26 11 2012

Thirty Days With My Father

by Christal Prestley

There was no doubt in my mind that I would be absolutely engulfed in this book, so much that I would have to put many things aside to make room not only for reading this book, but also for processing the response it triggered in me.

Author Christal Prestley took a leap of faith when she set herself up for a brief – but oh so intense – journey of her lifetime. The one that led her to discover the truth about her PTSD-striken father, and the truth about her PTSD-striken self.

Priceless experiences are those that lead us through pain and discomfort towards enlightenment. To know the difference between just having fun with one’s Dad and having a special quality time with one’s father requires a certain degree of maturity and wisdom. To dare try turning a potentially negative and destructive event into a positive, self-educating and empowering one requires, undoubtedly, the rare bravery of heart. My sincere thanks to Christal for finding the courage to do so – her action and the book he wrote about it serves now as the torch of light and hope to many hurt daughters who never knew – or lost – their real fathers due to a terrible war trauma the men had to endure.

I was able to relate to Christal’s story in many ways due to the similar story going on in my own life, where actual bonding with my Dad occurred much later in my adulthood, when I didn’t really need it that much anymore. But I remember when I was making that first call – after sixteen years of vacuum – and feeling scared of a rejection, scared to lose what I didn’t  have.

I could feel that in Thirty Days With My Father Christal Prestely felt just that. And I felt so relieved that I was not alone going through the same thing. This knowledge was important to me. Christal managed to create a guide through this uneasy process of stepping outside of one’s comfort zone and doing what felt right, what felt necessary.

The road to healing starts with exploration and acknowledgment of a problem. There’s uncertainty, there’s anger, frustration, bitterness and plain simple pain, at times overwhelming – this all stands on the way to recovery, on the way to forgiveness.

Will we ever be able to understand what people who gave us life went through? Maybe we won’t. Or perhaps we will come very close and will cherish every moment we had with them, because of those brief moments an entire life is built.

I will never forget this book, Thirty Days, and will be coming back to it again and again. For my own healing has just began.


Copyright Camilla Stein ©2012. All rights reserved.



7 06 2012

On editing Khatyn

Several months ago Glagoslav Publications contacted me for the purpose of editing a novel they were planning to re-publish. When I saw the manuscript, my initial response was very emotional. In my hands was a book that was bigger than life – Khatyn, written by Ales Adamovich, translated into the English language and considered a cultural heritage item, sought after by many World War II researchers.

I remembered how a very long time ago I encountered this book for the very first time. Back then I read it without the full understanding of what the implications of the work were or could have been. Today, from the position of a certain life experience and knowledge, I feel compelled to relay my thoughts about editing Khatyn.

First of all, before I started, I had sought to obtain the original text so as to ensure accuracy of the translation. And from the first pages it became clear to me that the English translation, while being realistically accurate, had also been censored. Despite the brilliant work of the translators some thirty years ago – Glenys Kozlov, Frances Longman and Sharon McKee – some parts of the novel were removed or changed on purpose by the supervising authorities.

There’s no Iron Curtain today, the freedom of speech knows no limits, and a more sincere attitude towards historical truth has been re-visited. In other words, there’s no need to play hide and seek. Therefore, the new edition of Khatyn in the English language will have none of that. It will be a sober, truthful book, as intended by its author. In this renewed edition of the English translation, all missing parts have been restored.

Another important objective while editing was to preserve the feel of the Byelorussian language (the original language Khatyn was written in) and the English language of the time, all while keeping the text’s integrity and continuity intact, and maintaining the pace of the narration. For that, among other things, I decided to re-word names of people and places to phonetically reflect the Byelorussian language, and preserve such words in the English translation as ‘Alsatian’ which has been taken out of common use in the modern English language since early 1970s, but was a widely used term to identify a breed of a German shepherd dog in the 1940s and during the post-war years which is the time of the events in the novel.

It is my hope that I’ve done the job to the best of my ability, and should there be any errors related to my work – they will remain on my account.

Half way into the novel, my bravery began betraying me and I had to take a break. Khatyn is based on the war archives and witness testimonies of a few survivors who managed to escape destruction. Albeit written into a story of a fictional – although based on a real person – character of a partisan boy, documented testimonies of what was done to women and children, began to wear heavily on my nervous system. I don’t think I will ever be able to comprehend genocide; it’s just something that doesn’t fit into a sane brain of a regular person.

