Michigan: Holocaust history mystery, March 18

Growing up in New York City, author Lev Raphael realized his family was different – there were no relatives, no physical history (no photos) and no emotional history.

Tracing the Tribe’s readers in Lansing, Michigan have an opportunity to hear author Lev Raphael on Wednesday, March 18, speak about his new book, “My Germany,” the most recent of 19 books.

In Germany, traveling by train on a book tour for “The German Money,” he says he saw an apparition of his mother on the same journey 60 years earlier. She was a slave laborer in a cattle car going to a munitions factory. His father, from Czechoslovakia, worked as a Russian front forced laborer and was then sent to Bergen-Belsen camp, but the train was stopped by the Allies in 1945, saving his life.

Raphael wanted to know more, but couldn’t find anything on it, and began planning his own – a combination memoir/travelogue/ mystery – on his parents’ experiences.

He says the new book represents the Holocaust’s dark history and survivors’ efforts to start life again. He explains how the journey helped him to both embrace his Jewish heritage and break a generation of silence.

Along the way he found some surprising things, such as his mother had written an account of the Vilnius ghetto liquidation, where she lived. Raphael says he knew nothing about it until he was contacted on the Internet.

Writing the story required his skill both as an academic and as a mystery writer, Raphael was a Michigan State University professor of American thought and language for 13 years before switching to full time writing in 1988.

He visited Germany three times to research the book.

Probably the most dramatic experience in the book comes when Raphael holds his mother’s prisoner’s card in his hand. “It was the actual card they used when she was admitted, processed, in one of the camps,” he said.

Raphael said he was “struck by the very elegant and very striking penmanship she used.” “I was impressed that she kept human dignity with something as small as that,” he said.

He also found immense irony in a line on the card stating that all questions would need to be answered truthfully under threat of punishment. “What punishment would be worse than death?” he asked.

In this article, he claims no one has tried to write such a story which ties all these elements together and which mixes his nice contemporary travels with the reality of camp visits integral to his parents’ lives.

He tried to track each story to its end, even though some were “dead ends.”

Raphael also knows that this is why so many Holocaust stories are difficult to trace, which was underscored by the recent fraudulent Holocaust story, “Angel at the Fence.” “As soon as I heard the story I knew it was a hoax,” he said. “I was appalled, but Americans love a romantic story.”

Raphael will speak on “My Germany,” at 7pm, Wednesday, March 18 at Everybody Reads Books & Stuff, 2019 E. Michigan Ave., Lansing. Read the complete article here.

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