Showing 111 - 120 of 212 annotations tagged with the keyword "War and Medicine"

Fragments

Wilkomirski, Binjamin

Last Updated: Aug-21-2006
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Note, entered 12/99: The authenticity of this account has been called into question. Legal documents and school records contradict the author’s claim of being a Holocaust survivor. The author, however, maintains that his story is true. News accounts of this controversy first appeared in Weltwoche, a Swiss publication, in an article written by author, Daniel Ganzfried, who researched Wilkomirski’s background (August 27, 1998). Among later reports are those in The Times of London (Sept. 8, 1998), and The New York Times (Nov. 3, 1998). In October, 1999 (Oct.,14, 1999 NY Times report) the German publisher, Suhrkamp Verlag, withdrew from stores all hardcover copies and Schocken Books suspended publication on November 1, 1999.

My Summary and Commentary below were written under the assumption, which appears to be false, that Fragments is a memoir, and not fiction. All indications are that Wilkomirski believes his story to be true. Readers might consider the metaphoric significance of the Holocaust in ongoing individual suffering.

Note, entered 10/01: Interestingly, in relation to my final comment of 12/99 above, a recent article places Wilkomirski’s book within the context of scholarly work on trauma, memory, and testimony. See "Beyond the Question of Authenticity: Witness and Testimony in the Fragments Controversy" by Michael Bernard-Donalis (Proceedings of the Modern Language Association, 116/5, October 2001: 1302-1315).

Note: 2/02: The recently published book, A Life in Pieces, by Blake Eskin (New York: W. W. Norton, 2002) tells the story of Wilkomirski, Fragments, and the research into Wilkomirski’s claims, and places the affair into sociohistoric context.

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Subtitled "Memories of a Wartime Childhood," this Holocaust memoir unveils the memory "shards" of a childhood spent in the Nazi death camps of Poland. The author, now a musician living in Switzerland, believes himself to have been born around 1939, in Riga, Latvia. He can’t be certain because his father was shot by militia as young Binjamin watched; later he was separated from his brothers; he remembers his mother only from one brief, forbidden visit with her in Majdanek concentration camp when they were both confined there.

Because the memoir is narrated primarily in the present tense, from the perspective of a confused, frightened child, in disjointed flashbacks, the reader viscerally experiences the bewilderment, physical hardships, the viscious cruelty of the guards, the sickening realities of existence (rats, lice, beetles; standing barefoot, ankle-deep in excrement), the fear and guilt [yes, guilt!--for inadvertently betraying another child]. But there was kindness as well--the wise older child, Jankl, who taught Binjamin survival techniques; the women inmates who hid Binjamin and other children under cloths in the laundry room--for weeks on end.

Near the end of the war, camp guards deserted and the surviving inmates staggered out--Binjamin was literally dragged along, against his will, by a camp inmate who recognized him. Somehow he ended up in an orphanage in Krakow, Poland. Here, there was fear of a different kind--distrust of all adults, fear of being "discovered" as a camp survivor (to be held responsible for another child’s death, and for abandoning his mother), total unfamiliarity with the habits of "normal" life.

Wilkomirski’s memoir begins and ends in Switzerland, where he was placed in foster care. In Switzerland there are other nightmares. Spastic attempts to verbalize his experiences are ridiculed, disbelieved, squelched. Not until a high school teacher--a German who fled to Switzerland during the war--shows documentary footage of the allied liberation of Mathausen concentration camp, does Binjamin realize that HE was never liberated. "Where was I when everyone else was being freed? . . . nobody tended us . . . the way it happened in the film. Nobody ever told me that the camp was . . . finally, definitely over . . . that . . . I could go forward without fear or threat into a new time . . . Not even later."

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Dr. Haggard's Disease

McGrath, Patrick

Last Updated: Aug-17-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In this first person narrative, Dr. Edward Haggard addresses his story to James, the son of his former lover Fanny Vaughn. Haggard, once a surgical registrar at a major hospital in London, has isolated himself in a coastal town, where he serves as a general practitioner. The "present" of Dr. Haggard’s story is the early stages of World War II, when James Vaughn, a Royal Air Force pilot, lies dying in Edward Haggard’s arms.

The story’s "past" has multiple dimensions. The outermost, framing story recounts the relationship between James and Edward that began several months before the war and a year or so following Fanny Vaughn’s death from kidney disease. James sought out the reclusive Dr. Haggard to discover the "truth" about Haggard’s relationship with his mother.

The inner story consists of Haggard’s description of his reckless and passionate love affair with Fanny, an ultimately hopeless liaison between a young registrar and the wife of the hospital’s senior pathologist. Their few brief months of happiness ended when Dr. Vaughn learned of the affair, and Fanny made the realistic choice to remain with her husband and adolescent son. In a confrontation between the two men, Vaughn knocked Haggard to the floor, causing a leg injury that resulted in chronic pain and permanent disability.

