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If the murder of millions is something we must become numb to, in

order to persevere, then I disagree.

It is as if memory must be dismissed for present life and living.

Need it be? Granted, I do not think about a serf in twelfth-century

France. Perhaps I should, but I don’t. Our species itself has a short

attention span. Indeed, why do we practice the art and science of psychotherapy,

for example? It is not to put things behind us as much as

to bring them forth, to evoke experience. Real therapy, healing, is a

question asked of the species as revealed in an individual member.

I detect in this question an annoyance, in that Jews are given a certain

latitude and then no more; as if we have heard it all before. The

question bespeaks subliminal impatience, perhaps even anti-Jewish sentiment.

If yet another book on word processing, financial self-help,

travel, or cooking appears on the shelves of your local bookseller, that

is fine. But another book on the Holocaust, whether from Christians or

Jews, evokes a sigh of “enough.” Why is this? I write to make you feel

my impressions of the world; it is my rib on the barbie and I grill it in

my own special way. It is the writer’s job to do that. The Holocaust, as

far as I am concerned, is the single most important human event in

world history. It created a lens through which we can understand ourselves

culturally, anthropologically, and sociologically. We avoid knowing

ourselves, often fleeing more from the light than the dark. All the

great deprogrammers have been assailed, even murdered, Christ for


In his clarion call, Jefferson said it best: “I have sworn upon the

altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the

mind of man.” Thrilling, isn’t it? And enlightened! Freud searched the

unconscious, in his own rational way, to try to set us free. Face it—

great slabs of self are cut off from our awareness. Most of what we do

is done and decided for us, unconsciously. You don’t really believe you

are in control, do you? Our species is that early grunting creature that

moved from out of the sea-slime to land, in gasping epochal leaps, until

it became a creature of terra firma. We are aware only in spasms,

twitches. Our circuitry is that way; we are hot-wired.

Since you are not a survivor, a witness, why do you feel you can add anything

more—or new—to the Holocaust literature?

I don’t have to be a witness to anything in order to exercise my own

humanity, either as a holder of opinions or a writer. In fact, and with all

due deference, why would a survivor necessarily have a grasp on what

happened? We spend our entire lives living, often very poorly, and very

often end without any set of rules, conclusions, or principles, much less

wisdom. I write about the Holocaust for it is an Amazonian cataract of

great force, of thundering essence, when we examine human behavior

at its most basic. I have every right to engage. Indeed, the question

should be: Shouldn’t every human alive, and yet to live, have a br

spectrum of ideas and views about this species-shaking event of the

twentieth century? We are all witnesses to the Holocaust. This is one

of the essential themes of my work. It should be dealt with until the end

of historic mankind on this planet, until its lessons become in some

implacable and evolutionary way part of our germ plasm.

We know this much: human beings can be morally inhibited—and

since we are not genetically wired not to kill our own, the only salvation

is in the word, in memory, to stave off our id impulses. This is why, for

the Jew, memory is essential, probably one of the greater gifts of

Judaism to the world. Jews, to use the vernacular, do not “put things

behind them” and “get on with it.” The Jew metabolizes life, records

and registers it. Memory kept the Jew as one during a two thousand year

diaspora—for indeed something indelible and lithographic had

happened in Sinai that the Jew chose not to forget. This is the great and

remarkable commentary on the history of the Jew. Metaphorically we

are all Jews, if we allow that to be.


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 Raison d’Être

Can you reconstruct the creative process that led you to write The i Tetralogy?

i wrote itself.

i was written in white heat over a two-week period; it was as if I

were channeling my unconscious. I believe that this first of four books

on the Holocaust simmered and percolated inside me, away from consciousness,

for about four decades. At twenty I read the confession of

the commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolph Hoess, who was required to

write it prior to his hanging in 1947. A riveting book, perplexing and

reptilian in its fascination, here was a man who had studied to be a seminarian,

yet ended his life as a loyal and dedicated Nazi. The book has

always stayed in mind, for within its pages is the entire Rosetta stone

to the Nazi mind, to humankind gone to seed.

As I matured I began slowly to comprehend the two selves that

Hoess inhabited, for he was a “doppelganger.” I began to understand

how he could “split,” to use the psychoanalytical term for the defense

mechanism, one self a seemingly rational and caring spouse and father,

lover of his German shepherds, the other a fiercely prideful and prejudicial

Nazi. Robert Jay Lifton’s The Nazi Doctors deals with this phenomenon

in comprehensive detail. And this fabric tear of self, this

numbness to human pain, later finds its way into my work.

Hoess’s autobiographical tale stayed with me, made a deposit in my

unconscious. If I recall correctly, the book is matter-of-fact, which

makes it awful. It is descriptive and lacks self-analysis and moral

insight. That makes it appalling.

