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Book Review: Gypsy Tears – Loving a Holocaust Survivor by Cora Schwartz

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One of my peeves is that I am unable to read fiction about the holocaust, or slavery, for that matter. It always seems to me that fictionalizing these historical events belittles them somewhat. An odd peeve, I’ll admit, because I myself am a fiction writer who often writes about imperialism and oppression. The thing about a good fiction book, however, is that the author can deal with such issues as emotions on a personal scale. Cora Schwartz’ Gypsy, Tears published by Hobblebush Books in 2007, is the best of memoirs. This 244 page book has the personal heartbeat of fiction and the historical scope of a well-made documentary.

When Cora from the Bronx first met Rudy from Ukraine in the Catskills, she thinks he’s a bit odd, to say the least. But she has just survived a very miserable and childless marriage and her mother urges her to befriend the handsome Rudy. Very, very soon after meeting him she realizes he is overflowing with grief and pain caused by his experience in a Nazi camp, a survival which makes her poor childhood seem like paradise in comparison. Rudy is not an easy person to deal with. People in pain never are. He drinks to hide his pain, has nightmares almost every night, compares his pain with hers, and tells the same sad stories repeatedly. When they begin living together, he chooses to live in a dark basement apartment. But he is also charming and kind and he will take her on a physical and emotional tour of his own life in Europe that will help her understand her own life also.
Gypsy Tears is both autobiography and biography and yet it doesn’t come off like a novel that is in anyway self-indulgent. It’s a passionate love story that speaks to all people, especially those people who have wounded significant others. I hope many get a chance to read this book. As the last remnant of holocaust survivors die and their stories remain untold, people such as Iran’s president and others often question whether or not the holocaust ever happened. This is a book needed for such a time as this.

Growing up in a multicultural but primarily Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn during the seventies, I met many Holocaust Survivors. While my Orthodox and Chassidic neighbors lived on the tree-lined cross streets from Coney Island to Flatbush, I and much of the black community lived on main thoroughfares on or around Avenue J and Ocean Avenue. We got along pretty well, I think. It was only later that racial troubles escalated between blacks and Jews in Brooklyn. In those days, Blacks and Jews both remembered their common history of oppression and pretty much helped each other. That’s the way I remember it. And to this day if anyone asks me what my favorite group of people are — because it’s part of human nature when one lives in a multicultural country to have other ethnic groups one associates with — I always say that after Blacks, my favorite people are Jewish people. (Italians and Hispanics come in a close third.)

Back in those days there was no racist revisionist history silliness about the Holocaust “never having happened” because we knew the survivors. They were our friends’ mothers, sisters, aunts… and they all bore such marks of emotional strength mixed with damage that it was pretty obvious that something awful had happened to them. They carried the wounds in much the same way as my black friends who had seen their uncles lynched and mothers raped.

Now, however, as time pushes those days of oppression into our history (although oppression is occurring still in places such as Darfur and among Christians in North Korea and China) there is a chance that people will not truly understand the horrors suffered by Americans who have endured the cruelty and insanity of racism. Gypsy Tears is a romance, and is listed as an historical novel. It is a passionate story about survivor’s guilt, the aftermath of a devastated life, and a story of a woman’s ability to enter into and commit to loving a wounded person. It is not a preachy read, but it is a powerful reminder lest we forget. Although we who live in the twenty-first century often consider ourselves free from the herd mentality of racism and anti-Semitism, racism, anti-Semitism (both against Jews and Arabs), anti-Christianity… and any other kind of hatred and cruelty based on ethnicity or religion still exists in the world. And memoirs such as Cora Schwartz’s autobiography-biography are testimonies that will help to humanize and record the lives of all those who have suffered – and still suffer.

Cora Schwartz's other book is entitled The Forgotten Few. It is a photographic book of Holocaust survivors. The book flap on this book states that she continues to try to fulfill Rudy’s dream of bringing humanitarian aid to the last holocaust survivors in Ukraine. This book and her continuing humanitarian work are heartfelt testimonies to Rudy.

Highly recommended.

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About scifiwritir

  • This is not a personal attack; I would put forth that the majority of holocaust stories are fictional and that the authour of this article not bemoan too much that there is little “fiction” on the holocaust to be found.

