As we have just had Father’s Day I have spent some of this weekend looking at the lives of two very different men, Ladis Kristof and Vladek Spiegelman.
These are not two names that perhaps have an instant.. “oh yes” of recognition but they are two people who I have come across, as so much that I come across, in my learning journey, purely by links from contacts I have made, or just from a link in a tweet on Twitter.
Both were from Eastern Europe and both spent time in concentration camps. Ladis was from an aristocratic background and was born in a country that no longer exists, Austria-Hungary. Vladek was a businessman from Poland.
The Second World War changed everything for them. Ladis lost his land and had many adventures in escaping from country to country (but was put into a Concentration Camp in what used to be called Yugoslavia). Vladek, a jew, slowly lost everything that he had and was witness to the “Final Solution” as he saw his young son poisoned by relatives before he could be taken to a concentration camp for extermination.
Both these men were survivors though. They went through what to us would seem extreme deprivation in order to build a new life for themselves after the madness was over.
Ladis knew no english at all but eventually found his way to the U.S.A. Vladek spoke english with a heavy accent and at one point managed to save himself from death whilst in Auschwitz Concentration Camp by teaching the language to a Polish guard. He also finished up in the U.S.A.
In the postwar period the lives of these two men differed greatly. Ladis decided to study Politics and eventually went on to become a Professor of Politics at Portland State University. He ran a large farm with a library in it and would chop wood and hunt well into his 80’s. Vladek ran a business but suffered from ill health due to the privations that he suffered in the war having to starve for so long, face beatings and long route marches. He developed Diabetes and later heart problems.
Both of these men had just one son. Ladis was the father of Nicholas who is now a double Pulitzer prizewinning journalist at the New York Times and a world renowned campaigner for human rights. Vladek was the father of Art who is an internationally renowned cartoonist and the author of an amazing book which is really about the holocaust experiences (and life afterwards) of his father called “Maus” which coincidentally won him the Pulitzer Prize.
Ladis passed away just a few days ago and below there is a touching article by Nicholas (from the New York Times) in which he talks about his father’s humanity and desire to look at the good in mankind and just what can be achieved in the world. Vladek passed away in August 1982. He was in many ways a bitter man.His beloved wife Anja, who committed suicide in 1968, is buried with him. The power of “Maus” is to show this many-sided man, whose wits managed to get him survival in the horror and devastation that was Auschwitz and to show the person that he became in New York City, after the war, old and miserly full of memories of events that nobody should ever have to witness, living unhappily with a second wife that he chose to hate.
I found the similarities and differences of these two men fascinating and the more so because I finished reading “Maus” just a few hours after I had read the obituary of Ladis from a Twitter link http://www.oregonlive.com/education/index.ssf/2010/06/kris_kristof_concentration_cam.html
They are both fascinating men who fathered two important people. They are both gone now but are very much remembered by their sons and through them by the rest of us.
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- My Dad, My Column, My Loss (kristof.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Mike Schwager: Remembering My Father: His Greatest Lesson to Me Was His Life (huffingtonpost.com)