Sunday, December 18, 2016

THE EERIE PHOTOGRAPH THAT MIGHT CONTAIN A GLIMPSE OF MY MATERNAL GREAT GRANDMOTHER, WHO DISAPPEARED DURING THE NAZI OCCUPATION OF MIELEC, POLAND NEARLY SEVENTY-FIVE YEARS AGO.

One woman in the foreground of the market (third from left) resembles my grandmother’s mother.


Many families all over the world can narrate accounts of their relatives who went missing in the Holocaust—to a point. Some narrators, like my maternal grandmother, would have to stop at a certain juncture, and with a shrug, with empty palms balancing even weights, painfully state, “We never heard from them again.” That phrase of resignation, which I encountered dozens of times from youth through adulthood, referred to my grandmother’s mother, Meresse Offen, and my grandmother’s young brother, David Offen, trapped in their native village, Mielec, after the German army invaded Poland. The 1939 Nazi incursion would be “the point” beyond which the narration could not continue with certainty, and the speaker would be left to repackage the grief, storing the information of the loss temporarily, until the impetus for reiteration would recall the names—Meresse and David—to the lips, to be restored by the elegiac necessities of speech.

Speculation on the plights of our relatives abounded. Some family members contended that Meresse had been shot to death after digging her own grave. They averred that David had been sent to work (and die) in a nearby Polish aircraft factory, one that the Nazis had repurposed to produce German warplanes. Two family members traveled (separately) to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, where they offered conflicting testimony, one declaring the veracity of these events (shooting, aircraft factory) while the other placed question marks on the part of the form reserved for cause of death. My mother references a blurry event from her childhood, when a former neighbor from Mielec was said to have visited her household in New York, conveying information about how Meresse and David perished. I grew interested in the story, and in researching it, hoped to unearth evidence that might help us shift “the point” of knowledge toward a place of greater detail.

To some extent, this voyage becomes a tale of “Internet triumph.” Email communication with a Jewish Records Indexing researcher led me to the 1941 Nazi census of Mielec, one that listed “Meresa Offen” and “Dawid Offen” as living at “3-go Maya”, the purported site of a family lumber business. Other web sites (including that of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum) contained testimonies or oral histories that established the brutality of the Nazi regime when it first occupied the small town in 1939: burning many Jews inside a ritual bath, to cite one example. Knowing, however, that my relatives had survived until the census, I sought details on how they might have fared under occupation. Many of the oral histories suggested that each household supplied a worker for the occupiers, but otherwise, many of those living in Mielec struggled beneath the twin burdens of poverty and travel restriction: few strayed far from home. 


A German soldier snapped the market photo and inscribed the back: October 2, 1940, Market in Milec.


Most of my grandmother’s family had emigrated to the United States in the years leading up to the outbreak of World War II in Europe, but her parents and a younger sibling remained in the Old Country. The family, as a unit, had traveled to Vienna between World Wars, owing to political and military instability in Poland. After Germany annexed Austria as part of the Anschluss, Meresse Offen and her youngest son, David, returned to Mielec, hoping to resuscitate the family lumber business. The invasion of Poland separated husband and wife, father and son. Markus Offen, the aged patriarch, would flee Europe on one of the final passenger missions of the Italian vessel, the S.S. Rex, departing Genoa for New York City in early 1940. Official records describe him as suffering from senility, but he wasn’t senile, he was extremely distraught over having to choose between an unlikely reunion with his wife and son—and self-preservation.

A few months after weary, depressed Markus Offen reached his children in New York, a German soldier garrisoned in Mielec snapped several photographs of the village, carefully inscribing each with date and setting. Perhaps he meant to document his travels as a soldier, but he indirectly created a portrait of Jewish life that would later be discovered by a Canadian soldier after the German had been killed in battle. The Canadian soldier returned home with these (and other) photographs, eventually bequeathing them to his nephew, who, as part of the “Internet triumph”, posted them online as a photoset. Since the Wehrmacht soldier had inscribed many of his photographs “Milec”, the German spelling of Mielec, a Google search for “Milec” would reveal these wonders. I conducted such a search. Up came the photoset, which, by itself, would have been a find, but one of the photographs in particular would draw my family’s attention.


