The Evaluation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett

Amy Coney Barrett in 2018 (Photo by Rachel Malehorn / CC BY 3.0)

Congress is in the process of evaluating the suitability of Amy Coney Barrett to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. In reality her potential appointment is a very realistic threat to the hard-won legal right of women to terminate unwanted or unsafe pregnancies.

I am no lawyer, but it seems to me that people with strong personal beliefs rooted in their religion should not decide an issue that affect the entire population of the United States. Though it is the role of females to bear the young, the well-being of our children is the responsibility of both sexes.

I know that having an abortion is a serious, emotional undertaking, but children that are not wanted, or cannot be cared for, or women who perish from or are harmed by unsafe abortion, are a much greater peril. Let me once more state the obvious: the decision to have an abortion in the United States is voluntary.

Abortions or attempts at abortions were probably common among prehistoric people. They are discussed in a Chinese medical text written 4,600 years ago, and in the Ebers Papyrus written in 1550 BCE. Home remedies, often consisting of physical intervention, like the use of shoe-hooks, coat hangers or knitting needles, or the use of poisons like turpentine, were more common in recent times.

Margaret Sanger, a nurse who could no longer stand to take care of poor women who died of self-inflicted abortions, initiated the fight for birth control in the United States about a century ago. At the time, Anthony Comstock, a US postal inspector bent on upholding Victorian morality, managed to prevent Sanger from mailing pamphlet discussing birth control.

Sanger was convinced that unwanted pregnancies exacerbated the challenges already faced by economically struggling families, and she advocated for planned parenthood. She organized clinics and ended up in prison. She was a persuasive writer and once, tongue-in-cheek, imagined that the unborn could evaluate their future parents, as employers interview potential chambermaids, chauffeurs or gardeners. In her article she fantasized a scene of children asking their future fathers about their health and income; their mothers about their nerves, their knowledge about childcare, and their cooking skills; and both of them about their plans of bringing them up. Most insistently the child wanted to know how many children they had already.

“How much are you earning?
“Ten dollars a week.”
“And living in two rooms, you say? No thank you. Next please.”

The children would certainly have expressed disapproval at being schlepped MASK-LESS to a party at the White House in support of their mother’s application to be elected to the Supreme Court, all that at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Getting back to Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court: The subject of a woman’s right to abortion has been thrashed out repeatedly. The landmark decision of Roe v. Wade should not be tampered with. The selection of a judge determined to overturn it should not be rushed through Congress. Modern times have changed the birth process. Doctors fertilize eggs in Petri dishes and sometimes implant these embryos in surrogate mothers, perform in-utero fetal surgery and carry out all kinds of unprecedented procedures that often resulted in miraculous babies and overjoyed parents. Given this monkeying with nature, terminating a pregnancy for whatever reason—and it rarely is an impulsive decision—is a minor issue.

On the flip-side, we can no longer leave the birth of children to the whims of nature. In large part the many problems of the earth—hunger, poverty, climate change—are caused by humanity’s joyful population growth and its ability to exploit the fruits of the earth. Having children today takes careful planning. As Margaret Sanger imagined in her child-interviewer scene, it takes love, emotional strength, a safe home, and confidence in the future. Nobody should be forced to be a parent, and women who regret being pregnant, for whatever reason, should be able to undo it.

Judge Barrett may truly believe that life starts at conception and she is entitled to her beliefs. Until 1867 the Catholic Church itself equated the beginning of life with quickening, the time at which a mother feels the child moving. But I am also wondering whether I can trust Amy Coney Barrett’s judgment and backbone—both crucial qualities for any person serving on the Supreme Court. At her nomination party she not only exposed herself and her children to infection by COVID-19, but kowtowed to the President of United States, whose actions she is to evaluate on the Court, and openly defied the recommendations of this country’s health authorities in fighting this scourge.

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Ernest Moshe Loebl, 1923-2020


I met my husband in the library of Columbia University’s Chemistry Department soon after he arrived from Israel in 1947. I asked Siegi Lichtblau, a fellow graduate student, to help me with a seminar that I was to present. He introduced me to Ernest, a newly arrived genius from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, saying that he would be better able to assist me. Ernest’s excited explanations of the finer points of my problem were way above my head. But strangely, I kept thinking: “This man needs a wife like me.” Wisely I kept these intrusive thoughts to myself, and for almost two years we were both busy with other romantic entanglements. Then we simultaneously broke up with our beloveds. I was in the awkward position of needing a partner to paddle my canoe on a 1949 Fourth of July outing, organized by my cousin Claude.

