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Introduction: 22 June, 1941

Introduction: 22 June, 1941

The German invasion of the Baltics and the Soviet Union.

Samuel Birger, Jonava, Lithuania

Samuel Birger, Jonava, Lithuania

Samuel Birger tells the harrowing story of what it was like for his family to flee from their shtetl of Jonava as the Germans sped through the country, and more than a few Lithuanians joined in what would become an orgy of killing. The Birger family fled by horse and wagon, by foot, and then by train—until weeks later, they arrived in Tatarstan. Living in wretched poverty, Samuel’s grandmother starved to death while he and his three younger brothers foraged for jobs and food on collective farms.

Feiga Kil’, Riga, Latvia

Feiga Kil’, Riga, Latvia

Isaac Aizman was a neurosurgeon in Riga. His wife Tobe-Leya remained at home raising four children. When war came, Dr Aizman was conscriopted into the Soviet Army. He told his wife to flee eastward. She hesitated. And that would cost them all.

Bonus: Wendy Goldman

Bonus: Wendy Goldman

Historian Wendy Goldman of Carnegie Mellon on the Soviet Union and the home front during the war.

Einleitung: 9. November 1938

Einleitung: 9. November 1938

Sophie Engler: von Wien nach Schottland

Sophie Engler: von Wien nach Schottland

Sophie wuchs in einer wohlhabenden Familie auf, die bald alles verlieren sollte. Als Sophie neun Jahren alt war, wurde sie von ihrer Mutter zum Bahnhof gebracht. Sie konnte nur hoffen, ihre Mutter irgendwann wiederzusehen.

Kitty Suschny: von Wien nach Manchester

Kitty Suschny: von Wien nach Manchester

Kittys Vater starb an einem Herzinfarkt, lange bevor die Deutschen in Österreich einmarschierten. Nach dem sogenannten “Anschluss” floh ihr Bruder aus Österreich. Auch Kitty wurde von ihrer Mutter zum Bahnhof gebracht. “Mach dir keine Sorgen um mich”, sagte sie, “ich bin die Witwe eines Armeeoffiziers”.

Lilli Tauber: von Wiener Neustadt nach Cockley Cley

Lilli Tauber: von Wiener Neustadt nach Cockley Cley

Lilly lebte in einer Kleinstadt. Von einem Tag auf den anderen begannen ihre nichtjüdischen Freunde sie zu meiden. Dann kam der 9. November 1938. Lillis Eltern suchten nun verzweifelt nach Möglichkeiten, ihre Tochter zu retten.

Heinz Bischitz: von Oberwaltersdorf nach Budapest

Heinz Bischitz: von Oberwaltersdorf nach Budapest

Heinz stammte aus der einzigen jüdischen Familie im gesamten Dorf. Alle kamen gut miteinander aus - bis das Dritte Reich Österreich okkupierte. Diese Geschichte erzählt von einer Flucht nach Ungarn - im Vertrauen, dort in Sicherheit zu sein.

Kitty Drill: von Laa an der Thaya nach Mauritius

Kitty Drill: von Laa an der Thaya nach Mauritius

Kitty Drill stammte aus einer Familie von Viehhändlern und Obstverkäufern. Nachdem die Deutschen Österreich besetzt hatten, entschieden sich acht von Kittys Verwandten zur Flucht: Erst mit dem Schiff die Donau abwärts, dann mit einem weiteren Schiff Richtung Haifa. Dort angekommen wurde ihnen die Einreise verweigert. Sie wurden weitergeleitet und fanden sich in einem Gefängnis im Indischen Ozean wieder.

Kurt Rosenkranz: von Wien nach Kasachstan

Kurt Rosenkranz: von Wien nach Kasachstan

Kurt, aufgewachsen in Wien, war durch und durch besessen von Fussball. Als er und seine Familie 1938 nach Riga fliehen mussten, war er genau so besessen vom Kommunismus. Aber nur bis ein Soldat der Roten Armee an seine Tür klopfte und der Familie befahl, ihm zu folgen. Sie wurden mit dem Zug in ein Gefangenenlager eines Gulags geschickt. Kurt sagte daraufhin, “Kommunismus - du bist für mich gestorben!”

