Rose Seiler Scott

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May 30, 2018
by Rose Scott
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Movie Review: The Zookeeper’s Wife

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Antonina, the zookeeper’s wife, is a woman who loves deeply—her husband Jan, their son and the animals they care for in the Warsaw Zoo. Every day families in the community enjoy the zoo, until 1939, when the Nazi assault on Poland begins.

When the zoo is bombed and the elephants, zebras and exotic cats escape their enclosures, the German army is there to shoot them, in spite of Antonina’s protests. Everything the Zabinski’s have worked for is about to be destroyed. During a lull from the fighting, the townspeople return a few of the roaming escapees to the zoo, but the zoo is now under the jurisdiction of the Third Reich. Lutz Heck, a friend, and now Hitler’s chief zoologist comes to bear the news that their zoo is to be liquidated, and that as a favour, he is willing to give sanctuary to their prime breeding stock in the Berlin zoo and return them later.

Lutz tends to come around when Jan is absent and Antonina faces more than one dilemma, when she realises that accepting favours and trusting an SS officer comes at a high cost. Lutz must not suspect what is really going on, when Jan Zabinski becomes aware of the conditions in the nearby Warsaw ghetto and the Zabinskis agree to hide a Jewish friend. With Lutz Heck’s unwitting permission, the couple embark on a daring scheme, ironically involving pigs, as a cover for their covert operation as a way station for people escaping the ghetto.

Danger is at every turn and decisions are made out of desperation to save lives. Suspense is kept high throughout, but interspersed with tender moments. This is an emotionally charged movie. Chastain, as Antonina, portrays a unique mix of emotional fragility, yet deep strength; both possibly the result of childhood trauma during the Russian revolution. Heldenbergh, playing Jan, is a good foil for Chastain’s character: stalwart and strong. His jealousy is believable.

The movie raises the ethical choices that one must face when a regime as corrupt and immoral as the Nazis takes power. What was once distasteful, even unthinkable, becomes normal under desperate circumstances. Do other moral decisions matter, when it comes to saving the life of another human being?

Many people in post-war Poland did not get their property or estates back. SPOILER:  the Zabinski’s were a notable and deserving exception.  Other movie viewers may not notice this omission, but the Soviet occupation of Poland, with its political upheaval and violence after the war was pretty much ignored. For the sake of story arc, I will forgive this flaw. The Zookeeper’s Wife is a worthwhile and educational movie.

WARNING: This movie contains violence, brief partial nudity and suggestive scenes. Recommended only for adult audiences.

 

January 26, 2018
by Rose Scott
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Confronting a Holocaust denier with truth

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A young man stopped by my book table to chat. I explained that my World War Two novel wasn’t about the Holocaust and he perked up.

“Honestly, I think the six million figure is probably a gross exaggeration anyway,” he said with a casual shrug.

I took a deep breath before I spoke. He was, young. Maybe 20.

Majdanek fences

 

It is a problem I have run into repeatedly while scouring the web, looking for information on the German expulsions and postwar camps. A lot of stuff makes me cringe. Just because the German expulsions are a little told narrative within the Second World War, does not render the Holocaust untrue or grossly exaggerated.

But apparently there are still deniers out there and I was looking right at one of them.

The right of free speech is widely debated. If an identifiable group can show they are oppressed in some way, then speech must not be hateful against them. More and more groups are coming forward as “oppressed,” which presents a dilemma. Should free speech ever be curtailed?

Personally, I think free speech is of such great human value, it should rarely be trumped. The real way to fight error and false ideas is with education and evidence, held up to the light and examined by honest debate. The truth will rise to the top and ideas that can’t stand closer scrutiny will be discarded by reasonable people.  Hard facts married with civil and respectful discussion is the way, not finger pointing and name-calling.

I have to admit that when confronted with this young man’s absurd statement, I was tempted to write him off as ignorant. But perhaps that wasn’t entirely his fault. Clearly his education was lacking, so perhaps I could help fill in the gaps.

“Have you ever been to Europe?” I asked, trying to keep my voice level. As I suspected, his answer was “no.” It is so much easier to believe in a massive conspiracy, when the event in question took place on another continent, almost a lifetime ago.

“I have,” I said. “And I’ve seen a gas chamber.”

Gas chamber

I told him about my visit to Majdenek, a Nazi death camp in Poland.

At the close of the war, the SS fled this camp, leaving it in near pristine condition.  I described a massive monument, near the crematorium sheltering a pile of human ashes.