My life, my rearing, my secular Judaism, my Hebrew school training,

my first encounter with anti-Semitism, coalesce into a strong ethnic

sense of identification with my forebears. I am, as I have been, a

proud Jew, realizing in college that a required two-year course in contemporary

civilization had little to say about the significant—the enormous—

Jewish contribution to the world. Chauvinistically, one might

argue that the history of the Western world, at least, is the history of

the Jew: Moses…Jesus…Spinoza…Maimonides…Marx…Einstein…

Freud. Other than selections by Spinoza, and Freud, Jews did not exist

in Western civilization: Jews were a fascinating living fossil, but not

much more.

I remember in high school a chemistry teacher vehemently denied

that soap could be made from rendered-down human fat—this was

before 1960, when William Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

provided, in an extended footnote, the exact recipe. I had known about

the formula from reading, and asked the teacher to comment. After his

response I no longer trusted him. This was in the ’50s, before the Eichmann

trial, and the word Holocaust was not yet in the language, not

even in Hebrew school. Jews were traumatized worldwide, but I had

read by then a great deal about Jewish history. (I recall one author used

a pen name that spelled “suffer Israel” backwards.) I knew what was

reasonably true and false. I knew the suffering that the Christian world

had inflicted upon the Jew over two thousand years—and I was resentful,

surly, and rageful about the injustice of it all: the reek of hypocrisy

overwhelmed my sensibilities. Any minority member learns a great

deal about the majority in order to cope, adapt, and struggle back. I can

do a few minutes on the differences between “transubstantiation” and

“consubstantiation,” as well as the immaculate conception.

I was—I am—a passive-aggressive personality; but when it comes

to being a Jew, I am a lion. The ’50s were a time when Kirk Douglas, a

ragpicker’s son, born Issur Danielovitch, who later changed his name

to Isidore Demsky, and Tony Curtis, born Bernard Schwartz, the son

of an immigrant tailor, were not clearly identified as Jews. It would

have been desirable, encouraging, even ennobling, to identify with a

Jewish movie star at age fifteen or sixteen. The assimilated Jewish producers

and movie studio heads had sold out years ago, and fed the

goyim stereotypes, and married their shiksa princesses, at great cost.

At thirteen I lived in a housing project on the other side of the

tracks. I played sandlot baseball in Manhattan Beach in Brooklyn. And

almost every time I played, one boy, Billy, taller than I, very athletic,

Viking in appearance, would have a fit—a rather disturbed young boy,

as I look back now as a therapist. He would get frustrated sometime

during the game or claim he beat the throw to second. He wanted his

way. Often he would work himself up into a lathered frenzy and stomp

the base itself, actually fight with it. It reminded me of a cartoon fight,

flurries, puffs of animated smoke, sounds, swirling bodies barely discernible

in the scrap, and exaggerated responses. We would stop playing

and gawk at his behavior.

In such manic moments he’d make anti-Semitic comments—just

like that. It always is just like that. The world for Billy was imperfect,

and the cause of his internal and external disarray, his discomfiture,

was the Jew! So the Jew is a worldwide plague, an irritant, viral, life’s

wrinkled, gnarled, and disfigured cause of psychic pain. What power we

Jews are given as we ride the razor’s edge of projection. We are the

UFOs of the last two thousand years, fear projected onto ETs “out


As Billy mouthed his slurs and vicious bromides, the others stood

by, did nothing. I cannot account for that. I believe I was more stunned

and stressed by this than by anything else—even Billy’s anti-Semitism.

I wanted us all to gang up on Billy, teach him a lesson. Not then, but

later on, I realized I was alone, alone in life as well. Only my singular

efforts would unfreeze the moment so that I could act on the world. My

feelings are retrospective—as I give them voice now, they would be

appalled at the lack of outrage, at the silence, at the bystanders who

merely watched, at the passivity when faced with Billy.

By then, thirteen, probably bar mitzvahed at the time, something

was in me, perhaps rearing, perhaps, in grandiose terms, I felt an El

Greco-like flame burn within, touch my soul, much like Shadrach,

Meschach, and Abendigo, before they entered the furnace. What was in

them before that made them so fearless? That is the question to ponder.

Perhaps, as I muse, almost fifty years later, in a spiky way I can say that

my gravestone might read: “I took Billy on.”

