Category Archives: Remembrance

Holocaust Remembrance Day: The ‘White Coat’ in Art—and Resistance

Today is the internationally recognized date for “Holocaust Remembrance Day.” “Yom HaShoah” is observed in Israel as a day of commemoration for the approximately six million Jews who died as a result of the Nazi’s “Final Solution.” What can be said about this horrifying episode in human history that has not already been said so many times before?

As it turns out there is always some new layer of understanding that emerges with each passing year. Two recent articles that appeared in the New York Times provide us with different portraits to contemplate—in the art of painting and in the act of resistance.

The first, published on 4 April 2021, by Bret Stephens, asks: “Can We Really Picture Auschwitz?” It is a portrait of Auschwitz survivor “Buba Weisz Sajovits and her sister Icu, who arrived in Veracruz in 1946, their eldest sister, Bella, … waiting for them by the dock.” Bella “insisted that they were not to speak of what had happened to them in the war. Life was meant to be lived facing the future, not the past.” Eventually Buba married and “started a beauty salon.” And the family looked forward, never backward. Stephens writes:

Only one reminder of the past could not be erased, because it was etched permanently in ink on the inside of her left forearm: A-11147. What went with that alphanumeric was, as she would title her memoir, Tattooed in My Memory. Decades later, when she was well into her 60s, she decided to take up painting, and soon the past became more vivid.

All the volumes that have been written about this subject throughout the decades, even trips to the sites of the death camps, are unable to bridge the chasm between “what we know and what we understand”… except through the recollections of “personal experience.” We are not talking simply about the thousands upon thousands of testimonials, the documentaries and photographic evidence, or even the diaries of the dead or the autobiographies of the survivors.

In Buba’s paintings, the unfathomable dimensions of this exercise in genocidal mass murder become all too vivid. Stephens writes:

On May 31, 1944, she and Icu (pronounced Itzu), their parents, Bernard and Lotte, and the rest of the Jewish population of Cluj were deported in cattle cars to Auschwitz, a journey of degradation and hunger that lasted five days. Buba, then 18, last saw her parents on the night of their arrival in the camp, when her father jumped out of line to hand his daughters their baccalaureate diplomas.

Buba was given a factory job. It came with extra rations, which she shared with her bunkmates. One day, she was called into a cubicle of the block elder, a female prisoner who was in charge of barracks discipline. The elder tore off Buba’s clothes and shoved her toward a man who had been waiting for her. “I gathered every last ounce of strength that I could muster,” she said, “and ran.”

How can we understand what it’s like to be a half-starved, naked Jewish girl running for her life from an Auschwitz rapist? We can’t. I can’t. But in 2002, Buba painted the scene, and through her painting I could catch a glimpse of what it means to be the most vulnerable person on earth.

“Needless to say,” she added dryly, “I lost my job and my ration.”


Stephens adds: “For all of its scale, the special evil of Auschwitz ultimately lay in the fact that the murder and torture was clinical, something I only really understood after seeing Buba’s painting.” Even animals depicted in some paintings wear white coats, like that of the man who attacked her.

Courtesy of The New York Times (4 April 2021)

Additional, shattering images painted by Buba can be viewed here. As Stephens puts it: “In this month of Holocaust remembrance, it’s worth pausing to consider how one brave woman’s memory, and art, help us to see what we must never forget.”

Another, very different, portrait of the Holocaust emerges from an article that first appeared on 18 March 2021 in the Times—and it was a revelation to me. Judy Batalion’s essay, “The Women of the Jewish Resistance” is a preface to her new book, The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler’s Ghettos, which provides us with a history of uprisings by over 30,000 Jews led predominantly by women, who fought throughout European forests—and in at least nine cities, from Warsaw to Vilna. Batalion’s research began in London’s British Library, but extended across Poland, Israel, and North America. Batalion opens her essay with this story, which completely inverts the image of the “white coat” found in Buba’s art:

In 1943, Niuta Teitelbaum strolled into a Gestapo apartment on Chmielna Street in central Warsaw and faced three Nazis. A 24-year-old Jewish woman who had studied history at Warsaw University, Niuta was likely now dressed in her characteristic guise as a Polish farm girl with a kerchief tied around her braided blond hair.

She blushed, smiled meekly and then pulled out a gun and shot each one. Two were killed, one wounded. Niuta, however, wasn’t satisfied. She found a physician’s coat, entered the hospital where the injured man was being treated, and killed both the Nazi and the police officer who had been guarding him.

