The ProsenPeople

What Does a Concentration Camp Look Like?

Monday, January 14, 2013 | Permalink

Eric L. Muller is Dan K. Moore Distinguished Professor in Jurisprudence and Ethics at the University of North Carolina School of Law and director of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Center for Faculty Excellence. His newest book, Colors of Confinement: Rare Kodachrome Photographs of Japanese American Incarceration in World War II, is now available. He will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

What does a concentration camp look like?

Does it look like this?

(Set aside for a moment the fact that it's a color photo, and that we're accustomed to imagining concentration camps in black and white.  The photo is from 1943, and yes, it's in color—but more on that later.)

It's easy to imagine that this could be a row of barracks at Westerbork, the transit camp in Holland that housed Dutch Jews (most famously Anne Frank) awaiting removal to the east.

It could just as easily be a shot of Flossenbürg, a camp in far eastern Bavaria housing mostly political prisoners for forced labor.

Conditions were harsher and many more people died at the notorious slave labor camp Buchenwald near Weimar, Germany.  My grandfather was among those imprisoned there; he spent a few weeks at the camp late in 1938 after his arrest at Kristallnacht.  He described it as a dismal and brutal place, but I can imagine that in certain weather conditions he might have seen a view not unlike the one in the photo above.

And though it's far less likely, the image could even conceivably be of a camp like Sobibor, where I believe my grandfather's brother Leopold was gassed in 1942.  (In the linked photo, Leopold sits in the chair with his left arm in a sling. My grandfather stands next to him.)  Sobibor and a handful of other German camps existed only for murder, so if the image above is of one of those places, we might guess what the smoke is.

Now consider this picture.  Is this what a concentration camp looks like?

This image has a lot of what we'd expect in a concentration camp, but the little inmate clutching the barbed wire fence doesn't look European.

In fact, he is American, of Japanese ancestry.  His name is Billy Manbo, and he is about three years old in the picture.  The detention facility behind him, which housed over 14,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans from 1942 to 1945, went by the official government title of "Heart Mountain Relocation Center," but people at the time routinely called it a "concentration camp."

And one last picture, also from Heart Mountain.  Is this a picture of a concentration camp?

These images are among the nearly two hundred stunning color slides that a Japanese American amateur photographer named Bill Manbo (the father of little Billy pictured above) took while imprisoned at Heart Mountain in 1943 and 1944.  They are featured in my new book Colors of Confinement: Rare Kodachrome Photographs of Japanese American Incarceration in World War II, and they offer striking and sometimes unsettling new vistas on this American episode of mass injustice.

They also offer a chance to think about an unfortunate conflict that has roiled relations between some in the Japanese American and American Jewish communities—a conflict over the meaning of the term "concentration camp."  I'll use my blog posts this week to explore that conflict and explain how I, as a descendant of inmates of one kind of camp and a student of the other kind, have resolved it.

Eric L. Muller will be blogging here all week.

Images from COLORS OF CONFINEMENT: RARE KODACHROME PHOTOGRAPHS OF JAPANESE AMERICAN INCARCERATION IN WORLD WAR II edited by Eric L. Muller. Copyright © 2012 by the University of North Carolina Press. Photographs by Bill Manbo copyright © 2012 by Takao Bill Manbo. Published in association with the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. Used by permission of the publisher.

New Reviews

Friday, January 11, 2013 | Permalink
This week's reviews:

The Genesis of "The Jewish Furrier" in "The Prince of Tides"

Friday, January 11, 2013 | Permalink
Earlier this week, Cliff Graubart wrote about higher education and  his father and Pat Conroy. He has been blogging here for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning all week.

Carol Conroy was browsing the poetry section when my parents Sigmund and Frances walked in. They were visiting with me in Atlanta as they did every year on their way from Israel to the States. I introduced Carol to my folks and they sat in the coffee room of The Old New York Book Shop for a few minutes getting to know each other.