I went at the bastard, body heated, fists flying, at the goy, the prick,

the maligner, the inquisitor, the crusader, the Christian—he still is very

much the bastard, in mind. And he whacked the hell out of me while my

own brethren, for whatever reasons, stood about me. They didn’t even

urge me on—“Beat his ass, Matt; give it to him!” They were quiet. This

was a religious war in silence; I was no David slyly picking up the right

stones for his sling. This was outright violence, in your face—and very

personal. In my gut I knew, by then, it was not right to say these things

about Jews. Even then I had acquired from Hebrew school, I believe,

and from home, a Talmudic sense of right and wrong. I recall how the

prophets, at considerable risk to themselves, would come down from

the hills to confront and condemn the Jewish kings for misdeeds, adultery

and the like.

The message seemed that the truth is above all men; it is the highest

mark of civilization and of the individual human being. And I was,

apparently, deeply moved by this without my awareness of it. I was a

serious young boy.

I gave Billy as much as I could as he lambasted me. I was short and

I could only get at his lean abdomen. And I struggled away at that spot,

hoping that the head might fall, to no avail, as he seemed to shirk off

my blows. He was strong—and powerful; his long, sinewy, grappling

arms interrupted my puny but furious attempts as he methodically

smacked away at my upper torso and head. Lathering my face with

punches, he was also punching me into recognition of what life had in

store for me.

Needless to say, Billy wiped me away, pounding from his height

advantage, swinging downward with force, tattooing my cheeks with

fists, but I stood my ground and fought back—and hard—and took a

hard beating. What moves me now is that I didn’t cry. At that age

young boys can cry in such a situation. I didn’t cry. I was relentless, a

defender of the faith. I was repeatedly beaten, but I never lost a fight

with Billy. You see, this is an essential part of who I am. I chose this travail.

It enveloped me, like a malign cloud. And it is so painful. But I did

not retreat.

Ultimately my intense readings about ancient Jews taught me

moral courage in a sly and covert manner, call it conditioning, call it

indoctrination. They fortified me for life! I admired the antique courage

of the Hebrew heroes—Samson, David, Joshua, although Kirk and

Tony had no hold on my heart, alas. Only Churchill evinced that in

World War II, when he rallied the English in his radio speeches—I

remember hearing snippets on tape, how he said that the English would

fight the Nazis in the streets, in the doorways, in the alleyways, with

hand, with stick, and that they would never surrender. Stirring, is it not?

I had fears, free-floating, butterfly-huge fears in mind, but I was in

the right. Being right doesn’t mean you will win or overcome—or that

there is justice in the world. That there is no justice in the world has

been a lifelong premise. I deal with what is, my rescuer is me, and the

heritage I breathe. There are only strong individuals, sometimes in

alliance with other like-minded strong individuals. The world is in each

of us, not “out there.” “Out There” is a parade of illusions; inside is the

sound of a different drummer, playing a tattoo of character.

For weeks on end, before, during, or after these baseball games, I

fought Billy, but not to a draw. Oh, no, he whipped me well. I was

slaughtered, to be blunt. I got off the field, out of the dust and grime,

the offal of the Christian upon my presence, and headed home. I told no

one at home of my battle. I was self-contained. It was my mission. No

one said anything to me for our war had become as much a fixture of

the game as Billy’s constant snits. I was all alone—and I didn’t even

know it. At that age we are with emergence, not reflection. As I look

back, I have always been alone. Jews have always been alone, I knew

that, and I knew how they had drawn great strength from that. I also

knew it was the aloneness that gave them character. The Bible is rife

with battles in which Jews were few, outnumbered, and consequences

severe. It was their faith that became another army to enter the fray

with, the Host of Hosts by their spiritual side.

I remember well the beatings at Billy’s hands. I remember no one

helping. I remember my mother not knowing for weeks until somehow

she discovered all this and confronted Billy’s mother. After that, Billy’s

fits continued—but he censored himself.

After all these decades Billy is vivid in mind. What I feel now is the

potent feeling in all four volumes of the i Tetralogy, especially i. I will

not be mastered. I will not be depleted. I will keep coming at you until

you are no longer a concern or obstacle. Perhaps the casting for “Spartacus”

was brilliant; Douglas, the Jew, as the slave seeking freedom—

and dignity. It is how, as I look back, in my senior years, I face life, I

suppose—indomitably, I imagine. In my later years I have learned to

know no fear.

It is how I practice therapy. It is how I father. It is how I love. I am

Jonathan, at David’s side, metaphorically fighting off the Philistines.

To the day I die I will remember the unflinching intensity of my

response. I find it sadly ironic that my bravest moment in life came so

young. Now I am with words. But I did not cave in. I stood—I stood

alone, who I was as a human being, in my mind, at stake: as a Jew, on

line. I endured. I would not be abused, nor my people. I would not be

labeled in such ugly words. Billy was, sadly enough, my first real

encounter with the Christian world—and it was indelible.