“Little Wanda With the Braids,” as she was nicknamed on every Gestapo most-wanted list, was one of many young Jewish women who, with supreme cunning and daring, fought the Nazis in Poland. And yet, as I discovered over several years of research on these resisters, their stories have largely been overlooked in the broader history of Jewish resistance in World War II.

Batalion’s research has uncovered an interesting episode of such resistance that goes far beyond tales of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. She writes:

Where I had expected mourning and gloom, I found guns, grenades and espionage. This was a Yiddish thriller, telling the stories of Polish-Jewish “ghetto girls” who paid off Gestapo guards, hid revolvers in teddy bears, flirted with Nazis and then killed them. They distributed underground bulletins, flung Molotov cocktails, bombed train lines, organized soup kitchens, and bore the truth about what was happening to the Jews. …

After Hitler’s conquest of Poland, … youth groups formed militias. … Those who were forced to labor in Nazi uniform factories slipped notes into the boots urging soldiers at the front to drop their weapons. They constructed workshops where they experimented with homemade explosives and designed elaborate underground bunkers. “Haganah!” was their rallying cry: Defense! Women who were selected for undercover missions were required to look “good,” or passably “Aryan” or Catholic, with light hair, blue or green eyes, good posture and an assured gait. …

As women, they were well positioned to do this work: Their brothers were circumcised and risked being found out in a “pants drop” test. Before the war, Jewish girls were more likely than Jewish boys to have studied at Polish public schools (many boys attended Jewish schools and yeshivas). They were, over all, more assimilated than Jewish boys and spoke Polish without the Yiddish accent, making them excellent spies.

The individual stories she tells are riveting—and worth your attention. In the end, both of these pieces teach us something profound about the reclamation of the human spirit from the depths of human depravity.

Coronavirus (31): Dose #1 for a “Fake” Virus

Having recently attacked everything from Big Pharma to the medical-science-state-corporate nexus that plagues U.S. healthcare in the thirtieth installment of my Coronavirus series, I nevertheless want to make a few things clear about how I have personally dealt with weighing the risks and benefits of taking any of the three major COVID vaccines currently available in the United States (from Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson).

First a few words to the Covidiots among us, who continue to deny the extent, seriousness, or even the very existence of COVID-19. My friend and colleague Roger Bissell addressed this issue first on Facebook (back in October 2020), and in addendums to that in a paper he shared with me (dated December 12, 2020), which I excerpt below. Roger focuses exclusively on the issue of “excess deaths”—for “if they exist,” he writes, “then the disease and its reported death toll are likely real; if not, not.” He continues:

Being an equal opportunity skeptic by nature, I was intrigued by an online claim, supposedly supported with data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), that there are in fact no excess deaths this year, and thus that 2020 will ultimately end up with approximately the same number of deaths from all causes as the most recent preceding years.

As reported by the CDC, the 2016, 2017, and 2018 figures for United States deaths from all causes were, respectively: 2,744,248; 2,813,503; and 2,839,205 (see here, here, and here). CDC figures for 2019 will apparently not be available until at least January 2021; however, hot off the press, as reported by the CDC, is the figure for United States deaths from all causes from February 1 through October 30, 2020: 2,347,341. Since this period is essentially three-fourths of the calendar year 2020, multiplying that number by 1.33 will produce a reasonable projected estimate of total 2020 United States deaths for all causes: 3,121,963.

From this, some simple arithmetic shows that in 2020, there will (likely) be more than 300,000 “excess deaths” compared to 2017. As of October 30, 2020, the number of United States deaths from COVID-19 was 235,158; a reasonable projection (based on an average of 1,000 deaths a day between now and the end of the year) would be about 295,000 deaths for the full year.

To me, this is solid proof (without all the technical bells and whistles from academic statistics) that we are dealing with a real, new disease, not some result of phony, fraudulent manipulation by people trying to pull the wool over our eyes. Whatever this disease really is, and whatever other questionable categorizing and reporting of deaths there may have been, about 300,000 more Americans [will have] … die[d] from all causes [in 2020] than have died from all causes in typical past years, and those deaths will likely be due to COVID-19.

On December 12, 2020, Roger provided additional analysis of the preliminary data (based on this data source):

The 2020 deaths from all causes for February 1 through December 9 is 2,703,232. If COVID is fake and there are no “excess deaths” for 2020, then all we need do is divide 2,703,232 by 313/366 (the ratio of days from Feb. 1 through Dec. 9 to the total days in 2020).

Simple math: 2,703,232 divided by 313/366 = 3,161,675.

So, the projected total deaths for 2020 is 3,161,675. The deaths for all causes for 2018 (above) is 2,839,205.

More simple math: 3,161,675 minus 2,839,205 = 322,470.

