Carl's story

A remarkable document showed up in my email inbox today. A distant cousin (distant on the family tree, not in terms of the warmth of the relationship) had written his Holocaust story. As he explains, he and his family survived a journey that took them from their home in Czechoslovakia to the Sered labour camp to Auschwitz. They now live peacefully in New Jersey.

When thinking of the Holocaust, the numbers are too abstract: six million Jews, up to 15,000 homosexuals, 500,000 communists - these victim totals are staggering but don't tell the full tale. 

In Judaism, it's said that to save a single life is to save the universe. A single universe is too large to comprehend: trying to think of millions of them is a fool's errand. Each life lost was an individual: a physical body, yes, but also thoughts and hopes and dreams and flaws and everything else that makes up the impossible miracle of the human being.

Carl's story is just one of many, but all of them are reminders of the singular humanity of the victims, so I asked him if I could share this. With his permission, here is his account, unedited.

 

Let me introduce myself, I am Carl DUBOVY. I and my family of 5 came to this country in 1948,

my family consisted of my father,mother,brother,sister and myself. We are one rare family that

survived the holocaust intact,a very fare occurrence.

I was born in 1933 in Czechoslovakia, now the Czech Republic. Czech Republic consists of 2

regions namely Bohemia proper and Moravia. Slovakia became a separate country in 1989

after Czechoslovakia separated.

I was born in a small village called VELKA NAD VELICKOU located near the border of Moravia

and Slovakia.This village had 12 jewish families and we were only family that survived. My

father was born in Slovakia and lived in Moravia after he married my mother .

When Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia in March of 1939 he separated the country in 2 separate

countries: 1-Protectorat consisting of Bohemia and Moravia under nazi control

2-Slovakia under Slovak Nazi control

When local Gestapo decided to clear our village of the jews,he sent the 11 families to

concentration camp THEREZIENSTADT in 1940.He decided that we were foreign jews since

father was born in Slovakia and he decided to put us under house arrest in our home and we

lived in our home quite well until May 1942.

In May of 1942 he gave us 24 hours ultimatum to pack few items and shipped us to Slovak

border when he turned us over to the Slovak Nazis. They sent us to concentration camp,called

SERED,that was just recently opened. The commandant needed a wooden floor be installed in

his office,so he gathered jewish men,to see who can do this for him. These men were mostly

doctors,lawyers,bankers,businessmen.The only man who raised his hand was my father who

learned to be a carpenter as single man before he married my mother.His family own a wood

pile business. In 1927 when he married mother,he became a businessman and thus did not do

any carpentry for 15 years until now.Mom had a general store in the village. Father did install

good and nice wooden floor for the commandant so he decided to keep my father but was

planning to send mom and us, three siblings to Auschwitz. My father protested and said to him

“You keep me and my family together here to do more carpentry for you or I am going with them

to Auschwitz” The commandant decided to keep the whole family in tact in the camp,SERED

and my father did lots of carpentry and cabinetry for him. We lived in one room in this camp until

August 1944.

Life was not bad considering this was a concentration camp.We had enough food and were

surviving, i was made to clean streets.Other jews came/arrived to camp and soon there after left

on a transport to Auschwitz.

In August,1944 in Slovakia there was an uprising by Slovak Partisans who opposed the Slovak

Nazi.This lasted only 3 weeks,but suddenly our camp guards and the commandant left the

camp,the gates were opened and we were free to go where ever we wanted,.Father decided

that the only chance of our survival would be to hide in the mountains until the end of the

war.There was the general knowledge or impression that the occupation coming to the end.

We attempted to do this with limited money and food. we gathered cheese, salamy and bread

and water was collected from rain.We were hiding in the mountains until we run out of food and

money so father now decided on his next step. If we could travel to the village where he used to

live with his family as a single man about 17 years ago,perhaps some of the christians will

remember him and his family and will agree to hide us in their homes until the end of the war.

It was a general knowledge that the war is coming to the end,but no one knew when this will

happen.

We were having with two another people who adopted us from the camp, a man and his

daughter.They wanted to be with us and my father to be their leader.His name was Adolph

Weiss.To travel to our destination,we needed travel documents,now Slovakia being under real

nazi control. Father and Mr Weiss went to the local town office to get these documents,we

adopted false christian names since we did not want to use our true real name which was

DEITELBAUM,Mr Weiss refused to change his name,saying that his name is typical German

and not suspicious of being a jew.Unfortunately,we obtained the documents together at the

same office and on the same day.Nazi inspection took place on the train,they caught Mr.Weiss

and when they enter our wagon,they got very suspicious of our documents. They asked father

to come with them off the train for questioning but left mother with three children free to continue

our travel to our destination. They told mom that you certainly do not belong to this

jew.Unfortunately mother knew she would be a stranger in the village there father was planning

to hide,so we all got off the train with the Nazi patrol and father confessed that he is a Jew.