Haggard resigned from the hospital and withdrew to a solitary life, in which "Spike" (the name he gives to his deformed and painful leg) is his only companion. He must constantly "feed" Spike with intravenous morphine to quell the emotional, as well as physical, pain. The situation only worsens when Haggard learns of Fanny’s death from kidney failure.

The obsession worsens further still after James Vaughn shows up at his door. As Haggard treats the young pilot for a minor wound (he has become the local RAF surgeon), he notices that James has a feminized body habitus--gynecomastia, lack of body hair, broad hips, narrow shoulders, and pre-pubertal penis. He interprets this as "a pituitary disorder" and attempts to convince James that he needs treatment. James is repulsed by these advances, which eventually escalate.

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Doctor Faustus

Mann, Thomas

Last Updated: Aug-17-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The full title of this novel is "Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkühn as Told by a Friend." Mann wrote it during the latter part of World War II when he was living in exile in the United States. The Faust character in this story is a German composer named Adrian Leverkühn (1885-1940), whose biography is recounted by his childhood friend, a schoolmaster named Serenus Zeitblom. Zeitblom presents the tale in his own voice--in essence, the novel is an extended reflection on the composer’s life (the past) set into the context of the deteriorating military situation in Germany (the present) as he is writing; i.e. the same period that Mann is actually writing the novel.

Adrian Leverkühn starts out as a student of theology, but succumbs to his passion for musical composition. His early pieces, though technically skillful, lack energy and imagination. However, all this changes when the young man experiences himself as having made a pact with the devil. In a confession written years later, Adrian recounts that he "voluntarily" contracted syphilis in an encounter with a prostitute, an episode that he believed was emblematic of this Faustian bargain.

In the confession he recreates his dialog with Satan, who promises the composer an artistic breakthrough, if he agrees to forego human love. As a result of the pact, Leverkühn sets off on a brilliant 24-year career, becoming the greatest German composer of his time. Throughout the novel Serenus intersperses technical details of Leverkühn’s many compositions, culminating with his masterwork, an oratorio called "The Lamentation of Doctor Faustus."

Adrian Leverkühn had been a self-centered youth who failed to reciprocate the friendship and devotion that others, especially Serenus, had lavished upon him. As an adult he leads an austere, solitary, monk-like life. Yet, while he lives only for his music, he also yearns for love. His personal life consists of a series of aborted relationships. Leverkühn becomes attracted to a female acquaintance and asks a friend to court her for him, only to learn that she has fallen in love with the friend.

Toward the end of his career, Adrian’s 5-year-old nephew comes to live with him in the country. The nephew ignites in him another spark of love, only to be snuffed out when the boy suddenly dies of meningitis. Finally, just as he is in the process of "unveiling" his great composition to a select group of friends, Leverkühn experiences a "stroke" and lapses into a coma from which he recovers physically, but not mentally. He survives for another decade in a demented, childlike state, and cared for by his mother.

The larger theme of this somber work relates to the decline of German culture during the decades before the onset of the Nazi era. Mann explores the collapse of traditional humanism and its replacement by a mixture of sophisticated nihilism and barbaric primitivism. In "The Story of a Novel" (1949),

Mann wrote that "Dr. Faustus" was about "the flight from the difficulties of a cultural crisis into the pact with the devil; the craving of a proud mind, threatened by sterility, for an unblocking of inhibitions at any cost; and the parallel between pernicious euphoria ending in collapse with the nationalistic frenzy of Fascism." In Zeitblum’s narrative comments, Mann subtly relates the composer’s personal tragedy to Germany’s destruction in the war. Mann also claimed a "secret identity" between himself, Leverkühn, and Zeitblom.

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Dear Mili: An Old Tale

Grimm, Wilhelm Karl

Last Updated: Aug-16-2006
Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Fairy Tale

Summary:

This fairy tale by Wilhelm Grimm, rediscovered in 1983, is prefaced by a short letter to "Mili," presumably a young girl much like the one in the story; what follows is a tale designed to teach children that life can be unpredictable. The story also demonstrates, however, that the unknown can sometimes provide shelter and security even when things are not familiar.

A young widowed mother, afraid for her daughter when the village they lived in was about to be attacked by invading warriors, sends the child to hide in the forest for three days. Alone and frightened, the girl loses her way, prays to God and is led to a little house tucked away in the woods where she meets a kind old hermit, Saint Joseph.

Three days (translated thirty years earth time) later, he decides it is time for the girl to return to her mother, whose dying wish is to see her daughter once more before death. Handing Mili a rosebud, he promises that after she meets her mother, she will be able to return: "Never fear. When this rose blooms, you will be with me again." The next morning the neighbors find the child and mother together, dead in their sleep.