Does that look like COVID is fake to you? Something will have caused over 300,000 extra deaths [in 2020]. To paraphrase SNL’s Church Lady: “Could it be … COVID?” [YouTube link]


Now that we’ve gotten that issue out of the way, let me turn to a more personal issue. I’ve detailed throughout this series, the nightmarish extent of the death that I have witnessed in my hometown, New York City. A summary of my thoughts can be found in my last installment. But given my own lifelong health problems, clinically referred to as “comorbidities,” I had to weigh the risks of taking a relatively new vaccine (of whatever variety that is currently on the menu for U.S. citizens) versus the risks of contracting COVID, given those comorbidities. I spoke with all of my doctors, and the overwhelming consensus was: Take the vaccine, because the risks of dying from the vaccine are far lower than the risks of dying from contracting COVID, given my pre-existing conditions.

More than that, whatever problems I have had throughout my life, I am now the primary caregiver to my sister (“Ms. Ski” to all the students whose lives she changed dramatically throughout her nearly forty years as an educator), whom I love dearly, and whom I nearly lost in mid-November 2020 due to a non-COVID-related serious illness. She spent a solid month in the hospital, and after three months at home, returned to the hospital last Monday, due to complicating factors now requiring surgical attention. She undergoes major surgery tomorrow morning. We are hoping for the very best of outcomes.

So, again, this is a very personal decision and I would not for a moment engage in context-dropping (it’s against my dialectical sensibilities) to assume that I could make this decision for any person other than myself. And given my libertarian predilections, I’m not inclined to put a gun to anybody’s head to force them to take any vaccine—or to put a gun to anybody else’s head to force them to open their establishments to those who refuse to take vaccines of any kind, and whose inaction might put others at risk for deadly diseases that have been essentially eradicated (like smallpox).

After a couple of months of trying to get an appointment, I finally lined up one on Tuesday to receive the first dose of the Moderna vaccine late this afternoon. I arrived on time and it took about a half hour to receive the inoculation, sit for observation, and set up the date for my second dose in mid-April.

As yet, I have not sprouted any new ears, limbs, vestigial or highly active new parts of my body above or below my waist. I don’t suspect that the vax was designed to combat any alien virus straight out of “The X-Files“—or to create any alien-human hybrid race.

I made this decision for my own health, and as a responsible caregiver to my sister (who will eventually be vaccinated herself). True, it is not clear if getting vaccinated will prevent any of us from being asymptomatic carriers of the virus (though one study has suggested that those who took the Moderna vaccine might be able to prevent two-thirds of asymptomatic transmission after a single dose).

The decision is yours. I’ve made mine.

#IGotTheShotNYC

Postscript (19 March 2021): My sister’s surgery had to be postponed to Monday, March 22. Watch this space for updates! Thank you to all those who have expressed their love and support.

Song of the Day #1855

Song of the Day: Ice Station Zebra (“Soundtrack Suite”) [YouTube link] was composed by the late, great Michel Legrand, who was born on this date in 1932. The score to this 1968 espionage film was orchestrated and conducted by Legrand himself with a 75-piece orchestra. It has been described as a brilliant “Cold War ballet.”

Charles Schulz, “Peanuts” — and Hugs!

Twenty-one years ago this month (on 12 February 2000), the famed creator of “Peanuts,” Charles M. Schulz, died. Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the gang still make me chuckle, while also melting my heart. Thanks to my pal, Merlin Jetton (a long-time contributor to The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies), for emailing me some “Peanuts” gems this morning!

One of those gems I dedicate to a couple of very special people (family and friends), whom I’ve not seen in a long time. I’m sending this out with a Very Warm Big Brooklyn Hug! I miss you all very much—and hope to see you before too long!

Sending “Positivity, Love and all things Good” to my Friends …
(courtesy of Charles M. Schulz and “Peanuts”)

Song of the Day #1851

Song of the Day: Barefoot in the Park (“Main Title”), music by Neil Hefti, lyrics by Johnny Mercer, opens this hilarious 1967 comedy starring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda. On this date in 1919, my mother was born; this was one of her favorite films. She’d become convulsed with laughter especially in scenes featuring Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee, Mildred Natwick, as Fonda’s mother, Ethel Banks. Natwick (who, like Redford, appeared in the original 1963 Neil Simon Broadway production) delivers some of the best lines in the film—after climbing umpteen flights of stairs to reach her daughter and son-in-law’s quintessential New York apartment [see Robert Osborne’s intro on YouTube]: “I had to park the car three blocks away. Then it started to rain so I ran the last two blocks. Then my heel got caught in a subway grating. When I pulled my foot out, I stepped in a puddle. Then a cab went by and splashed my stockings. If the hardware store downstairs was open, I was going to buy a knife and kill myself.” Or: “I feel like we’ve died and gone to heaven—only we had to climb up” [YouTube link]. Or this one [YouTube link], where the climb nearly brings mother Banks to her knees. Or this one where she goes down the stairs [YouTube link]. Mom has been gone since April 1995. But her memorable, uproarious laughter was so infectious that it brought as many laughs to her family as did the things that tickled her. Check out the opening theme to this comedy classic [YouTube link].

