Sunday, August 20, 2017

I read this very "condensed epic" in amazement and was left wanting to know so much more!    This is no mere book or memoir.  Within these pages are life lessons of the greatest magnitude handed to us with matter of fact frankness.

Zalman Ber is Sol Kotz, husband of Luba and father of Sheldon, Lisa and Larry.   It is a gripping recount of horrific World War II experiences and unfathomable adversity somehow triumphed by incredible bravery, love, determination and miracles.  It is totally engrossing and a true honor to read. 

Compiled and recorded by Sol's daughter Lisa Mishler, it is at the same time a testament to the worst in man and a love letter to compassion and humanity. 

Don't miss Lisa's companion publication L'Chayim" - a profound, exquisite and extraordinary collection of her acclaimed paintings inspired by and dedicated to honoring her parents and all of the victims and survivors of the Holocaust.  Breathtaking!

Kathleen Benyak

Hi Lisa,

My name is Farrah Jochai and I just ordered and read your book - Zalman Ber. I'm emailing you to thank you for writing this. My grandpa, Boris Jochai, passed away when I was too young to understand or appreciate his experiences and I have been craving more of a connection to his background and trying to research him and the other Jewish Partisans.

My great aunt Pesia, Boris' sister, has told me about your father Sol and how he helped my grandpa Boris in the US. I have seen pictures of him since I was very young and always assumed he was related to me.

Thank you again for writing this book and giving me an opportunity to learn more about my grandpa's life and experiences. This has given me a deeper sense of connection and appreciation. I don't have children yet, but when I do I am going to share this book with them and make sure they know who Sol was.

Also - such a small world as I read that your family opened a synagogue in Scottsdale. My dad, Larry Jochai, moved our family to Scottsdale in 1994 and I have lived here since.

Farrah Jochai

Sol and Luba’s amazing story of survival, authored by their daughter, seemed as though I was listening directly to Sol. This first hand story relating personal experiences suffered during the Russian occupation of Poland followed by the Nazi takeover and atrocities is fascinating and a quick read. It has wonderful examples of ingenuity, luck, perseverance, strength of human spirit and courage that was needed to survive the Holocaust and all the personal losses.
Thank you Lisa, for sharing this story of your parents lives and survival.

Tonjia Kolanowski

Sol Kotz, known as Zalman Ber in the book, tells it like it was, as he and his wife, Luba, survived the Holocaust, becoming separated and rejoined time after time against incredible odds. He tells it without pretense, convincingly reliving each event, emotion checked. Kotz includes some atrocities that are difficult to read. It's a can't-put-down read with no escape until the end. It's not just words on paper. The endearing family photos included in the story are heart grabbing, personalizing their family members, causing grievous feeling to flow with the death of each. These are real people woven into a loving family - specific lives stamped out by Nazis for reasons that defy logic, born of insanity. The veracity of the story slaps the reader in the face - full force. It's a story of Jews who were liquidated outside the concentration camps, and how they fought back. Their liquidated number exceeded the number slaughtered in the camps. There are breath-holding moments, an example of which is Zalman Ber's singlehandedly wiring a bridge to explode as a train crosses it. This act proves his loyalty to the resistance (partisan) fighters as they watch from a distance. The explosion destroys 90 freight cars, 45 trucks filled with military supplies, and 60 German troops. Heady stuff for a young man in his early twenties. Zalman Ber joins the Russian military and continues to fight. Eventually, he and Luba come to the United States.

Although I've laid out a picture of seeming hopelessness, destruction, and despair, ZALMAN BER is primarily a love story of hope, courage, and resilience - inspirational for all times and places. Despite the takeover of Germany by a deranged dictator, people not only fought back - they prevailed. This memoir makes the plight of the Jewish people in the WWII era in Poland spring to life. ZALMAN BER is a classic true story of man against evil, paralleling The Diary of Anne Frank. The memoir is exceptionally well written. With no little excitement I very highly recommend ZALMAN BER: The True Story of the Man the Nazis Could Not Kill for synagogue, community, academic Judaic Studies, and World History collections. It should be made known to general readers. ZALMAN BER is also available as an e-book (9781594336713).

Bonnye Matthews
Reviewer

We are defined by the Torah which yields a world of purpose and meaning.  We cannot, we do not, we will not bind ourselves to a world of hatred and destruction.  -- Rabbi Stephanie Aaron

Artist Lisa Mishler shares with us a unique and very personal exhibition of her mixed-media and acrylic artwork in L'Chayim-To Life at the Tucson Jewish Community Center, 3800 E. River Rd.  Th gallery hosts an artists reception on Sunday, February 15th from 2 to 4 PM. 

Mishler is an award winning artist who creates colorful abstracts, landscapes and portraits.  She teaches at The Drawing Studio, and for other arts organizations.  She is also the daughter of two holocaust survivors, Sol and Luba Kotz.

L'Chayim-To Life is appropriately named because the exhibit is indeed a celebration of the lives of Mishler's parents Sol and Luba Kotz.  They were polish Jews who lived lives of quiet heroism even while undergoing incredible suffering at the hands of the Nazis.  They both served in the partisan army in Poland.  Luba was a nurse who smuggled Jews orphans away from war zones.  Sol was also in the partisan army, then went on to serve also in the Russian army during the fight against the Nazis.  Sol and Luba were separated in the war, reunited in 1946, and eventually made their way to Tucson where they raised a family and contributed to our community life.

