Synopsis of her book:
At the age of eight, little Sonia Korn is declared an enemy of the German State. She and her family are given a grim option; either find a way to disappear, or be rounded up and sent to certain death. After a perilous escape to the Belgian border, and becoming caught in the chaos and carnage of war-torn France and Belgium, Sonia finds that she must give up everything she knows and loves just to survive. This is the complex true story of one girl, who rises from war's ashes to sing the songs of hope and love world-wide. A heart-wrenching and poignant memoir, by internationally renowned singer Sonia Korn-Grimani.
The Editors of Sonia’s Song share some of their favorite passages
Today, Sarah Beth Goncarova and Yary Hluchan, the two editors of Sonia Korn-Grimani’s haunting memoir Sonia’s Song, share with us some of their favorite passages from the book.
SB: It was a challenge to pick just a few; there are so many great passages to choose from. Perhaps we should start with the Christmas tree scene, where 7-year-old Sonia and her brother Heini are invited into their neighbor’s apartment. I should preface this by saying that at this point in the book it is Christmas Eve, 1938, and Sonia and Heini are two Jewish children living in Germany under the Nazi regime. By this point, all of their neighborhood friends and neighbors have abandoned them, except Frau Rohland, a woman who lives on the same floor of their building.
That Christmas Eve, as we are returning to our apartment, Frau Rohland quietly opens her door and beckons us in.
“I made some ginger cookies for you,” she whispers.
She smuggles my brother and me into her apartment. It is huge with three bedrooms and large windows, facing the street. The delicious aroma of pfeffernüssen, spiced ginger cookies, emanates from the kitchen.
I gasp. There, in the middle of the sitting room, sits a magnificent fir tree, nearly reaching the ceiling, draped with red ribbons and multi-colored balls and silvery tinsel. White wax candles nestle aglow on limbs.
I feel numb. How the candlelight, the festivity, the lovely aromas of ginger, nutmeg and fir, contrasted with the bleakness of our own apartment! Despite all we have been through up until then, we are still small children who would greatly enjoy the seasonal spirit if we were able to partake of it. Waves of self-pity sweep over both of us. Why must our family be deprived of everything most people take for granted: toys, sweets and chocolates? Instead, we have a series of prohibitions: no joy, no celebration, no noise, no music, no songs, no real food and no light. Unable to speak, to even say thank you for the cookies, Heini and I return, devastated, to the stark reality of our own undecorated apartment and the strains of our totally restricted lifestyle. Our darkness makes our world seem bleak, grey, sad and fearful. Our darkness is our attempt to fade into non-existence.
SB: What I love most about this passage is the stark contrast between the apartments. You can see the tree and the lights, you can smell the cookies baking in the oven. Then when you see the childrens’ reaction to the scene, it has a great impact on you as the reader—here are two children who are deprived of all the joys of life up to this point that they don’t even know they are missing it until they themselves see the contrast.
YH: This scene evokes scenes of traditional Christmas—the sort I imagine from historical dramas—in a wholly unexpected context. In a small section, Sonia shows the difference between her world and the majority’s tremendously well. You feel the unfairness, and feel for the children.
SB: This next passage, which comes from the chapter “The Stork” also creates a huge contrast in just a matter of a few sentences. You see Sonia’s sweet naïveté, musing on wanting a baby sister, one of the only times in the book that you see Sonia acting her age, and within a matter of sentences, she is suddenly thrust into horrible danger. We see what she sees through her eyes, and it is truly horrifying.
I have known for some time how babies arrive: a stork brings them. In order to prompt the stork to make a delivery to your family, you need to put a coin on the windowsill to attract the bird’s attention, and the rest will fall into place.
At seven, I am determined to have a sister, and ask my mother for a pfennig to leave in an appropriate spot. Mother and Frau Rohland chuckle to themselves about my innocent scheme. Neither has the heart to tell me that now even the stork usually shuns Jewish homes. Day after day I check, but to my great dismay, the coin remains and no baby ever materializes.
Soon, I become discouraged with the waiting. Then one day, a bright sunny day in November, restless from spending so much time indoors, I decide to retrieve the coin and sneak out for a special treat. The stork’s coin, still gleaming, catches my eye as it waits, untouched, in its habitual spot. The nearby Konditorei, the pastry shop, sells a local delicacy called a Schlagsahne—a mound of whipped cream served in a waffle cone. This is a favorite treat of mine, and I’ve gone without any treats for far too long. Impulsively, I leave our apartment alone, coin in hand, and go straight to the nearby Konditorei. A few minutes later, my purchase made, I am just about to savor it when I notice black smoke darkening the sky. People are running in the direction of a big fire. It is still early afternoon, and yet the sun now seems to have left the sky.
