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.