Mishler's exhibit, which she calls a "visual account of [my] parents journey out of the Holocaust", is unique in that her artwork is accompanied by printed text from her father's memoir.  The signature image of her exhibit is Beshert-Meant to Be, a romantic image of two embracing lovers.  The image becomes much more than simple romance when reading Sol's account of two trains that arrived at the same time at the station in Lodz, Poland in 1946.

Sol says. "As I was getting off the train, another train from the east pulled into the station on the opposite platform.  One could tell that the passengers were mostly refugees from the cut of their clothes.  I suddenly was attracted by a girl getting of the train walking down the platform.  From her back, it looked like Luba, enough like her to make me call out, Luba! Luba! Luba!  The girl stopped and looked around.  It was  Luba.  At first she didn't recognize me and she started to walk away.  Then, she turned around and started running toward me.  We embraced and kissed each other.

A few hours, or even a few minutes earlier or later and life would have been very different for these two.  Cosmic good luck or "meant to be?"

Another moving account is of Luba's 120 mile journey through the snow and bitter cold to find Sol's family.  Mishler's interpretation of this trek is documented in My Mothers Walk (9 Weeks).

Mishler's beautiful and abstract painting is the Kanatorovich Building Bombing is a compelling interpretation of Sol's harrowing account of undergoing a Nazis assault on the Jewish ghetto of Glubokoye, Poland.  He watched his infant son and his brother die in front of him, and he was sure that he and Luba were doomed.  They each made a run for the Kanatorovich Building bomb shelter, and both survived the flying bullets.

Walking through this exhibit is like a journey in time.  as we progress we feel the murderous threat of the times and the determination to live slowly give way to images that suggest the survival of these two, and the survival of the Jewish people.  Paintings move from Turmoil to Nurture to Moving into the Light.  They tell a story with a happy ending for this family.

This brings us to the quote from Rabbi Stephanie Aaron of Tucson's Congregation Chaverim at the begging of this review.  Rabbi Aaron reminds us that whether we are informed by the Torah, the New Testament, the Quran, the Dao, the teachings of Buddha, or perhaps the teachings of humanists philosophers, we are called to resist the human urge to commit genocide.

Sadly, history teaches us that the Jews were not the only targets of Nazi perfidy.  There was a long list of victims who discovered in concentration camps: cultural and ethnic groups such as Poles and other Slavs, Romani 9Gypsies); disabled people, homosexuals, political opponents of the Nazis and various religious groups (catholic, Protestant, and Baha's).  And this doesn't include military personnel and civilians who perished in the war against the Nazis and the Japanese.  The fact that the Jews were an educated, literary people meant that they could write histories, fictionalized accounts, and memoirs for posterity so that we would always remember that particular Holocaust.

The have been more genocides since then: Pol Pot in cambodia, the decimation of the Maya in Guatemala, genocide of ethnic Hutu's in Rawanda. the "disappeared" in Argentina, systematic killing of Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina and perhaps the worst of all, the thirty million plus individuals who were murdered during the Maoist campaign "The Four Olds" in China between 1966 and 1976.

Today were are confronted with the brutality of the Islamic State who seem bent on terrorizing everyone, even their own.

As Rabbi Aaron says, "We cannot, we do not, we will not bind ourselves to a world of hatred and destruction."  We thank the artist Lisa Mishler for interpreting in her work a tale of survival and hope, a tale that is truly a celebration of life and a rejection of hatred and destruction.

 

Your father's story is an amazing experience and written in the NOW w/those short sentences, almost breathless, makes it very compelling. 

The first chapter that speaks so clearly of young Sol's personality, boasting of his looks, his smarts, and how he hates what shames him/that old white horse that carries the rags and brushes he must sell, and his father who disdains him as a curse for causing a failed trip to America.

    "I know what I like to do , and I can do it, but I'm not good at taking orders from anyone....I'm too ambitious.." Sol says 

And you read on of his clever escapes from the Germans, his dangerous work with the Partisans, and then siding with the Russians  to gain more control in his life.  And all this as he sees his family and Jewish culture being erased in the most demeaning ways.   You realize he was regularly confronted with life and death experiences that demanded he re-invent himself so, as you say in the title "    THE NAZIS COULD NOT KILL HIM", or the Russians, or the Circus Man or the accidents that almost took him down.  The anger that seethed in him, and drove him  to violence when , at last,he could cut down the fleeing Germans like they did his people, was hard to take but understandable.   He strove to be outstanding in his experiences and spoke of them boastfully as if he was speaking for his family, his people whose chance to excel was taken from them. 

His love affair with Luba, his wife, was as precarious as his military journey, both despair and anger at separation, almost giving up, but then the wonderful  miracle of the chance meeting at a railroad station. By this time  Sol knew she had saved his life with her own brand of toughness, a more tender one. 

The book is a special experience, Lisa.     Is the book from a diary that he kept?  Did he write in the present tense or did you translate and present it as such?  Or did he tell you the story as you spell out on the cover of the book., and you put it in order?   It is very effective.  I am really impressed.

Jeanne Porter

Testimonials

Boni Weinstein
I read the book Saturday and thought it was wonderful. Not only was it so well written but I learned so much. It is the first book about the Holocaust that I could get through without being so sick afterwards. Your parents were incredibly brave people and I so admire their courage and spirit. I brought a copy to my son and urged him to read the book. I need to buy more.
Denise Mathot
I finished your book and it is SO Good!! It is unbelievable what your parents went through and I love the way their story is told.
Ava Young
"Zalman Ber" is a small book that makes a big impact. Written in a voice emerging from one of the most shameful and violent periods in human history, Zalman Ber lingers. I could easily carry this story with me for a lifetime, inspired by it's example of the resiliency of the human spirit. It makes me want to be a better person than I have been."