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Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

The film is an adaptation of an award-winning play by Ariel Dorfman, a Chilean writer forced into exile in 1973. Through revelatory events affecting the three characters, audiences learn about atrocities committed by the Fascist government that had, until recently, ruled the unnamed country where the story is set.

Paulina Escobar (Sigourney Weaver) had been a political prisoner during the oppressive period who was tortured by her captors. After gaining her trust by treating her kindly and playing a tape of Schubert’s Death and the Maiden, Dr. Miranda, a physician (Ben Kingsley) cruelly participated in the abusive treatment of his powerless victim. Gerardo Escobar (Stuart Wilson), then her boyfriend, now her husband, had been editor of the underground newspaper and target of the absolutist regime. In spite of torture, she did not disclose his whereabouts and, in effect, saved his life.

Currently, Paulina lives with Gerardo in a desolate coastal setting. At the film’s onset, viewers note Paulina’s agitation concerning a news bulletin about the presidential appointment of a human rights commission charged with investigating abuses by the previous regime. According to the report, her lawyer husband has been appointed committee chair. The remainder of the film concerns victim, physician, and husband of that oppressive period who through strange circumstances are brought together during the night.

Reminiscent of a Lear-like heath, past terrors are howled out against a raging storm. On his way home Gerardo’s tire became flat and he was picked up and brought home by Miranda, a good Samaritan. When Paulina, who had been blindfolded during her captivity, recognizes his voice and pet phrases, she steals his car and pushes it over the cliff into the sea. Totally perplexed by the Paulina’s actions, the men pace about in the living room where the doctor delivers derisive diatribes about women in general and wives in particular. Gerardo, to a lesser extent, expresses condemnation and embarrassment for his wife’s inexplicable behavior.

When she returns, both men have had too much to drink; she finds a gun in their house, tapes the groggy physician to a chair, pistol whips him as he resists and shouts, stuffs her panties into his mouth, and begins a heated exchange with her incredulous and very angry husband. He wants evidence for her seemingly preposterous charge. She can "smell" him she screams; she found a tape of the Schubert String Quartet in D Minor in his car; and he quotes Nietzsche just as he did when she was strapped to a table. Under much strain, her husband agrees to a taped trial in which he will represent the accused and force a confession.

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Doctor Zhivago

Pasternak, Boris

Last Updated: Aug-09-2006

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This complex novel is difficult to summarize. The main characters are introduced separately. We meet Yurii Andreievich Zhivago (Yura) when he is ten, at his mother’s funeral. He goes on to study medicine, write poetry, and marry a young woman named Tonya. We first encounter Larisa Foedorovna (Lara) as the adolescent daughter of a widow who has been set up in a dressmaking business by Komarovsky. Komarovsky later harasses and seduces the young woman. In her anger and guilt, the impulsive Lara tries to shoot Komarovsky at a grand Christmas party, but she misses and inadvertently wounds another man. Subsequently, Lara marries Pavel Pavlovich (Pasha), her childhood sweetheart.

All this takes place against the background of social upheaval in pre-World War I Russia. When the war begins, Yura joins the Army medical corps. Pasha leaves Lara and their daughter Tanya to enlist in the army. When Pasha is reported lost behind enemy lines, Lara becomes a military nurse in order to search for him. Thus, Lara and Yura meet at a hospital where his wife Tonya has just delivered a baby boy. Lara and Yura feel attracted to one another, but neither one expresses it. At this point the Revolution breaks out in Petersburg.

As the fighting rages, Lara and Yura are posted to a hospital in a small town, where Yura struggles with his feelings. When he reports his friendship with Lara, Tonya assumes incorrectly that they have become lovers. Over the winter there are food shortages and the threat of a typhus epidemic. As the war ends, Yura returns home to Moscow, and to his old job at the hospital, but his co-workers are suspicious of him. Influenced by Bolshevism, they dislike his use of intuition instead of logic. The family resolves to travel to the Urals. Amidst Marxist rebellions, Yura's family finds room in a cargo train. During the long train ride, Yura reflects on the suffering of peasants and prisoners caused by the revolution. He shares the desire for equality and freedom, but is disenchanted by the revolutionaries' pedantic, insensitive opinions.

The family safely arrives in the Urals and set up a farm. During the long winters, Yura returns to writing poetry. While visiting the local library, he re-encounters Lara. They begin an affair, sharing a common joy in a fully-lived existence. Lara is aware that her husband is still alive, having become a feared member of the Red faction under another name (Strelnikov). Yura resolves to tell his wife about his unfaithfulness and to ask forgiveness, but as he rides home, he is kidnapped by a faction in the Civil War (the Reds) and forced to serve as their doctor.

