Another Family’s Starting Over: The Resourceful Glass Family of Paris and New York

James Diskant Reviews ,

Too often history classes only focus on the horrors of the Holocaust and of Nazi rule; there is, however, an increasingly growing iterature that details the ways in which people resisted, helped one another,  and successfully managed to survive.

This book by Freeman is one example that will help educators rethink the ways that they teach this period or supplement what they already do and know. Freeman’s book not only details her family’s history to show how some of her relatives coped with life in France in the 1930s and 1940s, but also to allow students to grapple with the difficult questions about survival in this period when the odds were against Jewish survival. By looking at one family, one can unravel the advantages, limits, and/or shortcomings of different approaches. The book can be superb background for educators, as well as the basis for an interesting Socratic Seminar about the concepts — assimilation, passivity, defiance, and emigration — that she discusses and for students to probe into each of them in detail.  After all it would be great if one could learn from the past, wouldn’t it? 

When I was perusing a bookshelf about World War II in a bookstore a few weeks ago, I came across a fascinating book: Hadley Freeman, House of Glass: The Story and Secrets of a Twentieth-Century Jewish Family (London: Fourth Estate, 2020). Since this family has some parallels to my own in terms of an emigration pattern (see Post #1: Planned Escape(s)), I thought that I would share my impressions of it, along with my recommendation of it, here. Freeman, through the use of family memoirs, artifacts, and pictures, interviews with family members, and official documents, was able to put together a riveting account of how her Jewish relatives, that is her grandmother and two of her three grand uncles, managed to survive the horrors of World War II in the United States and in France respectively. It is remarkable how well she is able to document these personal histories and to situate them in time and in historical interpretation. The book – which is part memoir, part history, part commentary, and part family discovery –is a gripping, empathetic account of not only these three people, but also of others who were essential parts of their stories.

Typically, I first read any opening quotation (if there is one), the introduction, and the acknowledgments. And in this case after reading the opening quotation from Arthur Miller (excerpted from Broken Glass, 1994), I was hooked:

‘Getting this hysterical about [anti-Semitism] on the

other side of the world is sane?’

When she talks about it, it’s not on the other side

Of the world, it’s on the next block.’

‘An that’s sane?

‘I don’t know what it is! I just get the feeling some-

times that she KNOWS something, something that

… It’s like she’s connected to some … some wire

that goes half around the world, some truth that other

people are blind to.’

While I have not seen or read this Miller play – which takes place in 1938 – when a Jewish couple in New York reacts to the horrors of the Night of the Broken Glass in Germany, the quotation pulled me into this family story. Of course, given her family’s last name of Glass, Freeman’s use of the quotation intrigued me. Afterwards I skimmed the introduction, and acknowledgements, and I was curious to learn about the Glass family.

Wow, I was not disappointed; I read the book originally in two sittings and just re-read it!! Freeman was able not only to find fascinating details about her grandmother and her great uncles, but also wrote a touching memoir about surviving, coping, and changing. In so doing she argues that these people may represent ” prototypes”, that is different ways of coping and coming to terms with their past. The book is an inspiring journey into uncovering family secrets, unraveling different ways of moving forward (or not, I suppose), and the horrors of experiencing antisemitism in Poland and in France, and yet the importance of staying true to one’s values and beliefs.

In the book – which had originally started as a memoir of Freeman’s grandmother – one’s learns much more – about Sara (aka Sala) who was able (almost reluctantly) to escape France during the war by moving to the United States and by marrying an American. In June 1937 she started over in New York with a man whom she barely knew; it was apparently her key to survival and yet she returned to France multiple times in the 1930s and ultimately found her niche as wife and mother in New York without losing the French identity that has been so important to her. We also learn about her brother Henri (aka Jehuda) who assimilated well into Parisian culture and along with his wife Sonia, were part of the Resistance, about Alex (aka Sander), who not excelled well into that same culture and also was part of the Resistance, and about Jacques (aka Jakob), who sadly did not survive and was murdered in Auschwitz.

The story begins with Freeman sharing the contents of a shoebox of her grandmother’s memorabilia, which included papers and photos, some of which were indeed puzzling. Together they encouraged Freeman to research and to write about her family. Then with her great uncle’s Alex’s memoir, family letters, official documents and statistics, she was able to write a thought-provoking account of how in the 1920s the Glasses were transformed from the Glahses from Chrzanow, a Polish village, part of the then Austro-Hungarian Empire, as well as their lives beyond this initial emigration. In some ways she writes a typical story of immigration and how some members of the family found this to be easier than others and yet her careful prose shows the complexities that were involved in these decisions and changes.