Scent and Sensibility

I am way behind in my newspaper and magazine reading, but I came upon an article, “The Forgotten Sense,” which appeared in The New York Times Magazine, by Brooke Jarvis, which was among the most fascinating pieces I’ve read in a long time. The article focuses a lot of attention on the ways in which up to an estimated two-thirds of post-COVID-19 infected patients lose their olfactory senses (and in many instances, their sense of taste, which is intimately connected with the sense of smell). Lacking the sense of smell is hazardous to your health; not being able to detect food poisoning, a burning dinner or a gas leak is, indeed, problematic. “This month,” writes Jarvis, “a Texas family whose members lost their sense of smell to COVID narrowly escaped a house fire after the only uninfected member, a teenager, smelled smoke and woke everyone else up.” Indeed, “Smell is no big deal, until it’s missing.”

Those who have suffered this abnormality struggle “with depression, symptoms similar to those of post-traumatic stress disorder and feelings of relentless isolation and disconnection from the world around them. It felt, some people said, as if they were living their lives in black and white, or trapped behind a sheet of glass; their sense of normalcy and well-being had disappeared with their olfaction. ‘I feel alien from myself,’ one person wrote. ‘Detached from normality. Lonely in my body. It’s so hard to explain.’ Another described feeling ‘discombobulated—like I don’t exist.’”

Our sense of smell is taken for granted and often dismissed as almost irrelevant to who we are as human beings. So many philosophers and scientists—from Plato and Aristotle to Descartes, Kant, and Darwin—have relegated it to the more “primitive” of our five senses, the “province of lesser animals.” But as Jarvis writes:

“Smell is a startling superpower. You can walk through someone’s front door and instantly know that she recently made popcorn. Drive down the street and somehow sense that the neighbors are barbecuing. Intuit, just as a side effect of breathing a bit of air, that this sweater has been worn but that one hasn’t, that it’s going to start raining soon, that the grass was trimmed a few hours back. If you weren’t used to it, it would seem like witchcraft.”

Jarvis notes that there has been a “renaissance” in “smell science” over the last 30 years. Linda Buck and Richard Axel, awarded the Nobel Prize in 2004, identified “the neural receptors that allow us to perceive and make sense of the smells around us. … The revelation opened the door to a new way of understanding the olfactory system, as well as to a new, ever-expanding world of research. A system assumed to be unsophisticated and insignificant turned out to be quite the opposite. Where vision depends on four kinds of receptors—rods and three types of cones—smell uses about 400 receptors, which are together estimated to be able to detect as many as a trillion smells. The complexity of the system is such that we’re still unable to predict how, or even if, a given chemical will be perceived by our olfactory system. The old quest to map odorants and their perception is now understood to be a wildly complicated undertaking. Joel Mainland, a neuroscientist at the Monell Center who is working on the problem, told me that while maps of color vision are easily presented in two dimensions, an eventual olfactory map might require many more.”

Smell is indeed one of the most remarkable senses we have. From its role in detecting hazards to the transmission of pheromones and its role in human attraction to its crucial role in the functioning of our immune system, olfaction is the most underappreciated and least understood of the ways in which the human organism apprehends the world. As Jarvis explains: “While what we see must pass through various parts of the brain before it reaches our centers for memory or emotion, smell has a nearly direct pathway. ‘They’re built together,’ [neurobiologist Sandeep Robert] Datta said of the brain and the chemical world that it perceives. ‘They’re meant to function as a unit.’”

The sense of smell is the only sensory modality in which the actual airborne molecules of the perceived object enter our bodies, attaching to receptor cells that are themselves neurons.  Our olfactory nerves consist of neurons with one end in direct contact with the external world and the other in direct contact with the brain. It may be the most primal, but it is also the most intimate of our sensory modalities, performing an act of neural intercourse every time we take a whiff.

