Friday, November 8, 2019

Kristallnacht - The Excuse Behind the Glass

Kristallnacht; like all things; has a beginning. We know the end result; the looting and burning of Jewish synagogues and businesses by ordinary Germans. These are the people who later said they knew nothing; kind of like Sgt. Schultz in the TV sitcom “Hogan’s Heroes”.

But the people doing the looting and burning that night were not in uniforms, and some may not have even really embraced the Nazi ideology. So how then did they wind up with bricks and bats in hand, smashing windows, looting and burning; beating people in the street who they merely suspected of being Jewish?

Many "reasons" have been manufactured over the years as to just what triggered Kristallnacht. Excuses have been invented to explain away the sudden outburst, which grew from something else which had been brewing. The following is the story of the actual incident which served as the spark which ignited Kristallnacht.

As it turns out, the incident; which served as that spark; took place only hours earlier, in Paris. It serves to remind us all that everything we do, no matter our intentions, must be undertaken with a look to the unintended consequences of our actions.

Kristallnacht was an abhorent display of hatred. Make no mistake about it, with or without this incident, the Holocaust which grew from it was going to happen anyway. This night was merely a taste of what was to come.

So, the following is not an excuse, nor an explanation. It's just the story of what happened in Paris which ignited the already noxious gas in the air that night back home in Germany.

Here then, is the story.

In 1938 the Germans began to deport Jews who were not born in Germany. “Germany for Germans!” was the cry. But there was a snag; the Jews being deported by the German government were refused entry back into Poland; which had not yet been conquered by the Nazi’s. That would be the next year. You have to marvel at the fact that the Polish people seemed to agree with Hitler’s stance against Jews, but when he conquered Poland one year later, he became evil incarnate.

Anyway, a Jewish man in Paris; Herschel Grynszpan, born of Polish-Jewish parents who lived in Germany; was outraged at the thought of his parent’s being involved in this game of political football. Moreover he decided to do something about it. His parents names were Riva and Sendel Grynszpan.

Taking himself to the German Embassy he asked to see someone; anyone. Now, that should have been a clue. But when you’re a member of the “master race” you don’t really think anyone is going to hurt you, so he was ushered in to see a low level attaché; a man named Ernst Vom Rath, who had spoken up in defense of the Jews before.  The young Jewish man living in Paris knew nothing about this German official and shot him dead.

Back in Germany the Brown shirts were grinning from ear to ear. Now the Jews weren’t only taking jobs away from the German people; they were killing them! They were killing them in foreign countries! They were killing even the moderate Germans who supported them! No longer could the people afford to wait. They must act now! They must send a clear and decisive message that the world would never forget.

Of course the irony is that; although the world would never forget; after the war was over you couldn't find a single person in that city who remembered where they were on the night of Kristallnacht. Like Sgt. Schultz; they knew nothing.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

"Five-Finger Discount" by Helene Stapinski

The only reason I can offer as to why I have never posted a review of this wonderful book before is that I read it in 2001;  eight years before this blog began! Now, with that explanation out of the way.....

What a charming and masterfully written book this is. So much so that it even made the cut recently when downsizing our home with my wife, Sue, in North Carolina. Both lovers of books, we had massive amounts of them at the old house but clearly, many needed to go. This book was not one of those.

Over the years I have read this book several times, and the characters in Ms. Stapinski's life have become as familiar to me as the ones drawn by Harper Lee or even Betty Smith in their respective accounts of growing up, the iconic "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn."  (Technically those books are fictional though both are actually thinly disguised autobiographies.)

I grew up in Brooklyn, just opposite Bayonne, the city a bit South of Jersey City. Perhaps that's why the book caught my interest. Aside from the story of her own colorful family, Ms. Stapinski has also painted a vivid portrait of the corruption which splashed across the headlines of the newspapers I delivered daily when I was about 12 years old in 1966.

Tracing her roots to find out just how her family got to Jersey City is a story familiar to most immigrant families. This includes the family skeletons left behind, and the characters surrounding you growing up. But her biggest question is why did they stop in Jersey City?

Her father and mother are immediately recognizable as being the same type of people we all grew up with. Hard working and basically honest folk, who bend the rules a bit when necessary to make ends meet, or provide something extra for the family.