As I look back through the decades I feel in my gut that my

brethren are due something from me, as a Jew, for they have given me

so much. I have no ancestors, for they are very alive and immediate in

me. It is in the nature—and order—of my own particular world, among

Jewry, that I respond to what has been shared with me, what has been

passed down to me. It is our tradition. The i Tetralogy is this Jew’s giving

back to his own people. It is not a debt repaid; it is a profound honor

to do so, one that moves me deeply.

This is an intricate and complex response, for as a writer and

human being beyond conditioning and ethnicity, I owe life a response

as well. It is much more than scratches in the sand to say I was here—

I seek not to stop time or build illusionary pyramids. As a writer I

respond because it is in my plasm to do so. I need to write about my

people as well as life responding to life. If forsythia can grow in nasty

abandonment and weedy ways along highway dividers, I, too, can

express myself as existence exuding its very presence.

My Judaism was the potting soil for my writing; my life’s peculiar

pain and agony also contributed to my need to make sense of this journey

I am on, without a roadmap, most definitely without a destination.

I have come to believe that all I have to give is my being, and writing

is my idiosyncratic body scent. Hunt for my spoor, if you will.

I am one of those souls Kazantzakis wrote his prayer for: “Overdraw

me Lord, and who cares if I break!”



Starving Review: I Truly Lament: Working Through the Holocaust by Mathias B. Freese


I Truly Lament: Walking Through the Holocaust by Mathias B. Freese (Amazon, Goodreads)

Not all literary meals are laid out on the table purely for the stuffing of the reader’s face with new entertainment.  Some have a purpose behind their creation and other recipes are crafted to bring the reader an important message or a deep feeling as he sits chewing the fat.  I’ve reviewed at least one book like this before so it’s not a stranger to this Starving Reviewer and I have another such literary meal at my table today.  The message and the event it seeks to fill our taste buds with is older but even stronger than the previous book.  I Truly Lament deals with one of the great and terrible tragedies of the 20th Century: the Holocaust.  Does it perform its mission admirably?  Let’s find out.

But first!  The Starving Review creed!

  1. I attempt to rate every book from the perspective of a fan of the genre.
  2. I attempt to make every review as spoiler-free as possible.

This Starving Review is going to be short, folks, and not as humorous as most of mine.  It simply comes down to the fact that there are few subjects more serious than attempted genocides of a people.  The Holocaust is horrific and there’s little desire on my part to make light of it, even if it would only be indirectly.  Even worse is the prospect that it was not the first and far from the last ethnic cleansing to happen in our world.  That’s the ultimate tragedy of it all.  So before I get overly emotional or start shaking my fist angrily at the heavens and shout ‘WHY?!’ dramatically (okay, so there will be a LITTLE humor), let’s get this done!

Lament is an anthology-style novel, consisting of a series of short stories that runs through a wide swath of viewpoints, concepts, and premises all related to the Holocaust.  Some even venture into the sci-fi and fantasy premises, such as time-travel, and that adds some rather intriguing flavors to those stories.  There are a large number of stories in the book so I will not try to itemize a list of each story and weight each on its own pros and cons.

What I will say is that Mr. Freese is a talented and insightful chronicler here and is good at bringing each unique flavor from each story into its own life.  That, over so many different tales, he manages such a strong consistency in his writing speaks volumes for the book’s overall quality.

As far as the subject matter itself, Lament handles it with some distinctly Jewish insights as well as a good attention to historical detail.  Those points add extra heft to the stories, making them each seem a bit more vivid and life-like.  No punches are pulled, either emotional or descriptive, and I, as a reader, appreciate that.  Something as terrible as this deserves no whitewashing or sugar coating.

If there is any real flaws in the collection, it is simply that, as all anthology works, even the best author is not one-hundred percent consistent in quality.  A few of the tales simply don’t resonate as strongly as others or seem a bit forced in concept.  It’s simply the nature of the beast and one that doesn’t detract significantly from the overall quality of Lament, especially as most of the stories are quite brief.  It’s easy work to chew past the occasional bits of blander flavor to get to the better bits.

So, end of the meal, how was Lament?  There is both bitterness and sweetness, courage and cowardice, and by the last bite, this collection of tales gets its messages about the Holocaust across.  That, above all things, is the most important metric to measure such a book by.  If you want to gain a deeper insight to the Jewish perspective on the Holocaust, are a general student of World War II, or simply want to broaden your mind about the world, I can highly recommend this read.  Just remember, this is a book about horrific things.  The imagery can be disturbing and the language coarse so if that offends you, well, there’s nothing to be done for it.

FINAL VERDICT: ***** (Bitterness mixed with sweetness, courage mixed with cowardice.)