After some years, Yura escapes from the Reds and walks back to find Lara, who still lives in the same place.  To escape being informed upon, Lara and Yura flee to the farm house where Yura and his family once lived. Again, Yura turns to his poetry, expressing his fears, courage, and love for Lara. He learns that Tonya and a new baby daughter have been deported from Russia. One night, Lara's old lover, Komarovsky, appears and tells them that the triumphant revolutionaries know where they are and will inevitably kill them both. He offers to take them abroad, where Yura could rejoin his family. Yura refuses to accept help from Komarovsky. To save Lara's life, though, he tells her that he will follow them out of the country, but actually remains behind. Alone, he turns to drink.

One night Lara's husband, Strelnikov (Pasha), who is fleeing the new government, arrives. When he learns of Yura and Lara’s love, he leaves the house and shoots himself. Yura then goes to Moscow where he strikes up an affair with Marina and becomes a writer of literary booklets.  His brother finds him a job at a hospital, but on his way to his first day at work, he dies, presumably of a heart attack. Lara, who had been living in Irkutsk, has returned to Moscow and wanders accidentally into the house where his body lies waiting for burial. After several days, Lara disappears, presumably captured and sent to a concentration camp.

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Gassed

Sargent, John Singer

Last Updated: Jul-10-2006
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Oil on canvas

Summary:

John Singer Sargent was commissioned by the British War Memorials Committee to paint a work for the Hall of Remembrance. Sargent visited a casualty clearing station at Le Bac-de-Sud in France, which provided the inspiration for this vast work (7x20 feet) painted in 1918.

Mustard gas (yperite, or bis(2-chloroethyl)sulfide) causes terrible pain by blistering skin and mucous membranes, by blinding and choking its victims. Used during World War I, it caused intense suffering; dying could take weeks. In the painting, soldiers who were blinded by mustard gas, are being led to a dressing tent. The foreground of the painting has a jumble of bodies, soldiers in various poses lying on the ground. The colors are muted, the soldiers appear subdued. These elements, combined with the huge size, make the painting reminiscent of ancient Greek or Roman sculptural friezes.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The Canadian narrator, Marie, is in a Paris archive, reading and translating excerpts from the diary of the Jewish mother of Marcel Proust. The entries cover the period from 1890 to 1905. Mme. Proust and her physician husband make excuses for their son's lax behavior, and they worry over his chronic asthma, his social agenda, his apparent lack of interest in women, and his risky future as a writer. Like the entire country, the Proust family divides over the anti-Semitic Dreyfus affair. Later, Mme. Proust writes of her own illness with cancer.

Nearly half a century later, young Sophie Bensimon is sent to safety in Canada from France by her Jewish parents who were never heard from again. In reaction to this loss, Sophie walls herself from emotional expression. Her childless, adoptive parents, the Plots, have difficulty understanding her return to France to search for evidence of her birth parents' demise. She too must cope with archives, papers, and bureaucracy, but she discovers some details of their fate at Auschwitz. She marries a doctor, keeps a kosher kitchen, and worries over every minor event in the life of her son, Max.

As Marie struggles against a pressing deadline to research and translate without reinterpretation, she is aware that her choices will inevitably skew her findings. With this work, she imposes herself, her tastes and her needs on another woman's past. And she remembers her passionate love for Max whose genuine fondness for her finds no sexual expression because he, like Marcel Proust, prefers men.

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Annotated by:
Sirridge, Marjorie

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

This made-for cable film is based on the real-life story of Dr. Gisella Perl (Christine Lahti) as told in her autobiographical book, I Was a Doctor at Auschwitz. Originally published in 1948 and reprinted in 1997, the book is hard to find now. The film tells how Dr. Perl, a Jewish Hungarian gynecologist, is imprisoned and forced to be a camp doctor in Auschwitz during World War II.

Dr, Perl lost her parents, husband, and son during the war years. She had to relive her horrifying experiences and difficult moral choices as she faced an immigration panel in the U.S. in order to get her American citizenship after the war. Accused of collaborating with the Nazis, she was eventually exonerated and practiced in New York, later immigrating to Israel where she did important work. There were many other talented women who also fought to live but failed in their quests and Dr. Perl tells of the spirits of these women also.

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Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

A holocaust memoir, this is the painfully honest and unsentimental account of one physician's experience in the Warsaw Ghetto. The author, who was a Jewish medical student of 22 when Germany invaded Poland, remained from 1940 through most of 1943, serving as caretaker of sick or orphaned children in a ghetto hospital. During this time, she tells the reader, she made some decisions she has never been able to fully reconcile-- such as to perform multiple acts of euthanasia involving adults as well as children when the waves of slaughter and deportation increased in brutality and frequency.

Eventually, the writer joined the active resistance and was a part of the movement which ended with the complete razing of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1944. After the liberation of Poland, Blady Szwajger resumed her interrupted career in pediatric chest diseases. Only after 45 years did she choose to write of her experiences and, in her introduction, she articulates her reasons for remaining silent and for her ultimate decision to speak out.

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