Tuesday, August 15, 2017

SOL17: Karolina's Twins, The Nazis, and Trump

Memory is the Diary We All Carry (M.A. Reilly, 2017)


Since I finished reading Ronald Balson's novel Karolina's Twins, my sleep has been disturbed.  I'm not sure I would have finished the novel had it not been the next book my book group is discussing. But I did finish it and for the next week, I woke from nightmares very early each morning recalling the sounds of trains, the cries of babies, the hard leather of a boot pressed against my neck.

The novel is set in Poland during Nazi occupation and tells the story of Lena, a 89-year-old Jewish woman who at the time of the Holocaust was a teenager. The atrocities described cut me and surely fueled the nightmares. While asleep, I have been replaying some of the cruelties Lena, the main character faced. This is not the first or only Holocaust-related book I have read. Yet, it hurt more than any other. I'm not sure if it is because I am a mom and relate to the immense loss mothers must have experienced at the hands of the Nazis--losses I can not set down. Or perhaps it was that my husband who was Jewish and is now dead calls forth for me all those cowards who watched the Nazis slaughter innocent lives. There were thousands and thousands of people who killed men just like Rob and would have done so at any point in his life.  They would have murdered him as an infant, a young boy, a teen, a man--and millions more would have turned a blind eye and allowed it to happen.  The question of who we are, wakes me from sleep.

Lena and Karolina know that at the end of the train ride to Gross-Rosen, their two baby girls will be murdered. Of this there is no question. When Lena describes how she and her friend Karolina each throw an infant girl from a moving train in an effort to perhaps save their lives, I felt the very weight of my own son the first time I held him against my chest.  I felt this in 2017 as I sat in a chair in my home. I could feel the solidness of his small body. The smell of him. The way he fit just perfectly against me. All of this felt imprinted. Lena knows their only hope is to leave them for chance: Will they survive the fall?  Will someone find them in time?  Will someone care for them? Will they be turned over to the Nazis anyway?

And I wondered would I have ever had the courage to throw my son that solid living body and beautiful boy, out a train window in order to perhaps save him from the certain death he would know by Nazis.


Old Man Watching (M.A. Reilly, 2017)
I'm not sure the nightmares would have come had murdered infants been all I was thinking about. From the start of the novel, I was disturbed by the wishful thinking Lena and her family engaged in when the German occupation was new. It felt too familiar. It felt like how I have been living here in the United States since Donald Trump was elected and began to staff the White House with Nazis.

Early in the novel, Lena explains the beginning of Nazi occupation,
“New rules came down every day and more restrictions were imposed. Still, we survived. We adapted. We would wait it out. We held tight to the belief that soon the world would crush the Germans and they would leave" (p. 25).
Lena's dismissal of the horror, the adaptations they made, had me wondering about home.


I imagine, like me, you know where you were when you first heard about the white supremacist march in Charlottesville, VA this last weekend and the violence they caused. I was walking out of the MET, having just finished a drawing class and as soon as I heard the location, I immediately thought of a friend  who lives there.  When I got home, I sent her a message asking if she and her family were okay and was relieved to learn quickly they were safe.

Then the death of Heather Hayer was reported, a 32-year-old woman who while protesting the Nazis, was murdered by a 20-year-old kid from Ohio who drove his car into a crowd, reminiscent of the Nice, France terrorist act a year ago. This young Nazi killed Heather and injured 19 others. He did so with determination.

As expected, the US president, Donald Trump, spoke to the country.  In moments of terrorism, leadership matters. He said this:

We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides. On many sides. 

I thought my head might explode when I heard him say and then repeat, "on many sides" as he gestured with his hands as if he could dismiss the whole matter like one calling for a bill at the end of a meal.

What sides?

A young woman was dead because a Nazi killed her on a street in America.  With his words and then silence, Trump signaled his support for the violent Nazis in our country.  Make no mistake, Trump invited them into our homes. His language was clear.  There was no ambiguity.

The very people who elected him as president were supported by the president. And they said so.

Andrew Anglin, the cretor of the Nazi site The Daily Stormer, praised Trump's response. "He didn't attack us,"he wrote in a blog post on the site. "[He] implied that there was hate...on both sides. So he implied the antifa are haters. There was virtually no counter-signaling of us all." (from here).

It's 2017 and the Nazis are here.


Faced with increasing criticism from his own party, the media, and the public, Trump still took days to make a new statement. He showed us all who he really is by his comment on Saturday and his silence on Sunday. He's his father's son. Fred was arrested in his youth at a KKK rally. Like father like son.