I asked Ernest and he accepted. It was his introduction to America’s beautiful outdoors. He loved the spectacular Adirondacks and their deserted waterways. He loved the untamed forests, the cool water of the lakes and streams we traversed, the challenge of canoe portages and the art of cooking over a wood fire. We talked a lot. We were remarkably compatible, so much so that six weeks later we embarked on a longer, more intimate camping trip, also led by cousin Claude. It took us to the wilds of Canada, including Montreal and the province of Quebec, and we ended up hiking solo in the Adirondacks.

During that adventure I learned a lot about Ernest’s Viennese childhood, his father’s medical practice, his love of the opera, his wrenching experience during the Nazi annexation of Austria 1938, his family’s escape to Israel, and his deep devotion to that struggling British Mandate. There, as a freshman at the Hebrew University, he became a member of the budding underground Haganah, which was to defend the new Jewish homeland if and when it was born. That dream ran in his family. A historical photograph records a meeting of Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism, and a group of young men that included Ernest’s father, in Vienna around 1900.

Ernest’s Haganah training did come in handy. He won my heart when, on that long-ago camping trip, he hit a bullseye in a shooting competition with an obnoxious fellow camper. I was also impressed by his vast, eclectic knowledge. Who else knew that SPQR, engraved on many classical-inspired buildings, stood for “the Senate and the People of Rome”? And I loved his unfailing “BS” detector, combined with his deep concern for humanity. When we returned from that summer vacation we knew that we were meant to spend our lives together.

Most long lives have their ups and downs. Ernest’s parents had a hard time settling in Israel. Their income was meager. A teenage Ernest helped by tutoring math and picking oranges. He studied chemistry and was a top student. In 1947 he came “temporarily” to the United States, married, and stayed. After he obtained his PhD he started teaching at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, which was a truly glorious school during the infancy of the plastic age. In addition to Ernest’s satisfying work and salary, the institution supplied us with a brilliant, fun group of lifelong friends, augmented by the artistic ones we met in our longtime home on Riverside Drive. Ernest and I were blessed with our children Judy and David, who provided us with joy. Alone and together we explored the world. Fifty-two years ago we bought a lakeside cottage in Maine, which so amply nourished our love of the outdoors. The Granite State became another place to call home. After the horror of the Holocaust, I still wondered how life could be so normal. Tragedy, however, was around the corner. In 1993 we lost our son to AIDS. Fortunately David lived long enough to get to know Judy’s children: Ana, Naomi, and Sean. Ernest’s relationship with each of them was deeply satisfying.

Until the very end Ernest kept up many of his interests. For decades he read aloud for Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D), now known as Learning Ally. After he retired he went there three times a week, tackling double sessions. He was one of their top readers, skilled at reading obscure languages and translating intricate equations into words. He was deeply interested in music, especially opera, and an avid newshound. He did not derive much pleasure from the latter and acutely suffered with all the world’s terrible happenings.

On March 15th, 2020, we celebrated our 70th wedding anniversary. It was the last evening before the city ordered the closure of its restaurants. Ernest was already ailing. His heart and kidneys were giving out. Over the past couple months, in a world terrified by COVID-19, I took care of him with the help of our daughter, Judy, and Wendy, our housekeeper. He passed away peacefully and reluctantly on June 19th.

We hope to have a celebration of Ernest’s life in the fall.

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Lockdown 1942, Lockdown 2020

mercy of strangers cover

For me, the current lockdown is a vivid reminder of the two years I spent as a “hidden child” in Belgium during World War II. Actually, I was neither a child nor confined to my quarters like that other, very famous hidden child, Anne Frank. I was a teen, hidden “in plain sight.” Still, in those years, the biggest burden turned out to be loneliness.

As readers of this blog know, my German-Jewish family fled to Belgium in 1938. Two years later, the Nazis invaded the country in which we had taken refuge, bringing with them their intent to exterminate all the Jews. In 1942, the local authorities sent a letter instructing my nuclear family to report to a “work” camp in Malines, where my mother, my 12-year-old sister, and I would help the Third Reich achieve its glorious destiny. My mother fortunately declared, in her native German, “We won’t do that.”

