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One Hundred Saturdays: Stella Levi and the Search for a Lost World (2022)

by Michael Frank

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17615156,767 (4.3)16
Biography & Autobiography. History. Judaica. Nonfiction. HTML:One of Wall Street Journal's Ten Best Books of the Year * Winner of the National Jewish Book Awards for Holocaust Memoir and Sephardic Culture * Recipient of the Jewish Book Council's Natan Notable Book Award * Winner of the Sophie Brody Medal

The remarkable story of ninety-nine-year-old Stella Levi whose conversations with the author over the course of six years bring to life the vibrant world of Jewish Rhodes, the deportation to Auschwitz that extinguished ninety percent of her community, and the resilience and wisdom of the woman who lived to tell the tale.
With nearly a century of life behind her, Stella Levi had never before spoken in detail about her past. Then she met Michael Frank. He came to her Greenwich Village apartment one Saturday afternoon to ask her a question about the Juderia, the neighborhood on the Greek island of Rhodes where she'd grown up in a Jewish community that had thrived there for half a millennium.

Neither of them could know this was the first of one hundred Saturdays over the course of six years that they would spend in each other's company. During these meetings Stella traveled back in time to conjure what it felt like to come of age on this luminous, legendary island in the eastern Aegean, which the Italians conquered in 1912, began governing as an official colonial possession in 1923, and continued to administer even after the Germans seized control in September 1943. The following July, the Germans rounded up all 1,700-plus residents of the Juderia and sent them first by boat and then by train to Auschwitz on what was the longest journey??measured by both time and distance??of any of the deportations. Ninety percent of them were murdered upon arrival.

Probing and courageous, candid and sly, Stella is a magical modern-day Scheherazade whose stories reveal what it was like to grow up in an extraordinary place in an extraordinary time??and to construct a life after that place has vanished. One Hundred Saturdays is a portrait of one of the last survivors drawn at nearly the last possible moment, as well as an account of a tender and transformative friendship between storyteller and listener, offering a powerful "reminder that the ability to listen thoughtfully is a rare and significant gift" (The Wall Street Journ
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Subtitle: Stella Levi and the Search for a Lost World

In February, 2015 Michael Frank attended a lecture, where he had a brief conversation with an elegant elderly woman. The next morning, he received a call from the woman who had organized the lecture. Stella Levi, she told him, had enjoyed meeting him and wondered if he would be willing to help with a bit of writing she had done. Stella was not a native English speaker and wanted to ensure her piece was accurately written. Thus began a series of meetings over one hundred Saturdays and six years, as Stella told her story to Frank.

This is a marvelous tale of a very strong woman. She was a strong girl and teenager when growing up in the Juderia in Rhodes, and she was a strong young woman when she was “evacuated” to Auschwitz. She survived the camps, by using her intelligence and being prepared and willing to do what was necessary to stay alive. She managed to get to the United States where some of her relatives had gone before World War II. And she found her own path here as well.

Her memories, as related by Frank, and forthright and clear. She shows great courage in recalling and reliving some of these episodes in her life. She also shows her strength of character. But make no mistake, her experiences during the Holocaust did NOT define her. She did not forget or forgive, but rather she focused on moving forward. Stella made herself into the woman she always wanted to be and ensured that she LIVED her life. ( )
  BookConcierge | Mar 18, 2024 |

Happy Publication Day! (September 6, 2022)

At the age of fourteen, Stella Levi, the youngest of seven children born to Miriam and Yehuda Levi, leaves a packed suitcase near the door of her family home in the Juderia, the Jewish Quarter on the Island of Rhodes. The suitcase was symbolic of her aspirations - to finish school and attend university in Italy, to travel and learn and see the world beyond her sheltered life. But life had other plans for her. Seven years later, on July 23, 1944, she is one of the 1,650 Jewish population of Rhodes who are rounded up by the Germans and sent to Auschwitz, along with her parents and immediate elder sister Renee. It was one of the longest journeys (in terms of both time and distance) of any deportation during the Holocaust. Ninety percent of her fellow Rhodeslis would not survive the concentration camps.

In 2015, author Michael Frank meets ninety-two-year-old Stella in Greenwich Village. Over a hundred Saturdays spanning six years, Stella shares her story with Mike who views Stella as “a Scheherazade, a witness, a conjurer, a time traveler” who shares her journey with him.

Stella extensively details her early life in Rhodes including the history of the Sephardic Jews- their language, customs and traditions and the way of life in the Juderia. She also talks about the changing political landscape of the region and how it impacted the lives of residents of the island- both inside and outside the Juderia. More than half of the book is devoted to Stella’s life before deportation – her family, her dreams and how life changed for her and her family with the promulgation of racial laws in 1938 and the persecution of Jews that followed. Though her family followed the news of the war on the radio (which was prohibited), they had never known about the concentration camps until they were sent to Auschwitz. Initially, she is reluctant to talk much about her experiences in the concentration camps as she does not those experiences to define her story. However, having established a level of trust with the author , she eventually gives him a glimpse into the horrific period she spent in the camps , having been shuttled from Auschwitz- Birkenau to Dachau and the satellite camps before the camps were liberated by the Allied Forces. Stella goes on to share how she rebuilt her life in the aftermath of WWII- dealing with the loss of those who perished in the camp, the difficult choices she had to make, her journey from Italy to the United States with the memories of the home she left behind and the uncertainty that lay ahead. As we follow Stella's life through the years we see how she refuses to be defined by her tragic past but chooses to live life as she sees fit- constantly reinventing herself as the situation demanded.

