Recovering the Past: Audio Interviews

Recently, I uncovered a collection of DVDs. Originally thought to be a stack of blank discs, together with my computer helper – Tyler – we realized that these discs in fact contained a treasure trove of photos, video, and audio recordings from a trip to Germany I took with my son Seth back in 2008. I wrote about that trip here, and that blog now includes a lot of the photos recovered from these DVDs.

Alongside those photos were a collection of audio interviews I conducted with various Germans regarding history, the Shoah, my family, and the Jewish people of Germany–now only a memory or a page in the history book. I’d like to share these stories with you, not only to share some of my own history, but to add to the tapestry of memory.

– An interview with Inge Wimmer, a historian from the Schoen family’s hometown of Vacha
– Another interview with a historian from Vacha, Günter Hermes
– Stories from Doris Schnittert, whose family’s relationship with my mother’s family, the Sternbergs, goes back generations.
– A Conversation with a Teacher from Herzfeld, regarding education and history

To view these interviews alongside some earlier audio recordings of conversations with my family, visit the new (and growing) Audio Interviews page. Thank you.

In the News: Ken and Jane, 1997

Massachusetts book dealers rescue German prayer texts

Originally written in 1997, by ‘Jennifer’ of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency

SOUTH DEERFIELD, Mass., Feb. 18 (JTA) — Kenneth Schoen and Jane Trigere, owners of Schoen Books in South Deerfield, Mass., spend a lot of time matching rare books with interested readers. Now, the couple has embarked on a new matchmaking project: finding homes for German-Hebrew prayer books in synagogues in Germany.

For the past several years, Schoen, whose customers range from academics to rabbis, has been sending books to Rabbi Mordechai Przybilski in Paderborn, Germany. The rabbi has been distributing the books to people in his community. Last fall, Schoen saw an article in Aufbau, the German-Jewish newspaper of New York, about Fulda, a German town that was searching for prayer books. He sent the community 30 Chumashim and prayer books. Schoen already has sent about 100 books to Germany.

“Often when we buy a library, there are prayer books,” Schoen says. “We don’t sell them, we tend to give them away. Now we have a way to bring them back to life.” “Both my parents originally came from Germany,” Schoen said. “My mother, Betty, left Herborn in 1935. My father, Irving, left his hometown of Vacha in 1927. Part of my motivation is to honor my parents. Another part is to help fellow Jews in Germany.”

Schoen and Trigere are hoping to find other communities in Germany looking for German-Hebrew and Russian-Hebrew prayer books. They welcome information from anyone who may know about a community who would like to receive books. “We want people to let us know if they have a connection,” Schoen said. “I know for a fact that there are a lot of German Jews who have been invited back to their hometowns for memorials. So there has been some kind of reconnection.”

When a prayer book can no longer be used because it is falling apart, it is either buried or placed in a “genizah,” a storage area for old Jewish books, often in the back of synagogues or in a burial plot in a cemetery. “What we are suggesting is, instead of burying these books, that we recycle them. Send them to synagogues that need them,” said Schoen.

The booksellers specialize in out-of-print, scholarly and antiquarian books in the following fields: Judaica in all languages, exile and refugee writers, the Holocaust, Germany, fascism, World War II, Zionism and psychoanalysis. They also stock and order new titles. Catalogs of recent acquisitions are produced at monthly intervals and sent around the world by mail and via the Internet. A stock of 25,000 books fills the shop in the renovated South Deerfield Fire Station.

In Memory of David Kanell

David I. Kanell, born in New Haven, CT, in 1952, grew up in an observant Jewish home and attended Orthodox Hebrew school. With family members long a part of New Haven’s commercial growth (butcher, grocer, baker, railroad station master, even a judge), Dave took great pride in his Jewish and New Haven heritage. He also valued being just two generations removed from Vilna, Lithuania, as his grandparents were immigrants, so glad to be Americans that some adopted July 4 as their official birth date.

Attending the University of Hartford, then the University of New Hampshire, and finally Lyndon State College, Dave devoted his study of history to the Jews of America and their links to Israel. Discovering personal connections among the American gunrunners of the Haganah and Irgun, Dave interviewed half a dozen of the men who’d used this route to support the newborn Jewish nation, and wrote of them in his senior thesis. Discovering in the process that the books he needed for information about Jews and their lives and impact were often printed in small editions or simply not accessible, he began a lifelong collection of printed work that documented and celebrated Jewish life, including the birth and struggles of Zionism, as well as literature translated from the Yiddish, Jews around the world (Japan, Russia, Canada, South America, France), and the battles and effects of the two World Wars and the Shoa. He took a special interest in the artwork and music of children at Terezien (Theresienstadt), as well as in the “rescuers” of the wartime era. He resolutely documented antisemitism and those who labored against it.