Working Through The Holocaust

Collection of Short Stories

A guard, a young boy, a Nazi doctor, a Canonist and even a golem; are but a few of the diverse characters portrayed in I truly Lament: Working Through The holocaust, a collection of short stories by Mathias B. Freese.

The Author brings to life a myriad of gripping stories about those affected by the Holocaust. These are not the common accounts of survival or even human perseverance, but the damage that humanity can bring upon its own kind. Each story delves deep into the human psyche and exposes the real and raw brutality visited upon the Jews in Nazi occupied Europe.

I have read many Holocaust survivor stories. They are horrific, frightening and above all, inspiring. However, Freese deviates from this typical path. He speaks for those who are gone and cannot tell their tale. He speaks for those who are broken, their stories their chains, even decades after their imprisonment. He masterfully gets into the minds of the Nazis, giving the reader yet another unique perspective of the Holocaust.

Freese makes the reader feel his characters pain, loss and despair. Each and every one of them becomes real in the reader’s mind. You can’t help but empathize with their plights and feel their agony. They are alive, genuine and vibrate with emotion.

Freese is an exceptional writer. His style is almost poetic, but doesn’t overshadow the plot. Although his writing is superb, the focus is on the characters and their story. His dialogue lends to his character’s believability and authenticity.

I truly Lament is a necessary read. It takes you to a dark place. Yet, when you emerge back into the light, you will possess more compassion and understanding then you did before. There are some books in this world that change you. This is one of them


I Truly Lament: Working Through the Holocaust
By Mathias Freese
Wheatmark, $12.95, 230 pages, Format: Trade

Star Rating: 5 out of 5
I Truly Lament is a collection of twenty-seven stories – nine of which were previous published and “significantly revised for this book” – that are meditations on the Holocaust. Award winning author Mathias B. Freese covers a multitude of Holocaust themes taken from different perspectives in this poignant anthology.
Freese offers readers a window into a world that may resemble something like Twilight Zone episodes. And though the bulk of his collection are works of fiction, the type of experiences represented within these stories are real and reflect a horrific event in time – one that cannot and should not be forgotten. Using different points of view, Freese’s first person accounts often feature Jewish inmates fantasizing on themes about escaping, food, death, and even a phobia about snowstorms, to name a few. Others are conversational pieces between a Jewish inmate and another figment of his imagination, such as a golem, or a man from the future, and there are interviews with people such as Eva Braun, Hitler’s wife, and a Holocaust camp doctor.
Obviously, Freese does not zero in on just Jewish inmates since there are accounts also told through the eyes of German officers and youth. Even in his third person narratives, Freese deftly captures the heartbreaking perspective of a cantor whose romantic relationship with his beloved Rebecca is suddenly severed when the Nazis come for him. While there is no doubt that Holocaust prisoners have experienced the greatest amount of suffering, Freese masterfully balances how perpetrators also became victims because of their need for control. A good example of this is found in “Der Fuhrer Likes Plain” when the interviewer draws a conclusion about Hitler and Braun’s sex life:  “So, if I were to generalize, both you and Der Fuhrer prefer to s**t on people and withhold true intimacy by being within people.” On the contrary, one inmate in “Of No Use,” understands that freedom comes when the need for control is released.
Freese’s contemplative stories are replete with scenes that are nothing less than gut wrenching. Yet amid horrors of human desecration, Freese interweaves biting sarcasm that at times is humorous, as in the banter between an inmate and a golem in Golem, I Need Your Help. Again, laced with sarcasm, two narratives that stand out the most are “Max Weber, Holocaust Revisionist” and “Sincerely, Max Weber.” Aside from the fact that they are nonfiction in context, these stories reflect Freese’s encounter with Max Weber’s YouTube revisionist video essays, and Weber’s sardonic letter to Freese.
Freese does not mince words in his latest anthology, including the thought-provoking statements at the beginning of his stories. I Truly Lament is a fascinating read. But readers, beware! It is visceral from beginning to end and indubitably not for the faint of heart.


I Truly Lament: Working through the Holocaust, Mathias B. Freese (Wheatmark, Arizona USA 2015)

2015 sees the seventieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War (for the countries of Eastern Europe that ending only came in 1989). Many archives are still to be opened. Millions of voices remain unheard, yet of all the events of those war years, those of the Holocaust challenge the bent heart of our humanity. The Holocaust still requires work, as award winning writer and psychotherapist, Mathias Freese stresses in this gritty collage of twenty-seven hard-hitting stories. Using black humour, language that is spare and sometimes shocking, Freese takes readers into the heart of the Holocaust and we dare not look away.