Indentations, like ditches mark the ground where the bodies of shooting victims had decomposed. Although we were unable to view inside the buildings, as we had arrived late in the day, we were told one of them was filled with the shoes of the victims of that one camp. Visiting that camp is an experience I will not forget and I tried to get across the enormity of what I saw— clearly indicating the death of thousands in that one camp alone. Furthermore, the Germans were renowned for meticulous record keeping. Approximately 300,000 were interned at that camp during the war. In addition to other prisoners, 56,000 Jewish prisoners with names recorded perished at this camp.

 

 

Monument of ashes at Majdenek

Crematorium at Majdanek

 

 

 

Do not tell me the Holocaust didn’t happen or was grossly exaggerated.

 

 

 

It is an uncomfortable, historical fact, evidenced by physical places and objects, documentation and surviving witnesses. Unpopular as it is in the post-modern mindset, truth is truth and the multiple similar experiences of different people, combined with historical records make up history.

As an author, I see revealing truth as my mandate. The young man didn’t say much in reply, but if he went away thinking, I believe I did my job.

 

October 20, 2017
by Rose Scott
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Book Review: We don’t talk about that

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We don’t talk about that is a fitting title for the memoir of a woman who lost her childhood, home and innocence to a war that extended into what should have been peacetime.

A colourful cast of relatives inhabit life on the farm in Roeder’s early life; back when cars, machinery and hot running water were novelties in European village life. Even during the 1930’s one begins to understand that ordinary Germans were nearly powerless to speak out against the ruling Nazis. To do so, was to invite disaster on your family and standing in the community. Though Roeder’s father was not a Nazi, like most men of that generation, he was drafted into the army, leaving the women to eke out their existence in the family home.

But the worst was yet to come. As the World War Two drew to a close, occupying Russian soldiers murdered neighbours and raped women. Their calls of “Frau Komm” sent women of all ages into hiding.

Forced into servitude on their own property after the war, Roeder tells of their life under the new communist authorities, including occasional acts of kindness and moments of joy. The family were just getting used to their new way of life, when everything changes again. Imagine being given only a few moments notice to evacuate your home. All you have is a baby stroller, a handcart and four daughters, one of whom is an infant. What do you bring? Where will you stay and how will you feed your children?

Roeder’s family joined millions of others expelled from their homes in the German states of Pomerania and Prussia. The political decision to hand the territories over to Poland had devastating and tragic consequences for those who made the journey west. As the eldest child in the family, Roeder is initiated into adulthood at the age of 11. Without her resourcefulness the family may not have survived.

Roeder recounts her story with such vivid detail it is truly like being there. She mixes it all—the good, the bad and the horrendous, so that it rings true.  You can’t make this stuff up. It is a living nightmare that no child should have to live through. The reader cannot help but gain new understanding of these little examined events of history and the long term effects of trauma on those who lived through it.

The author’s first language was German, so the writing is not perfect. But a few odd sentences and incorrect grammar do little to mar this important story. In a way, I concluded that these quirks add to her authentic voice. We don’t talk about that is an important book and the emotion and intensity of the story will stay with you.

 

 

July 11, 2017
by Rose Scott
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Book Review: On Hitler’s Mountain

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On Hitler's MountainWhat is it that caused ordinary Germans to follow  Hitler? Why did they go along with his policies and how was it that they didn’t stop the  murder of six million Jews? Only the people that lived in Nazi Germany can truly say and they are now few and far between. After those years, many chose not to speak of them again.

Irmgard A. Hunt, a child during Nazi Germany, is a rare voice who was able and chose to share her unique story.  Hunt’s memoir is that of an ordinary child and her family, living at an extraordinary time and place. Her childhood home in Berchtesgaden, Bavaria, was in close proximity to Hitler’s summer retreat in the mountains and afforded her a view of the road up the mountain. She watched Hitler and prominent Nazi officials drive up to the extravagant mountain estate. As  a young child, she even once sat on Hitler’s lap. Her parents were proud of the celebrity this encounter brought the family. For Hunt however, meeting Der Führer coincided with recurring nightmares of a devilish monster with a forked tongue and fangs sitting heavily upon her chest.

Many of her family, including her mother were Nazi supporters. Among her classmates sat the children of Nazis. Hunt and her sister were immersed in Nazi ideology taught at the school and the after school Kindergruppe program; a prelude to the Hitler youth. She participated with typical German obedience, at least for a time. As Hunt grows older, she also grows wiser. A keen observer of human nature and the inconsistencies of the system, she began to reason out its flaws as the destructive nature of the regime played out.