First at the University of New Hampshire and then for two decades at Lyndon State College in Vermont, Dave devoted his working hours to college students and their lives, heading the residential staff and training resident assistants and head residents. He also shared leadership of the local Jewish community, nurturing the Conference on Rural Judaism in New England and for some 40 years leading the very mixed-heritage Congregation Beth El in many forms. In communication daily with other Jewish leaders and authors, especially Julius Lester, his collaborations continued to the last day of his life.

Dave’s marriage to Beth (born Elizabeth Lancy Minden; author of young adult novels and other books under the name Beth Kanell) at age 50 established a partnership of books, book-related travel, and much joy through Dave’s officially “retired” years. When David died at home in Vermont of cancer at age 67 in the spring of 2019, he left behind a collection of some 20,000 books, many of them signed and warmly inscribed by the authors during the couple’s travels and correspondence. May his name be a blessing to those who remember and benefit from his passion and generosity, and his commitment to what it is to be a Jew.

Written by Beth Kanell. Thanks to her efforts, Schoen Books was so fortunate as to obtain much of David’s collection, to continue his traditions of scholarship and community-building.

Family Audio Interviews

In recent months, I have had the task (and pleasure) of going through old family and historical archives collected by Jane and I. We’ve found family stories, pictures aplenty, and so much more that is keeping the past alive. Part of this project has been to have many taped interviews with my parents, aunts, uncles, and other family digitized so they can be preserved and shared. Here are the first few interviews, with my family.

My father and mother, Irving and Betty:

 

My father, in January 1979:

 

My uncle, Eliezer:

My friend and helpful computer guy is continuing to digitize these, so soon there will be more to share. I hope you enjoy these stories, and learn something new!

 

What’s a Grandparent?

In her last months, Jane worked to publish a children’s picture book she wrote for her grandchildren. With the help of Lu Vincent and Tyler Brandt, as well as Jane’s loving brother Ed, and countless others, What’s a Grandparent? has been published through Schoen Books and Shires Press. Hardcover and paperback versions are available through Northshire Bookstores, both in-store and online.

Cover

Click here for hardcover

Click here for paperback

Hanna Jane Trigère z”l”

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It is with immense pain that I share with you the loss of my beloved, Hanna Jane Trigère, who left us on October 27, 2018. This negotiation and loss has been unspeakably difficult, and I thank everyone who was able to attend the ceremony, or visit as I sat shiva. As said in one of Jane’s favorite books:

“In one of those stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night. And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content that you have known me. You will always be my friend…I shall not leave you.”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

Please enjoy her art, musings, and commitment to our community; on her website.

May her memory be for blessing.

 

Interview with New Vilna Review (3/7/11)

Ken Schoen, founder and owner of Schoen Books, has created an oasis filled with important and rare Jewish texts at his store located inside a 1930’s era firehouse in South Deerfield, Massachusetts. Visitors to the shop can expect to find volumes in multiple languages, classical music playing on the stereo and the occasional poetry reading as well as a proprietor and staff dedicated to sharing their love for Jewish books and ideas with customers. In this interview with the New Vilna Review, Mr. Schoen talks about what inspired him to begin this endeavor, how his business has changed over time and the kinds of things that he likes to read.

NVR: For our readers who may not have heard of Schoen Books, can you give us a brief description of your business and what inspired you to start this unique bookstore?

I like to tell people that The Haunted Bookshop, a novel by Christopher Morley was my inspiration. His fictional bookshop proprietor delighted in identifying and prescribing the right tome for the soul. My rampant bibliomania, my desperate need to buy yet another book led finally to its logical conclusion: I became a book dealer. I satisfied the passion for hunting books with the excuse that I would sell them, having had the pleasure of possession for a brief moment. Walter Benjamin has captured eloquently the profound psychological and perhaps sensual pleasure in collecting books and holding them.  (Walter Benjamin: “Unpacking my Library: A Talk about Book Collecting,” in Illuminations, Engl. trans. (London: Fontana, 1982), pp. 59-60, 63, and 66-67. http://www.idehist.uu.se/distans/ilmh/Ren/benj-bookcoll.htm)

Some of our holdings can be seen on the web site http://www.schoenbooks.com. We specialize in Judaica in all languages including Yiddish and Polish, but especially German Judaica; also, books on the Shoah, works by exile and refugee writers, books about Israel, and also the social sciences. We upload internet catalogs of recent acquisitions and send them to. We travel widely purchasing fine scholarly libraries. There are at least 20,000 books that are stranded in my bookstore hotel. They call out for new homes.

