Monday, June 26, 2017

Krysia: A Polish Girl's Stolen Childhood During World War II, a Memoir by Krystyna Mihulka with Krystyna Poray Goddu

Nine-Year-Old Krysia Mihulka’s story actually begins without her even knowing it on the night of August 23, 1939 when the Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov and German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop signed the Treaty of Non-Aggression between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The treaty peacefully divided up Poland - Nazis occupying the western half, the Soviets occupying the eastern half.

What does this have to do with a 9 year old girl living in Lwów, a small city in eastern Poland? Everything. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, as it came to be called, sealed the fate of this young girl and her family once the war began. After the initial invasion and occupation of Poland by the Germans on September 1, 1939, the Soviet army invaded and occupied eastern Poland as per the Pact on September 17, 1939. 

The Mihulka family, father Andrzej, mother Zofia, Krysia, and younger brother Antek, 5, had lived a quiet, happy life surrounded by extended family and friends before the invasions. But her father, a respected lawyer, had been part of the Polish Army defending his country against the Nazis, so that when the Soviets came, he was forced into hiding, as all lawyers and judges were being summarily executed. Later, the Soviets arrived at the Mihulka home in the middle of the night looking for him, and proceeded to arrest Krysia, Antek, and their mother. The Soviets, they said, wanted to get rid the world of the “bourgeois rich” aka capitalists, like the Mihulkas.

At the railroad station, they were put into already crowded cattle cars. Eventually, they began the long, hard trip to a remote work camp on the steppes of Kazakhstan. Conditions there are terrible - bitter cold winters without blankets or clothing to keep warm, and a constant gnawing hunger. Krysia’s mother is subjected to constant nighttime interrogations about her husband whereabouts, and the children experienced both fear and anxiety, never knowing if she would return from those brutal sessions.

Then, in 1941, the Polish prisoners were suddenly granted amnesty after the Germans began their invasion of the Soviet Union, and the Soviet Union signed the Anglo-Soviet Treaty of Mutual Assistance on July 12, 1941 (the Soviets needed the help of Britain, who was an ally of the exiled Polish government). 

Krysia and her family left Kazakhstan, and went to Uzbekistan, where they were able to reunite with some family members. After a while, the Mihulka family made their way to Persia (present day Iran), and in 1944, Krysia and Antek were sent to Africa, where they were living when the war finally ended. It wasn’t until two years later that they discovered their father’s fate. 

For all the history that is included in this memoir, I found it to be very accessible, written in a voice that is at once young but knowledgable, even though the author is now in her in her 80s. Difficult concepts or unfamiliar historical events are clearly explained for even the youngest of readers. Krysia shares both her own experiences and fears in clear detail that is age appropriate, being truthful but without being too graphic (and those times were often graphically violent). 

There is a map to help young readers track the journey Krysia and her family went on beginning with Lwów and ending in Iran. This is followed by Polish pronunciation guide at the front of the book, which I found very helpful, and an Author’s Note explaining why she finally decided to tell her story with the help of her daughter and co-author, Krystyna Mihulka Goddu.  

I would definitely pair this incredibly interesting memoir with a book called The Endless Steppe written by Esther Hautzig which, you may recall, is also about the author as a young Polish girl, Esther Rudomin, and her family who were exiled to a labor camp in Siberia, Russia. Krysia and Esther’s true stories have much in common though told from two different perspectives.

The fate of families like Krysia’s is not a story that is often told, but it is a poignant, important one and this book helps bring it to light. She relates the events that happened to her in a simple, direct, easy to understand narrative style. And, I think, Krysia’s story will certainly resonate with readers given the current refugee problems in the world today.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was a EARC received from Edelweiss+

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Weekend Cooking: My Visit to The Chew and Daphne Oz's "Blow Your Mind" Baked Chicken Wings"

And now for something completely different on this blog:

This is actually the ticket they give you for your turn to enter the studio,
not my ticket to get in to see the show (I lost that)
On the the morning of April 5th, I went on an adventure. I hopped on the downtown then crosstown buses and arrived at the ABC studio on West 67th Street pretty early for a taping of The Chew. I work at home now and watch The Chew most days while I eat my lunch. And I've gotten some wonderful recipes from it. I should mention that even with a ticket, getting in is first come, first served, so if you ever go, get there early.

