Holocaust Survivors and Osage Murders

August brought with it a host of good reading. The problem is, when I’m distracted by lots of good books to read, I don’t spend as much time as I should spend writing. The two go hand-in-hand. I’ve read from many sources that you can’t be a good writer if you don’t read a lot. Of course, you can’t be a good writer if you don’t spend time writing. Maybe this month I’ll strike a good balance.

 

Among the Living, by Jonathan Rabb

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Among the Living, by Jonathan Rabb

Among the Living is a novel about a 31-year-old Jewish man, Yitzhak Goldah, who survived The Holocaust and came to live with his cousin, Abe Jesler and Jesler’s wife, Pearl, in Savannah, Georgia in 1947.

The tone of the book is set early on as the author reveals Mr. Goldah’s sense of humor and ability to take life in stride. For instance, on the way home from the train station, Goldah’s cousin and his wife inform him that they are changing his name to “Ike.” Yitzhak doesn’t like the idea, but he accepts this in an effort to not cause a rift with these generous cousins.

It quickly become obvious that Pearl Jesler is going to treat “Ike” like he’s a child. As if that’s not enough, she smothers him with kindness. And she talks all the time – many times saying the wrong thing.

This is by no means a humorous book, but there are constant undertones of “Ike” knowing exactly what the Jeslers are doing but choosing not to confront them about his treatment.

Abe Jesler is in the retail shoe business and is well-connected in Jewish circles in Savannah. Much to Pearl’s chagrin, though, they are not in the uppermost crust of Jewish society. The book does a good job of depicting the social and business lives of Jews in post-World War II Savannah.

There is intrigue as Abe gets involves in some shady business dealings at Savannah’s port. Ike’s profession before the war was that of a journalist, so he gets acquainted with the local newspaper editor and starts writing for the paper. This had the two-fold benefit getting Ike into the profession he loved and out of Abe’s retail shoe business.

Ike also became involved with the newspaper editor’s daughter, which lends a bit of romance to the book. When Ike’s pre-war thought-to-be-dead fiancée suddenly appears in Savannah, Ike’s life gets quite complicated.

The book also addresses the feelings of guilt held by American Jews because they weren’t directly faced with the horrors of The Holocaust and the guilty experienced by the survivors of the concentration camps because they survived.

After reading an article by Jonathan Rabb, “Trigger Warnings in Historical Fiction,” (http://www.readitforward.com/authors/trigger-warnings/) I sought out his latest book, Among the Living. I’ll definitely read some of his other books.

One of my takeaways from Mr. Rabb’s online article about history and writing about history is the following:

“But history is offensive. The past is filled with oppression and murder, rape and slavery, torture and madness, often celebrating each within its own context. And, as painful as it might be, there is something valuable to be learned when we confront who we have been, and who we continue to be. We cannot be so arrogant or naïve as to think that we have somehow stepped beyond our baser instincts or that by avoiding them we prove they no longer exist.” ~ Jonathan Rabb

 

Killers of the Flower Moon:  The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, by David Grann

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Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, by David Grann

This nonfiction book was a real eye opener for me. I knew that Native Americans have always gotten the short end of the stick from the US Government, but I knew nothing about the history of the Osage Tribe in Oklahoma until I saw the author, David Grann, interviewed about his book on TV. The story was fascinating, so I immediately got on the waitlist for the book at the library.

In a nutshell, this book is the story of how the lives of the Osage were turned upside down in the early 1900s when oil was discovered on their land. They had wisely purchased land and acquired all mineral rights. Unfortunately, their wise decisions became their undoing when they became wealthy. The government deemed them incapable of handling their own finances and assigned each headright holder a white guardian to oversee their spending even for the most mundane personal hygiene items.

This had trouble written all over it from the beginning. Unscrupulous guardians not only stole their ward’s wealth, but in many cases killed them or had them murdered. Most local government authorities in Osage County were either complicit in these murders or turned a blind eye to them. Two local physicians were even involved in the poisoning of some of the Osage. Cause of death records were falsified, and most of the deaths were not investigated.

