, she joined Settlement’s piano faculty, where she taught for nearly four decades.

Halina Neuman. The Hoffman Family Collection. Reprinted with permission.

Neuman did not arrive in this country until 1951, after surviving the Warsaw Ghetto, the Polish Home Army uprising, labor and DP camps and post-war refugee stops. Finally, she followed her daughter to the United States, and three months later, gave her first American concert. She retired as a piano professor at Rutgers University.

The live readings in “Two Pianos” are based on first-person interviews with Burstein and Neuman, conducted 40 years ago by Burstein’s daughter and son-in-law, Nora Jean and Michael Levin. The couple spent decades researching, organizing and recapturing the family’s story in full context. Co-producers of “Two Pianos,” the Levins also narrate part of the performance with Neuman’s grandson, Dr. Kenneth Hoffman. Neuman’s grandsons contributed material to the program, as well as to the exhibit set up next to the recital hall, which includes some of the women’s original documents and memorabilia.

The music for the one-hour program will be performed by the acclaimed Russian-born, Wisconsin-based Four Hands piano duo Stanislava Varshavski and Diana Shapiro. Having met at Israel’s Jerusalem Conservatory, Varshavski and Shapiro went on to win numerous competitions and have now been playing together for two decades. Showcased on two grand pianos, they will perform excerpts from works played by Burstein and Neuman under and after the Nazis, including selections from Arensky, Brahms, Toch and Chopin. With their artist-in-exile stories echoing those of the characters they portray, Varshavski and Shapiro will also perform live readings based on the first-person interviews of Burstein and Neuman.

“Two Pianos” is being presented by The Jüdische Kulturbund Project, which seeks to keep the legacy of the Kulturbund alive through educational programs and performances like this one. The Project connects examples of Jewish artists living under Nazi rule with artists facing oppression around the world today.

“We are so excited to bring this story to life,” said Gail Prensky, creator, executive producer and project director of The Jüdische Kulturbund Project. “Music sustained these women and fueled their will, not just to survive during the darkest hours of Nazi Germany, but to thrive.”


“Two Pianos: Playing for Life” will premiere at 7 p.m. on Saturday, June 9, in Presser Hall at the Settlement Music School’s Mary Louise Curtis Branch, 416 Queen Street, Philadelphia. A discussion, as well as a reception to meet the performers, will follow the program. Admission is free, but reservations are required because seating is limited. For more information, contact co-producer Michael Levin at [email protected] or at 202-828-3212.