Unlike Anne Frank’s family, we separated. I spent most of the next two years working as a mother’s helper with four different families who were kind enough to shelter me. I owe them my life. Many things about that experience were difficult, but the hardest by far was the social isolation. Within a matter of hours I lost my family, my friends, my school, my plans for the future. Worse, I lost my identity. I could not reveal my real self to those around me. For their benefit I had to invent believable stories about my past and present. Why, for instance, did I rarely leave the house on my day off or go out dancing?

Actually, then as now, no one had locked me inside the house. But Brussels’ streets were patrolled by a legendary German agent named Adler who was excellent at identifying and arresting “hidden” Jews, and my mother was wisely cautious. She was chagrined when I ventured out unnecessarily. When she discovered that I had disregarded her instructions, she yelled and cried, declaring, “War is not a piece of cake.”

I felt my life slipping by. Would I be an old maid?  I had never been kissed, gone on a date, been drunk or stayed up all night. I read voraciously, identifying with the characters in French romans-fleuves—multi-volume novels centering on the lives, loves, and deaths of fascinating characters experiencing world war.  I identified with their victories and defeats. I fell madly in love with a married man named Emile, the brother of my boss and a member of the Belgian resistance. Emile hardly noticed me, but in my fertile fantasy world he asked me to join the resistance. The Gestapo arrested us. We were tortured, condemned to death and made love the night before we were executed. How delicious! The real Emile perished a few weeks before Belgium’s liberation.

Mostly I was very busy taking care of my charges and helping in the house. By the time I went to bed I was exhausted, but a persistent nightmare woke me often: a boatman rowed me to an island peopled by living skeletons that tried to grab me with their spidery fingers. How could I have had such an accurate vision of Nazi death camps?

My most difficult stint was with a Dutch family. My official cover was that I was their upscale niece, looking for a suitable husband. I hated my idle days filled with dusting my hosts’ 96 knick-knacks, reading stacks of women’s magazines, knitting with scavenged wool to please my “aunt” and playing solitaire. It was at this house, however, that I began to keep a diary, which decades later formed the backbone of At The Mercy of Strangers: Growing Up on the Edge of the Holocaust. Somewhere in its entries, amidst the passionate declarations of my love for Emile and realistic descriptions of the terrible times, I wrote, “I hope that my children will never have to live through anything like this.” Even then, I must have believed that I would survive the circumstances and go on to have a future. I don’t look back on these years with horror. Somehow I learned to be my own best friend, to enjoy my own company, and to trust myself and others.

The current lockdown occasioned by this new catastrophe is different. I am old now, and I hate having yet to go through another major disaster. Death has already robbed me of many of those I loved. The Internet, iPhones, FaceTime and Zoom lessen social isolation. As during World War II, some virtual strangers turn out to be extremely helpful: offering to shop, bringing me masks and home-baked goods. Reading and writing again provide solace. I write every day and fervently hope to finish Plunder and Survival, a book about the fate of fine art during World War II. For my protection, my three beloved grandchildren keep their distance. They do not have to deal with Nazis and gas chambers, but fate is full of nasty surprises.

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Donald Trump Is “Making America Beautiful Again”


(Photo by Gage Skidmore)

On February 10, 2020, I came across a small headline in The New York Times proclaiming that Donald Trump is making “America beautiful again.” It was paired with an image of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAH&C), whose golden hue has added luster to our nation’s Washington Mall since 2013. The building is a three-part corona enclosed in a lace-like skin woven from 3,600 filigree panels reminiscent of the iron grills built by enslaved African Americans in South Carolina and Louisiana. The structure, designed by David Adjaye, has received numerous endorsements and prizes.

Further reading proved that the President had not actually insulted this museum, but was protesting the look of other edifices built with federal funds. As a consequence of his distaste, Trump plans to introduce an executive order requiring that federal buildings adhere to Greek and Roman architectural designs. This executive order would interfere with the freedom of architectural development, one of the major arts, and would cost the General Service Administration more than fifty million dollars.

It so happens that for more years than I would like to admit, I have been working on a book that examines the consequences of Hitler’s war on art.

On May 10, 1933, fewer than four months after they had assumed power in Germany, the Nazis issued a short manifesto that would dominate their culture and philosophy during the next twelve years, and whose consequences still rock the art world today. The five points of the manifesto deal with the removal, shaming, and eventual destruction of so-called Bolshevik works of art, as well as the dismissal of museum directors who had spent public money on their acquisition.

The Nazis also decreed that no boxlike buildings should be built.