Now, I always joked with Pat Conroy, my friend and Carol’s brother, about how much smarter Carol was than he. But when Carol came to the store a week later and dropped 5 poems on my desk, I had proof after reading the first poem called “The Jewish Furrier Tells How to Write Poetry.”

“Cliff’s father was right.
He said: Simple. You just do it.
You hold the animal and pick your knife.
Courage it takes. The rest forget.
But have the coat on the woman’s back,
not in your mind.
For instance the whistle.
You hold it in your throat
and send the air through the mouth’s toy.
Lips can be silver.

Siggy Graubart knows something.
His advice is good.
It is as natural as the swift intake of joy
in Megan’s smile,
the youngest niece,
when she cries daddy across the yard
and runs to kiss the matted fur
of a father’s head, the poet.

I was stunned that Carol could glean so much from my father in so short a time. It was 1980, and Pat and I decided that our new publishing company (founded in 1978) would grow into poetry. We asked Carol to expand the 5 poems to 10 and we would produce a book of poetry, and a few months later The Jewish Furrier came out in a limited edition of 150 numbered copies in gray boards and tan cloth spine on Hayle hand-made paper bound by hand at the Pamami Press in Douglasville, Georgia by Mike Riley.

I did not know then how significant that little book would become. Carol submitted the work in a contest connected with Harper Lee and won a year’s residence at a University in Virginia and a contract with W. W. Norton for The Beauty Wars, her first regularly published book.

In 1986, when Pat was going to press with The Prince of Tides, he had created “Savannah,” a poet based on his sister Carol, and incorporated a poem from The Jewish Furrier. Two days before going to press, Carol called Pat’s publisher demanding that the poem not be printed. She was unhappy at being portrayed in the book to begin with, and would not tolerate the printing of her poem.

Pat had two days to re-write the poem, and the book was printed with “The Jewish Furrier” as a different poem.

Serendipity. Carol’s not Jewish. Pat’s not Jewish. Carol writes a book of poetry, about my Jewish father, which opens the door to her career as a poet. Pat writes The Prince of Tides, his break-through novel, which incorporates her book, and has a strong Jewish component in the Lowenstein character, portrayed by Barbra Streisand in the film version. Somehow, I found myself in the center of this creativity and expansion into Jewish themes so near to me, and loved it.

Cliff Graubart is the author of The Curious Vision of Sammy Levitt and Other Stories (Mercer University Press, 2012). Visit him online at

Book Cover of the Week: The Trial of the Talmud

Wednesday, January 09, 2013 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

The Trial of the Talmud: Paris, 1240  (John Friedman, Jean Connell Hoff, Robert Chazan) presents primary texts (offered together in English for the first time) related to the "Trial of the Talmud" that took place in Europe during the Middle Ages. During the trial, rabbis were called upon to defend the Talmud against the claim that it was a harmful text and thus "intolerable in a Christian society."


Higher Education: A Revelation and a Jewish Perspective

Tuesday, January 08, 2013 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Cliff Graubart wrote about his father and Pat Conroy. He will be blogging here for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning all week.

I know Jewish doctors and lawyers who are sending their children to state universities and tell me they are ‘great’ schools. I remember the same gentlemen telling me that the public high school their children went to was also ‘great.’ I had a tough time buying this argument and was able to confirm my beliefs when my own daughter decided, after her schooling at a Jewish day school since kindergarten, she wanted a public school experience. My wife and I acquiesced and our daughter entered with enthusiasm and, being the very bright girl she is, soon insisted that she needed a nose piercing. “I need an edge,” she insisted, and we understood. She was in a tough environment and read the signs accurately. Then I thought of the three Jewish lawyers who had or in the past had their kids at the school and said it was ‘great.’ Finally I figured it out. It wasn't great. It was free.

My daughter wanted this experience because the high school was a magnet school and offered a good dance program. It wasn't, and she soon outgrew the program spending her hours after school seeking more professional training at the ballet studio she had recently joined.