This is a sordid tale of a horrible and little-known chapter in American history. Integral to the story is the fact that the US Bureau of Indian Affairs investigations arm came in to try to get to the bottom of the matter. It became such a big deal that the Bureau of Investigation grew in stature to become the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Killers of the Flower Moon:  The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI is incredibly well researched and is written in such a flowing way that it reads more like a novel than a history book. In case you haven’t guessed it already, I highly recommend this book.

 

Dog Songs:  Poems, by Mary Oliver

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Dog Songs: Poems, by Mary Oliver

My sister found this book at the public library and recommended it to me. If you’re a dog lover, like I am, you need to look for this little book. It’s a quick read but chock-full of delightful poems and memories of dogs and how they bless our lives.

What’s next?

I will blog about the other three books I read in August in next week’s post. No one wants to read in one sitting thousands of words about the books I read, so check out my blog next Monday to find out what else I read in August.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’ve just finished reading State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett, and I’ve started If the Creek Don’t Rise, by Leah Weiss.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.

Janet

They’re All Uncertain Times

Events of the last week prompted me to write about uncertain times for today’s blog post. It soon occurred to me that all times are uncertain because we cannot see into the future.

We tend to think the time we’re living in is more unpredictable than any other time, but if you’ll stop and think about it, you might see that life is and always has been full of doubts, worries, and stress. The unknown can do that to you.

I think about the uncertain times my known ancestors lived through:

English-speaking Lowland Scots being taken into the Gaelic-speaking Kintyre Peninsula in the southwest of Scotland to be tenant farmers in the 1600s and being required to attend a church where only Gaelic was spoken;

Scottish immigrants crossing the Atlantic and settling in the Carolina backcountry/wilderness in the 1760s; and

Those Scottish immigrants facing the American Revolution and not knowing what the outcome would be.

On December 23, 1776, in “The Crisis,” Thomas Paine wrote the following:

“THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.”

My ancestors lived through those times. The deaths of my Morrison great-great-great-great-grandparents during the American Revolutionary War left my great-great-great-grandfather orphaned at the age of nine. He and his siblings were cared for thereafter by his uncles and their wives, but it must have been more than frightening.

Then came the following trying times:

War of 1812;

American Civil War;

Reconstruction Era in The American South;

My maternal great-grandmother’s death in childbirth in 1881;

My paternal great-grandfather’s accidental death while felling a tree for lumber to build a kitchen in 1886;

Spanish-American War;

World War I;

The Great Depression;

My paternal grandmother and maternal grandfather both dying as young adults;

World War II;

Korean War; and

Illnesses and epidemics.

Living in the age of modern medicine and miracle drugs, it’s difficult for most of us to empathize with our ancestors who lived with the possibility of dying or watching their children die of typhoid fever, tetanus, flux, or polio.

When the Salk polio vaccine became available in the late 1950s, I did not fully appreciate what it meant to my parents. For me, as a child, I just remember our family going to the gymnasium lobby at Harrisburg High School on three Sunday afternoon after church to get an oral vaccine on a sugar cube.

The 1960s and years since have brought the following times of uncertainty:

Vietnam War;

Civil Rights Movement in the United States;

Numerous wars in the Middle East;

Rumors of more wars;

Terrorism; and

Incompetency and recklessness in The White House. (Don’t blame me; I didn’t vote for him!)

All of my ancestors down through my grandparents were farmers. I can’t imagine a life full of more uncertainties than one in which one’s livelihood is at the mercy of the weather.

I believe that God created the world with everything we need to not only survive but thrive. Human beings have brought on many uncertainties by not being good stewards of the world that God has entrusted to us – its animals and natural resources. Come to think of it, we have created most of the uncertainties ourselves – war, poor planning, poor agricultural practices, greed, and envy.

Earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, volcanoes, and wildfires happen, but even many floods and wildfires are caused by man’s carelessness.

I attended two funerals in less than 48 hours last week. One was expected after a long battle with cancer, but the other one was quite sudden. Life is full of uncertainties.

Reviewing some of the events and hardships my ancestors faced, and the things I’ve witnessed in my 64 years has helped me put recent events and concerns in perspective.

The sun comes up. The sun goes down. The world keeps spinning around and revolving around the sun. What an amazing world!

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Photo by Simon Hesthaven on Unsplash

 

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Killers of the Flower Moon:  The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann and Among the Living by Jonathan Rabb.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have lots of productive writing time.

Janet