This was a particular criticism of the German Bauhaus, a design school whose ideas were greatly influential in the 20th century. By now the institution’s International style dominates the look of most “downtowns” the world over.

The Nazis abhorred modern art. Eventually they would ransack their museums and torch thousands of artworks by then-contemporary artists whose work is now venerated everywhere.

Like Hitler, Trump apparently favors columns and soft arches to innovative design. Per se, I do not object to classic architecture—some of my favorite buildings are updated Classicism—nor do I love every modern building; but Trump’s directive smacks of dictatorship, as do some of his other actions and pronouncements.

As a still-free society, we must be vigilant about the encroachment on our rights; we must insist that avant-garde art and self-expression can flourish in America. As Martin Niemoller, a German Lutheran pastor, put it so perfectly:

First they came for the Communists,
And I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
And I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
And I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics,
And I did not speak out because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me. By that time
no one was left to speak up.

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Raising a Gay Child Before Stonewall


I regret to say that I barely remember the riots at Stonewall, the bar in Greenwich Village where on June 26, 1969, a group of gay patrons successfully resisted harassment by the New York City police. The event would play such an important role in my life. David, my son, was thirteen then. Since he was very young, my husband thought that he might be gay—then a major issue. 

When he was three, David wanted to wear dresses. He hid his short blond hair under a scarf and insisted on being called Mary. My friend Mickey, a professional dancer, was horrified and advised me to seek psychiatric help for David. After discussing the matter with a number of trusted professionals and friends, I contacted the Jewish Board of Guardians, a highly respected social agency in New York. After a thorough investigation, Dr. Z, a psychiatrist, saw David four times a week. In addition, Dr. Z saw my husband on a weekly basis. Nobody among the many lay-people and professionals my husband and I consulted told us that we were doing a good job bringing him up and should relax and enjoy our child. 

Prejudice is a terrible thing. As David’s mother I felt dreadfully isolated. He was a particularly charming, good-looking child, yet most often when I mentioned his gender non-conformity, people’s faces fell. It was as if he was suffering from a dreadful disease. It is a credit to David and me that through his short life—he died of AIDS at 37—we preserved the deep love we shared. At the time many parents rejected their gay children. 

As a Jewish child growing up in Nazi Germany, I was used to being discriminated against. I could dismiss those who were frankly rejecting, but was actually more hurt by the half-sympathetic people who felt sorry for me being Jewish. They invited me to celebrate their birthdays before or after the “real” event, and didn’t brave coming to mine. All my life I regretted speaking with the accent that prompting strangers to ask, “Where are you from?” I have been cautious in selecting friends, and treasure the intimacy with those who make the grade. I was sad that my son too had to exert caution in his dealings with the world at large.

Both David and I got to enjoy “gay liberation.” There were always parents, especially mothers, who stood by their gay children. In 1989, twenty years after the Stonewall riots, I went with David to watch San Francisco’s Pride parade. After he died, I joined my gay granddaughter in the festivities that blossom at the end of June around the now-historic Stonewall Inn in New York. This year, I happened to be in Greenwich Village the week before the event, and noted that police vans were already festooned with rainbow flags!

Discrimination is far from gone, but matters have progressed. Last weekend I ate at La Bergamote, a New York City bakery. A male couple with two children—a toddler and an infant—sat at the next table, enjoying the establishment’s excellent fare.

Given the fickleness of history I wonder how long tolerance will last. Both gays and Jews have seen acceptance alternate with extreme discrimination.

Vive la liberté!

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My Guardian Angel


I have a guardian angel. I think he is male, though you could not tell by looking at him. He has golden wings and wears a plain white gown. He does not concern himself with politics or other important things, but every so often he rescues me in the most amazing way.

During World War II, the Nazis occupied Belgium. Two years later they decided to send Jews, including me, then a seventeen-year-old teen, to concentration camps. My family decided to hide instead. I was forced to leave my beloved high school and work as a mother’s helper.

When the Germans finally left Brussels two years later, I was much too old to return to high school. I took advantage of a special law that allowed war victims to enroll in institutions of higher education even if they had not graduated from high school. The deal was that they had to pass a high school equivalency exam after their first year in college. I passed my first year at the Institut Meurice Chimie with flying colors, even though I hardly knew any math. In fact, the only thing I remembered of high-school math was Pythagorean’s theorem governing right-angle triangles. During my equivalency exam the professor invited me to pull a math question out of a bag. It asked me to prove the famous Pythagorean theorem. I passed the exam, which entitled me to continue my education at grade level.