After standing on line outside for about an hour, we were led through the security check, and into a holding room where there were free water and chips for people, and, naturally, Chew merchandise to purchase. We sat there for a long time and I discovered that there are people who regularly attend tapings of all the NYC TV programs. And they even come from far away to do it.

On line to go into the studio
Eventually, we were led into the studio, and along the way, we passed tall storage cabinets that contain all the cooking and eating paraphernalia you would need in a kitchen, pantry, dining room, or backyard picnic. 

I sat off to the side (not in front of the tasting table), but in the front row. Surprisingly, it was very difficult to see much of where the chefs work because of all the cameras, even though it looks so clear on TV when they show the audience. And picture taking was very limited, none allowed when the stars are on the set, there wasn't much time between segments, and then they darkened the set in between taping, as you can see in the one below:  

When I was there, they were taping several "beginnings" and "endings" and nothing in-between. For the first taping, everyone was there - Mario Batali, Michael Symon, Clinton Kelly, Carla Hall, and Daphne Oz. Before they began, Daphne came and shook hands with everyone in the first rows, the others pretty much ignored the audience except for the people who were participating in segments - not cause they were being mean, but it was clear it was the only way to get things done in a timely way.

The whole time I sat there, there is someone telling you when to clap or laugh, how loudly or softly to do it, and who made all kinds of jokes in between segments - there was a lot of down time for us.  I can't remember all the segments we were the audience for - but Daphne was only in the first one. And I do know they are going to air in late June and early July. 

I left the studio around 2:30 PM and was home by 3:30. It was a lot of fun and part of my new plan to do things in NYC I never do because I live here and actually have an occasional Wednesday free - next up, the Circle Line.

We use a lot of the same recipes from The Chew over and over, and one of our very favorites is Daphne Oz's "Blow Your Mind" Baked Chicken Wings (I snuck three chicken legs into this batch that was made last Sunday and they were delicious):


2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon water
2 tablespoons coconut oil
3 garlic cloves (minced)
1 Tbsp freshly grated ginger
3 scallions (sliced, whites & greens separated)
1/4 Cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/2 Cup honey
2 limes (juiced)
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons chili flakes
2 pounds chicken wings (separated at joint, tips removed)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

step-by-step directions
In a small bowl make a slurry by stirring together he cornstarch and a tablespoon of water. Set aside.

Heat a few tablespoons of coconut oil in a sauté pan. Toss in the garlic, ginger and scallion whites, cooking for 30 seconds or until fragrant.

Stir in the soy sauce, honey, lime juice, sesame oil and chili flakes. Whisk in the cornstarch slurry and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 3-4 minutes, until sauce has thickened slightly. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 350º F.
Season chicken wings with salt and pepper, place in a rimmed baking dish. and bake for 20 minutes.

Remove the baking dish from the oven and carefully pour the sauce over the wings. Return the dish to the oven for 20 minutes, or until wings are cooked through and sauce is sticky.
Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly before serving. Garnish with reserved scallion greens.

Tip: The sauce can be made a few hours in advance and stored in the refrigerator.  

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. As always Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Kensuke's Kingdom by Michael Morpurgo

It’s 1988 and Michael, 11, is a pretty content kid until the day a letter arrives laying off both of his parents. After that, a “creeping misery” settled over the house, until the day Michael’s dad heads south to seek new opportunities. New opportunities are a total surprise to Michael and his mother when they arrived somewhere near Southhampton and discover his dad has bought a bought and has plans for the family to sail around the world.