This was now November 1944, we were brought back to SERED Conc. Camp but now the

camp under direct Nazi control. Father and my older brother now 15 years old were separated

from us and sent to German concentration camps,Sachsenhousen and Buchenwald to work in

munition factories for the german military until the end of the war. Mother and I,now 11 year old

and my sister,8 years old were put on transport with other mothers,children and old people...

about 900 in total,and about 90 in our freight wagon,standing room only..in a typical freight train

bound for Auschwitz. We arrived to Auschwitz on December 23,1944

On our way mother tried to prepare me and my sister for the death that she somehow knew was

awaiting us. She said something like :”this is not our fault ,we are good children,etc only that we

are jewish and this is why they doing this to us.” She also told us that it will be a painless

death,inhaling gas,but she was wrong,the people did experience severe pain while dying since

their muscles shrunk and caused extreme pain. Our wagon was in complete darkness,light

coming only from the two small openings high up on each side for the air to come in from

outside,we had about 90 people,no room to sit,all were standing,several people die on the train

This was one of the worst experience for me and my family.

We arrived and were waiting for unloading us for a long time,perhaps up to 8 hours,and not

really knowing what are next fate will be.We heard nazi men outside talking ,arguing etc...finally

we noticed out transport started to move and kept going. we don't know why this happened but

possible explanation for not unloading us in Auschwitz were

1-Commandant in charge decided that if he gasses us he will not have the prisoners in camp

anymore to help clear the dead bodies from gas chambers and transport them to crematoria

2-he did not want to leave any evidence of this extermination to the Soviet army that was

approaching fast toward Auschwitz.

he decided to ship the complete transport back to Czechoslovakia,but not to Slovakia where

came from but to Czech republic to Therezienstadt Concentration Camp. We arrived there

before the new year 1945,we learned this when they unloaded us.

I was separated from mother, placed with other boys in a separate barrack and made work

outside cleaning streets of garbage etc.

Live in Therezienstadt was tolerable ,we were surviving, i saw mother on rare occasions ,when

she managed to bring me some extra bread.It was not unusual to see an open freight train in

the camp loaded with dead bodies waiting to be disposed off and get rid off.I am not sure if they

were buried or cremated and also did not know where these bodies came from etc.

the plan apparently was to kill us all by massive shooting in the town,s main square before the

liberation.However the Soviet Army approached the camp much faster and sooner than

expected,our Nazi guards one day suddenly disappeared and we were left free. this was on

May 8,1945

The Czech red cross came and help us with transportation to where we wanted to go.I and

mother and sister decided to travel to Slovakia in the hope that dad and brother will be there

since they were sent to Germany from Slovak camp,the SERED Camp.we discovered they were

not there,but on our way to Slovakia in our regular passenger train hemet other free survivors

who were going home. Suddenly a man walked into our compartment and he stopped at me

and my mother and said..”I know your father is alive since I met a man after liberation in

Germany who looked exactly like you.” This was our first news that father and most likely my

brother too survived holocaust and he was right.

When we did not locate father and brother in Slovakia we travel from Slovakia back to Moravia

to the village where I was born, VELKA NAD VELICKOU and father and brother were waiting

there for us.

MAY 1945 to May 1948.......we live in this village,trying to bring back our life together. I needed

private tutoring to catch upon the missed schooling from 1939 until now. I did well and was

admitted to gymnasium,a preparatory school for college. We applied for immigration to USA as

soon as we heard from our relatives from NYC,this was in august 1945..had to wait for 3 years

for our visa to come.

MAY 19,1948 with arrived to New York City by boat from Sweden. I learned English very

fast,attended two years of high school,graduated with honors,went to NYC College for Bachelor

of Science degree,being a premed student.Went to medical school in Northern

Ireland,University of Belfast,Faculty of Medicine,graduated in 1960. I specialized in Pediatrics

and the Allergy. I served two years in US Air force as a pediatrician

.Practice my specialty for 30 years and retired since 1995. I am a proud papa to amazing two

grandsons,Max 8 and Alex 6.

What's worse? The waiting or the waiting room?