In 1959, long before cell phones, I drove with my five-year-old daughter Judy, her friend Elissa, and my three-year-old son David to Manhattan’s Fort Tryon Park. We were in the middle lane of the old West Side Highway, surrounded by fast-moving traffic. Suddenly my vintage Ford stopped. What was I to do? If I stayed in the car, chances were that I would be hit, but how could I leave with my brood of three! Suddenly a car pulled up in front of us. Four men spilled out. They were auto mechanics on a lunchtime spin and soon we were on our way.


My fridge broke down two days before we were to leave for a lengthy trip. In exchange for luxurious accommodations in Brooklyn Heights, our friend Michael was to dog-sit for Sasha, our little Dachshund. I rushed to a store to buy a new fridge, armed with the measurements of the space to accommodate it. “You are lucky; I have a bargain for you,” the salesman said. “It is bigger than your old model, but it will fit.”

The next day the fridge was delivered. After its doors were unhinged, it fit into the apartment house’s small elevator. It managed to pass through the entrance of the apartment, but got stuck in front of the kitchen passage. After watching the deliverymen unsuccessfully maneuver the fridge for one hour, I panicked. I ran through the apartment building in search of help. I heard workmen banging away in Apartment 3A. I pleaded. The two guys followed me upstairs. After evaluating the situation they removed the frame of the wooden doorway of the entrance to the kitchen. One of my two new friends was an expert mover. He directed the deliverymen on how to maneuver the fridge into place. Angles and inches mattered, but it fit. The doors were reattached and the shelves put in. The doorframe was hammered back into place. A bucket of white painted materialized from nowhere, and another twenty minutes later everything looked pristine.

I figured that the emergency rescue would cost me hundreds of dollars, but the workmen told me that there was no charge. I guess they were perhaps being paid by my co-op or that the bill would come later. It never did, and my dog-sitter enjoyed a carefree vacation.

That was twenty years ago. I beseech my guardian angel that my refrigerator will outlast me.


Decades ago I wrote: Conception/Contraception: A New Look, which McGraw-Hill published in 1975. It explains humanity’s long quest to unravel the marvels of reproduction.

One stumbling block to the understanding of the exquisitely timed, hormone-controlled process was that nobody could find the mammalian egg. During the seventeenth century, England’s William Harvey, the discoverer of blood circulation, joined the search by examining the uterus of England’s royal deer. A picture of his experiments hung in Columbia University’s old medical library, where I did much of the research for this book. Harvey failed to find the minuscule egg, even though it is the biggest cell in the body. It was only in 1827 that Karl Ernst von Baer, a, Eastern-European scientist experimenting with dogs, finally discovered the mammalian egg. It took another 150 years, and the discovery of hormones, to nail down the details of conception, gestation, and birth. Inevitably the understanding led to the discovery of effective methods of birth control, a technique people had been searching for since antiquity.

The writing of the book was done, and now I had the pleasure of finding illustrations. One night I woke up with a start. I had vividly dreamt of a faded picture of William Harvey examining the uterus of a doe in the company of England’s King Charles I. The picture hung in the medical library of Columbia University; I had completely forgotten about it. The next morning I phoned Columbia and asked the librarian about it. He said that he never noticed it, but agreed to check. He returned to the phone excited. Yes, to his surprise and mine, the picture was there. I included it in the book.


Recently a number of unfortunate events beset my life. I wondered whether my guardian angel had quit. Last December, on an extremely cold day, I took a taxi to the Frick Library in Manhattan. I am still writing books! I left my mismatched gloves in the taxi. On my return trip I was nursing my cold hands as I was sitting on the crosstown bus. I looked up. A departing passenger had dropped a perfect pair of black suede gloves!

Thank you, Guardian Angel. I need you for as long as I live.

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Three Family Bar Mitzvahs


David at his bar mitzvah in 1969.

To the memory of David Loebl (1956-1993) on his 63rd birthday and the 50th anniversary of his bar mitzvah.

I was eight years old when my mother and I attended the bar mitzvah of my cousin Ernst
Wertheimer (later Worth). During this Jewish coming-of-age ceremony, thirteen-year-old
boys and girls are called to the Torah. They read a portion of the text, interpret it and
present a speech. In addition to reading, celebrants also make and complete a pledge to perform a significant good deed for the community. A joyous party is usually twinned with the religious service.