(L) Meresse Offen in later life. (R) Meresse and David Offen, hale and hearty, in earlier days.


The soldier’s market photograph features three women in the foreground, including one who stares downward, unwilling to glance at the camera. Her image compares favorably—eerily—to a family photograph of Meresse Offen, the print presumably carried to the States by her husband, Markus, having fled from persecution aboard the S.S. Rex. The wig style, the jaw-line, the frown: it might be our lost relative, my great grandmother. We can’t say for sure, of course, but the Nazi census doesn’t list many women in their sixties, and even if it isn’t her, it might as well be her, for the woman in the soldier’s snapshot as well as my great grandmother (were they not the same person) probably lived the same desolate, anguished lives under occupation. Subsequent scholarship by Rochelle Saidel, in her book Mielec, Poland: The Shtetl That Became a Nazi Concentration Camp, would authoritatively describe the end of Mielec’s Jewish population.

Even before Saidel wrote her book, it wasn’t a secret that Mielec’s Jews were deported on March 9, 1942, a bitterly cold, snowy day. But Saidel’s book probably helps us adjust “the point” where facts trail off, and speculation begins. Had the elderly Meresse Offen, useless by Nazi standards, lived to the day of the deportation, she was almost certainly shot to death, or if not shot to death, then transported to the Lublin District, before being rerouted to a death camp. (In all likelihood, she did not dig her own grave.) Had her son, David, survived until the brutally cold day in March, 1942, then he might’ve been sent to the labor camp—the airplane factory—outside Mielec, or if he wasn’t selected for slave labor, then he might’ve been transported to the Lublin District, before further transport, in all likelihood, to a death camp. Just as we can’t say whether the woman in the soldier’s photograph is my great grandmother, we can’t say exactly what happened to these two humble relatives. Still, we can shift “the point” of understanding a little bit further into the clarified light.

David Offen was a handsome fellow who perished in the Holocaust. (Worked to death, typhoid sickness, gas chamber, executed by soldier, asphyxiated in cattle car?) I wonder if he was ever “whistled out” (ordered around) as were the Jews in Paul Celan’s famous poem, “Todesfuge.” David had ten siblings, one of whom, Anna, became my grandmother. She famously toiled as a maternity ward nurse in New York, sending the vast majority of her earnings to Europe, in order to assist members of her family and her husband, Emil Ringel, to emigrate. While the Offen family did experience large-city life in Vienna, I’ve got to imagine that New York bedazzled them: the lights, vivacity, melting pot, mechanization, jazz. It was the trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie who declared “no him, no me,” when referring to another trumpeter, Louis Armstrong, and the same is true on my end, when thinking of my grandmother: no her, no me. I’m lucky to be alive.


Sources of information:

Oral history of Offen family
Jewish Records Indexing, 1941 Nazi Census of Mielec
Markus Offen immigrant identification card
Ancestry.com, passenger manifest for S.S. Rex
Milec (Mielec) photoset, including email communication with the owner of the photographs
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum oral histories, including one by Jack Sittsamer
Rochelle Saidel. Mielec, Poland: the Shtetl That Became a Nazi Concentration Camp
Mark Verstandig. I rest my case
Yad Vashem
Wikipedia, Mielec entry
Paul Celan, “DeathFugue”, as translated by Michael Hamburger
Dizzy Gillespie quote, regarding Louis Armstrong 


Saturday, November 12, 2016

POLLSTERGEIST.



pollstergeist

Noun  |  Poll ∙ ster ∙ geist  |  ⁄  ˈpōl-stər-ˈgīst  ∕

: A spirit that disrupts questions for a political poll, the tallies of a poll, the presentation of a poll, and the effects of a poll in determining the outcome of an election.


Examples of pollstergeist in sentences:

1. The pollstergeist replied “Hillary” every time the pollster asked a voter for his or her preference in the election, thereby leading experts to conclude that Clinton would defeat Trump.

2. The Democrats were toppled when a pollstergeist spread misinformation during the 2016 presidential contest, the results from which caused the party’s relevance to decline sharply.


First definitive use of pollstergeist: November 9, 2016.

