Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Pandora’s Box

or jar…

    In Greek mythology, Pandora's box is the large jar(πιθος pithos) carried by Pandora (Πανδώρα) that unleashed many terrible things on mankind – ills, toils and sickness – and hope.
    After Prometheus' theft of the secret of fire, Zeus ordered Hephaestus to create the woman Pandora as part of the punishment for mankind. Pandora was given many seductive gifts from Aphrodite, Hermes, Hera, Charites, and Horae.
    For fear of additional reprisals, Prometheus warned his brother Epimetheus not to accept any gifts from Zeus, but Epimetheus did not listen, and married Pandora. Pandora had been given a large jar and instruction by Zeus to keep it closed, but she had also been given the gift of curiosity, and ultimately opened it. When she opened it, all of the evils, ills, diseases, and burdensome labor that mankind had not known previously, escaped from the jar, but it is said, that at the very bottom of her jar, there lay hope. (Source: Wikipedia)
    The key to this myth is curiosity and hope. I understand Pandora’s nature and how difficult it was to quell her curiosity. I was always the child that said, “Why?” However, I learned to say "Why?" to myself. Saying "Why?" out loud was discouraged. For different reasons, both my father and my mother presented me with a library of dysfunctional behavior during my childhood.
    The out of print book that I have been trying to purchase for several years about the Jews of Eger/Cheb was available from a university library. I received the book on an inter-library loan for two weeks. I was tempted to keep it. However, we, as a society, have to think about the conflicting messages we are sending to the younger set about behaviors and morals. I have sent it back.
    I speak and read English. Ordering a book written in Czech. was a gamble. My first goal when I received the book was to look up Paul Löwy in the index. Löwy is a common name, like Smith. In internet searches I have found several in the holocaust with the name Paul Löwy that are not related. My grandfather’s brother was a lawyer and a well-known puppeteer. This makes the search unique. My grandfather was a shop-keeper, the odds of him being published anywhere in the books about the Jewish in World War II Europe are slim. And as I suspected, there was my great-uncle in black and white, with his puppet.
    To see my great uncle, you can watch him in this movie. In the beginning of the movie, there is a puppet donkey introduction. At about 41 to 46 into the movie, there is a campfire like scene with people sitting on straw bales watching a puppet show. The puppet master is Paul Löwy. He was a lawyer and immigrated to Israel in 1939, spending most of his time working with his puppets that he built himself. The actual film:
http://w3.castup.net/spielberg/index.aspx?lang=en&id=282 from http://www.spielbergfilmarchive.org.il/kv/index.html
The bio on the movie “ OUT OF EVIL / MI'KLALAH LE'BRACHAH” is at
    Back at work on the book, I found that the Google translator is the easiest to use. I spent several late nights typing Paul's information and hitting the translate button. This was tedious because of the accents above the letters. There was not much information there that I didn’t know, but it was fun.
    The autumn of 1938 brought the Kristallnacht. In Eger/Cheb, the glass storefronts of Jewish shopkeepers were broken, the synagogue was burned, and old Jewish men were forced to crawl in the streets on all fours like dogs. In 1938, my grandfather gathered my mother, her brother, and his wife and fled Eger/Cheb, going to Prague. Later, my mother’s father (Friedrich Löwy) decided to take his family and head toward Holland while his brother Paul went to Israel. My mother and I have talked about her Uncle Paul and the little she knew about his life in Israel after he left them in Prague.

I let the book I was trying to understand sit. It was several days before I was to take it back to the library when I opened it again.

    I remember as a child when I visited grandfather, he would show me a box of large suit buttons. He would fondle them like a lost treasure. It did seem odd at the time. But, it was also understood that we shouldn’t talk about his life before he came to America to be a gardener.
    My mother’s grandfather was Eduard. She was eight when they fled Eger/Cheb. I probed her fractured memory. She knew that he was a rabbi, and also had a factory that made cloth. I now suspect that this is what supplied the shop that my grandfather was a part of and that the buttons he absentmindedly fondled as he showed them to me were for the suits he would have had tailored for his customers.
    Years ago, I had asked my grandmother about Eduard Löwy and the information I have is that he died in 1924. That is one of the few letters I saved from my grandmother, and I am looking at it again. It says 1924. I really do understand Pandora’s curiosity.
    Before bringing the book back to the library, I thought that I should scan the pages that I had ignored for any mention of Löwy beyond my great uncle's biography and translate the sentence later.

    As I scanned, the sentences mentioning Löwy turned into pages. I felt like Pandora, opening something that was not supposed to be opened. Was there something here that I was not meant to know, but like Pandora, I am curious. She did find hope. It is not a bad thing to admit that I am Jewish, it shouldn’t be a secret.
    So as I copied pages to translate later, there was my great-grandfather’s business card in front of me. I think, no it must be.

feintuch (fine cloth) –
u. schaf(sheep) woll (textiles) waren(merchandise, goods)- fabriksnlederlange (factory leather for a long time)
eduard lowy, eger
lieferant (SUPPLIER)

d. offiziers(officers) - : uniformierung des(university forming of the) : landwehr(land resistance) - infsnterie(INFANTRY) - regiments

eger nr. 6

And a picture of my great-grandfather with his sister Trude.