The event took place took place in Frankfurt, Germany, in January 1933. It was within days of Hitler’s rise to power, a move in which his goal was to effectively extinguish the life of Germany’s two-thousand-year-old Jewish community.

I forget the religious portion of my cousin’s bar mitzvah, but I remember the party, a
dinner for about 50 held in my Aunt Erna’s gargantuan apartment. I wore a smocked
yellow silk dress and felt as if it were my societal debut. And in fact, I actually had a starring role: I recited a long poem, composed by my mother and dedicated to her favorite nephew.

Erna had seated the oldest next to the youngest, so I occupied a place of honor next to my
great-grandmother Mathilde Mayer. I danced with my cousin Ernst, and declared to anyone willing to listen that we had become engaged and were to marry when we grew up. I don’t think that I ever again was as high in my life as I was then. Then, in the midst of my euphoria, somebody decided it was time for me to go to bed! I refused, insisting that I would only do so if Ernst and his sister Edith would also retire. Surprisingly they humored me. I am still ashamed of having been such a brat and wonder at the idiocy of sending me to bed.


Most of my family escaped Germany during the following years and settled in England
and America. I met another Ernest and did marry him. We had a daughter and a son. One day when he was about eleven, David informed me that I “had better get ready for his bar mitzvah.” The request was a pleasant surprise.

Ernest Loebl and I enrolled David in the appropriate classes at the Hebrew Tabernacle in
Washington Heights. Like me, Rabbi Robert Lehman and Cantor Ehrenberg, who studied with David, were transplanted German Jews, familiar with our background. As was usually the case with his studying, David had to be urged to work on his Torah and Haftorah portions, but when March 15, 1969—our wedding anniversary—came around, he was beaming and ready. Some of the same people who had been at my cousin Ernst’s bar mitzvah attended David’s. Among them: my mother, my sister, my great-aunt Selma, my mom’s cousin Martin and his wife Anne (the latter had been a new couple in 1933).

We held David’s party at home. Unlike my aunt Erna, I included my son’s friends—a
noisy bunch of 20 or so. When I looked at my potential guest list it numbered close to a
hundred. Even our grand old apartment on Riverside Drive, with its 16-by-22 foot living
room, would not hold them! Fortunately I managed to borrow a neighbor’s large apartment for David’s friends. I took off a week from work, cooked and organized. David’s food requests included his favorite: stuffed cabbage. I told him that I could not make stuffed cabbage for a hundred people. But then of course, I changed my mind. I made oodles of cabbage rolls, froze them, and stored them in the borrowed apartment. Suddenly, as all the guests were seated, stuffing themselves with salmon and roast beef, I remembered that I had forgotten to serve the stuffed cabbage! When I fetched them a couple of weeks later they had defrosted during an electric blackout and were spoiled!
David’s bar mitzvah was the biggest and most glamorous party I ever threw. I cherish its memory.


Frankfurt’s glittering Jewish world has long vanished, but somehow our smallish family
has survived. On a cold Saturday in February we gathered to celebrate Noah Cooper, my
second cousin twice removed, who was old enough to be called to the Torah at the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue. By now I was the matriarch of the Mayer clan. The world
had changed in so many ways. A woman, Molly Kane, was the officiating Rabbi. Services, too, were more relaxed, but the ancient words and melodies shrunk the decades.

Like my David, Noah enjoyed the entire ceremony. His readings of the Torah and Haftorah portions were flawless and his speech very sophisticated. In addition to friends
and regular congregants of the temple, the audience included about a dozen of Mathilde’s and her husband Isaac Mayer’s descendants. To me, Noah seemed so much younger than my cousin Ernst or my son had been. Today we forget that way back when the Jewish traditions were established, a thirteen-year old was about to go to work.

Noah’s party was child-centered. He and his parents had spent months choosing the music for dancing, the videos and the delicious foods. I had a good time visiting with
family and friends, happy to still be around celebrating another generation. Just within
the last month, Tori, Noah’s aunt, gave birth to another one of Mathilde’s great-great-
great-grand daughters. May the world itself come to its senses, so that its children can
continue to thrive.

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Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford And Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh Testify To Senate Judiciary Committee

Judge Brett Kavanaugh testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee. (Photo by Ninian Reed / CC BY 2.0)

This land is your land, this land is my land,
From California to the New York island,
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters,
This land was made for you and me
—Woodie Guthrie

On May 12, 1954, I woke up with labor pains, about to give birth to my first child. We called Dr. Kuntze, my obstetrician. Expecting a long labor, he told my husband and me to wait at home. We did not own a television. To while away the time we asked our neighbor whether we could watch the Army-McCarthy hearings at her apartment.

