Leeds Literary Festival

A Festival of Words and Ideas

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Milim Spring 2019

Emil Draitser

Laughing all the way to Freedom

In his autobiographical trilogy, lively, evocative, and rich with humor, Hunter College Russian professor Emil Draitser describes his life as a Jew in the Soviet Union. Shush! Growing up Jewish under Stalin opens with the author’s startling discovery: many years after making his way to America from Odessa in Soviet Ukraine, every time he uttered the remark “Jewish”—even in casual conversation—he lowered his voice.

This behavior was a natural by-product, he realized, of growing up in the anti-Semitic, post-Holocaust, Soviet Union when “Shush!” was the most frequent word he heard from his parents trying to keep a low profile. The compelling memoir provides a unique account of mid-twentieth-century existence in Russia as the young Draitser struggles to reconcile the harsh values of Soviet society with the values of his working-class Jewish family.

 

In Jaws of the Crocodile covers Emil’s adult years in the Soviet Union, focusing on his work for Krokodil, a major satirical publication, which was allowed “to ridicule things the state apparatus has proved wrong and worthy of criticism.” The book explores what it means to be a satirist and a Jew in a country lacking freedom of expression. His experience provides a window into the lives of a generation of artists who could poke fun and make readers laugh, as long as they toed a narrow, state-approved line.

 

Farewell, Mama Odessa is devoted to the travails of Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union and adjustment to life in a totally different culture. Drawing on the rich tradition of Odessan humor, this autobiographical novel explores the most powerful innate motivation that drives many people to leave the country they were born and raised, about their hopes and dreams, their aspirations to achieve their full human potential.

 


Yanky Fachler

A military lunatic asylum in Buckinghamshire – the Jews at Bletchley Park

Maybe unsurprisingly, Britain’s top-secret WW2 decoding centre at Bletchley Park had a hugely disproportionate number of Jews working there. Yanky describes some of the Jewish decoders and other personnel, and also explores some unexpected links between Bletchley Park and the future State of Israel.


Daniel Lee

The SS Officer's Armchair

It began with an armchair. It began with the surprise discovery of a stash of personal documents covered in swastikas sewn into its cushion. The SS Officer’s Armchair is the story of what happened next, as Daniel Lee follows the trail of cold calls, documents, coincidences and family secrets, to uncover the life of one Dr Robert Griesinger from Stuttgart. Who was he? What had his life been – and how had it ended?

Daniel Lee reveals the strange life of a man whose ambition propelled him to become part of the Nazi machinery of terror. He discovers his unexpected ancestral roots, untold stories of SS life and family fragmentation. As Lee delves deeper, Griesinger’s responsibility as an active participant in Nazi crimes becomes clearer.

Dr Robert Griesinger’s name is not infamous. But to understand the inner workings of the Third Reich, we need to know not just its leaders, but the ordinary Nazis who made up its ranks. Revealing how Griesinger’s choices reverberate into present-day Germany, and among descendants of perpetrators, Lee raises potent questions about blame, manipulation and responsibility.

A historical detective story and a gripping account of one historian’s hunt for answers, The SS Officer’s Armchair is at once a unique addition to our understanding of Nazi Germany and a chilling reminder of how such regimes are made not by monsters, but by ordinary people.


Austin Duffy

Ten Days

Wolf’s recently-estranged wife Miriam passes away suddenly, leaving him and their teenage daughter, Ruth, behind. They travel to New York from London to scatter Miriam’s ashes in the Hudson River during the ten High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. But Miriam’s conservative Jewish family are adamantly against her choice of burial. Wolf must balance these complex tensions while at the same time attempting to reconnect with his daughter, from whom he has kept a devastating secret.

 

A hugely moving novel about family bonds under strain, Ten Days asks fundamental questions about life and death that will stay with you a long time after the final page.

AUSTIN DUFFY’s debut novel This Living and Immortal Thing was shortlisted for the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year, was Runner-Up for the McKitterick Prize and was highly commended for the BMA Medical Books Awards. Duffy grew up in Ireland, studied medicine at Trinity College Dublin and is a practising medical oncologist. He lives in Ireland with his wife and two children.


Micahel Tobias

Ich bin ein Berliner: (re)uniting 5 half-siblings from 4 different mothers

During the Covid19 pandemic in the UK in July 2020 a woman asked for help in identifying her newly-discovered (via DNA) Jewish birth-father. She could not imagine the story about to unfold. In the next three weeks, following the DNA trail and building family trees for each of 8 significant DNA hits on 3 different websites, her ties to four half-siblings were identified, all sharing the same father but with four different mothers. To be certain of the connections between the DNA matches and the half-siblings, it was necessary to use the JRI-Poland database to create family trees going back to the late 1700s. In the process the accuracy of the DNA-estimated family relationships could be compared with the true family relationships and the impact of any endogamy could be analysed.

 

Michael is a co-founder and Board Member of Jewish Records Indexing – Poland (1995-); Vice President of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain (JGSGB 2019-); Honorary Research Fellow – Genealogical Studies, University of Strathclyde (2020-); Former Vice President, Programming of JewishGen, Inc (1995-2018). He was Database matching consultant to the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims.  Michael was awarded the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies Lifetime Achievement award in Washington in 2011. He was awarded the OBE for services to the Jewish Community in the Queen’s New Year Honours List 2021.


 

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