And sail they do, even bringing along Stella Artois, the family dog. All goes well, with lots of interesting stops, until they are sailing away from Australia and through the Coral Sea heading to Papua New Guinea. It is there, on July 28, 1988 that they hit bad weather, and Michael, at the wheel in the cockpit, sees Stella go overboard. Trying to rescue her, he also goes overboard. Luckily so does his soccer ball, which gives him some buoyancy. 

The next morning, Michael wakes up on an island beach with Stella and no idea how he got there. It turns out the island is a jungle with a thriving wild life. After exploring all day, a hungry, thirsty Michael and Stella retreat to the shelter of a cave to spend the night as a castaway.

The next morning, and every morning after that, Michael and Stella wake up and find fresh water and carefully prepared raw fish waiting for them. Knowing he isn’t alone, Michael finally meets his benefactor while trying to build a large enough fire to be seen by a passing boat. Instead, it is seen by an elderly Japanese man, Michael’s benefactor, who quickly puts the fire out. The two get off to a rocky start, but eventually they become friends, and Kensuke, Michael learns, has been living on the island since WWII. 

Kensuke teaches Michael how to fish, cook, and even paint using ink from the octopi they catch and in return, Michael teaches him English. Kensuke, who had been a doctor in Japan, begins to tell Michael about his happy life in Nagasaki before the war, about his wife Kimi, and his son, Michiya. When war came, Kensuke joined the Japanese Navy as a doctor, and was the sole survivor of an attack on his ship. Later, overhearing some Americans talking about the bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki, killing everyone, Kensuke decided to remain on the island after the war had ended. 

Eventually, he realizes that Michael belongs with his family, and agrees to let him build a fire to attract a passing ship, and even agrees to leave the island, too, should a ship actually show up.

In the end, when rescue is about to happen, Kensuke chooses to remain on the island, but asks Michael not to talk about him for at least 10 years, which he does. After writing a book about his adventure with Kensuke, Michael receives a very surprising unexpected letter from Japan.

I have to admit, even though I doubted Michael and Stella would survive in a stormy ocean at night, I willingly suspended my disbelief and let myself enjoy this intergenerational story about an unusual friendship. I did find the beginning a little slow, thinking I could have lived without a lot of the descriptions about life in London, but once Michael and Stella were on the island, my interest, the excitement and the pace soon picked up its pace. I found myself very curious about Kensuke but Morpurgo delayed his story until just the right moment. 

Kensuke’s Kingdom did remind me of Theodore Taylor’s book The Cay, but without the kind of racial tension that existed at first between white Phillip and West Indian Timothy, and which actually did take place during WWII. Still, pairing these two books together would result in an interesting take on intergenerational, biracial friendships under stressful conditions (which is often when we discover the most about ourselves). 

I don’t know if it’s me, but whenever I read a book by Michael Morpurgo (and I’ve read a lot of them), I find myself being lulled into the story, and I don’t mean that in a negative way. It is actually almost hypnotic  and I think the reason why not only is disbelief suspendible, but it makes the story more real and enjoyable, even the sad bits. And, interestingly, I find I always pick a Morpurgo book whenever I’m in a nostalgic mood. 

And, yes, I found myself reaching for the tissues as I finished reading Kensuke’s Kingdom, so be warned.

Teaching Ideas has some really nice teaching ideas to use with Kensuke's Kingdom and you can also find some nice downloadable teaching resources and activities from Michael Morpurgo's website.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was purchased for my personal library

Monday, June 12, 2017

Update on Survivors Club by Michael Bornstein and Debbie Bornstein Holinstat and Soledad O'Brien

Even though I had had a copy of the ARC for Survivors Club, I hadn't read it yet when I came across this interview of Michael Bornstein by Soledad O'Brien. The interview, in fact, spurred me on to read the book, and I was very glad I did. I finally posted my review of Survivors Club: The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz. Now, I am posting the interview that was done and aired on March 4, 2017.