Senator McCarthy was testifying vociferously on the black and white screen in a room crowded with serious-looking white males. For years the junior senator from Wisconsin had terrorized the nation with allegations of pro-Communist infiltration of the federal government, the CIA, the film industry, and universities. It was scary. The freedom of the United States, a country that had granted me asylum and residency eight years earlier, was at stake. Finally McCarthy aroused the ire of the army and President Eisenhower. The 1954 hearings broke his power, but it was a close call and caused much damage.

It was a coincidence that the meeting of the 2018 Senate Judiciary Committee that heard the testimony of Dr. Christine Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh also took place on a day that for me involved a visit to a hospital. The now-near-retirement “infant” I gave birth to during the Army-McCarthy hearings shepherded me lovingly during my outpatient surgical procedure and then accompanied me back home.

I missed most of Dr. Ford’s sane, emotional presentation, which still took place before a room filled with mostly aging white men. But I caught Dr. Kavanaugh’s testimony, and it terrified me beyond belief. It was not only what he said, but his demeanor. He snorted, twitched, and sweated. He swallowed water as if his life depended on it. He was yelling and tearing up. Was he on the verge of a mental breakdown? During the question and answer period he was supercilious, evaded questions, and evinced neither sagacity nor kindness. How could he be entrusted with a seat on the highest court of my beloved country which rescued me from the abyss of tyranny?

Suddenly my soul started vibrating with terror. I remembered the voice of Adolf Hitler as he ranted from the German radio. When I was a child it reverberated through my house in Germany. The subject matter of Kavanaugh’s and Hitler’s presentations were vastly different, but their tone, their self-pity, their fury were similar. Kavanaugh does not stand for America or for justice. He does not belong on the Supreme Court of America.

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The Disastrous Consequences of Separating Parents and Children

More than fifty years ago, my three-year-old son David and I went grocery shopping in our smallish neighborhood supermarket. I concentrated on the week’s bargains while he immersed himself in the comics rack. Suddenly I felt a small hand tugging at me. When I turned, I encountered David’s terror-struck face. He had been unable to find me and was convinced that I had lost him for good. Reassurance, and some guilt on my part, followed. I realized how scary the world was for David.

I can imagine the terror that enveloped the children at the US-Mexico border, and the grief and horror experienced by their mothers and fathers. It is hard to kiss small children goodbye when they first leave us to attend daycare, elementary school, or sleep-away camp. These, however, are necessary life-changes. Having one’s child wrested from one’s arms by a stranger represents a trauma of epic proportions. And of course, there is bitter irony in the fact that many parents have undertaken this journey precisely in order to provide their young with a brighter future.

When Trump’s latest strategy to eliminate undocumented immigration became public, so many US citizens protested that the president rescinded his original order and stopped separating parents and children at the US-Mexico border. But much damage had already been done. As of July 1, 2018, approximately two thousand children were still separated from their parents and the prospect of their timely reunion were dim. Some officials fear that some of the separated children will end up being “immigration orphans.” Jeff Sessions has offered the following as justification: “If people don’t want to be separated from their children, they should not bring them with them.”

I can visualize and identify with the chaos that reigns at the US’s southern border. I especially identify with the teenagers. Seventy-eight years ago I too camped in front of an impregnable border. On May 10, 1940, the Germans invaded Belgium. Five days later my mother, my little sister and I tried to cross the Belgian-French border near Dunkirk. We were refused admission because we did not have the correct documents. We were running away from the German army and trying to join my father in France, who had been arrested as an enemy alien (I would not see him for six years). We did not manage to cross the border but tried repeatedly during the next three days. In between attempts we camped in the sand dunes. I can’t remember what we did for food or how we attended to our other bodily functions. Eventually we all retreated and returned to the Belgian capital, where we miraculously survived four years of German occupation.

Elisabeth Wolff

Elizabeth Wolff

During this fruitless expedition, when one million Belgians tried to escape the Nazis, I happen to run into Elizabeth Wolff, my best friend. Her family too was trying to escape the German army. Elizabeth is a prime example of the emotional damage that world history inflicts on the innocent, and her abrupt separation from her parents was part of her root problem.