Impetuously, I decide to follow the crowd as it rushes to discover what is going on. The synagogue is burning and crowds of onlookers chant their approval in cadence with the lapping flames. “Juden sind unser Unglück. Juden Raus, Weg damit!—The Jews are our misfortune, Jews out, get away from here!” they scream, clapping their hands rhythmically.
In a matter of seconds, I see more than enough to grasp exactly what is happening. Yet I stand there, mouth agape, unable to react or move from the scene. My cone of whipped cream falls to the pavement. The cream spreads as fast as the sounds of hatred fill the air.
SB: This is one of the most important passages of the book, not only because here is an eye-witness account of Kristallnacht, but also you can see what real danger they were in by remaining in Germany as long as they did. So much of the book the family is waiting, biding their time—it is easy to forget what serious peril they were in.
YH: I enjoy this chapter for a few reasons. To start with is the simple pleasure of learning tidbits of old German & Jewish popular culture—the coin, the Konditorei and the treats therein. We’re completely drawn into a child’s world of daydreams and innocent pleasures. Then it turns on a penny to a picture of grotesque ugliness. This section, to me, is a metaphor of how some were caught by surprise by the cruelty of the Nazis and the destructive force of their followers—though that is only my interpretation of this real-life scene.
SB: We wanted to include this passage from the chapter “Hidden Cargo” because it is one of the most suspenseful chapters in the book. When we first read Sonia’s manuscript, this entire chapter was just a sentence, mostly because it was so painful and intense that Sonia herself had trouble letting the memories come to the surface. We interviewed her for hours to get all the details to recreate the scene, trying all the time to be as careful as we could.
Here Sonia and her brother Heini, aged 8 and 10 at this point, have been hidden in a smuggler’s van and dropped off 40 km from the German-Belgian border, and instructed to walk along the railroad tracks until morning. (This was mid-June 1939, before Belgium fell under Nazi occupation.) The only other advice given to these two kids are to not say a word and hide themselves whenever they hear a train approaching. They are told to “pretend that they are dead.”
Just before sunset, we hear a deep rumble from the ground. A train is approaching. We must not be seen. Heini and I run for the ditch and slide in, pressing our bodies as close as we can into the damp dirt. Don’t move. I don’t dare look up. I close my eyelids, as if the whites of my eyes could give us away. I can feel the vibrations of the train rush through my body. After it passes, I open my eyes and peer up over the top of the ditch. We pick ourselves up, and brush the leaves and dirt off of our clothes and hands. We have a long way ahead of us.
We continue along the tracks, towards the border. Night deepens. I hear sounds through the trees—rustling leaves and then branches cracking. Is someone following us? I grab Heini’s arm. He’s heard it too. We start to run.
We run through the darkness, until we are out of breath and our legs give out. I can’t catch my breath and wonder if I am breathing too loud, if my breath will give us away.
I hold my breath and listen. The wind rustles the branches of the fir trees. An owl calls, inquisitively, then silence. Maybe we outran them, whomever they were. We continue our walk west along the tracks.
The crescent moon lowers and sets behind the trees. Don’t leave us Moon--we will be all alone in the dark. Just then I hear rumbling again on the tracks. Heini grabs my arm and we throw ourselves into the side of ditch, although it is shallower this time. I press my face into the dirt, and hold my breath.
After the train passes, I roll over carefully, open my eyes, and look up into the night sky. Even though I am too anxious to feel hungry, my tummy grumbles, loud enough for Heini to hear. He pulls out his butter sandwich and tears it in half, then half again. He hands a piece to me, and the butter, a rare treat, tastes like the best meal I’ve ever had. I try to keep the flavor on my tongue as long as I can.
“I suppose we’ve been walking for four hours. We still have a long way to go yet. I doubt we’re even a third of the way there,” whispers Heini.
We press on as fast as we can. After a few more hours, my toes blister, each step becoming painful. I curl my toes to prevent them from rubbing my shoe, but this only helps so much.
“Sonia—train!” We bolt off the tracks, jump into the ditch and wait.
After the train passes, I look up and find Polaris overhead. I see the great wagon and the kneeling giant Hercules with his club making his way across the sky, as we make our way to an uncertain future. The stars become our guide, our hope, our comfort, lighting our way in the darkness.
YH: The fortitude of the Korn family astounds me. When I was the age Sonia was here, our family went sightseeing in Washington DC, and after three hours of keeping pace walking with the grownups I blacked out! And here, the children start before sundown and cannot stop to sleep. From an editor’s perspective, it is exciting to have an author elaborate a point of interest. We wanted to know more about the journey, and thought Sonia’s readers would want to know more too. Through the editor-author dialogue she brought this to the world.