But this past week, on June 9, 2017, Soledad O'Brien aired a new chapter to Michael Bornstein's story of survival. Some of the video below repeats what was shown originally, but stick with it to meet the two women who were by Michael's side when this picture was taken. And, irony of ironies, the three survivors of Auschwitz live not far from each other and didn't know each other. Survivors Club is an amazing story, and described by Debbie Bornstein Holinstat as a book about miracles, but, as you will see in the interview, it is also a book about hope and continuation.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Survivors Club: The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz by Michael Bornstein and Debbie Bornstein Holinstat

Imagine going to the movies one day in the 1980s with your daughter and seeing yourself in the movie you are watching. That’s exactly what happened to Michael Bornstein and his daughter Debbie. The movie was The Chosen and in one scene, two young Jewish boys are watching a newsreel showing footage of the liberation of children from Auschwitz, and there right at the front of the line of children, was Michael Bornstein, age 4.   

Like so many Holocaust survivors, Michael Bornstein never really spoke about his childhood during the Holocaust, even after seeing himself as part of a movie. But, years later, Michael began to realize that his survival was a indeed miracle, and after doing a Google search, he also realized that the liberation images were (and sadly still are) being manipulated by Holocaust deniers to prove that it was all a Jewish lie, or that the Jews made up stories about their children being killed on arrival at Auschwitz, or that it was just a labor camp and not a death camp. Michael decided it was time to tell the story of the Bornstein family.

Michael begins his narrative in September 1939, a year before he was born, when German planes dropped bombs on the small village of Żarki, Poland where the Bornsteins lived, killing residents and destroying homes and synagogue.  Almost immediately, the village was invaded by Nazi solders who went from house to house collecting anything of value from Jewish families, including the Bornsteins. Luckily, Michael’s father, Israel Bornstein, managed to bury some valuables in the backyard including a Kaddish cup, a family heirloom.  

Jews who weren’t shot immediately were rounded up and put into the Jewish ghetto in Żarki, where Michael was born. His father was made head of the Jewish Council, with the difficult job of deciding who would be sent to die in a death camp and who wouldn’t be. Interestingly, although the head of the local Gestapo, Officer Schmitt, was an incredibly cold-hearted man, Zarki remained a somewhat open ghetto, allowing the remaining Jews to conduct some trade with the local Polish residents. It didn’t hurt that Israel was able to continually bribe him to save many lives, as well.  

One of the things that really struck me was the strength of the Bornstein family, Israel, wife Sophie, grandmother Dora, older brother Samuel and now Michael is so evident throughout the narrative. In the face of deportations of fellow Jews, hunger, cold, and sickness, the family struggled but remained strong and faithful. Once it was decided that the Zarki ghetto would be liquidated, and all Jews sent to Treblinka, Schmitt made an exception of Israel and his family, who were sent to a labor camp instead.

Unfortunately, in July 1944, the Bornsteins were all sent to Auschwitz. Sophie, Dora and Michael were immediately separated from Israel and Samuel and it wasn’t until much later that Sophie learned the fate of her husband and son. Michael was only four years old by then, and sent to live in the Kinderlager, where older kids stole his food but also gave him some points that helped him survive. Eventually, Sophie snuck him into the women’s barracks where she and Dora were, and he remained there, even after she was sent to another labor camp. It was illness that ultimately saved Michael’s life. As the Russian Army approached Auschwitz, the Germans rounded up the remaining Jewish prisoners and began what is known as the Death March to cover their atrocities. Michael was left in the infirmary and survived with his grandmother, Dora. 

The aftermath of the war, and the reunion of the remaining members of the Bornstein and of Sophie’s Jonisch family, and forming the family's Survivor Club, takes up the rest of Michael’s narrative. One story that I found particularly poignant is that of Michael’s cousin Ruth Jonisch, who found herself in a Catholic Convent, had her name changed to Kristina, and who had to be taught to hate Jews in order to survive. The years after being reunited with the Jonisch family are very interesting reading.