“And now we play the waiting game...” - Homer Simpson

Things are so straightforward at office jobs. You show up, somebody gives you some stuff to do, you do it, you eat a little lunch, do more stuff that someone else gave you to do and you go home.

If you're entrepreneurial, you'll find extra stuff to do, sure. But generally, there will always be someone else who will give you tasks to keep you occupied.

There is very little time for existential dread, if you're doing things right.

This is an aspect of freelancing I was not prepared for – the sheer amount of waiting that can go on.

This week, I've sent pitches. I've emailed editors about pieces I've handed in that are yet to run. I've emailed prospective sources to research some ideas that may or may not pan out.

And now, we wait.

It's enough to drive you mad. Because those pitches haven't been approved. Because I don't know if that piece needs any fixing up. Because those sources haven't replied.

So I sit. I browse Reddit more than I should. I check my unpaid invoices and see who owes me what and if anything is overdue (nothing is). I try and think of story ideas and nothing comes to mind.

And I wait.

By now, I at least have been doing this long enough to know the pattern. Some weeks, you barely have time to sleep and other weeks you get sorely tempted to marathon Bojack Horseman for hours on end because what else will you do to fill the time and that show's pitch-black comedy is a pretty decent reflection of your mood.

On the few occasions I've been asked to speak to journalists even younger than I, the advice I give is to get out of your apartment if you're freelancing. Yes, the best way to find stories is to talk to people, but even more pertinently, when things are slow, being alone with your thoughts can be a dangerous game. You start questioning your ability. You lose confidence. You wonder if you will ever sell a story again. Maybe your dad was right about law school...

Journalists are like pro athletes in precious few ways, but there's one key similarity: overthinking can be a bitch.

This is yet another thing they don't tell you about at j-school.

The geniuses we don't love. Lemmy, Bowie and mortality

I never cared much for David Bowie's music.

It's probably not as controversial as it sounds. Much of Bowie's catalogue could be almost intentionally alienating – there is nothing easy about listening to Fame, a song I have always found mildly grating in its cocaine-fuelled white-boy funkiness. There was always a dissonance that made Bowie a wild genius but that on a personal level, I never connected with.

That's not true of all of his catalogue – there is a genuine warmth to Ziggy Stardust I loved. His later experiments with industrial music also had a real human terror to them – I'm Afraid of Americans, probably the first Bowie song I ever heard, still captures a paranoid view of the world that's probably more apt today than when it was originally released. Bowie did Trent Reznor better than Trent Reznor did, and the Nine Inch Nails frontman seemed to recognize that, seeing as how he co-starred in the music video. Under Pressure is fucking Under Pressure. It's one of the best songs ever written, hands down and it gave birth to the best tune ever about solving problems and checking out hooks while the DJ revolves it.

There was also the fact that unlike, say, Mick Jagger, Bowie seemed in on the joke of existence. Watch his stage banter in this clip - dude was a riot. Or his cameo in Zoolander, in which he disqualified a man from a fashion walk-off for failing to miraculously pull his underwear off without removing his pants first. This is a thing that one of the biggest pop stars in the world voluntarily did in a phase of his career where he was so beyond having to give a shit about anything. That's miraculous.

Here's the really shocking revelation – I don't much like Motorhead either.

I love metal. I love punk. Ace of Spades is a great song. But Motorhead just never grabbed me. That unidentifiable thing that makes up our individual tastes kept me from loving Motorhead like I probably should as an avowed lover of heavy music. I respect it, even like it occasionally, but love it? Not really.

It's not the monotony. Every AC/DC song is every other AC/DC song, but it's still fucking awesome. There was just something in the mix of Motorhead that left me cold. I feel kinda bad about it, to be honest.

Yet I was genuinely sad to hear Lemmy was gone. He'd probably call me a wanker for this, but the man was a genuine iconoclast. He was an archetype. He was a genius. I didn't love his music, but I felt better knowing he was making it.

There's something to be said for the kind of genius that appeals to people who don't even like the results of said genius. It's a brilliance that transends taste – even if you don't like Bowie or Lemmy or Neil Young or David Foster Wallace, you have to love that they existed.

I will never like Fashion. But god damn, am I happy it exists.

We are not the kids we used to be - on Heavy Montreal, Alexisonfire and getting old

This past summer, I was fortunate to cover the Heavy Montreal festival for Canadian Musician magazine. The ensuing piece, which you can read here, contains a few anecdotes, but here's a personal one I left out.