Hunt’s memoir is written without aggrandizement or excuses. She is no hero; her voice that of an ordinary schoolgirl. But it is the very ordinariness of Hunt’s lower middle class family, that is the most revealing and in a sense most chilling. She states, “the seemingly petty details of these people’s lives are actually often symbolic and always telling…in the continuing struggle to understand the past—both personally and as a lesson from history—these details are too important not to be recorded and thus preserved” (p.1).

In this, Hunt has done an admirable job preserving not only her own past but the past of the society in which she lived, going back as far as the Weimar Republic, for it is there that the seeds of Nazism first took hold.  She has taken great pains to show the crushing poverty and hopelessness of her family and other middle class people trying to eke out a living during the 1930’s. Hitler’s promise of an economic miracle allowed him to gain a stronghold among the masses and ignore the less savoury aspects of his program. Through the Party system, it became almost impossible, even for those with strong convictions, to stand against the regime. Much to his detriment, Hunt’s own grandfather tried to do so, against the wishes of much of his own family.

Wisely, Hunt does not end her narrative in 1945 at the close of the war, but takes us into devastated post-war Germany, under American occupation. One of her keen observations, is the conspiracy of silence around the war years.  Most of those she knew refused to honestly reflect on the recent past or speak of their part in it.

Hunt’s viewpoint is up close and personal, gleaning not only from her own recollections but the memories of her relatives and family friends, who were adults at the time. Valuable insights into totalitarianism are to be gained. The astute reader will be able to glimpse not only himself or herself but those around them, within these pages.

June 1, 2017
by Rose Scott
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Book Review: Under the Silk Hibiscus

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Heart Mountain sounds like a lovely place, but it is a Japanese internment camp. Quarters are cramped, bare and cold. Food and employment are in short supply. Along with other Japanese Americans from San Jose, Nathan Mori and his family have been relocated to Wyoming for the duration of the Second World War.  Nathan’s father, accused of being a spy, has been sent elsewhere and Nathan’s older brother Ken is too busy flirting with girls and trouble to shoulder the burden of their sick mother and crippled younger brother. Nathan longs for the loving home he once knew, but Aunt Kazuko’s dramatic pronouncements and authoritarian attempts to rule the roost are a poor substitute. The only bright spot in the camp is Lucy and the sound of her beautiful voice, but her eyes are on Ken, not Nathan.

In addition to fetching, carrying and caring for young Emiko and Tom, one of Nathan’s responsibilities is to look after a gold watch. When the precious family heirloom disappears, Nathan is devastated. In one rash moment, he makes a choice that has consequences, not only for himself but for others in the camp.

Eventually the war comes to an end, but Nathan’s losses are a permanent fixture.  Up against prejudice and discrimination, the Mori family struggles to make ends meet. Nathan’s longing to return to life as it once was, or to make a new life  hardly seem  feasible.  Can he move beyond grief and regrets and find love and faith again?

Alice Wisler’s Under the Silk Hibiscus is a tender portrait of a family’s survival through the toughest of times. Both a historical novel and a love story, woven with threads of faith and forgiveness, this book rings true with authentic, believable characters. A moving five star read.

February 7, 2017
by Rose Scott
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Book Review: Prisoner of Tehran

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In late 1970’s Iran, the Shah’s government was on shaky ground and the relative peace of Marina Nemat’s childhood erupted into unrest and restrictions on freedom,  culminating in the death of her friend. As a young woman and a Christian minority, she dared to participate in protests against the Ayatollah Khomeini and spoke out at her school when the political climate affected her education.

In 1982, at the age of sixteen she was arrested for her political activities, along with several of her friends and taken to Evin prison where she was interrogated and tortured.  She was slated for execution, but at the last minute, a prison guard intervened and her sentence was commuted to mere “life imprisonment.” Little did Nemat realise the price she would have to pay for being allowed to live.

After several months of suffering and watching her friends be sent to their deaths, she is forced to make the most difficult choices of her life. Eventually freedom comes, but at a cost. Her traumatic experiences prove almost impossible to express to others and she recognises that she has changed. It is a prison of another kind.

The narrative is a poignant and emotional journey. Though some have criticised the book for being “movie like” or patently untrue, notwithstanding the slight variations in memory that may exist over time, this memoir has the ring of truth.  The author should only be commended for her courage to write such a raw and painful story.