My wife and I make a modest living, but are on the same page when it comes to education. She was raised in the public school system in several states growing up. I was raised in public school in Manhattan, where many of my teachers were Jews and the product of the '30s socialist period, committed to education. Although I had a solid education, the teachers weren't trained as they are today to pick up on learning disabilities. If they had, I might have started writing sooner, and perhaps would have attended a better college. We both wanted more for our own children.

The local state school here in Georgia has an excellent reputation, especially the Honors Program. Although my son was accepted there, he chose to go to NYU. You get more bang for your buck by going to the state school I was told. It could be argued that if you want to be a teacher, and work for those low salaries, it simply doesn't make sense to spend the huge amount of money it takes to go to a school such as NYU.

I disagree. My son’s first full year was spent in Paris in an apartment house for students where they had to cook for themselves. He spoke not a word of French when he landed, and upon his return to New York the next year, he minored in French. The experience changed his life.

So why do I write of this? Because my first inclination was to believe I wanted the best in education for my kids because of my Judaism. But my wife was raised a Baptist. And what of those Jewish lawyers and doctors I spoke of earlier? Judaism does I think, instill in us the zeal for education, but it comes in all kinds and degrees.

Cliff Graubart is the author of The Curious Vision of Sammy Levitt and Other Stories (Mercer University Press, 2012). Visit him online at

From Stanislawow to Beach Music

Monday, January 07, 2013 | Permalink
Cliff Graubart is the author of The Curious Vision of Sammy Levitt and Other Stories (Mercer University Press, 2012). He will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning

My parents left the United States in 1973 to retire in Bat Yam, Israel, the country in which they met and married in 1934, and where my brother Norman was born. My father left Poland in 1925 and went to work for his brothers in Paris and then left to compete in the first Maccabiah games in the breast stroke only to learn that there was no swimming pool. (I learned later that there was indeed a swimming event, so I can only assume that my dad may have not made the cut and may have been too embarrassed.) My mother left her home Bulgaria as a young woman on a group visa and settled in Jerusalem, where she met my father in the fur shop where they both were employed.

One day while browsing in a used bookshop in Tel Aviv after his retirement to Israel, he came upon a book titled During the Russian Administration with the Jews of Stanislawow During the Holocaust by Abraham Liebesman. My father, Sigmund Graubart, no trained scholar, was always interested in history. And he had a keen interest in Stanislawow, Poland (today Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine), the city of his birth, because his older sister and her family were killed there. After determining there was only this edition, which was in Hebrew, my father began translating the book into English.

At the same time, Pat Conroy was working on his novel Beach Music and a portion of the book dealt with the Holocaust. He wanted to place his character “Max Rusoff” in a small city and as is usual in Conroy’s fiction, he wanted to write in great detail. Pat loved my parents. He wishes we could have switched our families at birth. I told him that would have impinged on our friendship, as I would have been dead. I couldn’t have survived “The Great Santini.”

Pat began work on Beach Music in 1986 and would take 9 years to publish the novel. My dad finished his translation in 1990 and I published it, distributing it free to anyone who showed interest. Pat read it and was so moved, he used it as the primary reference to describe life during the Holocaust in the novel. He was surprised at how good the translation was. He knew my father only had a high school education. During the Russian Administration had the detail Pat was seeking and he decided to use it to help him draw the picture of “Kronittska.”

In a note to the reader in Beach Music, Conroy gives thanks to Sigmund Graubart, and because of that acknowledgement and because the book was translated into scores of languages, I have received requests for the 49-page booklet from all over the world. There is no charge, and there are still some available.