And now Donald Trump has invited the Nazis to come out from under the rocks and slime and parade down Main Street, full of swagger and spitting hate, and designing murder. He has invited white supremacists into the White House. They dine with him. They fly alongside him on Air Force One. They advise him.

Make no mistake, we should not adapt to this, turn the other eye, wish for better days, hope this maniac settles.

Empowering hate is what Donald Trump does most consistently and most well.  He is divisive, mistaken, and unable to function as president. He and Vice President Pence must be removed from office because they harm us.

Their choices harm us. Their allegiances harm us. Their overt support of white supremacists harm us.

Impeach Trump and Pence, now.


  1. Thank you for this. These words "It's 2017 and the Nazis are here." So chilling. So depressing. So ours to change, to resist!

    1. Yes, resist and act at each injustice is critical.

  2. This is such a powerful post. These are scary times we live in.

    1. I agree Molly. What we do with these days matters.

  3. Hi Mary Ann. I am consistently in awe of your writing, of the feeling that flows from your words, of the chapter within each piece. You have managed to put to words something that I have not. I talk about this daily (I don't know the book but will check it out) with my husband; I resist daily (even when on vacation). The Nazis are here. They are in the WH, and the Republican party is complicit in what is happening and what the future will be. It is up to us.
    Best to you.
    Maribeth Batcho

    1. Maribeth, thanks so much for your kind words. It is a complicated time here. I hope he resigns and order can be restored. Thanks for commenting:)

  4. Mary Ann, this post was beautifully woven. Hate has reared its ugly head agsin. There seems to be so much divisiveness that something does need to be done. I hope that classrooms can choose kind this year to combat the hate.

  5. Mary Ann: When you write a book, you don't always know how it will resonate with readers. You hope that the passages you find emotional will evoke similar emotions. Karolina's Twins is based on a true story and when it was told to me, I had the same nightmares. Sadly, the comparisons you draw to current events are accurate. Thank you for sharing them in such a thoughtful and beautifully written piece. I note the location of Argegno in your blog. The book I am working on now is set in Pienza and Rome during World War II. Best regards,
    Ron Balson

    1. Ron, thanks for your comments. It hurts even more knowing your novel was based in part on a true story. I wondered as I read if you too suffered as you wrote it. A friend of mine (who I was with in Argegno) write a book about children's literature about genocides and she spoke often of the need to emotionally rest as she researched, hatred at that scale is so painful, humanly-other.

      I spent 2-weeks in the Pienza area at the monastery where the English Patient was filmed a few years ago. A most beautiful area. I am looking forward to your next novel.

  6. Mary Ann - I have read all o Balson's books (looking forward to "The Trst" coming soon) and could not have described it better than you did. I am a survivor. My father escaped from the camp he was in in Poland in 1943. He ran to thr USSR which by now was an Ally of the countries fighting against Hitler. He married there and I was born in Ukraine just before the war ended. My father knew we could not remain here. We left Ukraine in 1945 a number of ways. A train, a car, walking when we had to, and finally arriving in Germany and the Americans. We entered a D P camp and had to remain in Germany until we were accepted elsewhere. The end of 1951 America finally accepted us. They were not really excited about helping the Displaced people left after the war. My sister was born while we were in the camp. 1952 we arrived in America.
    finally we could breathe. Feel real freedom. But not so easy. It took many years until we acclimated and really felt safer. America is a great country and I am proud to be an American. But I also fear where things are heading. Trump reminds me of a time I have tried to forget. The uprising of anti (anything) groups reminds me of Hitler's youth and brain washed Germans. White Supremecy is scarry. I may not live ling enoughto see this repetition of History. But my children, my grandchildre and so on may have to face it some day.

    We must never forget what has been and fight not to repeat it again. Our strength is in numbers - and also in the people Like Mr Balson who right novels relating to the Holocaust!! They remind and put the fear in our hearts. There are books out there that tell a story - a story of great loss and also great endurance. Let's hope many will heed the signs and stay strong for the good of all mankind. Our strength in numbers will Keep America Great - it has never lost it!

    Thank you for sharing your views. Your words have not been said in vain!

    1. Your words are so wise and I thank you for sharing them.

      I agree that we cannot afford to hope Trump will change. He will not. The parallels between his regime and what you reference from the Nazis are too similar for any peace of mind to surface. For all of our children and their children, let us resist and get this man out of office.

  7. Such a powerful post. We all need to keep speaking out. I also never thought I would live in an American like this, where white supremacists are welcomed into the White House. I never thought I would consider what other country I could live in if I couldn't live in the United States anymore, but now I do think about that.

    1. Becky, I think about going back to live in Ireland in ways I have never done before. It's scary.


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