All our Episodes
Introduction: 22 June, 1941
The German invasion of the Baltics and the Soviet Union.
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
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
Historian Wendy Goldman of Carnegie Mellon on the Soviet Union and the home front during the war.
Introduction: November 9th, 1938
Sophie Engler: From Vienna to a village in Scotland
Sophie was born into a wealthy family that would soon lose everything, including the lives of her family. Just nine-years-old when her mother brought her to the train station, Sophie could only hope she’d see her mother again.
Kitty Suschny: From Vienna to Manchester
Kitty’s father died of a heart attack well before the Germans marched into Austria. After the Anschluss her brother fled and Kitty’s mother took her to the station. “Don’t worry about me,” she said. “I’m the widow of an army officer.”
Lilli Tauber: From Wiener Neustadt to Cockley Cley
Lilli was living in a small town when suddenly, all her non-Jewish friends started avoiding her. Then came November 9th. Lilli’s parents desperately looked for a way to save their daughter.
Heinz Bischitz: From Oberwaltersdorf to Budapest
Heinz came from the only Jewish family in their village and got along with everyone. Until Austria was subsumed into the Third Reich. A tale of fleeing to Hungary for safety. Out of the frying pan and into the fire.
Kitty Drill: From Laa an der Thaya to Mauritius
Kitty Drill came from a family of cattle dealers and fruit sellers. When the Germans occupied Austria, eight mem-bers of her family took a ship down the Danube, another to Haifa, and ended up in a British prison in the Indian Ocean.
Kurt Rosenkranz: Vienna to Kazakhstan
Kurt was obsessed with football (soccer). When the family fled to Riga after 1938 and he became obsessed with Communism. Until a Red Army soldier knocked on their door, ordered the family to follow him, and sent them on a train to a gulag prison camp. “Communism,” Kurt said, “You’re dead to me.”
Introduction: A Ukrainian Jewish Century
Welcome to a podcast series unlike anything you've heard before. As you will hear, Edward Serotta introduces this series while on the night train from the Black Sea port cityof Odesa to Ukraine's capital, Kyiv. Edward will set the stage for you, and our actors will take over in each of the following episodes
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
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
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
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
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’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
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“
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 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.
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 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“
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.”
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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