She comes to discern that her captors, even the Ayatollah himself, are, like all of us, a complex mixture of good and bad.  This understanding of human nature and its shades of grey is impressive, when it is so much easier to paint people as either morally upright or evil. What’s more, though she fully grasps the wrongs done to her, she made the decision to forgive—of this she states, “I knew forgiveness didn’t come at once and complete, beautifully packaged and tied with a red ribbon, but it came little by little. And my forgiving…wasn’t going to erase the pain…but would help me rise above the past and face all that had happened…so I could be free” (p.236).

After many years of silence, Nemat chose to heal by giving voice to her trials and becoming a witness to the egregious errors of political imprisonment. This book was a “Canada Reads” contender in 2012.  A well written and moving story.

September 3, 2016
by Rose Scott
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Ellen Marie Wiseman: What She Left Behind

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Izzy is a teenage foster child struggling with loss, abandonment and unwanted change. When her new foster mother offers a challenge involving an old asylum, Izzy joins in with the task of documenting all that was left behind by the former inhabitants. One former patient who lived in the asylum earlier in the century, captures Izzy’s heart and imagination and her efforts to piece together Clara’s life of tragedy leads her on an interesting journey.

Wiseman has done her homework and the haunting atmosphere of the old asylum comes to life with both the past and present characters. I was thoroughly engrossed with the characters and their unique stories and couldn’t wait to see how the plot unfolded.

Though Wiseman uses Clara’s story and not a soapbox to do so, this historical novel reveals the mistakes of the past as something we can and should learn from. What She Left Behind exposes the cruelty that takes place when systems, hierarchies and misplaced ideals take precedence over the individual needs and unique circumstances of human beings. This book reminds us that institutions and caregivers responsible for vulnerable people must always remember their humanity.

whatsheleftbehind

June 15, 2016
by Rose Scott
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“Why are you going to Poland?” my 96 year old Oma asked my father and I. Going back to the old country, even for a visit held no appeal. Considering what she had gone through in the post-war years in Europe, it was not surprising.

I was well into writing my novel Threaten to Undo Us based on those difficult years and had spent hours reading of the turbid history of Poland and its ethnic minorities. Poring over maps, I searched out elusive villages, but the names have changed. The Poland of history no longer exists and its memory is fading from those who once lived there. Still, I feel the need to go and see what I can learn.

Poland 1902

Poland 1902 Public Domain

Piotrowkowska street

Piotrowkowska street

Fortunately my parents were seasoned travellers and in good health so I didn’t have a hard time convincing them to come along.  My Dad made arrangements to meet up with a cousin in Germany who had been to Poland in recent years and would travel with us.

I wondered what I would find. An emerging second world country with impoverished and unemployed people loitering around? Or worse, roving bands of skin-headed criminals ready to steal any vehicle bearing German license plates, such as the one we drove. Based on the cost of the rental, almost equal to purchasing a second hand car, that fear may not have been unfounded.

Like disintegrating sepia photographs, my expectations dissolved as we sped past what had been the border, along a newly paved highway adorned with modern billboards, stores and roadside restaurants. In a mere 25 years, Poland has gone from economic oppression to the expansive umbrella of the European Economic Union.

Our adventure began with lunch; the same meal we would eat on several occasions: cabbage, pork chops and potatoes. Apparently that  hadn’t changed much over the years.

The menu would have been indecipherable, except for Dad and E who had brushed up on their long unused Polish. Here I must digress. I find the rhythms and origins of languages fascinating, though I only speak English and a little German. Much to a neighbour’s surprise, I once figured out most of a recipe written in Romanian. I utilized Latin prefixes, Italian music vocabulary, a German word or two and my cereal box French.

With a little effort, I assume it shouldn’t be that difficult to decipher the gist of simple written phrases in most European languages. But on this, I am very wrong. Polish has Slavic roots and is related to Russian and Czech, definitely not English, Germanic or Latin languages.  The use of the Roman alphabet doesn’t really help English readers when there are six consonants in a row. No clues whatsoever.

Regardless, like most Canadian travellers, I determined to learn at least a few words requisite for politeness: Djin dobre (hello), Dziękuję (thank you) and Do widzenia (goodbye).

Late in the afternoon we arrived in Łódź, but the sultry German voice on our GPS did not guide us to our hotel. In fact, we could not seem to get onto Piotrokowska street at all and ended up in an area of town where you don’t want to be when you don’t speak the language and your travelling companions are senior citizens. But E. didn’t seem worried. We parked by a newsstand and she got out of the vehicle. In broken Polish she asked the proprietor, a beefy looking guy about six feet tall, for directions.