Visit Cliff online at

Arbitrary Judaism

Friday, January 04, 2013 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Justine Hope Blau wrote about growing up in an intellectual but chronically homeless family. She has been blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

We grew up with my mother's special brand of religion: Eccentric Judaism. My two older brothers and I were allowed to eat shrimp and lobster, but we wouldn’t dream of tasting pork. On Saturdays we weren’t allowed to write or spend money, yet that was negotiable, depending on our circumstances. We spent six years without a home, moving from hotel to hotel in Manhattan, always short of money. So there were times when, given that we often didn’t have a kitchen, we’d spend money on Shabbas to get food. Even Yom Kippur, the holiest of Jewish holidays, was malleable. We drank water and fasted until about 2 pm because that’s as long as my mother could take it before succumbing to her appetite. “Life before Torah,” my mother would say, and she invoked it whenever it suited her agenda.

In my recently published memoir, Scattered, I write of losing faith in Judaism in 4th grade, when my class at PS 111 on West 52nd put on a play about King Arthur. I auditioned for the role of Merlin the magician, after my brothers coached me for the part, teaching me to speak in a low voice for maximum gravitas. I landed it, beating out two boys.

My mother nixed it for me though, when she saw me kneeling as I rehearsed in front of the mirror in our hotel room. At the end of the play, everyone had to kneel to King Arthur.

“Jews don’t kneel to anyone but God,” my mother said. I could bow, but she forbade me to kneel. Back at school, Miss Yalowitz put the issue to a vote before the class. Could Justine bow instead of kneel? I won by one vote. Then Geoffrey Wolf, another Jewish kid, piped up, saying if I couldn’t kneel, neither could he. At that point, Miss Yalowitz took my part away. The play went on with another kid reading Merlin’s lines from a script on stage since he didn’t have time to learn them by heart.

The afternoon when I lost the role, as we waited for our mothers to pick us up, my best enemy, Laura Nusser, praised my piety. “You’re a good Jew, Justine,” but the words were hollow to me. I had few clothes, few toys, and we had been living a marginal life in seedy hotels for a long time. I was willing to sacrifice when necessary but this wasn’t worth it. I realized that my mother had a choice; it wasn’t Jewish law, it was her interpretation of it. If she bent the rules when she pleased, then she could have allowed my kneeling. I couldn’t have articulated it then, but I knew that she was using religion in a selfish way that negated the deep joy and fulfillment that anchors Jewish people today to our forebears, and us to each other, transcending doctrine.

Maybe that’s why I react so strongly to the story of Isaac and Abraham—how God tested Abraham to see if he would sacrifice his only son for God. There’s been lots of intellectual debate about this story, but it’s a deal breaker for me. Clearly it’s a story written by a human being; in any case, I reject this story because it portrays God as so sadistic. But I do not totally reject Judaism. One of the beautiful things I got from my mother, which I gleaned from her despite her flaws, was that things are negotiable. Just as she could have been flexible about the kneeling scene, so I can appreciate the values and the soulfulness of Judaism even if I don’t agree with all of it.

I identify as Jewish (as well as Humanist and as a pagan). I loved Hebrew School, especially for the history and the elegiac songs. I sent my children to a Reconstructionist Hebrew School and am glad they had their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, and that those warm, soulful hymns — like Ein Keloheinu, Adon Olam and and Eliyahu Hanavi—resonate through them and connect them to Jewish tradition and culture.

Thousands of years ago, Jewish schools were the first in the world that were for all the boys in the community, not just for the sons of the rich. And the Reconstructionist synagogue where my children went to Hebrew School, the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, was the first in the world, in 1920, to let a girl be Bat Mitzvahed. This same Reconstructionist belief dispensed with the notion that the Jews are the chosen, because all people are special. These are the kind of values that keep me connected to my Jewish roots. It helps me reach the conclusion that my mother is not the final arbiter of Jewish law, and yet she was right that many things are open to interpretation and negotiation. Life before Torah.

Justine Hope Blau's memoir,Scattered: A Mostly True Memoir, is now available.