Synonyms: Ouija Wedgie, Seer Sucker, Tedium Rare

Antonyms: Chekhov, Scalia, van Leeuwenhoek

Word origin: Pal (Dutch, chum) Stir (Old English, porridge manipulation), Gas (Greek, flatus).


Variation:

poultrygeist: A haunted chicken. A cage-free, pasture-raised, foraging, haunted chicken that lays deviled eggs. Eating the eggs will increase your ghostly cholesterol. Sucking on the eggs will mimic the recent anguish of Democrats [n.b. Not to be confused with poultryheist (grand theft chicken.)]


Sunday, November 6, 2016

ENDORSES HILLARY CLINTON, THE DEMOCRAT MACHINE VETERAN WHO SUFFERS FROM CHRONIC EMAIL FAILURE, IN HER PRESIDENTIAL RACE (HAVE YOU HEARD ABOUT THIS?) AGAINST THE REALITY TV TYCOON, DONALD TRUMP, WHO SUFFERS FROM PROMISCUOUS ANGER AND ANGRY PROMISCUITY.




Politicians frequently gerrymander their own policies, “calculate” or “tailor” them if you prefer, in order to compete for a particular coalition of voters or to establish credentials for the occasion of greater ambition. By now, the Democrat nominee, Hillary Clinton, owing to a lengthy career in politics, including her participation in the career of her controversial husband, has probably muddied the museum of her viewpoints by pledging support for a sufficient number of leaky, contradictory, or even baldly conservative stances. Swing, centrist, and left-of-center voters who vote Hillary must be trusting in the sense that she represents, however tepidly, the inclusive space where most Americans would probably situate themselves. We say “must be trusting” because her campaign hasn’t done enough to define her core values, hasn’t done enough to establish her as a likable candidate, and hasn’t done enough to defeat allegations of dishonesty frequently recited by her polarizing opponent, Donald Trump. The “Crooked Hillary” sticker, which Trump coined early in his battle to win the Republican nomination, functions best when her foe doesn’t supply verification. “Crooked Hillary” this, he says, “Crooked Hillary” that, “Crooked Hillary” universe. Trump also scores points by portraying the Democrat nominee as being mired in the ineffective politics of the past, and establishing himself as the agent for rescuing America from its purported economic and cultural decline. In her two campaigns for president, Hillary has somehow failed to establish herself—herself, a woman, set against more than two hundred years of male presidencies—as the change candidate, even as Trump’s profane orientation toward women has provided the Democrat with ample material for television commercials and reprimands during the debates.

Yet the case for Hillary begins, finally, with the debates. She out-pointed her opponent for all three of them, including the third contest, during which Trump, arguably, presented himself in improved fashion. When we say “she won”, we mean she demonstrated broad knowledge—a command—of various issues, as opposed to Trump, who periodically seemed lost when it came to the inconvenience of details. Often times, Trump projected annoyance or poor sportsmanship. In the case of the second debate, the town hall setting where the candidates were free to roam the stage, he famously loomed around Hillary, lending additional credence to the growing legend of his gender-specific hostility. The stalking, harrumphing, acerbic Trump radiated bullying energy, in how he tried to dominate Clinton’s televised image by virtue of his larger body. It was then, especially, when Hillary wouldn’t rattle, and the toughness she exhibited, the mettle, might reassure wobbly voters of how she might comport herself on the world stage, among the likes of Vladimir Putin, a character whose ties to this election—and potentially to Trump himself—continue to be lightly investigated. The amount of scrutiny heaped upon Clinton’s shadowy but otherwise innocuous email server ought to be refocused on the alleged links between Putin and cyber-crime, including the strongman’s reputed interest in sabotaging the presidential contest. Trump’s own mysterious comments in calling for Russia to hack into, or hack further into Clinton’s emails, ought to raise the specter of collusion. If nothing else, it’s a strange thing to have said in the first place. Of course, the Republican candidate has numbed the American public with his flair for theatrical commentary, and the route to defeating him won’t be accomplished through mere criticism. Trump’s supporters have made peace with his unending capacity for indecency.