He gestured for us to wait, locked up his kiosk, then came over to the car, insisting that he would ride with us!

I quickly sized up the situation and checked the vehicle exits. Let’s see there was me, an unathletic, arthritic forty-something with no weapons,  my parents and the cousin, in their sixties and seventies. The only help I could see was from above, so I sent up an urgent request to be returned alive at the appropriate interval to my family at home.

Grand_Hotel_old_Lodz

The Grand Hotel

In about 3 minutes we were at our destination. Without pulling a knife or gun, the man jumped out of the car. Barely allowing for our hurried “Dziękuję,” he disappeared without even asking for a ride back.

The reason the GPS had not led us correctly: Piotrkowska Street is reserved for pedestrians. Should have known that from my research!
IMG_1229Like our helpful carjacker, the hotel did not disappoint. Charming and authentic, the Orbis Grande is over 100 years old, its edifices integral to iconic  Piotrkowska street.

Opening the window, I could look down on the cobblestone street below, however the balcony floor was so fractured, I wasn’t about to step out there. I’d had enough adventure for one day!

2018 note: Comments on this post have been disabled due to spammers.


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April 25, 2016
by Rose Scott
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Book Review: In Search of Sticks

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Hope and her family in Africa are born to a life of suffering. James A. Terrance, with a talent for mimicking accents from Australia to Ireland, lives a life of comparative luxury and simple routine in North America. In reading a newspaper article he begins to wonder about the ease of his life and why people in other parts of the world suffer.

As the story unwinds, the situation in Africa escalates. Violence, disease and starvation loom around every corner. When James decides to do something, a journey of discovery and frustration ensues. Can he make a difference and mobilize others to do so?

This book is both beautiful and heartbreaking with an omniscient writing style unique in today’s narratives. Kaneen pans from all viewpoints; across the world, his characters, their environments and inside the human soul.  With a keen sense of the complexity of the world and the situations we find ourselves in, he paints a philosophically touching picture.

A literary piece, truly moving and well worth reading.

April 15, 2016
by Rose Scott
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Wittenberg Part 2: A Dark Secret

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After we visited tower church and took our pictures in front of Martin Luther’s statue (albeit under scaffolding) we carried on further into the town to look at the parish church of St. Mary, where Martin Luther preached much of the time.IMG_2508

Wandering around the building outside to look at the architecture and items of interest, here is something I did not expect to see.

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At the back, carved below the roof and chimney, as if an afterthought to the official architecture and design of the church exterior, is a small relief sculpture depicting pigs and Jews; clearly an anti-Semitic insult.

My heart is sickened as I look on this strange fresco dated from 1305. Who would have thought to put such a thing on a church whose founder, Jesus Christ, was Jewish?

Apparently this “Judensau,” found in other locales in Europe and dating from the Middle ages, is one of the surviving examples of a form of degenerate folk art depicting Jews and pigs.

As a 21st century Christian, I wonder what was going through people’s heads back in those days. It’s impossible to say, so I can only speculate. Besides being evidence of the darkness of human hearts, were these prejudices a backlash for the persecution of early Christians? Was this insulting relief and others like it an ill thought out re-iteration of Biblical judgement on those who reject Jesus as Messiah? Or was it simply an “us” and “them” mentality brought about by ignorance of people who were largely illiterate and whose access to Scripture was limited by the fact that the printing press wasn’t yet invented?

I don’t know, but curious as I am to understand, if I were to dive into the “why” of historic anti-Semitism, I would be opening centuries of  disgusting worms and that would go way beyond the scope of this blog post.

I can only say that over history, there are things the church as an institution, and individuals who claim to be part of the church, have got wrong.

Hatred was never what Jesus intended.

But there is good news in this case: Eventually there was acknowledgement of the wrongs of the past. The fresco has been left intact, probably for historical purposes, but imbedded in the cobblestones below is a new plaque, a response from the congregation, installed in 1988. Between four tiles, a molten substance like gold, presses up – the cross of Christ, a sign of guilt and atonement.

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The inscription around the plaque reads: “The true name of God, the maligned Chem Ha Mphoras, which Jews long before Christianity regarded as almost unutterable holy, this name died with six million Jews, under the sign of the Cross.”

The apology took a long time, but light has been cast on Wittenberg’s dark secret. Unlike their forbears, this congregation got it right.