Introduction: A Ukrainian Jewish Century

Introduction: A Ukrainian Jewish Century

The actor Steve Furst reads an excerpt from Sholem Aleichem’s autobiography, From the Fair. This most famous of all Yiddish writers describes what it was like arriving in Kyiv in the late 1880s. As he says about the big city, “If you’re afraid of wolves, don’t go into the forest.”

Sholem Aleichem in Kyiv

Sholem Aleichem in Kyiv

The actor Steve Furst reads an excerpt from Sholem Aleichem’s autobiography, From the Fair. This most famous of all Yiddish writers describes what it was like arriving in Kyiv in the late 1880s. As he says about the big city, “If you’re afraid of wolves, don’t go into the forest.”

Grigori Sirotta’s Centropa interview: Shtetl life in the 1920s

Grigori Sirotta’s Centropa interview: Shtetl life in the 1920s

In this short episode, we learn about growing up in a shtetl, fleeing a pogrom, and what it was like living on a collective farm.

Sophie Belotserkovskaya’s Centropa interview: How my parents met

Sophie Belotserkovskaya’s Centropa interview: How my parents met

One of our most colorful storytellers, Sophie tells us how one day, when her mother was walking on the street in Kamenets Podolskii, a handsome young man, an actor, asked for directions.

Sarah Kaplan’s Centropa interview: Married off to save her from starvation

Sarah Kaplan’s Centropa interview: Married off to save her from starvation

Perhaps as many as 4 million Ukrainians starved to death during Stalin’s enforced famine of 1832/1933. Sarah Kaplan tells us how, even though she was but 16 years old, her mother married her off to a cousin from Moscow, just to get her out of Ukraine.

“Maybe Esther“ by Katja Petrowskaja

“Maybe Esther“ by Katja Petrowskaja

Edward Serotta introduces our wartime stories while walking through Babyn Yar, where tens of thousands of Jews were murdered by German soldiers in September 1941. The actor Shelley Blond reads an excerpt from a remarkable memoir. When Petrowskaja asked her father what his grandmother’s name was, he shrugs and tells her he was but four years old. “Maybe Esther,” he says. And Maybe Esther walked to the edge of the ravine in Babyn Yar.

Aron Rudiak’s Centropa interview: Escape from Odesa

Aron Rudiak’s Centropa interview: Escape from Odesa

Aron’s father was sure the Germans and the Romanians would never take Odesa. And he went off to enlist to help make sure they wouldn’t. Meanwhile, 16-year-old Aron insisted to his mother they flee on one of the last ships out. The rest of the family remained.

Dora Postrelko’s Centropa interview: Flight to the east

Dora Postrelko’s Centropa interview: Flight to the east

A story with the wallop of a 19th century novel. When the Germans were closing in on Kyiv, Sasha Goldberg took his fiancé, Hana Gehtman, and her sister Dora, to a train headed east. As winter set in, Hana became sick and died. Sasha kept writing her from the front line, and Dora answered, pretending to be Hana.

Hertz Rogovoy’s Centropa interview: The fights of his life“

Hertz Rogovoy’s Centropa interview: The fights of his life“

Before he was 20 years old, Hertz Rogovoy had fought in three of the war’s major battles: the defense of Moscow, in Stalingrad, and at Orel, where a sniper shot him. Twice. After a year in the hospital, Hertz decided he, too, would become a doctor. And he practiced well into his 80s.

Peter Rabtsevich’s Centropa interview: Starting life over

Peter Rabtsevich’s Centropa interview: Starting life over

Peter Rabtsevich describes what it was like for Jews in Kyiv, and in the Soviet Union, in the decades after the Second World War. Thousands would stand in front of Kyiv’s only synagogue on the High Holidays. “They came to remember their heritage, to remember their murdered families, and to remember that they were Jews.”

Evgenia’s Shapiro’s Centropa interview: He could never forgive them. Until he could.

Evgenia’s Shapiro’s Centropa interview: He could never forgive them. Until he could.

Jakob Shapiro was a highly decorated Army officer who railed against Jews leaving their motherland for Israel. A construction engineer, he worked on building sites until he was 86. In his final years, Jakob Shapiro mused, “I’ll bet I would have done well there,” he said. “Guess I should have gone, too.”

Lilya Finberg’s Centropa interview: The confident walk of my granddaughter

Lilya Finberg’s Centropa interview: The confident walk of my granddaughter

Lilya Finberg paints a picture of postwar Jewish life in Kyiv, from the days of the ‘anti- cosmopolitan campaign’ to the infamous doctor’s plot. But Lilya watched society change, especially after Ukraine’s independence in 1991, and was thrilled when her son Leonid became one of Ukraine’s leading Jewish intellectuals.