Auschwitz, Treblinka, Majdanek, Mauthausen and many other places of death are now on display. We see mounds of murdered women’s hair, battered spectacles, suitcases that victims brought to Auschwitz from all over Europe. In Treblinka mass murder is represented by stones – the Nazis destroyed the evidence of their crime. In Majdanek, outside Lublin, death is represented by a vast mound of ash. Dust… ash… stone… Words fail, and as Freese says in one of his many memorable aphorisms, “words are useless” Nevertheless, Freese gives victims voice – and gives voice also to other participants in murder: a chillingly detached “Herr Doctor”, a guard, a golem, an editor who reveres Nazi memorabilia (including Hitler’s underpants), but denies the Holocaust, scurrilously also  to Hitler’s mistress, Eva Braun. We are hunted along with a “caftan-wearing” young man fleeing from the burning shtetl (small predominately Jewish town) – we meet a similar young man in another story and indeed, several persons represented here appear more than once and it is rewarding to trace their stories. Above all, though, we are immersed inescapably in the dark, godless, brutal world of the death camp. The Holocaust challenges our belief in moral goodness and even more profoundly challenges our theology; these masterfully crafted stories pose questions many Christians rightly feel highly uncomfortable with. “Answers,” says a Rabbi in the first story, “are dead chickens in the barnyard. The question is in the butcher’s life.”

Abraham climbs the mountain with Isaac, but for the Jews of Europe there was no rescuing angel nor ram and these stories show us that those who managed to outlive brutality and starvation found no escape. Memories, “deep, billowing clouds of dismal and dank despair” deprive survivors of joy even in simple things. “The last thing survivors are good at is surviving…” Mr Ginsburg who can skilfully renovate an old table, is afraid to catch a plane to Israel.

As the title suggests, the stories lament, and Lamentations are central to our Scriptures, startlingly contemporary and so apposite for the horror that was the Holocaust, when “those who were my enemies without cause have hinted me like a bird; they flung me alive into a pit and hurled stones at my head.” (Lamentations 3: 52-54)

Let us then lament and allow the dark world of these powerful stories to sink into our souls for, says Freese “The Jew aches for Christian awareness and accountability. He will never get that. For sure.”

Jenny Robertson, author Don’t go to Uncle’s Wedding, War Hero Bear, From the Volga to the Clyde and others.


rical Fiction Book Reviews

Genre: Short Story/ Fiction
Title: I Truly Lament: Working Through the Holocaust
Authors: Mathias B. Freese
Haunting is the best way to describe I Truly Lament. Much like Mathias Freese’s first book, The i Tetralogy, this book will stay in your memory for a long time.
The Holocaust is a subject that many authors have written about, but none so profoundly as Mr. Freese. He touches the very heart and soul of those that lived and those that died during these terrifying times.
I Truly Lament: Working Through the Holocaust is a book of short stories that were previously published by the author. This compilation is an emotional, and sometimes difficult to read, collection for readers to experience the entire event through the eyes of the people that lived it.
A psychotherapist, teacher and writer, Mathias Freese digs deep into the psyche of his characters. I have often made reference to The i Tetralogy in conversation. The point of view of both the guard and the prisoner of the same situation, makes one ponder reality and how we create our own reality. It never leaves you and you will never see any situation quite the same again. I have to say, he is one of my favorite authors. Well done, once again Mr. Freese !
  Highly Recommended.
Reviewer: Shirley A. Roe, Allbooks Review International www.allbooksreviewint.com


How did you get inspired to write I Truly Lament?

I am not usually inspired to write anything. I sense a feeling or a constellation of felt-truths, often a gift, and I am serious about this, from my unconscious mind. What we do each day is really a thin patina that covers the engine that drives us. I count upon these surreptitious feelings I get and then I move on to express them. I have done this with all of my books. Having been a psychotherapist also comforts me in that to write is to express the inner self. What was your writing process like? Did you need to do a lot of research?

Sometimes I garner facts like a rolling stone. At 74 that is a life time of collection. If I don’t know the name of a movie star, of course, I look that up. In the pride I have I try to accomplish what I have to say by falling back – deeply so – on who I am. I have written stories about the concentration camps and survivors of those camps. What can you fall back upon except one’s compassion, sensibility and intuitive sense, the writer’s palette if you will. Facts are only appurtenances. I once wrote that fearlessness leads to authenticity in writing. I struggle to take no prisoners, to be graphic, honest, blunt if need be to advance the story I am working on. If you were describing this book to a friend, what would you say

Feel it rather than shy away from whatever truths I could manage to compose. I see too much of Holocaust aversion on the part of reviewers, as if the Holocaust is a hot coal. Like the Odyssey, the Holocaust should be read by each generation, for it is mankind’s newly minted original sin. Read the book knowing it is the author’s attempt to comprehend the ineffable. Can you tell us a little bit about the man behind the book?