Her careful use of these various sources gives life to these both “ordinary and extraordinary” people. One may argue with her “one word” characterizations of individuals as “passive” for her grand uncle Jacques, “defiant” for her grand uncle Alex, “assimilated” for her grand uncle Henri, and “emigrant” for her grandmother. Still they mirror sociological descriptions of different ways in which people respond to crises and relate to an extensive literature of migration stories. There may be truth to these characterizations, which helps us understand how people are influenced by their personal assumptions and niches. Not only does Freeman write about how these three siblings survived the war, but she is also able to share their intertwining stories in the years after the war – from the “ordinary and the “extraordinary” as puts it … Henri and Sara in the first category and Alex in the second – and in so doing share fascinating insights into gender, migration, and much more. These three siblings are able to continue their lives – family, children, work, travel – and in Freeman’s account we learn how these stories are connected to one another.

In different ways the three survivors assimilated into their respective culture(s) and societies; they managed to live normal lives as best as they could, which suggest that there may be lessons for the present and future from the way in which people respond to the past. Starting over is not uncomplicated – as I know from my own family history and my life – and yet Freeman shows with detail and empathy how her grandmother and her grand uncles managed to do so. She provides a nuanced and empathetic portrayal of how they all managed to survive. The book raises essential questions for all of us to ponder about the complexities relating to assimilation, starting over, Jewish identities, gender roles, unjust governments, and assumptions during a challenging period of history — the world of World War II and its aftermath in the United States and in France. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in these questions.

 

Written by James Diskant

This book review was originally published on James Diskant's blog: "Chronicles from Berlin: Anecdotes About Starting Over, Coming Out, and History Teaching", where, among other things, Dr. James Diskant also provides reflections on lessons from many years as an educator in history education.

History Educators from Across Euro-Med Region Finalise Educational Resources in Cairo

From 5 to 8 May, the team of EuroClio’s Learning about (y)our Past project met in Cairo, Egypt for the final project meeting. The six educators from countries across the Euro-Mediterranean region presented their developed learning activities to their peers in order to prepare the finalisation of the educational material. The learning activities cover a wide range of issues, from the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990), to national museums of history, encounters through food across the Euro-Mediterranean, the migrations of 1923 between Turkey and Greece, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the Golden Age in 10th century Bagdad. What unites these learning activities is their aim to help young people acquire skills for intercultural citizenship based on the recommendations presented in “On a Common Path”. As in the previous project meetings, the team of authors has been supported by Michael Riley (editor of the Guidebook for History Textbooks Authors “On a Common Path” and director of Schools History Project) and long-time textbook author and SHP fellow Jamie Byrom.

This final project meeting was organised by EuroClio at the Netherlands-Flemish Institute in the vibrant city of Cairo, Egypt. While during the first meeting in Nicosia, Cyprus, authors prepared a list of topic on which they would like to focus on in the learning activity, the second meeting in Beirut focused on the collaborative process of developing transnational educational material. Since this second meeting, the authors further developed their learning activities which consist of several, mutually dependent lessons that are ready-to-use for teachers. The six learning activities will be translated from English into Turkish, Greek, and Arabic in order to ensure a wide applicability of the project’s educational material across the Euro-Mediterranean region.

The aim of this final project meeting was to present and pilot the developed learning activities with the project team in order to find areas within the learning activities that still can be improved prior to the editing process. Unfortunately one of the team members was unable to travel to Cairo and attend the meetings. However, they were still able to participate and present their materials via Skype. On Saturday, the project team had the opportunity to see Cairo from a different angle, by visiting the Azhar Park.

In the following weeks, each author will finalise their learning activity so that the editor, the Jordanian project team member Kariman Mango, can start the editing process in June. By the end of July, all educational material should be edited and translated, so that the educational resources can be appropriately disseminated in August throughout the Euro-Mediterranean region.

EuroClio implements the “Learning about (Y)our Past” project in partnership with the member organisations Association for Historical Dialogue and Research (Cyprus) and the Lebanese Association for History. The project is funded by the Anna Lindh Foundation, and runs until September 2017. For more information on this project, please visit our project page.

Learning About (Y)our Past

History lessons for intercultural citizenship in the Euro-med region

The project "Learning about (y)our past. History lessons for intercultural citizenship in the EuroMed region" aims to help young people in the EuroMediterranean region to acquire competences for intercultural citizenship by learning about identity and diversity, about positive intercultural encounters and addressing emotive and controversial issues in history education. The project will achieve this through collaborative design, piloting, peerreview, editing, design and publication of six learning activities that can be used as alternative educational resources. The development of these resources will be done by an international team with various cultural and professional backgrounds. This team will meet three times throughout the project, to work on the initial planning, peerreview and final editing of the resources. In between meetings the project team will work on the collecting of source material and piloting of the resources in practice. The project meetings will take place in Cyprus and Lebanon. The learning activities will be translated and published in Arab, English, Greek and Turkish and made freely available for use on the website of EuroClio and licensed in such a way that reuse is possible. To ensure that the main relevant stakeholders are informed about the learning activities and encourage its widespread use the project team will develop and implement a communication plan targeting the professional community of history educators in the EuroMed.