Democrats ultimately chose Hillary as the party’s representative despite the insurgent appeal of Bernie Sanders, a candidate whose identifiable anti-corporate message easily attracted young voters, liberals, and independents. In denying Sanders, the party establishment really flexed its musculature, and by “musculature”, we mean the big-donor throwback apparatus of the democrat machine, even in a cycle when many voting blocs hungered for the fresh territory of a political outsider. Enter Trump, who easily and angrily vanquished a host of well-funded, flabby Republican hopefuls, many of whom denounce him, to this day. In the course of consolidating his power, Trump battled many additional Republican icons, including John McCain, the unlikely recipient of a scathing Trump attack. When Trump faulted McCain for being captured by the Vietcong—“I like people who weren’t captured,” went the quote—he unthinkingly called into question the service of countless heroic members of the armed services. Consider the roughly 23,000 American troops captured (or listed as missing) during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, a five-week winter counteroffensive launched by the retreating Germans that created a dangerous “bulge” in the Allied lines. Trump wouldn’t have liked those 23,000 soldiers, apparently, despite the fact that they aided in thwarting a vicious, desperate attempt by the Nazis to prolong the war and cause even more Allied casualties. The Republican nominee hasn’t served his country, of course. He was given a million dollars as a young man, and has spent his life, by all accounts, shamelessly multiplying it, and shamelessly bragging about it, as if that’s the highest single calling for an American.

The great American, Eleanor Roosevelt.

We at Blood And Gutstein supported Bernie Sanders in the primaries, and as Bernie did, we endorse Hillary Clinton for president. Should she prevail on Tuesday, when the country completes its voting, we hope that she’ll incorporate many of Bernie’s themes into her first term as president, as well as battle the obstructionist Republican-dominated Congress, should it prevail, too, on Tuesday, with all the vim and vigor she unleashed in the debates. Hillary doesn’t strike us as being the perfect candidate, but she is—by far—the best remaining candidate in the contest. If the nation elects her, then Democrats will have broken both the race and gender barriers in presidential elections, despite the fact that Eleanor Roosevelt was truly the first, if unelected, woman president of the United States.


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

SONNET (FOR ECHOLOCATION)



Homely streets terminate at the windowpanes of phantom addresses. A bit of salt in the clouds. What percentage the blood from metals?

A scream, a siren, the two together before the scream alone. Purpose crossing purpose as when the purpose of haste crosses the purpose of defenselessness in the witch light of early condemnations. The confetti of isolations.


The single color where upper and lower distance cannot continue as distance. There were three stars in the evening sky. “Let us kiss three times—and all will be forgiven.”


Proximity might be painful but echo requires a neighborhood, an everyday bird climbing through mistranslation. A stripe of sky campaigns between a block of cold rooftops and the westerly hull of a warm cloud. Interior man, limited man, static.


A helicopter rattles in the rustiness of its own levity, bucking above a plain grid. The taxicab driver remembered a boxer, Ike, he could dance and he could sting, the meter nickling a fare.


this post is part of a double issue. also see SONNET (FOR POKÉMON GO)

SONNET (FOR POKÉMON GO)



In the still of the night was the same moonshine as in the still of the day. You keep phoning in sick because you’ve got a weekend immune system. The strongman of Samsung and Goliath slays several Philistines with the jawbone of an ass, before his smartphone catches fire. A detective once explained that he would place suspects into two categories: Alibi Yes and Alibi No. Given his one phone call, the Jamaican tried to explain his predicament—“I’m in de pokey, mon!”—but his friends thought he was relishing his commitment to the anime game, Pokémon Go. Eventually he was freed, since the jury couldn’t reach a verdict. (They were dread-locked.)

When Jack Kerouac wasn’t himself, you could say that he was “beat off.” Literary scholars have unearthed two more J.D. Salinger works, and will now combine them in an expanded collection, Franny, Granny, Tranny, and Zooey. There’s a hell of a medium-cooked pasta and its name is al Dente’s Inferno. Lawyers love the morality tale, “The Torts and the Heir”, but often misinterpret Fort Reform: instead of holding down the fort they advocate for cutting a fort, instead. Surely the wife of a famous psychotherapist stepped into her undergarment, her Freudian slip. Definitions: (1) She peered like a great cat, so the media lionized her (2) The Scottish and their Lyin’ Ayes!


this post is part of a double issue. also see SONNET (FOR ECHOLOCATION)

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

SONNET (FOR EMPORIUM OF YOUTH)



Seen from another angle as when an area—station, square—contemplated on Sunday.