“Very early on, almost from the beginning, something curious happened. I detached myself from the Stella who was in Auschwitz. It was as if everything that was happening to her was happening to a different Stella, not the Stella I was, not the Stella from Rhodes, the Stella I knew. I watched this person, this other Stella, as she walked through this desert, but I was not this person.” After a moment she adds, “There was no other way.”

Michael Frank's “One Hundred Saturdays” is a well-written, moving and insightful biography. The narrative is structured in the order of the conversations he has with Stella Levi. Stella's story gives us a glimpse into the history of the former Jewish Quarter of Rhodes, Greece. Her decision to share her story largely stems from her desire to preserve the history of her community. I had no knowledge of the history of the Jewish community of Rhodes before reading this book. The descriptions of the culture and customs were both interesting and informative. Maira Kalman's beautiful full-color illustrations depicting scenes from Stella's life are a lovely addition to the narrative. Stella's story , though heartbreaking, is ultimately one of courage, survival and resilience, and commands both respect and admiration. Overall, this beautifully penned biography is an absorbing read that I would definitely recommend.

Many thanks to Avid Reader Press, Michael Frank and NetGalley for the digital review copy. All opinions expressed in this review are my own. ( )
  srms.reads | Sep 4, 2023 |
Amazing book. Stella Levi is amazing. Another excellent memoir as an interview. Who knew about the Jews in Rhodes. ( )
  shazjhb | May 12, 2023 |
I knew absolutely nothing about the Juderia in Rhodes and found this book very enlightening. Bravo to Stella for telling her story on her own terms and her grit, as well as to Michael Frank for making sure her account was not lost to the world. In addition, the illustrations really enhance the book by conveying aspects of this remarkable lost community and the vibrant culture that was eradicated by genocide. The information regarding Italy's mostly-overlooked participation in Nazi Germany's deportation of this ancient Jewish settlement during the last gasps of World War II is especially important and makes this book a particularly valuable (and disturbing) read. ( )
  dele2451 | Apr 9, 2023 |
Michael Frank interviews Stella who is 98 years old. She was from Rhodes. tells life in Rhodes, transportation to concentration camps, Auschwitz, getting to America. Life in America. ( )
  evatkaplan | Mar 21, 2023 |
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Epigraph
“The tremendous world I have inside my head . . .”

                             —-KAFKA
Dedication
for

STELLA

of course

and in memory of my grandmothers,

SYLVIA SHAPIRO RAVETCH

and

HARRIET FRANK SR.,

storytellers all
First words
The sea isn’t wine-dark so much as a blue so bottomless and transparent that it hurts to look into it, the way it can hurt to look into another person’s eyes.
Quotations
“There’s an old adage,” I tell her. “I wonder if you’ve heard it. The youngest child is the one who gets to tell the story—the one who gets to have the last word. I think it was Henry James who said something like that.”

“Having the last word,” she says, can be very lonely.”
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Biography & Autobiography. History. Judaica. Nonfiction. HTML:One of Wall Street Journal's Ten Best Books of the Year * Winner of the National Jewish Book Awards for Holocaust Memoir and Sephardic Culture * Recipient of the Jewish Book Council's Natan Notable Book Award * Winner of the Sophie Brody Medal

The remarkable story of ninety-nine-year-old Stella Levi whose conversations with the author over the course of six years bring to life the vibrant world of Jewish Rhodes, the deportation to Auschwitz that extinguished ninety percent of her community, and the resilience and wisdom of the woman who lived to tell the tale.
With nearly a century of life behind her, Stella Levi had never before spoken in detail about her past. Then she met Michael Frank. He came to her Greenwich Village apartment one Saturday afternoon to ask her a question about the Juderia, the neighborhood on the Greek island of Rhodes where she'd grown up in a Jewish community that had thrived there for half a millennium.

Neither of them could know this was the first of one hundred Saturdays over the course of six years that they would spend in each other's company. During these meetings Stella traveled back in time to conjure what it felt like to come of age on this luminous, legendary island in the eastern Aegean, which the Italians conquered in 1912, began governing as an official colonial possession in 1923, and continued to administer even after the Germans seized control in September 1943. The following July, the Germans rounded up all 1,700-plus residents of the Juderia and sent them first by boat and then by train to Auschwitz on what was the longest journey??measured by both time and distance??of any of the deportations. Ninety percent of them were murdered upon arrival.

Probing and courageous, candid and sly, Stella is a magical modern-day Scheherazade whose stories reveal what it was like to grow up in an extraordinary place in an extraordinary time??and to construct a life after that place has vanished. One Hundred Saturdays is a portrait of one of the last survivors drawn at nearly the last possible moment, as well as an account of a tender and transformative friendship between storyteller and listener, offering a powerful "reminder that the ability to listen thoughtfully is a rare and significant gift" (The Wall Street Journ

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