Like Freud who said he was a godless Jew, I subscribe to that; the impact of being Jewish has been intense for me. I have worked as a teacher, and I practiced as a psychotherapist and while all that was going on, I wrote when I could. It took me thirty years to have a book of short stories published, Down to a Sunless Sea. I think of myself as the tortoise in Aesop’s fable. I don’t quit and redeem myself through perseverance. I did not go to school to write; I put in my 10,000 hours. I follow no rules, mostly breaking rules. How long have you been writing?

46 years. I have paid my dues. So the man goes to the green and plays his rounds. What does he remember? His swing, his birdies. I can’t comprehend that. I write not for posterity, except for my children. I write for personal clarity. Like Kazantzaki’s epitaph, “I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.” I struggle for that existential experience. What’s next for you?

TESSESRAE, now being edited, a memoir of two summers, ’68,’69 , in Woodstock, describing how a man-child became a man by opening myself to feelings and relationships. Out of this entire book, what is your favorite paragraph?

“Slave”: The most appalling defeat in the camps was the absence of beauty. Regimentation was all, an artist without a palette.

Animal life had fled. Occasionally an errant bird chirped tis creed and flew away. Butterflies stayed away, no flora to cling to. If you think rats, vermin, maggots, and roaches are beautiful, it was Eden. Uniformity in everything was the rule. Barracks laid out in grids, barbed wire in rectangular enclosures. Even the circle was barred from the camp, for it was elusive to the German mind. Everything was squared off, nothing rounded. We lined up for morning roll calls, the appell (italics). The guttural voices of the German guards barked out the same repetitive orders. Geometry was God, diversity Satan’s whore, opinion a mother’s bastard, and questions a whore’s tease. Order above all. To my ears, the German gutturals obeyed in aural allegiance the mind-set of their speakers. When I fill the ice cube tray, I pause, knowing how well the Germans viewed us, frozen cubes all lined up.


Mathias B. Freese

Published June 16th, 2008

Mathias B. Freese’s short story collection, Down to a Sunless Sea (Wheatmark, 2007), recently received an Independent Publisher Excellence Finalist Award, and was also named a finalist for the Reader Views Literary Award, as well as a finalist in the “popular fiction” category of the 2008 Arizona Book Awards, sponsored by Arizona Book Publishing.

A teacher and psychotherapist, Freese is the author of the four books of the i Tetralogy (Hats Off Books, 2005) — i, I am Gunther, Gunter’s Lament, and Gunther.

Freese hold masters degrees in secondary education and social work from Queens College of the City University of New York and Stony Brook University. For more than 30 years, he taught English and social studies in New York secondary schools.

Freese’s nonfiction articles have appeared in the New York Times, Voices: The Art and Science of Psychotherapy, and Publishers Marketing Association Newsletter. In 2005, the Society of Southwestern Authors honored Freese with a first-place award for personal essay.

Derek Alger: Your recent story collection, Down to a Sunless Sea, has received high praise, not to mention being named a finalist for the Reader Views Literary Award and receiving an Independent Publishers Excellence Finalist Award.

© Mathias Freese

Mathias Freese: The book reflects 30 odd years of a struggle to get published. I made a pact with myself more than two decades ago, I would someday publish a book that contained all my short stories, but they would have to be published in order to prove their worth. Not all were published, but in that pact made with myself is a statement about myself. I will not quit on you, on myself: it is characterological. To receive praise at 67 is a cosmic joke, wouldn’t you say? How would you, dear reader, deal with it? It bespeaks a sad ruefulness not defeated by that very compound; for the next morning light makes me greet the day for being alive. In the midst of my despair, or merry depression, is a force in love with life, alas, no control over the DNA in my flesh. It wills out when I don’t want it to.

DA: What was your childhood like?

MF: I am a passive-aggressive personality which, to my eyes, means that I took in as a child without metabolizing. The undigested, rageful parts spewed out like Ahab’s leg from Moby Dick’s mouth, from time to time. I was a receptor as a child. I did not experience my life so much as observe it, if that. I just associated to the earth bombarded by neutrinos that stream right through the core and out without nary one of us on to it. I reflect on all this in the title story of my book of short stories, Down to a Sunless Sea.

I was raised in the bland soup of benign neglect which did not give me enough sustenance to arm myself for life ahead. A weak father, a depressive for a mother, I later realized that my father was the third child in our family of four. And that my mother had married down, which suited her just fine, because that gave cause to her depression, all insights that came decades later.