By now, you must be wondering how Michael knows so much about the time before he was born and the years he lived under the Nazis, given his age at the time. Most of his story is the result of research and interviews with family members. So while it isn’t actually a first hand account, it is still a compelling story about strength, some lucky coincidences, and mostly about family love.

There is a section of photographs, a Glossary and a Bornstein Family Who's Who also included in the back matter. And be sure to read Michael Bornstein's illuminating Preface and Afterword, as well.

Interestingly, the review of the movie, The Chosen, written by Janet Maslin and published April 30, 1982 in the New York Times, ended with these warning: 
''The Chosen'' is rated PG (''Parental Guidance Suggested''). It contains brief but graphic footage of the liberation of concentration-camp inmates after World War II." 

I feel I need to echo that warning: 

Survivor’s Club is a very readable nonfiction narrative, but there are some graphic descriptions of the Nazi treatment of the Jews in it that may be difficult for some sensitive readers. 

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was an ARC received from the publisher, Farrar Straus Giroux

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Sunday Funnies #24: Introducing Wonder Woman

Today is Wonder Woman Day, and so I thought I would introduce everyone to her original story as it was written in December 1941, just as the United States entered World War II. Wonder Woman made her first appearance in the December/January 1941 issue of All Star Comics #8, and was published by DC Comics.

Wonder Woman was created by Dr. William Moulton Marston, writing under the name Charles Moulton. Marston had a PhD in psychology and was a big believer in the newly invented lie detector, even writing a paper on how deception could be measured by blood pressure. He also believed in the superiority of women, and, in 1940, Dr. Marston wrote an important article called "Don't Laugh at the Comics."

This constellation of ideas lead to a part time job at DC Comics, where he was able to suggest an idea for a new super hero character, a super-heroine.

As you can see, the cover of All Star Comics #8 makes absolutely no mention of Wonder Woman, instead the two newest members of The Justice Society of America, Starman and Dr. Midnite, were given introductory billing. But, it was Wonder Woman who found real, lasting favor with readers. It only took a few issues before she was inducted into The Justice Society, and only six months until she was given her own comic book, Wonder Woman #1.

So how did Wonder Woman get from her home on Paradise Island to the United States?

But, after hearing that her daughter, the Princess, might be in love with the injured American captain, her mother, Queen Hippolyte, tells her the story of how they ended up on Paradise Island. In ancient Greece, the women of Amazonia were a foremost nation, until Hercules, the strongest man in the world, decided to conquer Amazon. Queen Hippolyte challenged him to one-on-one combat, knowing she would win because of the Magic Girdle she had been given by Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love. Queen Hippolyte won the match, but Hercules managed to steal her Magic Girdle, and was able to overcome and enslave the women of Amazonia. Queen Hippolyte called upon Aphrodite for help, and she did save them on the condition that they sail to another island, leaving the man-made world forever, and establishing a world of their own, but the women must always wear the bracelets that they were forced to wear while in captivity to remind them to keep aloof from men. 

To keep their promise to Aphrodite, the American pilot must leave Paradise Island as quickly as possible.  Queen Hippolyte shows her daughter the Magic Sphere, given to her by the Goddess of Wisdom, Athena, by which she can monitor the world that they left behind, the world of the American captain, a world from which she can also gain all the knowledge of arts, sciences and languages to make a more superior world on Paradise Island for themselves. 

Together, she and her daughter, look at the world that the American captain comes from and how he ended up on Paradise Island.

Wonder Woman went on the fight the Axis powers for the remainder of the war and has continued fighting bad guys ever since. She has had several make-overs since her first appearance in 1941, but the original is still my favorite, even if it does seem a bit naïve by today's standards.

If you would like to know more about Wonder Woman's history, I can't recommend a better, more fascinating in-depth book than The Secret History of Wonder Woman  by Jill Lepore.

There are any number of anthologies available if you want to read old Wonder Women comics, without the high cost of an original. My favorite is Wonder Woman: The War Years 1941-1945 edited by Roy Thomas.