Yet, those responsible for Holocaust of Jews and genocide of Byelorussians along with other European nations that experienced Nazi ethnic cleansing, were no monsters at all. They were functionally normal people, believers in a certain ideal, a certain model of the world for them, and they tortured and killed for that. This was their job. And perhaps because they were humans, their crimes cause such agony to us when trying to understand the mechanics of human psyche and the condition of the soul in this…. There can never be justification and pardon for what they did.

Four years ago National Geographics released a documentary Scrapbooks from Hell – the Auschwitz Albums, based on the discovery of photographs from the concentration camp. The documentary ends with an exposition of the deceased as remodeled in an artwork of the memorial complex in Auschwitz, and the thought that we will never know what happened inside the gas chambers.

We won’t unless we read Khatyn.

No gas chambers, but barns, locked from the outside so no one would escape. No gas, but fire and smoke. Smoke suffocated lungs, fire extinguished flesh. Stuffed with human material, barns became graves just as gas chambers of Auschwitz did, and only a rare few people who dag wholes and climbed out through people’s bodies that were collapsing ablaze, hid in the mud among human debris so as not to be discovered; they then spoke of what their eyes had seen:

“I told my son, ‘Over the heads somehow, get out over the heads!I hoisted him up. I myself made my way down below, between the legs. And the dead kept falling on me. The dead were collapsing onto me, I could not breathe. Moving my shoulders—I was physically robust at the time—I began to crawl. Only as far as the threshold, then the roof fell in and the fire engulfed everyone!... I still crawled out, and a German ran over to me and smacked me in the teeth with his rifle butt—and gone were my teeth.”

Writer and journalist Ales Adamovich collected outnumbered witness records (just imagine – of one village only one elderly man managed to escape!) and told the story of the perished people, for us to know what had happened, and how that what had happened in Belarus in 1943 related to that what had happened in Auschwitz.

Khatyn is not written to scare away or to only shed tears. The novel is composed from a standpoint of a young person, and youth is daring, youth is dashing, youth falls in love and romanticizes everything, even war. Youth is courageous, youth is bright, and youth is ever present on Khatyn’s pages. Youth is the future, and the reason why Ales Adamovich did the work – Khatyn is written for the next generation to stand strong.

The book is ready. It will be officially released on June 22, 2012 to commemorate the Nazi attack on Belarus and the beginning of what is known there and in the entire post-Soviet region as the Great Patriotic War, a deadly national fight that lasted four years. Glagoslav Publications once again draws attention to this work of non-fictional fiction, unabridged and unadulterated in its current form, and to the records that had been sealed, and to the thoughts of the author who had witnessed the war before you and I were born.

Khatyn is a must know story, to never forget. Till this very day the story repeats itself elsewhere as brutal massacres shake the world once again, to awaken us from a dormant state, to see the condition of mankind and its desperate cry for change – for one Khatyn is too many.

Camilla Stein.

Copyright Camilla Stein ©2012. All rights reserved.




4 04 2011

“Dieses Gefühl, daß etwas nicht stimmte”

A Feeling That Something Wasn’t Right

From the first pages of this book you find yourself in Berlin in the middle of the World War II, looking through the eyes of a child, and seeing things that don’t seem to have any logic in them.

You are five years old, and things are rough because your country is under an obsessive tyranny of a paranoid, mad and evil man of whom you know only what is allowed to be said in public. Your nation is suffering from a propaganda machine and you, as a little girl, do not escape the trauma. And yet, you also notice things that make you wonder what exactly is going on. You feel that something else is transpiring. Only, as a child, you can’t be told. And you know, somewhere in your heart, not to ask.

Ilka’s language is laconic and vividly descriptive. She gives names to things that the little girl experiences in the years from 1940 till 1948, things that do not make sense to her at all.

At times, she acts on innocent impulses. Once, on a bus, she sees an old couple. She doesn’t know they are Jewish, but she wants to have same big yellow stars that she sees on their sleeves. Her mother is there to gag her before she alarms other passengers. Her mother is terrified.

Juvenile bunker in the book is a place where German children were taken every once in a while at night, for their protection from regular bombardments. It very much reminds a boot camp.

Ilka and her family flee Berlin to the country, to her grandparents. There, the children are sheltered along with other refugees, but they also hear the war’s echo and live through poverty, disease, hunger, their mother’s near insanity and many dangers and losses.

If you ever wondered what it was like for German children and their families under the Nazi rule, this book is for you. In it you will find details that complete the picture and make you see that other side. These details, rendered through a child’s perception, will remind you of what you as an adult know about that war and often this reminder will be shocking. The little girl in the book is an insider witness to the war. Because of her innocence, her narration is not contaminated with pre-conceived ideas.