Project Aims

The overall objective is to help young people in the EuroMediterranean region to acquire competences for intercultural citizenship by learning about identity and diversity, about positive intercultural encounters and addressing emotive and controversial issues in history education. More specific objectives are:

  • To build the professional capacity and extend the networks of history, heritage and citizenship educators in the EuroMed region that is supporting the idea that history education can contribute to intercultural citizenship education.
  • To build, provide access to and promote the use of learner centered, sourcebased, and multiperspective educational materials in the EuroMed region in Arabic, English, Greek and/or Turkish.
  • To engage in joint advocacy to inter-governmental organizations and targeted media on regional and global levels, raising awareness amongst policy makers and civil society actors on the importance of responsible history education in the EuroMed region.

Supported by

ALF

Partners

[LEBANON] HTA

Association for Historical Dialogue and Research

Educational Resources

All educational resources are available in .zip format below, in Arabic, English, Greek, and Turkish. Each .zip file contains teacher instructions, student instructions, and worksheets.

Title Author English ελληνικά Türkçe العربية
How do museums display y(our) history and identity? A case study on Cyprus. Alaettin Carikci English ελληνικά Türkçe العربية
"No place like home": How did the events of 1923 change people's lives in Turkey and Greece? Hasan Sungur English ελληνικά Türkçe العربية
How did the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990) change people's lives? Jihane Youssef Francis English ελληνικά Türkçe العربية
What made Baghdad so remarkable 764-1258CE? Kariman Mango English ελληνικά Türkçe العربية
What can food reveal about societies in the past? Encounters through food and ceremonies of food in the Euro-Mediterranean region from the 10th century until today. Loizos Loukaidis English ελληνικά Türkçe العربية

The Project at a Glance

Project team

Alaettin Çarikci, coordinator and author AHDR (Cyprus)
Loizos Loukaidis, coordinator and author AHDR (Cyprus)
Amin Elias, coordinator LAH (Lebanon)
Ghada Fakhredddine, author LAH (Lebanon)
Jihane Youssef, author LAH (Lebanon)
Kariman Mango, author (Jordan)
Hasan Sungur, author (Turkey)

Call for Authors from the Euro-Med Region

How can learning about history help young people from across the Mediterranean become intercultural citizens?

That is the central question of “Learning about (y)our Past, new project of EuroClio – Inspiring History and Citizenship Educators, the Lebanese association for History (LAH) and the Association for Historical Dialogue and Research (AHDR) that we will implement in the coming year, and are now looking for authors.

As author in the “Learning about (y)our Past. History lessons for intercultural citizenship in the Euromed region” you will work with a team of 6 authors on the development of exemplar lessons that demonstrate how the recommendations from the guidebook for history textbook authors can be applied in practice

You will have the opportunity to go to Cyprus and Lebanon during three project meetings, become a part a transnational team, broaden understanding of intercultural citizenship, work with professionals in the field, travel and explore new cultural horizons.  Your costs will be covered and there will be small fee (for the full information, see the link below).

About the project

The project aims to help young people in the Euro-Mediterranean region to acquire competences for intercultural citizenship by learning about identity and diversity, about positive intercultural encounters and addressing emotive and controversial issues in history education. The project will achieve this through development and peer review of six learning activities that can be used as alternative educational resources in history, heritage and citizenship education. The development of these resource will be done by an international team with various cultural and professional backgrounds.  The learning activities will be translated and published in Arab, English, Greek and Turkish and made freely available for use on the website of EuroClio and licensed in such a way that reused is possible. The project will run until 31 August 2017.

Candidate’s profile

Applicants need to be history, citizenship, or heritage educators from Euromed region. In selection of applicants, special attention will be given to the representation of various cultural, religious and professional backgrounds in the authors ’team.

Applicants should be intrinsically motivated

  • To join an effort that addresses the challenge of teaching of history and citizenship for intercultural citizenship
  • To lead the initial planning and development of at least 1 transnational educational resource is source based, engaging for learners, linked to curricula and help students to acquire competencies needed for intercultural citizenship
  • To work together with educators across borders and peer review and support the development of educational resources by other authors in the project
  • To help with piloting of the existing educational resources of the project in practice

To apply, please send your CV, letter of motivation, letter of support from your organization to aysel@euroclio.eu before 17 October 2016. The candidates will be contacted about the results of the selection within a week after the deadline for applications.

Click on the following link to find more about eligibility criteria and additional information.