Jersey City was a major shipping point for all kinds of  goods. From locally manufactured things like toothpaste to imported hams and clothes, a portion of everything seemed to "fall off the truck" just in time for birthdays, or even Christmas. It was the same in Brooklyn as it was in Jersey City. These were two cities where "bringing your work home with you" clearly meant something different than elsewhere.

Ms. Stapinksi writes ably; and with great style. On page after page the reader is regaled with stories of her colorful family; all their strengths and weaknesses are on display. But the love is there, too. I can feel it every time she goes to meet her Dad at the Majestic, the tavern he stopped into each night, coming home from work at the frozen food warehouse, a frozen portion of the nights dinner under his arm.

The author grew up during a time of great political and social change. Jersey City seemed to be doing it's very best to avoid both. Corruption was the norm. But, through the sepia lens of time, and with the skilled hand of a gifted writer, I actually find myself wishing for the "good old days" when I read this book.

We all have our quirky family members. But though many families try, usually in vain, to hide these black sheep,  Ms. Stapinski's family celebrates them in story, passing them down from one generation to the next.

It's a multi generational tale about the Polish and the Italian sides of her family and how they got together. It's also the story of the next generation, her parents. And, it is also the story of millions of 2nd generation Americans, and the line they walk between the values of their own heritage and the American "dream."

From her Grandfather Beansie, to her long suffering grandmother Babci, and her own parents daily struggle with the world around them, this book will keep you reading. And you'll come back to it again for a second helping. Because in so many ways we all share this story.

Masterly interwoven is the history of Jersey City and it's neighbors, along with the political corruption endemic to most industrial towns of the time. With a reporter's skill, she chronicles the major events of the times which came before here, allowing the reader to understand more fully the attitude of most in her community to legitimize the "swag", the stuff which "fell off the truck".

This book works on so many levels that it is almost impossible to do it justice here. You'll follow Ms.Stapinski's journey as a reporter on the local paper, to her year in Alaska and her eventual return to Jersey City, and ultimately her settlement in Brooklyn, where the trees grow. And when the time comes, when all of the loose threads of this tapestry are tied together, you'll savor the memories.

NOTE: Ms. Stapinski's father passed away on October 22, 1987. I happened to be reading that chapter on October 22nd. So, I found the authors web site and dropped her a note via e-mail. Mistaking me for someone else she replied with a short note which referenced a reading. Looking back at her web site I noticed that she has another book out.

It's about that family skeleton, a crime left behind in Italy.  That book is titled "Murder in Matera". You can be sure I will be reading and reviewing it here. Even if I have to find a copy which has "fallen off the truck."

Also of note is that "Five Finger Discount" was made into a mini series. I'll have to check that out. I wonder if the characters can be portrayed on film as vividly as the way in which the author presented them on paper. It will be a tough match....

Here is a link to the films website.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Eternal Spring

As long as there's a spring
I'll gladly brave the cold
dark days of winter
as the year is getting old.

As long as there are flowers
that come back every year,
I'll gladly take the darkness;
With it's cold and icy spear.

As long as there are people
planting trees they'll never see,
I have faith earth will prevail,
and last eternity.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Ken Burns Reads Rooftop Reviews! ("The Way" with Martin Sheen) 2011

NOTE:  September 22nd, 2019. Have just noticed the many recent negative comments about my review of this long forgotten film. But the best part was the comment from Ken Burns. Who knew he even read this blog? He wanted me to remove the whole thing. This post was originally done October 29, 2011. I have to wonder about the timing of these recent negative comments about an 8 year old review.

It seems I made an error in believing that the film is a true story, when in fact, it is only loosely based upon one. And I'm not the only one who was fooled, as you can see by googling the film on IMdB. Link handily provided below and in comments.

I have been on here for 10 years, apparently reviewing things with no problems of perception. I was surprised at the comments. (Please read them below.)

As previously stated, I am not the only one confused by this film. Read the plot summary on IMdB. It clearly says that he goes to retrieve the body of his son who died on the Pilgramage.

So, in essence, this review is an example of what can happen when a film is made too convoluted, or with an assumption that everyone knows the backstory.