During the late 1930s, when the fate of many European Jews hung in the balance, the Refugee Children’s Movement rescued Jewish children by having some free European countries waive their residence requirements. This so-called Kindertransport (“children’s transport”) operation was a wonderful but heart-wrenching program that saved more than 10,000 children. Elizabeth had kissed her parents goodbye at the Berlin railroad station without knowing who would care for her in Brussels. The Hollenders, the kind parents of three older daughters, adopted her until she would hopefully be reunited with her own parents.

I met Elizabeth during recess at our local high school soon after she arrived. We rapidly grew very close. We visited back and forth and talked incessantly about sex, politics, our teachers, my irascible mother, the Hollenders and Elizabeth’s parents. At first Elizabeth heard from them regularly. Then the letters grew sparse, and finally they stopped. They were murdered. In 1942, both the Jewish Hollenders and my family went into hiding until 1944. I missed my friend dreadfully. I could not wait until the war was over and we could resume our friendship.

When that happened, Elizabeth had changed. We saw each other rarely, then I moved to America. I knew that she became a nurse, married a doctor, and had three children, who happened to be same the age as mine. In 2000, after I had written my wartime memoir At the Mercy of Strangers, which chronicled our friendship, I went to visit her in Belgium. To my utter surprise she seemed to have forgotten all about me. She apologized and wanted to know how the two of us had met. It appeared that she had erased most of her past. Her husband and children had been instructed not to talk to her about the Holocaust, and her friends believed that the Hollenders were her birth parents.

Surprisingly, she slowly rekindled our friendship, whose loss had caused me so much grief. Elizabeth recovered her knowledge of German and other long-lost memories. She died in 2015. I miss the years of friendship we could have had.

I am reminded of Elizabeth when I look at the children now in custody at the US-Mexico border. Will they ever recover from the trauma they have experienced?

Posted in family stories, history, politics | 2 Comments

Public Parks, Private Gardens: The Met Celebrates Spring

“A Sunday on La Grande Jatte,” Georges Seurat

Study for “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte,” Georges Seurat, 1884. (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Given the nor’easter that dumped snow all over Central Park and our constantly dreary politics, it is wonderful that the Met is putting on a show that overflows with sunshine and outdoor delights. The exhibit is on the ground floor of the Lehman Pavilion, whose double-height courtyard stocked with plants ably competes with the wonderful show.

The exhibit, filled with many of the Met’s best-known Impressionist paintings, celebrates the 19th century rebuilding of Paris under the aegis of Emperor Napoleon III and Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann, his urban architect. They demolished rat-infested neighborhoods and added wide boulevards, 30 parks, and verdant city squares that enabled the newly empowered middle class to enjoy the outdoors. The Bois de Boulogne, formerly a royal hunting preserve, became a public green space two-and-half times the size of Central Park. It was inspired by London’s Hyde Park.

The art world responded with luminous paintings, many created outdoors. All well-known Impressionist painters are represented among the 150 works of the exhibition. There is a small version of Georges Seurat’s iconic view of the Grande Jatte with its bustle-wearing ladies, sun-worshipping city-dwellers and frolicking dogs.

Camille Pissarro is represented by views of the formal Tuileries; Manet has a painting of the Monet family in their garden; and glamorous Auguste Renoir chose to paint the royal gardens at Versailles.

Garden at Sainte-Adresse

Garden at Sainte-Adresse, Claude Monet, 1867. (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Claude Monet, who loved gardens, has more paintings in the show than anyone else. He painted public parks like the Parc Monceau, private gardens like the La terrasse à Sainte-Adresse and, most often, his famous private domain at Giverny, with its expanses of flowers, water lily ponds and iconic Japanese bridge. At the Met show an ancient film actually shows Monet painting there.

I personally experienced that magic garden in 1983. That fall I spent two days in Paris. My arthritic left hip throbbed with pain whenever I walked more that ten paces. I paid it no heed, rushing to all my favorite Parisian places: La Sainte Chapelle, Ile St. Louis, Rue de Rivoli, the bridges of the Seine. My only salvation was a long bus trip. It was a beautiful autumn day and I booked a bus excursion to Monet’s Giverny. My hip approved. The place proved as captivating as it appears from its creator’s canvasses. Even in October the colors were beautiful. I loved the water garden, the trellis, and the various paths. I was enchanted by Monet’s house and its simple everyday china. I was the only passenger on the bus who did not have a camera, and earned the following comment from one of the guards: “Madame, I compliment you: you are the only one on the tour who really sees the garden.”

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