Saturday, June 15, 2019

Historical Book Review: Fake Papers Survival Lessons from Grandma's Escape by Aaron Rockett

Fake Papers Survival Lessons from Grandma's Escape by Aaron Rockett
Genre: Biography
Published: self published in May 2019
Pages: 278
Available on Amazon

Reviewer note: I was given a copy of this book to read and review. The opinions are my own. If you are interested in more information or in purchasing this book, click on the book cover which will take you to the book on Amazon. 

Fake Papers, by filmmaker Aaron Rockett, is the biography of his Jewish Grandmother, Letty Schmidt. Aaron's mother died when he was a young child, his grandmother Letty tells him the story of her escape from the Nazis during World War II. Many years later, Aaron's work in Afghanistan causes him to confronts his feelings about his family and Jewish heritage; he seeks the full history from his grandmother in her waning days. 

The Plot: Although technically a biography, this book reads more like a work of fiction. I had to keep reminding myself that the characters were real. This is not a criticism, in fact the book really pulled me in, unlike some dry biographies I've read. 

The story of Letty Schmidt, a Polish Jew, begins in Antwerp where her family has fled. With an absent father, and an uncertain mother, Letty and her sisters, Suzy and Annie, are thrust into the role of decision makers. Staying one step ahead of the Germans, Letty and her family flee from one precarious town to another. Hungry and desperate the family ties begin to dissolve as survival becomes all consuming.  

Letty's story is one of love, trust, betrayal and fear. The reader is taken on a harrowing journey as a young girl, forced to fend from herself in a cruel adult world, grows up too soon. As a dying old woman she learns to face and accept the scars that have shaped her life and relationships. She survived the war but, survival always comes with at a price.  

The Characters: Letty and her sisters are well drawn, each with a distinct personality. Her mother is especially vivid, her pain and fear was palpable. The photos added to the story but I felt like they were icing on the cake. 

The History: The author has a firm grasp on the history of the day and guides his readers through the events of the war that impacted Letty and her family. I found the reprehensible actions of the French Vichy Government to of particular interest. Family photos complement the story, especially of Letty in a Jewish workers camp. 

The writing: The prose is simple and straightforward. There are some minor issues that might annoy grammar divas, but overall the pace and style were fine. I enjoyed the quirky chapter titles and discovering what they meant. 

Conclusion and recommendations: I enjoyed reading Letty's story. I think it's very important to record the lives of our ancestors not only for posterity but for the lessons learned from them. I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in history, especially stories of the Jewish people in Europe during WWII. For those who have a special interest in the recording of family history, I think this book offers and excellent example. 

I rate this book 4 Stars

My Ratings: 

1  Star: Not good at all, do not read!

2  Stars: Read only as a last resort, no other books available

3 Stars: Good, enjoyed it, will recommend with reservations

4 Stars: Really good, read this book!

5 Stars: So good, I might read it again sometime! Highly recommend

Sunday, June 9, 2019

The Wild Wild East: Native Americans and English Settlers Battle for New Hampshire and Maine

I am currently researching the violent clashes between Native Americans and the English settlers who rapidly expanded into tribal lands and threatened their very existence. Growing up in the pre-computer age, I can remember playing 'Cowboys and Indians'. John Wayne was a hero and Custer's Last Stand was bravery personified. The West, during much of the 19 century was the battlefield and the settlers the ultimate winner of the spoils of war.  But what of those early days? What about the East?

In 1675 the Native Americans along the North East coast banded together under the leadership of a Wampanoag man named Metacom in his native language but known as King Philip to the Colonist. This war, King Philip's War, was a full-out assault on the colonists in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut. Together with warriors from  Nipmuck, Pocumtuck and Narraganset tribes brought death and destruction to the Colonist,  their combined efforts all but drove the colonist into the sea. But this was also a war between Native Americans. The Mohegans and the Mohawks of New York, allied themselves with the English and fought against Metacom and his coalition.  For the better part of 14 months, Metacom and his warriors ravaged New England. He was captured and killed in August of 1676 and the fight gradually dwindled until the signing of a peace treaty in Casco, Maine in 1678.

Peace did not last long. In 1689 King William of England declared war on France. As battles waged on the Continent, simmering tensions in the Colonies flared. Canada was, at that time, a French territory. The Governor, Louis de Buade, Comte de Frontenac, devised a three prong plan of attack against the Colonies of New York, New Hampshire and Massachusetts (Maine was part of Massachusetts). In the winter of 1690 a force attacked the town of Schenectady in New York, a second attacked Salmon Falls in New Hampshire and the third destroyed Fort Loyal in Maine. The loss of the Fort, near present day Portland, emptied the frontier. 

Attacks continued for the next few years. Here is a list of some of the most noteworthy attacks:

23 January 1689 Abenaki's raid Saco, Maine
27 June 1689 Cocheco Falls. 23 killed 29 captured Benjamin Heard's daughter taken to Canada
3 August 1689 attack on Fort Charles at Pemequid, Maine
August 1689 attack on garrison house in Oyster River 18k
5-6 Sept. 1689 Attack at New Dartmouth, Maine

9 Feb 1690 Attack at Schenectady 60k 27c, town destroyed
18 March 1690 Attack at Salmon Falls
May 1690 Attack on Casco Bay, 100k
May 1690 Attack on Saco, Maine
May 1690 Attack on Fox Point
4 July 1690 attack on Lamprey River Settlements 7k
6 July 1690 battle at Wheelwright Pond (Colonist pursed attackers) 15k
7 July 1690 attack on Amesbury, Massachusetts Philip Rowell killed

25 January 1691 Attack on York, Maine 48k 73c
28 September 1691 Attack on Sandy Beach 21k John and Remembrance Ault Rand killed 
9 June 1691Cape Neddick, Maine attacked
9 June 1691 Wells, Maine attacked

10 June 1692 Wells, Maine attacked

18 July 1694 attack on Oyster River, 100k John Ault (father of Remembrance) killed 
27 July 1694 attack on Groton, Massachusetts 22k 13c William Sanderson killed

This is the majority of the larger attacks. The numbers may not seem significant but the population of these settlements was small, and so impact of losing males of working age had a huge effect on the economy and the ability of these people to survive. That these people survived at all is testament to their tenacity. King William's War ended 1697 but flared again in 1702 with Queen Anne's War. 

For many Americans this is dry dusty information, naught but boring dates without meaning. But, each of the highlighted attacks is one in which one or more of my direct ancestors and or their family were killed or captured. If your family, whether they were of English descent or Native American, lived in New England in the 17th - 18th century it is almost certain that they were also affected by these wars. If nothing else the mental toll must have been enormous. In fact, Mercy Lewis, one of the Salem Witchcraft accusers fled the attack on Casco Bay in 1689, where her parents were both killed, leaving her an orphan and forced to work as a servant. It has been suggested that the psychological damaged inflicted by the war might have played a part in her role as an accuser. 

Garrison House Dover, NH
In these days of political correctness and technology, I am sure that no child today plays 'Cowboys and Indians' as we did. But I can't help but think that long before there were cowboys, there were Colonists who fought, right or wrong, the Indians. 

For a great book on King Philip's War I highly recommend The Name of War  by Jill Lepore.

For a history of the Oyster River attack from a Native American prospective see this fantastic website. Ne-Do-Ba .

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