Science is coming to understand the importance of the olfactory sense in more ways than one. Just as some of the recent research has shown an impaired sense of smell in COVID and post-COVID-infected patients, it is often bound up with neural diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, as well as autoimmune disorders, from MS to rheumatoid arthritis to lupus. It is also experienced to a much higher degree by those suffering from depression. Interestingly, it has been found that “children with autism have different automatic sniff reactions than those who are neurotypical, and they use more parts of their brains to process odors. They can also follow social cues better if they can smell a mother’s odor, even if she isn’t present.”

For me, olfaction has never been a “forgotten sense.” It is something of which I am deeply aware. I cannot imagine a world without a sense of smell. It is such a crucial part of my sensory apparatus that I have never taken it for granted.

It also has a way of transporting me to places buried deep in my memory. That acrid smell of burning plastic, metal, and human flesh that inhabited southern Brooklyn in the days after 9/11 is something I will never forget. But it is not just tragic memories that the sense of smell conjures up. Walking through my neighborhood, picking up the scent of fresh baked bread or a pizza emerging from a hot oven can get my salivary glands going immediately. I cannot forget the scent of a brand-new car or of an infant child—a parent, a friend, a partner. Just the scent of a certain perfume or cologne conjures up immense feelings of a particular person, time, and place that are not triggered in the same way as, say, looking at a photo of that same person, time, and place. One whiff of Aqua Velva conjures up whole memories of my Dad, who passed away in 1972 in ways that a photo or a video image cannot. One whiff of Chanel No. 5 conjures up a flood of memories of my Mom, who passed away in 1995, in ways that a photo or a video image cannot.

A greater understanding of the “forgotten sense” is one of the more welcome scientific by-products to have come out of a tragic pandemic. Let us hope that research continues to unlock not only the mysteries of COVID, but the continuing mysteries of how our organisms function—and why it is so important to recognize when something so crucial to being human is just not functioning the way it should.

Song of the Day #1843

Song of the Day: The Russia House (“Soundtrack Suite”), composed by Jerry Goldsmith, ends our four-day salute (within our Film Music February tribute) to one of the greats of the “art of the score.” This suite derives from the 1990 film based on the novel by John Le Carre (who died in December 2020), starring Sean Connery (who died in October 2020). Back in 2008, I highlighted the soaring love theme to this film (“Alone in the World” [mp3]—delivered with perfection by my sister-in-law, Joanne Barry, accompanied by jazz guitarists Jack Wilkins and my bro, Carl Barry). Interestingly, the main theme owed its origins to earlier work that Goldsmith had done for “Wall Street” (1987) and then, for “Alien Nation” (1988)—both times, rejected! This profoundly moving jazz-infused score, which features the virtuoso saxophonist Branford Marsalis throughout, is a testament to Goldsmith’s genius.

Chick Corea, RIP

Sad news of the deaths of Hal Holbrook, Christopher Plummer, and Mary Wilson came over the past week or two. But tonight’s news was truly devastating for this long-time fan of one of the greatest musicians in the history of jazz: Chick Corea, who passed away on Tuesday at the age of 79.

I am without words. There are so many of his compositions that have graced “My Favorite Songs” throughout the years that I would not know where to begin in celebrating his legacy. Winner of 23 Grammy Awards, a master improviser and innovator, whether in acoustic or electric settings, playing standards or original fusion compositions, which defied categorization (encompassing jazz, rock, and classical influences), Chick was among the most important pianists of his generation.

I saw him in concert, a joyful tribute to his terrific 1978 album, “The Mad Hatter” (along with Herbie Hancock, Joe Farrell, Gary Burton, Eddie Gomez, Steve Gadd, Gayle Moran, and an orchestra). Check out that album, starting here [on YouTube].

RIP, Chick.

Song of the Day #1842

Song of the Day: Poltergeist (“Soundtrack Suite”) [YouTube link], composed by Jerry Goldsmith, continues our four-day salute to this great film score maestro. This suite, derived from his 1982 Oscar-nominated score to one of the best supernatural horror films, shows the enormous breadth of moods and motifs that Goldsmith typically delivered. The score lost out to one of the great triumphs of John Williams’s career (“E.T. the Extra Terrestrial“), but it’s with a little irony that it arose out of a collaboration with the director of that other film: Steven Spielberg.

Song of the Day #1841

Song of the Day: Gremlins 2 (“Soundtrack Suite”) [YouTube link] was composed by Jerry Goldsmith, who was born on this date in 1929. Having composed the score to the original “Gremlins” (1984), he returned in 1990 to compose the score to its sequel, “Gremlins 2: The New Batch.” Opening with a bow to that classic “Merrie Melodies” cartoon theme [YouTube link], this soundtrack suite captures a “new batch” of cues, some macabre, some comedic, all perfectly integrated.