SB: I found myself thinking as I was working on this book how much these kids at such a young age experienced and witnessed. Living in a country so far removed from that sort of danger it is hard to imagine anyone having to go what these children had to go through. They were just children, and should have lived out their childhoods as normal happy children. But Sonia’s story is only one of many which not only bears witness to one of the most unspeakable times in history, but one that continues to resonate today.
Sonia Korn-Grimani earned her doctorate in French literature and the teaching of foreign languages, and directed a multi-cultural language program at UNESCO. With her husband John, and their children Anthony and Renee, Sonia traveled and lived all over the world. She taught foreign languages at the university level, and performed frequently to the delight of audiences worldwide. In her album Cantos al Amor, Sonia sings in 16 languages.
In 1989, Dr. Korn-Grimani was knighted Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques, and in 1996 she was decorated Officier des Palmes Académiques. These decorations were awarded in recognition of her lifelong dedication to and promotion of French culture and language.
Sonia continues to sing regularly at UNESCO events in France, and is also frequently invited to share her Holocaust experiences as a guest speaker in high schools, universities, synagogues and churches.
To purchase Sonia's Song: Click on the book jacket above or copy and paste the link below.
At the latter part of the summer my friend Suz came over for a visit and brought me a natural alternative to the 5 hour energy drinks. I laughed and asked "Why?" She brought a smile to my face, "Because you blogged you were going to need something to maintain your energy once school started in order to meet deadlines. See I read your blogs?" Oh my goodness, we laughed and laughed.
I have yet to try them but know the time is coming as my first deadline is fast approaching. I am not sure which touched my heart more, her thoughtfulness or that she finds time in her very busy schedule to read the blog. Then again, I don't think it is either. It is in fact her friendship that touches my heart the most. At one time Heidi considered her one of her best friends and today, I can say the same.
My energy is zapped thanks to many factors this weekend. The strep throat and fever are just the cherry on top of a rotten sundae. I won't bore you with the details but know your prayers are welcomed and appreciated.
Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith,
we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ
our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith,
Christ has brought us into this place
of undeserved privilege where we now stand,
and we confidently and joyfully
look forward to sharing God’s glory.
We can rejoice, too, when we run into
problems and trials,
for we know that they help
us develop endurance.
I woke up this morning at 3 a.m. with such a terrible sore throat I couldn't swallow or sleep. After a phone call and visit to the doctor, we (yes, both Mags and I) are home with prescriptions to help our bodies heal.
Although my fever was spiked and my energy quickly diminishing we headed to the pharmacy to pick up the prescriptions. While there, I was encouraged, blessed,and thankful after a sweet conversation with one of the pharmacist. He is also a family friend.
As we visited he asked about the book's release in April and the publication process. His interest, concern, and compassion where the encouragement I needed this morning. When we have our eyes and ears open to hear God speaking to us, He will bless and uplift us.
I am off to rest and let the prescription work. No time for strep throat, we have a book to get ready for publication in less than six months. Prayers for health and healing are appreciated. Thanks everyone.
But I will restore you to health
and heal your wounds,’
declares the Lord,
Hello everyone! I know there wasn't a blog post yesterday but it is okay. After school I joined a car load of my teacher friends and we enjoyed dinner with Patricia Polacco. If you don't know who she is, she is an amazing author, speaker, and woman. By the time I arrived home last night, exhaustion settled in and I fell asleep on the the couch before 9:00 p.m.
A blog about my evening with Patricia Polacco will be posted later this year, probably closer to Christmas. But no worries, one is in the works. I will share this tidbit with you ~ SHE DOESN'T OWN A COMPUTER and is still a successful woman. Of course she has a staff that handles all this for her but she personally devotes all her time to writing, speaking, and volunteering with the children in her area.
The goals for this weekend are:
1) Catch up on some missing sleep and remove these terrible dark circles from under my eyes before the neighboring raccoon family stop and say, "Hey, you live with us!"
2) Visit my magician of a hairdresser so she can work her magic with the darker roots coming in. How does that happen? She told me dark roots were in style and I assured her I am all about being an individual so I would prefer my hair is the same color from root to tip. We won't talk about these lighter colored ones unless Mags is around and then she might point one or two out. She is so my kid.
3) Work on my book!!!!! Since school started I have spent minimal time working on my revisions, edits, and set-up to meet publication deadlines. I am so drained when I get home, to formulate word patterns and make editorial decisions makes my head hurt. My passion has taken a back seat until now. As of today, with much prayer and God's help, I will devote the necessary time to completing the next round of tasks to meet my first deadline next month.
4) Enjoy my family ~ a must for us all. The American family used to be the first and foremost after God but today it seems to take a back seat to everything and everyone else. I challenge you to do one thing together as a family this weekend. My double challenge, do something that doesn't require a television or technology.