We are in South Deerfield, which is in Western Massachusetts (about 90 miles west of Boston, about 80 miles East of Albany, and 30 minutes north of the Massachusetts Turnpike and Springfield. We maintain a (usually) open shop weekdays and by appointment on Sundays. In all cases, a call ahead is strongly recommended; 413-665-0066.

NVR: Can you give us a snapshot of what your clientele looks like – who comes to Schoen Books?

Scholars and research libraries are our main clientele via the internet. Occasionally itinerant pilgrims stop by. We have been known to serve a light lunch.

There are only about five or so serious full-time book dealers in the United States specializing in out-of-print scholarly Judaica. And serious seekers of obscure titles know where to find us.

NVR: What can visitors to your bookstore expect to find?

A mysterious adventure unfolds behind the bay doors of the 1930s WPA former firehouse. Those with a vivid imagination may bump into Franz Kafka reading an insurance text, Theodor Herzl reading a pamphlet on Palestine, Sigmund Freud pondering a sphinx, Gershom Scholem scribbling marginalia on mysticism, Uriel Weinreich deciphering Yiddishisms, and Bruno Schulz sketching under the sign of the crocodiles.

Wandering the aisles is an intellectual journey…and a place to linger and delight in the journeys of others and commence your own pilgrimage. The books are not organized by subject, but find themselves nonsensically shelved simply by order of appearance…much like the list characters in a theatrical playbill. The shop is a respite from the maddening pace and pressures of modern life, a place of solace and also community. The strains of a Bach suite or a Schubert trio completes the experience.

Throughout the year, we hold occasional poetry readings and talks about art, travel and Jewish topics. The shop is close to several museums: Historic Deerfield and Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association in Deerfield, the National Yiddish Book Center, Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, and the Five Colleges and their art museums.

NVR: How have you built up your inventory over the years? Have the kinds of books that you sell changed much since you first started your business?

I buy books from professors who are retiring or downsizing for various reasons, and university libraries that are weeding and deaccessioning. I do not mind library markings. Most of my clientele doesn’t either. The content is the primary concern. Much of European Judaica was destroyed by the Nazis and what made it over to the United States came with the refugees or was purchased earlier by American libraries. I feel it is a sacred task to bring these books back to being read again. In the interim we offer them refuge.

When I started in 1990, there seemed to be a greater interest in books on the Shoah, and Holocaust Centers were building their collections. Now, there seems to be less interest. Or, it may reflect a lack of funds or a shift toward electronic purchases. The unusual titles and those in foreign languages sell best and the Europeans are buying more than ever before.  The more common titles are now easy to find inexpensively anywhere via the internet. For those titles you no longer need a specialist. They are so inexpensive that I donate many of these titles to local schools.

NVR: Can you tell us a little about your background and what inspired your passion for Jewish books?

I grew up surrounded by German Jewish refugees in Forest Hills (Queens, N.Y.). All my grandparents were cattle dealers in Germany (http://www.schoenbooks.com/wordpress/?p=111 ) and my father had a coffee roasting business in NYC, selling coffee to restaurants. I have continued the tradition of being a merchant. I did not become a yeshiva bocher as all my male cousins did, but instead I sought out scholarly Judaica to read. It is partly to honor the heritage of my family coming out of Germany that I became immersed in German Judaica.

I was a school teacher in New York City and then a psychiatric social worker focused on children and families. I have always belonged to a Conservative movement shul and within that orbit I have founded a Men’s Club and run a Jewish Seniors group in Northampton, MA.

NVR: Is there anything else you would like to add? The “we” I have been referring to includes my wife, Jane Trigère and my young assistant, Nathaniel Otting, who is the main blogger on my web site. It gives me great naches that he has started his own bookshop (http://www.flying-object.org).

Jane is an artist (www.trigere.com) and some of her work is in an exhibition now (until June 30, 2011) at the Hebrew Union College Museum in NYC. She was a member of kibbutz Kfar Giladi for 6 years and also co-founded Yedidei Hasefer (Israel Bibliophiles) in 1980. She is descended from seamstresses and tailors. Her father Robert Trigère was born in Odessa, raised in Paris and came to the USA in 1937. He and his sister Pauline were major players in the garment industry on Seventh Ave. in NYC.

The children from our blended family are Rebecca who is starting out in social work, Seth who works for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Rachel who is a massage therapist, and Shatay who is an art director. We are the proud grandparents of three future readers.

What few people know about me is that I am addicted to detective thrillers in the genre of Alan Furst and Philip Kerr.

Today I would like to prescribe two novels that are not well-known and need a wider audience:

  • The 13th Man by Murray Teigh Bloom is a thrilling novel of suspense based on historical events.
  • The Song of Names by Norman Lebrecht is a mystery about identity and loss after the Shoah.

For more information on Schoen Books, please click here. (http://www.schoenbooks.com/)

Copyright 2011 The New Vilna Review.