Out of my 2,200 posts I may have gotten this one wrong. I think that figure speaks more to the clarity of the film's direction than to my ability to understand a film. It was pretty cool to have any comment at all though, even a negative one, from Ken Burns. I don't kid myself he is a regular reader. Just friends with someone who was annoyed with my review.

I have attempted to research and find out just what my error was, all the comments after the first one in 2012 were less than informative, just that the review was bad. If I ever re-screen this long forgotten film I will attempt to review it again. Meantime, I have modified it to remove any factual errors.

This film, is a story about hiking the Pyrenees between France and Spain. The purpose of the hike is to trod the road taken by so many Catholics over the centuries in tribute to Santiago de Compostela who made the journey centuries ago, arriving at the site of the famed cathedral named after him.


The film was written, and directed, by Mr. Estevez in tribute to his son, named Daniel in the film, and whom he plays in flashbacks. His death necessitated his father, named Tom in the film, played by Martin Sheen, traveling to France in order to collect his son's remains. Mr. Sheen was Daniel's real grandfather. Along the way he remembers the conversations he had with his son about taking this journey, and on a whim he decides to take the trip.

The Camino de Santiago crosses the Pyrenees from France to Spain, ending at the Cathedral. Tom decides to take this journey partly in tribute to his son, as well as a way to come to terms with his death. He is hoping to find the meaning of his son's death, but soon begins looking for the meaning behind his own life.

Tom, a widower, had not been especially close to his son in the last few years of his too short life. The last contact he had with Daniel took the form of a phone call in which Daniel describes the journey he is about to embark upon. The next call Tom receives is from the French authorities. His son is dead and now he must go to France to claim the remains, which in this case are ashes.

When he begins the trip he starts to experience flashbacks of the father-son conflicts they had been through. Daniel has repeatedly asked that his father not "judge" him. In reality, Tom doesn't want to judge him at all; merely understand him. Arriving in France he meets a French policeman, played by Tcheky Karyo, who explains the history, and meaning, of the journey his son was taking. This serves to propel Tom on the path that his son was walking at the time of his death. He also plans to scatter his son's ashes at various places along the way.

There are three major characters whom Tom meets, and befriends, along the way. There is the obese Dutch party guy, played by Yorick van Wageningen; an Irish braggart suffering from writer’s block, played by James Nesbitt; and finally the chain-smoking Canadian woman, played by Deborah Kara Unger, who never learned how to be civil. Tom is stuck with this group as he struggles to keep his reasons for the hike to himself.

But as the group make their way across the mountains defenses break down, as each of the group comes to realize that life is not so much about changing the things you don't like about yourself. Sometimes it's more about accepting who you really are, and then moving on, content with that knowledge.

Some reviewers have likened the movie to both "The Canterbury Tales", as well as "The Wizard of Oz", both of which Estevez has called inspirations for the film.

For more about the making of this extraordinary film, including the parallels to "The Wizard of Oz", read the interview with Mr. Estevez at;,62918/

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

For Lois

A peculiar thing happened late in the day,
just at the time sunlight faded away.
It appeared somehow to have lost a ray,
and so I waited for nighttime to fall.

I thought the darkness would leave grief behind,
I'd forgotten the stars; my, how they shined!
As in your eyes, there was so much to find;
it wasn't easy to not heed their call.

But time has its' schedule and cares not a whit,
for the friends you have gathered, or ones who have quit.
As for all others, they don't count a bit,
we were lucky to have you at all.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Faces and Frames

What is it like to paint a face in a frame?
Do you start with the head, or is that the same?
How is it done, how does it work,
to capture an essence, the smallest of quirks?

Can you paint a laugh, a tear or a sigh?
I don't know for sure, though many have tried...
Mona Lisa is one; a painting which irks.
We really don't know - is that a smile, or a smirk?

Great critics argue that point to this day,
I have the answer, I'll put it this way;
Some say, "No difference", but I disagree;
she's smirking at you, but she's smiling with me.....

(Ruminating on my inability to draw....)

Friday, August 30, 2019


They look so benign
standing by the sink.
Temporarily mine,
they always make me think.

Those these candlesticks
Might soon be gone,
Their light, once lit;
shines on and on.

August 30, 2019

The duality of all things.The fleeting vs. the permanent.