New Reviews

Friday, January 04, 2013 | Permalink
This week's reviews:


JBC Bookshelf: Most Anticipated Spring 2013 Titles

Friday, January 04, 2013 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

January is one of my favorite months at the Jewish Book Council. Not only do we announce the National Jewish Book Award winners and finalists (soon...), but we also get to browse dozens of catalogs and hundreds of review copies to prepare for our year in Jewish books. Our lists are already full of promising soon-to-be-published titles, so be sure to keep tabs on us for the latest in all things Jewish literary. How do you keep tabs on us, you ask? Good question. A few ideas:

  • Participate in our monthly Twitter Book Club with
  • Check out new Visiting Scribe posts each week, where authors share the backstory behind their books, items that just didn't make the cut, reading lists, thoughts on current events, excerpts, previews, Q&As, and more
  • Sign up for our weekly email and receive recommended reading and updates on the newest JBC reviews
  • Browse our Pinterest boards
  • Check our calendar for Jewish literary events in your area
  • Need a theme for you book club this year? Look no further.
  • For additional resources, visit here.

Now, to start the year off right...a few titles I'm most looking forward to this spring (a small sampling of what's to come!):

Searching for Zion: The Quest for Home in the African Diaspora, Emily Raboteau (January 2013, Atlantic Monthly Press)

The Tin Horse: A Novel, Janice Steinberg (January 2013, Random House)

Hand-Drying in America: And Other Stories, Ben Katchor (February 2013, Pantheon)

The Wanting: A Novel, Michael Lavigne (February 2013, Schocken Books)

In the Land of the Living, Austin Ratner (March 2013, Reagan Arthur Books)

The Retrospective, A. B. Yehoshua (March 2013, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Russ & Daughters: Reflections and Recipes from the House That Herring Built, Mark Russ Federman (March 2013, Schocken Books)

A Nearly Perfect Copy: A Novel, Allison Amend (April 2013, Nan A. Talese)

Mothers: A Novel, Jennifer Gilmore (April 2013, Scribner)

Harvard Square: A Novel, André Aciman (April 2013, W. W. Norton & Company)

The Golem and the Jinni: A Novel, Helene Wecker (April 2013, Harper)

Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots, Jessica Soffer (April 2013, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

I Can't Complain: (All Too) Personal Essays, Elinor Litman (April 2013, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Helga's Diary: A Young Girl's Account of Life in a Concentration Camp, Helga Weiss; Neil Bermel, trans. (May 2013, W. W. Norton & Company)

A Dual Inheritance: A Novel, Joanna Hershon (May 2013, Ballantine Books)

The Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan: A Boy Avenger, a Nazi Diplomat, and a Murder in Paris
, Jonathan Kirsch (May 2013, Liveright)

Who Will Die Last: Stories of Life in Israel, David Ehrlich (May 2013, Syracuse University Press)

A Summer 2013 Preview:

Claudia Silver to the Rescue, Kathy Ebel (June 2013, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

God in Proof: The Story of a Search from the Ancients to the Internet, Nathan Schneider (June 2013, University of California Press)

Paris France, Gertrude Stein (June 2013, Liveright)

A Fall 2013 Preview:

A Guide for the Perplexed, Dara Horn (September 2013, W. W. Norton & Company)

A Broken Hallelujah: The Life of Leonard Cohen, Liel Leibovitz (Fall 2013, W. W. Norton & Company)

The Oath, Martin Fletcher (Fall 2013, Thomas Dunne Books/St.Martin's Press)

The Worlds of Sholem Aleichem, Jeremy Dauber (October 2013, Schocken Books/Nextbook Press)

Book Cover of the Week: Oral Pleasure

Thursday, January 03, 2013 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

In Oral Pleasure: Kosinski as Storyteller, published last month by Grove/Atlantic, Jerzy Kosinski's late widow, Kikki, collects interviews, lectures, and transcriptions of media appearances of the legendary literary figure:

Related: "Out of Atrocity, Art" by Ruth Franklin (A Thousand Darknesses: Lies and Truth in Holocaust Fiction)