“Eduard Löwy se narodil podle udaju v kartotece zemrelych v Terezine a v matrice 2, ledna 1856, Jak vzpominky jeho vnucky pani, Lilly Pavlove tak zminky v nejruznejsich materialech dokladaji ze sve narozeniny slavil vzdy jiz 25. prosince (1855). Interview s Lilly Pavlovou ze 6. a 7 brezna 1998 v Chebu a SUA Praha, fond KTOVS, Kartoteka zemrelych v Terezine, Löwy Eduard”
    Edward Löwy was born, according to the filing cabinet of deaths in Terezin and the matrix 2, January 1856, as memories of his granddaughter Mrs. Lilly, Pavlov and mentions in a variety of materials evidenced by their always already celebrated his birthday on the 25th December (1855). Interview with Paul Lilly of 6 and 7 March 1998 in Cheb and SUA Praha, fond KTOVS, file lost in Terezin, Edward Löwy
    The fortress of Terezín was constructed between the years 1780 and 1790 by the orders of the Austrian emperor Joseph II in the north-west region of Bohemia. On June 10, 1940, the Gestapo took control of Terezín and set up prison in the Small Fortress. By November 24, 1941, the Main Fortress was turned into a walled ghetto. To the outside it was presented by the Nazis as a model Jewish settlement, but in reality it was a concentration camp. Theresienstadt was also used as a transit camp for European Jews en route to Auschwitz.
    A rabbi with a factory to make textiles and a sister named Trude, there can not be two with that biography. He didn’t die in 1924. Great-grandfather’s rabbi responsibilities are the focus of the next blog.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Jewish Pirates

Yes, Jewish Pirates.

For practicing Jews and for those of Jewish heritage, the existence of the country of Israel is important. People of Jewish heritage have been without a homeland and this is what Israel represents. This book gives me a better understanding of why. They have been driven out of every homeland they have established. People of Norwegian ancestry can proudly point to the map to show where their ancestors came from. Japanese can point out their island nation. If you are of Jewish heritage, your homeland may be a steamer trunk and forged papers.

I am reading “Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean” by Edward Kritzler. Unlike the movie “Pirates of the Caribbean”, this book is about real pirates, real Jewish pirates in the 1500 and 1600’s. The storyteller weaves a colorful tale. It is another chapter in the history of the Jewish people, but also a great story of maritime history. You don’t have to be Jewish to appreciate this history, with struggles between England and Spain for control of the New World set on the blue seas of the Caribbean.

In the book about Jewish pirates, on the day that Christopher Columbus set sail for on his epic voyage, ethnic cleansing was the order of the day. The Royal Edict of Expulsion of the Jews mandated that 100,000 be expelled. The adventurous went on to the New World, those that remained hid or went to Portugal and became Catholics.

Jews were in Spain before there was a Spain. They settled in King Solomon’s trading post (1000 B.C.) and that became Sephard, an outpost of the Roman Empire. The story told is that Emperor Titus conquered Israel, burned the Temple, and expelled the Jews. But, the Jews of Sephard remained and flourished, as tenants. The Visgoths, then the Vandals, Moors, and Catholics, made it illegal for Jews to own land. However, the Jews were well educated, in feudal Spain they were a merchant class and had respected physicians and financiers.

In Spain, the Jews, unwelcome in other parts of Europe, prospered. Then there was the Massacre of 1391 fueled by a Friar who blamed them for atrocities from the Black Plague to killing Christian children and drinking their blood. Of the 500,000 Jews in Sephard, 100,000 died, 100,000 converted to Catholicism, and 300,000 hid until peace was restored a year later. The converted Jews were called New Christians and rose to positions of power. However, for the church, this created heretics, allowing another sore to fester until it burst. Even dead New Christians weren’t safe in the New World. Many times they were declared heretics after they died, their bodies dug up, burned, and their wealth taken away and distributed to others.

What has the world lost with this continual persecution? When my merchant grandparents came to this country, they changed their names, and my mother became Lutheran. Even in the safe harbors of New York, my grandmother turned her back on who she was and became someone, I am sure, that she didn’t recognize. The Bohemian town that they abandoned on the Czech-German border, Edger-Cheb, had been home to Jews since at least the 1300’s. Given recorded history, I am beginning to understand the paranoia that ruled the rest of her life.

Talking about life before living in the United States for my grandparents never happened. Admitting to Jewish heritage meant the possible risk of persecution. However, Rabbi Shira, who came to celebrate Shabbat with my mother, explained some of the nuances of being Jewish. She says that education is important to the Jewish people. She revealed that in the United States, over forty percent of our doctors are of Jewish heritage, as are forty percent of our college professors. I wonder where the world would have been without the persecution of the Jewish people.