Tag Archives: Holocaust

Eve Adams: A Life that Should Not Be Prettified

photo of Eve AdamsLaurie and Debbie say:

Eve Adams is the subject of a recent New York Times “Overlooked” obituary by Emily Palmer,  in the series featuring people who should have been remembered in the obituary section, but were not.  (Of course, the obit is behind the Times’ paywall.)

The article frames her, accurately enough, as

an outspoken gay writer and Polish Jew in an often homophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant America in the 1920sand ’30s, one who published an early example of American lesbian literature written by a lesbian.Her “Lesbian Love,” a collection of short stories and illustrations, was published in February 1925. Written under the pseudonym Evelyn Addams, it explores the sexual awakenings and gender-defying nature of several dozen women of varying social pedigrees whom Adams had met in Greenwich Village and in her travels around the country as a roving saleswoman of revolutionary multilingual periodicals.

She had quite a biography:

Preferring men’s clothes and women’s company, Adams lived her life boldly at a time when the world considered the only decent way to live it was to keep it behind closed doors. She counted among her friends the anarchists and revolutionaries Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman as well as the taboos-shattering author Henry Miller.The United States government considered Adams an “agitator,” records show. Headed by J. Edgar Hoover, the “Radical Division” of the agency that would become the F.B.I. had been charged with spying on her since at least 1919.She was arrested in 1927 by an undercover police officer, Margaret M. Leonard, who had walked into Eve’s Hangout and obtained a copy of “Lesbian Love.” The book was deemed indecent, and Adams was held on several charges, including disorderly conduct. She was convicted and spent 18 months in jail before being deported to Poland on Dec. 7, 1927.

Jewish. Lesbian. Deported. To Poland. In 1927.

The rest of the story gruesomely writes itself.

By June 1940, as German troops were approaching Paris, [Adams and her partner Hella Oldstein Soldner] fled to the south of France. There are suggestions in the research about them that they may have aided the Resistance. The women were arrested while living in Nice and hauled to the Drancy internment camp in Paris in December 1943.Later that month they were crammed, with about 850 Jews, onto cattle cars headed for Auschwitz, according to Nazi police records. The journey took three days. Just 31 of the group lived to see liberation, in 1945, and though there is no record of their deaths at the camp, Adams and Soldner were not among them.

Palmer chose in her obituary to focus on Adams as a gay pioneer, a worldly trailblazer, and to end the article on an inspirational note. She doesn’t paper over Adams’ fate, but neither does she give it much attention.

When we look at this obituary, we see the story of a talented, committed, radical woman who was made unwelcome in her adopted country and sent back to a world where Jews had always been under siege and in danger. She was unwelcome anywhere, and despite everything she did to make a good life for herself, she was eventually destroyed for some combination of her religious/ethnic background and her sexual preference.

As a culture, we are almost unwaveringly committed to telling stories with hopeful conclusions, to turning our eyes away from the torture, the genocide, the abuse. We find some “inspiration” to hang onto, leaving the people who experience the unspeakable horrors to be forever alone with their memories — if they live to have memories at all. And when people do survive, we insist that their survival is enough to constitute a happy ending.

Eve Adams is worth remembering both for her accomplishments and for her fate. In the end, in the hell of the camps, who she was, what she wrote, who she loved, and what she believed was dissolved and erased. Everyone who died in the camps, everyone who dies at the hands of the police, everyone who is deported today to a dangerous homeland, everyone who dies of abuse of any sort should be remembered both for their individuality and for their common experience. The celebrated and deported Lesbian activist writer dies next to the housewife who never left her home village, and nothing about any of their deaths is inspirational, or hopeful.


Follow Debbie on Twitter.

Follow Laurie’s Pandemic Shadows photos on Instagram.




Don’t Know Much About History?

stylized images of lynching victims from the National Memorial for Peace and Justice
The national lynching memorial

Laurie and Debbie say:

Yesterday’s news had several reports about a new study of what younger Americans know about the Holocaust, conducted by The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference). The results are certainly disturbing. Harriet Sherwood wrote about the survey for The Guardian:

The survey, the first to drill down to state level in the US, ranks states according to a score based on three criteria: whether young people [defined as adults aged 18-39]  have definitely heard about the Holocaust; whether they can name one concentration camp, death camp or ghetto; and whether they know 6 million Jews were killed.

Nationally, 63% of respondents did not know 6 million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, and more than one in three (36%) thought 2 million or fewer had been killed.

Eleven per cent of respondents across the US believed that Jews had caused the Holocaust.

Some statewide data is available in the article, and more at the ClaimsCon site. Perhaps more upsetting than the main data is this gem:

More than half (56%) said they had seen Nazi symbols on their social media platforms and/or in their communities, and almost half (49%) had seen Holocaust denial or distortion posts on social media or elsewhere online.

As two Jews substantially older than the survey respondents, we have a lot of reactions:

ClaimsCon is clearly doing good work, and is doing it very explicitly for “Jewish victims of the Holocaust.” Thus, their survey tells us nothing about the millions of other direct Holocaust victims, including people with disabilities, homosexuals (to use the language of the times), the Rom. and other ethnic, religious and social minorities, not to mention civilians in various countries including Poland, the Soviet Union, and Serbia. While the 6 million number is very familiar to people of our generation, the actual number of Nazi victims is certainly more than 11 million people; the awareness of those horrifying casualty statistics is undoubtedly much more limited than the awareness of what happened to the Jews. We’ve also been reminded frequently since the murder of George Floyd about how much Americans don’t know about our own racist history: what if this survey had also asked “how many Black people were lynched in the United States between 1882 and 1968?” (answer: at least 5,000).

It is in the nature of time and history that people know less about what happened before our parents were alive, and in the nature of governments and school systems that many historical atrocities are ignored, if not erased. Americans between the ages of 18 and 36 have no shortage of more recent genocides and social calamities to concern them: they are, after all, the generations that grew up with school shooter drills. The younger half of the group has also grown up with videos of Black men being killed by police. These survey respondents cannot be dismissed as either ignorant or callous, though their teachers and parents could and should certainly have done much better.

What is different about this historical period from previous ones is the ubiquity of social media. Disinformation and conspiracy theory are as old as human civilization, and anti-Semitic conspiracy theory in particular is easily traced back hundreds of years. Social media, however, at least in its current infancy, has proved to be astonishingly efficient at spreading lies, rumors, conspiracies, and paranoia. We’d love to see data on what proportion of those 49-56% of survey respondents who’ve seen Nazi symbols or Holocaust denial felt compelled to take a stand, let them go by as ridiculous, or admired/believed what they saw (as well as all the shades of reaction in between).

After putting the survey results in context, we are still galvanized. In a time of rising anti-Semitism, racism, and violent “nativism” around the world. Hate speech is normalizing in many countries, and white/Christian supremacists are gaining traction. Every one of us who cares about historical truth and contemporary justice should be talking to the people we know — especially the people in the survey age group and younger. Information wants to be shared; our knowledge is all have to drive out a lot of the dangerous untruths — when we make the commitment to speak.

Follow my new Pandemic Shadow photos on Instagram.