The expression may calcify into a demonstration of thistle-thorn dismay.

By “imagine your face” I mean shadow, your expression itself a shadow.

These colors: light green sky, pale stone, graffiti: these colors now.

The emporium of youth versus the emporium of adulthood.

If Person A will ail at Point X, then Person B will ail at Point Y.

(Loneliness aggrandizes the symmetrical nature of most pain.)

Whereas a big galosh of dirty cloud busts open a caucus of old doves.

These colors: pale stone, water-wood, radio tower: these colors now.

What brightens the ticking synapses versus what warms the solid state capacity for violence.

The difference between idling (unit of river bank) and waiting (unit of high-rise.)

Rust, rusty coloring, what gnaws into our porticos of awareness.

By “imagine your face”, I mean the uncorrected ritual of love.

Or the sliding scale of sunlight, or the balloting of voices in airshafts and alleys.



this post is part of a triple issue. also see: TRUMP & JUMPING JACKS


DONALD TRUMP’S AVOCADO TRADE POLICY CALLED INTO QUESTION AS UNDECIDED SWING STATE VOTERS MULL THE FUTURE OF SUPER-FOODS UNDER A DRUMPF PRESIDENCY.



How does Donald Trump expect Mexican farmers to deliver avocados after he’s built the anti-Mexican immigration wall? By throwing them? One at a time? Ostensibly, there could be little avocado-sized holes in the wall so these super-foods could be kindly passed-through (one at a time) or of course giant bucket-loads of the fruits could be launched into the Southwestern United States via catapults. Yes, the Mexican workers would chop the restraining ropes with axes and lo, the avocados would fly—into our yards, onto our roofs, into the windows of our Drumpf-fearing children, onto our crumbling infrastructure, into our floundering eco-systems.

Trump hopes to win the election by banking on the fact that people won’t feel comfortable voting for the country’s first major-party female candidate for the White House. In other words, nobody we’ve voted for (except Geraldine Ferraro) has wielded bosoms. To be fair, though, Mike Pence has seemed a little jiggly during this election cycle and Drumpf, famously, won’t release his bust size. To wit, the Clinton-Kaine ticket might be the only one that can offer gender-appropriate bosoms, busts, ribcages, breastplates, and pectoralia. (Gary Johnson couldn’t name an international boob who he respected, so his cleavage won’t be invited to the debates.)

Have you read Trump’s real economic program? Skip to the part where he envisions, as did Hoover, a uniform measure of prosperity. Where Hoover promised “a chicken in every pot,” Drumpf selects the automobile—as opposed to the stew pot—as the homogenous object that will receive the unit of comeuppance. His plan calls for “A Douchebag in Every Car.” Does he mean an airbag? Don’t most cars already possess an airbag? Don’t most cars already have a douchebag (behind the wheel)? Can you imagine GM issuing a douchebag recall? Can you imagine young hoodlums breaking into cars, just to steal the douchebag? The country will be Driving Drumpf.


Donald Trump wants to irrigate drivers just before they smack their foreheads against the dashboard. This, Dear Reader, is what we call “Meta Fur.” The next time you drink a 40 with your (moderate) Republican chums on the stoop, tell ‘em, should they vote Hillary, the Republicans can spend four more years clobbering her, again. She’s more of a Republican than Drumpf, and there are laws against Democrats impersonating Republicans. Paul Ryan can chuck impeaches at her. Paul Ryan can impeach Bill Clinton for calling himself First Man. Adam was the First Man, he was American, and he broke breadsticks in the Olive Garden of Eden.


Just relax, okay? Eleanor Roosevelt was the first woman to be President of the United States, so Hillary would be second. But if we vote Drumpf in November, then Vladimir Putin could become the first sitting Russian leader to assume the U.S. presidency. Trump can, perhaps, buy-off Putin by offering him several detained avocados: a super-food bribe to avoid a super-feud! Be vewwwy vewwwy careful, Dear Voter, be vewwwy vewwwy careful.


this post is part of a triple issue. also see: SONNET & JUMPING JACKS