Archives for posts with tag: The Holocaust

I rarely read nonfiction. Usually, no matter how interested I am in the subject matter, I find myself walled out by dense technical language or a dry, dull writing style. Sometimes both will chase me out before I really begin. Fortunately, The Accidental Caregiver is anything but dense and dull. The author’s frank personal style makes his book come alive. It has a pulse of its own, practically throbbing with love and laughter and tears.

At its center is the heart of Holocaust refugee Maria Altmann.
I was drawn to this book because I’ve long been interested in World War II, though I only became emotionally invested in knowledge of the Holocaust after touring Dachau. I’ve always been extremely empathetic and imaginative, leading to a heightened connection to the past when visiting historic sites. I call it feeling the ghosts. Never was that more true than while walking among the echoes of horror at Dachau. Physically standing on such ground is a life altering experience. I believe that a truly compassionate person cannot walk away from such an experience unchanged deep inside. Reading of Fritz Altmann’s imprisonment there was particularly heartbreaking, since I could all too easily imagine the setting.

To have escaped the wider landscape of the Holocaust made the remarkable Maria Altmann more remarkable still. The Accidental Caregiver takes the reader through her entire life, a high point of which is her perseverance as an elderly woman in an ultimately successful quest to have her family’s art collection that was stolen by the Nazi’s returned. Her aristocratic family knew composers, artists, and other historical figures, making anecdotes on her life and background fascinating in their own right. I’ll leave readers to discover these gems for themselves. Suffice it to say I was never bored.

However interesting and moving these aspects of the book are, the title promises a more personal story. All these other parts of Maria Altmann’s story are told of within the framework of the experiences of her caregiver. Gregor Collins was a
young actor whose struggles through the labyrinth that is showbusiness gave way over time to the struggle to see Maria through her waning years, while helping her maintain her dignity, her grace, and her enjoyment of the act of living. Though separated by decades in age, these two very different people formed a deep bond of friendship and love that enhanced both their lives unforgettably.

The Accidental Caregiver is not just one story. It is a collecting of stories, people, and lives that intersect to make history, both public and personal. It is a reminder of the strengths that lie deep inside the human spirit, and a testament to the great power of love to make a dramatic difference in the lives of those it truly touches.

Though I mostly write here about writing, the arts, pop culture, and my travel experiences, there are many subjects that interest me. They range from frivolous to profound.

My web wanderings take me to both, and everything in between. I just now read a Washington Post Article about a woman whose father was the Kommandant of Auschwitz. When I started reading I expected a dry account filled with statistics. While there are some statistics, the article is anything but dry.

It is a story of one of the darkest times in human history. A time when millions of people were slaughtered and many decades later compassionate, thinking people still wrestle with questions of hows and whys that remain largely unanswerable. There are levels of human behavior that defy words like logic and ethics, and make us try to reach beyond words like atrocity for some elusive bit of understanding.

For every story of cruelty and ruthless evil, there is a counter story of courage, survival, and dignity. And then there are stories like the one in this article of people connected to horror, without having perpetrated it.

I met more than one person in Germany who told me of family members who were involved in situations they wanted nothing to do with, but were compelled by the threat of their family’s safety. The families they loved and protected became a sort of stepchild of history, as did those who protected them at the cost of their ethical core.

I toured Dachau. I stood where history’s own children walked and wept and suffered. I believe standing on such tainted soil, with the Holocaust suddenly thrust deeply into imagination and psyche so deeply that it never truly leaves, changes a person. Though generations past, the echoes are just too powerful to banish. A sliver of the horror never leaves. If a single afternoon, decades after the events occurred, left an indelible mark on me, how must it be for people who lived it in truth?

The very question breaks my heart. I feel so deeply for those who suffered and suffer still, because of experiences beyond their control. Both the children of history and history’s stepchildren.
The saying that you can’t unring a bell really extends into the unspoken thought that the ringing of the bell reverberates through history, as it unfolds over generations. All we can do after the fact is listen to the bell’s reverberations and hopefully learn from them.