Ilka von Zeppelin made her professional career in psychology and wrote a number of books on the subject, and she waited 60 years to tell her own story. If you read in German or Dutch, this book is available under the following titles: Dieses Gefühl, daß etwas nicht stimmte (Ger.), Het gevoel dat er iets niet klopte (Ned.) and let us hope the English translation will follow soon, along with others. The memories in this book are worth being shared with the entire world.

 Copyright Camilla Stein ©2011. All rights reserved.


21 03 2011


For Those Who Survive


A man and a woman find themselves in the middle of gruesome heartbreaking events in Russia at the dawn of the Red Revolution and its violent spin off. They love passionately and sacrificially, but history is merciless to them both; it leaves one dead and another suffering unimaginably, and carrying the pain of loss through the rest of her life.

Russian history is full of paradoxes and obscurities, and both acts of inconceivable cruelty and incredible heroism. What is important to realize here, is that regardless of whether people lived under Tsar or a Communist leader their historical truth is always in loving their homeland and preserving their dignity. And so, when the country is being divided between two powers that equally share their patriotism, a gigantic split throws the nation into a civil war where everybody is right.

Kolchak here is a charismatic figure, a person of many talents and a man of his word. He doesn’t waste time, knows exactly what he wants and where he goes. He has people’s support and earns political recognition. Two women in his life love him dearly, one is his wife, and another is his destined lover.

In this movie, released in 2008, what should have been a classic triangle, is not. Instead, there’s a conceptual metaphor where a man has to decide between his homeland from before and after, just as he has to decide between his two women. Unable to make that choice, he allows history to do it for him, and as circumstances isolate him from his wife and child, same circumstances drive Anna, his newly found love, closer. Their story develops during a political drama, a social rapture and a kind of a structural tremor that Russia will never recover from. These events break everything on their way, tear families apart, kill and scar survivors for life.

Highly emotionally charged, the movie has spectacular and very reflective photography that is carefully employed as canvas for actors’ splendid and very believable performance, making that thin matter that separates cinema and reality, disappear at times.

Based on real facts, this isn’t Russia’s first war movie to praise their imperial past, and it certainly is not the last one. Russia is getting back her uprooted heritage of which Admiral is a beautiful example.

Copyright Camilla Stein ©2011. All rights reserved.

View Admiral official trailer


3 03 2011

The Time That Remains

A Voice From Behind The Wall



Sometimes, life throws at us things that over the years become too big to comprehend. Such are natural disasters, pandemic diseases, nuclear explosions, and wars.

In his movie,  released in 2009, Elia Suleiman sets on a journey to explore the genre of black comedy, so as to reveal to us the secret of coping with a tragedy of which the magnitude is overwhelming.

It is the nature of human mind to always look for some form of normality, maybe a little static, but nevertheless, a feeling that your bases are covered, your life has a purpose and your entire existence in a certain place and at a certain time is not meaningless. This is what we, humans, do when gun battles, tanks and security surges are suddenly a persistent part of the daily routine. And this is exactly the focus of The Time That Remains. Half a century of tragedy is squeezed into an hour and a half of a laconic and precisely targeted shock therapy.

Despite its smoothness and an accurately placed hint of suspense, this movie doesn’t truly give you a moment of rest. There’s no wallowing in self-pity here, no destructive mind blowing imagery; even the garden of executions is so well carved into the texture of the surrounding neighborhood that it appears natural despite your mind telling you that what you are looking at is a yelling contradiction to what is humanly acceptable.

There’s also no conflict, in a traditional sense of the word, around which the story would evolve. All there is is a deceptively distanced and only seemingly uninvolved bitterly comic narration about generations of painful struggle to remain human in a filled with nonsense reality, where even a direct participant finds himself merely an observer, trying to just be.

The movie strikes as grotesque, largely satirical, very reflective and detailed. This effect doesn’t wear off till the very last scene.

When telling the truth becomes a taboo, the sensationalism of this movie is found in the peculiar way of drawing attention to what should not be discussed, because the subject makes us uncomfortable.

Elia Suleiman resorts to various means offered by cinematography in order to break the unbreakable, to jump over the wall.

There are no loud graphic scenes in this movie, nothing at all that an adult cannot handle; yet, it is heavily loaded with incredible emotions that run deep in the film’s canvas, leaving you gulp for air at times.

When deciding whether or not to watch this movie, don’t hesitate. Just watch. And prepare lots of tissues, even if you are known for having a thick skin.

Copyright Camilla Stein ©2011. All rights reserved.

The Time That Remains made the official selection for Cannes Festival 2011

View The Time That Remains trailer

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