Some bands you see because you dig the music, others because they're legends and you want bragging rights. Then there's bands whose appearance just feels different: it's a happening, to borrow a phrase from the 60s. That's how I felt about Alexisonfire at Heavy Montreal.

I'd seen them before, several times, but that was years ago. This time, there was something special in the air. The return of one of heavy music's best voices in Dallas Green, whose desire to make (gorgeous) pop rock under the name City & Colour had effectively broken up the band five years ago. I love that band, but that voice just fits perfectly when complimented by George Pettit's screams distorted guitars.

As they launched into Accidents, the mosh pit went nuts. I was up near the front, as my girlfriend, an Alexis superfan if there ever was one, would not have been happy unless she was as close to being on the stage itself as possible.

“This is awesome,” I thought. That sentiment lasted pretty much to the end of the song. As Boiled Frogs came up next (my personal favourite song of theirs), and I got shoved in the back by a sweaty teenager, I quickly realized I was becoming miserable.

When I got a text from a fellow friend with a VIP pass informing me of of a blocked off area for such elites as ourselves at the front of the stage, I quickly shoved my way there and enjoyed the rest of the (excellent) set in relative tranquility. No more pushing and shoving to hold precious ground for this old fart.

The body isn't willing anymore, but the spirit is still there (as I write this, it seems Neil Peart is agreeing with me, announcing his retirement from touring with Rush due to the physical toll of playing drums). If I'm listening to music on any given day, odds are it's at least influenced by punk, metal or hard rock. It just seems for people in my age bracket, this is seen as a bit weird. Music fandom is for everyone, but the scope is limited once you're no longer in the age where anger is a viable artistic statement. Osheaga is acceptable. Heavy is borderline psychotic.

It's hard to explain why I still love this music. I'm not an angry person. I don't even necessarily identify with angry lyrics. There's just something about loud guitars, double bass rhythms and screaming that I love. It energizes me. It's fun and silly and full of life. But it's definitely not cool and probably hasn't been since nu-metal regressed hard rock to the 80s, intellectually.

This is one of those topics I find myself unable to not write about – it was something I addressed in one of the first features I ever published, almost six years ago.

When I look at my album collection, I wonder what it says about me and why I'm drawn to this music. I wonder why my brother and his friends were drawn to pap like Dave Matthews Band and Guster and I was obsessing over Tool.

A puzzle for the ages. But if there's one thing I know, it's that while loving the music doesn't change, the love of the mosh pit? That don't last into your 30s.

The numbers game

There's an old joke about journalists and math.

I'm not entirely sure what that joke is, but I'm assured there is one and the punchline is that we suck at it.

With all due respect to those who specialize in journalist humour (do these people exist?), freelancers tend to get quite good at maths, though in a particularly specialized way.

I'm sure there are those among our ranks who are quite good at reading spreadsheets and financial statements and making sense of the digits. Personally, I've gotten quite good at a different kind of arithmetic.

With no regular pay cheque, I've taken to memorizing some numbers and repeatedly doing some additions and subtractions in my head. Current bank balance, outstanding invoices and expenses.

It's awfully hard to come up with a budget when income varies wildly month to month.

This is not a complaint, but it is a necessary survival strategy that affects your day-to-day. When you're in the grocery store on a slow month, you need to decide if you really need to upgrade from Kraft cheese to nice gouda. Do you push your friends to go to the nice bar with craft beer? Or do you get the $12 pitcher of Molson draft at the crappy dive?

These are the decisions they definitely did not teach me about at j-school.

Sweatpants and tears: a freelance ode

It is currently 1:29 p.m. EST on a Thursday and I am wearing a hoodie and track pants.

This is pretty much what I imagined freelance life would be like when I first started selling pieces four years ago. But beyond wardrobe, I was ill-prepared for pretty much every other facet of this career path/lifestyle.

Much ink has been spilled about the bad state of print media's finances. Not enough has been written about the day-to-day effects of those hard times for journalists. When I was in j-school, nobody told me about living contract-to-contract, digging up a few hundred bucks here and there to make ends meet. I was given the basics on how to pitch and invoice but not much instruction on how to develop a niche, what kind of stories pay the best, what to do on those weeks when inspiration is lacking and assignments have dried up.

That's what I'm hoping to shed light on in this blog. Maybe some journalism students will find it enlightening, or maybe the 9-5 crew just needs some reassurance that working from home isn't always a party.

If I get bored, I'll still touch on some personal interests (I hope you like hockey and 90s-era Canadian alt-rock!).

But mostly, it'll be sweatpants and tears. Welcome to freelance in 2015.