Vasily Grossman’s essay: “Ukraine Without Jews“

Vasily Grossman’s essay: “Ukraine Without Jews“

In this episode, we take a drive out of Kyiv. Our destination is the village of Kozary, 82 kilometers to the north. This is where, in October 1943, the reporter Vasily Grossman wrote his searing essay, Ukraine Without Jews. From the English translation by Polly Zavadivker

At the grave of a friend. “Every Ukrainian photographer dreams of taking the picture that will stop this war.”

At the grave of a friend. “Every Ukrainian photographer dreams of taking the picture that will stop this war.”

That is what Maks Levin said when he went off to cover the Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine in 2014. Once the Russians invaded in February, 2022, Maks had but 17 days to live. He was embedded with Ukrainian fighting units and covered the war on the front. On 11 March, his drone went down near the Hostomel airport. Maks went to retrieve it. The Russians were already there.

Welcome to Belgrade

Welcome to Belgrade

We begin our walking tour and podcast in Belgrade’s Kalemegdan, the ancient fortress peering out over the confluence of the Sava and Danube Rivers. In her book, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, published in 1941, Dame Rebecca West provides us with a short history of Kalemegdan —from the Romans to the Ottomans to the Serbs—and actor Melanie Preston reads an excerpt for you. As we walk down into Dorcol, Stefan Sablic—cantor of the Belgrade synagogue, Ladino singer and musician—will accompany us.

A walk through Jewish Belgrade

A walk through Jewish Belgrade

Few Jews live in Dorcol today but this quiet corner of Belgrade still evokes its past, when Jewish shops stood cheek by jowl and families scurried off on Friday evenings to synagogue. Ida Labudovic interviewed Vera Amar and Avram Mosic for us in 2002, and both describe what Dorcol was like in its last years. Jilly Bond, who reads Vera Amar, is a regular performer on BBC’s The Archers and has read more than 40 audio books.David Horovitch. With 100 screen credits to his name, David Horovitch has performed Shakespeare on stage and in film, was recently seen in Mike Leigh’s Mr Turner and is currently starring in the HBO Max series House of the Dragons. Additional reading of Ernst Pavel’s memoir by  Mikael Gemeda-Breka of Carnegie Mellon University. Special thanks to Jaehee Cho of the Entertainment Technology Center of CMU and Tijana Zherajikj of Centropa

Matilda Kalef

Matilda Kalef

Rachel Chanin interviewed Matilda Kalef-Cerge for us 2002, and we have remained in touch Matilda, who recalls both an idyllic childhood in a wealthy Sephardic family, and how she, her mother and sister managed to survive during the Holocaust. Read by Sara Kestelman, whose screen and stage credits include the works of Tolstoy, Shakespeare, Gorky and Marlowe, not to mention Star Wars. Excerpt from Leigh White’s The Long Balkan Night read by Nate Kelderman of Carnegie Mellon University

Breda Kalef

Breda Kalef

She was born with the name Ruchel Kalef. During the war, Father Andrej Tumpej gave her a name to hide behind: Breda. After the war, Ruchel decided, “He gave me more than a name. He gave me a life.” Thanks to Breda, Father Tumpej is now listed as a Righteous Among the Nations. Breda became one of Yugoslavia’s best known mezzo-sopranos. Jane Bertish has appeared on stage in London performing George Bernard Shaw and Tennessee Williams. Her television credits include Rosemary’s Baby and most recently, Ted Lasso.

Götz and Meyer by David Albahari: Excerpt

Götz and Meyer by David Albahari: Excerpt

Kirkus Review called Götz and Meyer “brilliantly disturbing” and The Guardian called it “unimprovable.” In this short (168 page) stream of consciousness work of fiction, a school teacher in Belgrade muses—and practically hallucinates—as he wonders just what the two SS men who drove the infamous gas van talked about all day. The fact that both Breda and Matilda Kalef watched their father and grandmother being loaded into this van makes it all the more harrowing. We have chosen an excerpt from Götz and Meyer, which is read by Allan Corduner, an actor with more than 140 screen credits, including Tar, Defiance, The Woman in Gold, The Merchant of Venice and Operation Finale.