I will be at the River's End Bookstore this evening from 6 p.m. - 8 p.m. to listen to friends read their snip-its from their recently published anthology. Initially, I was a part of this book but once I saw the schedule and deadlines knew I couldn't meet those editorial deadlines and my own to have Where's Heidi? One Sister's Journey released on April 3, 2013 so I chose to spend my summer working on my book instead of a story for this fabulous anthology.
If you want to hear some talented authors this evening ~ River's End Bookstore, Corner of Route 104 (Bridge Street) and West First Street in Oswego, New York is the place to be.
Have a great weekend everyone!
My apologies to my faithful followers and those who were expecting our weekly "T.O.P.'s Tuesday" blog yesterday. My heart was heavy and prayers were plenty for the New Hartford community and Alexandra's family. Please forgive me.
Although there isn't a "Tower Of Power" (T.O.P.) tidbit about Heidi's personality and high school years, I have shared a picture of the two of us. I love her face! I wish I knew what the paper read that made her so excited. The only thing I do know is that you can expect to see this photo reappear later on the blog or on the book page.
So you don't have a high school photograph but one of my beautiful sister and I as little chitlens. :)
News to report:
* I haven't worked on my actual manuscript this past week but have my list generated for the long weekend. Pray my head is clear and focused on the necessary tasks to meet this month's deadlines.
*I am thankful for a wonderful morning with the people at Meridian Baptist this past weekend. It was a great time of learning, fellowship, and laughter.
* Thank you for helping to make our 1,000 "likes" by the end of September on the "Where's Heidi?" Facebook page a success. There are over 1,000 likes - you all are such a blessing to us. Thank you! You are amazing!
Is there something you would like to know, learn, or ask for one of our T.O.P.'s Tuesday blogs? Feel free to ask below or email me at email@example.com. I look forward to hearing from you.
This past Friday, September 28th, 2012, two different “Ride for Missing Children” events took place, one in CNY and another in Albany.
The Ride for Missing Children is an emotional, powerful, and uplifting day fueled by the love, compassion, and inspiration from hundreds of people pedaling one-hundred miles to “Keep our children safer, one child at a time.”
In years past, the CNY ride has raised funds to provide education throughout the year as a proactive way to keep our children safer. The Utica/Mohawk Valley ride has raised funds to raise “posters” to help find our missing children. My sister, Heidi M. Allen is one of those missing children.
I find myself thanking God for the open hearts full of compassion that make the Ride for Missing Children possible. Some ride their bicycles, some volunteer, some report the news, some receive the riders and volunteers for visits, some take photos, and many pray. We try to attend the rides as often as possible and my prayer is to attend each one, at least once.
The day is an emotional and exciting roller coaster. The days that follow leave me drained yet inspired. If hundreds of people who participate in one form or another strictly because they care so much for children and the families of those searching for a loved one then how could I spend days moping in my own loss and missing my sister more than normal? I guess it is because I am human.
Some of you may have seen the recent news about a beautiful young girl, eighteen-year-old SUNY Brockport student, Alexandra Kogut. My heart is heavy for this young girl’s family and friends, for her roomies, and those she knew at both college and back in her home town of New Hartford. New Hartford, a beautiful place that hosts so many Ride for Missing Children events with “community” as a way of life, not a word.
Will you join me to pray for the family, friends, and community grieving the loss of their precious and young Alexandra? Today’s blog is dedicated to our children. Some are taken from us years before we think they should yet there is something VERY important to remember, especially in light of the tragic way this young woman lost her life. God doesn’t take our children. He loves them and He is the greatest healer of all.
It is easy to get angry or give up on the positives in life BUT you can’t. Instead, get motivated and rally with other like-minded individuals to make a difference. The Ride for Missing Children and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children are of course two of my favorites but depending on your life’s tragedy and loss ~ how can you channel the negative, hurt, and grief into something good and positive?
Do you know God loves you?
As you pray for this grieving community and family, will you also pray for God to show you how you can make a positive and uplifting difference in your part of the world? Do you trust God enough to give Him all your hurt, confusion, and questions?
When we listen…God is talking.
Who are you listening too?
What is God asking you to do today?
Special thanks to Marc Ritter and Anna Egresits for sharing their photographs from this past Friday's ride in CNY.
Happy October 1st everyone!!
Do have plans to get outside and enjoy this beautiful autumn weather this month? What will you do? This is probably one of my favorite times of the year. Not to hot and not too cold, but juuussstttt right! Fall is like Baby Bear's porridge.
Is there a favorite activity or a family tradition you have in your family that occurs each year during this time of year? Will you share with all of us? Who knows, you might have a fabulous and great way to celebrate this season we haven't thought of or enjoyed yet.
As a "Welcome October" treat, here is the newest book trailer for my first book, Where's Heidi? One Sister's Journey.
To be released April 2013.
Thanks Dad and Mary for another great trailer.
Love you both!
Lisa M Buske
P.O. Box 323