    There are several made up stories; the latest exposure of which is the Memoires of Mischa, The Wolf Girl.

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    The name “Dresdenburning” says all that needs be said. We Jews need to move beyond the evil the Nazis did to our people, but denying that this evil occurred is nearly as evil as the evil itself. When you see the blue numbers tatooed on someone’s arm, you do not forget. In my life, I have seen too many such numbers.

    Justice will yet come to Germany and Europe and America, and all those who allowed the murder of over eleven million people in the name of racist religion/ideology. Six million of them were of my own people, but five million weren’t.

  • DresdenBurning:

    I grew up in a Jewish neighborhood. I saw real holocaust victims. I live in another NY town now but here also I have found people who lost brothers, fathers, husbands, uncles, wives in the holocaust.

    I’ve never read about the Wolf Girl. I suppose there might be a few oddballs going around making up stories about their supposed suffering in Nazi germany but one liar doesn’t mean the truth is not the truth.

    There were about fourteen million people killed in the holocaust. If we assumed that each person’s death touches at least 50 people (a low estimate, you’ll agree) then we can definitely assume that each of those i4 million people touched 50 people who all have stories to tell.

    Memoirs like this show that there are real people who suffered. Movies and fictional stories based on history are helpful but it’s memoirs such as this that show the real horrors of hatred. If you choose not to believe any or all memoir about the holocaust, there is nothing I can really do since you have decided that nothing will convince you.

    If we forget past genocide, we stop caring about present genocides and set the stage for future ones. – Carole

  • DresdenBurning:

    I just clicked on your website (URL) and oh my! Hatred is alive and well, i guess. But ….your site leaves me speechless. I guess that’s all i have to say. -C

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    I also went to the DresdenBurning site. Yup, a definite hate site. But it has a woman’s touch to it, and while hatred leeches from it like Zykon B from a gas chamber, there is never the open suggestion that Jews should be murdered.

    One senses that the readers of the site take this idea for granted.

    But that is just my opinion…..

  • Yes, Ruvy:

    I can never understand how people could focus their life on hatred. Just seems so odd to me. I’m trying to get my mind around understanding people who think like this.


  • It’s not just odd, it’s lazy.

    Rather than look for ways to solve problems, just find someone to blame and hate them.

  • /DresdenBurning: I just clicked on your website (URL) and oh my! Hatred is alive and well, i guess. But ….your site leaves me speechless. I guess that’s all i have to say. -C/

    Thank you for the visit; however, one must state that your comment is the least hate-filled toward my view and site. I would love to indulge some of my critics here in a real holocaust debate; for there is more hatred expressed in the comments left than in your own.

    If I may take it to understand that you are not a White Person, then, you have left out a large group of Folks from your favaourite list. Believe me, juden are not Friend to Negroes nor any Goyim. We are seen, at best, as expedient and disposable allies from time to time.

    I think this is pretty clearly evidenced by some of the comments made here by Jews, whom proclaim without any real and clear evidence, that “6 Million” jews were gassed, holocausted. And, then would go on to state that they were but the slight majority of 11 million. Whereas there is absolutely no jewish outrage over the more than 70 Million people murdered by the Soviet State, from it’s inception to it’s end. Nor is there any recognigtion of the more than 2 million German Folk murdered by the Allies; and that figure only includes post-war figures, of deliberate death by starvation and disease and attacks – mainly in the infamous Eisenhower Death Camps created for Ethnic Germans, such as the “Rhine Meadows” camp. I also note the disdain held toward the many thousands of dead, incinerated in the bombing of the German City of Dresden. Yes, the jews have much to teach the world about hate.

    So, Jews:

    I invite you to debate the holocaust on the Forum I frequent, the link to which can be easily found on my blog. You might enjoy it; for there are several rather educated and intelligent Folk whom post there, just waiting to debate an equally intelligent jew; of whom, has yet to show up. Jews as well as their claim to holocaust during WW2 are being poorly represented, in fact.

    To the Article’s authour, I proffer only my best wishes and sincere hope that you will also include in your readings on the jewish claim to Holocaust other literature that is available.



  • DresdenBurning:

    I lived in a Jewish neighborhood as a teenager. Many of my close friends are Jewish. I can only say that Jews have been my friend.


  • For more information on the Nazi persecution of the gypsies.