We were lower middle class Jewish poor. I never experienced being poor — I ate, I was clothed, there were needs met. Allow me to share an anecdote about my parents and our status in life, all in one ball of wax. My parents worked for two or three days, not including the weeks and months before, to have me ready for my bar mitzvah. It was not catered. We could not afford that. So mom cooked several turkeys and all the Jewish trimmings. At that time, I had a Lionel train set which was increasing in size each year as my two uncles contributed by giving me locomotives and tenders and so on. My father took me aside and said that would I mind if he sold the train set to get additional money to pay for the bar mitzvah. I, of course, said yes, as I had no inner reference at the time, and this was the Fifties, parents as godhead. So an early choice that made me surrender something dear in order to acquire something less dear. I observed all this. I did not feel it until later. I miss those trains. It was a patrimony I would have passed down to my son and daughter. Anyone out there who wants to write a story about this?

DA: Did you always think like a writer?

MF: I don’t really know what it is to think like a writer. I think Matt. I came to writing out of pain, in small acts of serendipity. My first writing was an extended poem that I submitted to the high school yearbook in 1958, which was accepted. However, the English teacher misread it, edited so much out that it was significantly reduced and I had my first experience with editing, poor at that. The poem dealt with my inner depression, as I look back at it now, and that was overridden to give it a bluebird ending. In 1958, the word Holocaust had not entered the language, so what do you expect?

I still don’t know what it is to think like a writer. I am an autodidact, self-taught, no MFA (I’m lucky). I escaped conditioning. I believe to become a great writer or a very good one the writer must avoid organized teaching. I think like a shrink, a father, a lover, a mensch, but not as a writer. When I come to write, I go inward, very inward, and I allow my unconscious to blast through, often ooze, into awareness; that is how I write. I count on all the rules I’ve broken, all the errors I’ve made over 40 years. I count on who I am. I write for me and no one else. I am very serious about what I write. I was a very serious child, I believe now, with a superego, alas, the size of New Jersey. I still am serious. I have no time to write dreck.

You labeled isolation and confusion over the nature of life as the twin tracks in my book of short stories. Allow me to consider that. I was isolated as a child and very confused about the nature of the world itself as I was left to my own devices. I was a bright, perhaps very intelligent child, who was left to lie fallow, to wit, the nutrients ultimately drained from out the fields. I was also alone. It took me decades to learn to dwell in that without fear. I am very inner-directed now. I do not recall having my parents ever embracing me with grand affection, enjoying the mere existence of my being. There was little physical — or verbal! — affection and so, as young people do, I assumed there was something wrong with me. I was marginal. I experienced myself as cold — far from it, but then, yes. Again, I do not start out as a “writer” to deal with such themes; I just allow myself to coalesce and then clot, not really concerned too much with plot, literature’s device for making us happy and contented readers.

DA: The concept of moral courage obviously shaped your world view.

MF: In Hebrew School, I learned a great deal about moral courage; the first book I ever was given, by Grandma Flo, she of vaudeville, was called Jewish Legends. I devoured that book. It entered my bloodstream. Almost 50 years later the legends became part of a dream sequence in my major work, The i Tetralogy. They were that significant. Allow me to make a tangential observation: at least in my too assimilated Jewish family, a book or encyclopedia would be given as a gift but with no follow-up. My father once brought me a violin. I was perplexed. Was I to start playing it without instructions? Am I a genius? It took me years to fathom the aimlessness of the gift, for it lacked nurturance, the oil of relationship.

Shadrach, Meschach and Abendigo obviously caught my attention, for they were morally stronger before their sentence to be consumed by the flames. I offered that to the readers decades later in the Tetraology, writing “What was in them before that made them so fearless? That is the question to ponder.” I was also tested at 13 by an anti-Semitic experience which was indelible. I describe that in detail in my book as well. The key point was that I became a defender of the faith without realizing it. The conditioning as a Jew had settled upon me and I was tested very young. I value Churchillian courage, the courage of the Hebrews in the early texts; I taught myself, on some primal levels, to know who I was and to honor it and to stand up to it. I am in debt to the Hebraic tradition.

The prophet Nathan comes down from the hills, enters the palace, and tells David off to his face about Uriah’s death and his fornication with Bathsheba. My hope is that I could do that without god behind me — that is balls. However, the lesson was not lost upon me; that we are alone; that our worth comes from within; that we seek justice and give it; that fear must be dispensed with while we quake from it. So, if an alien dropped down from the sky and greeted me, I’d probably stroke out; however, I’d go up against any hundred Nazis in a herd.

DA: You say a major revelation about yourself came when you were about thirty?

MF: I advanced as a human being when I met Rochelle. In 1969-70, I was in therapy, and she had been in therapy for several years and it definitely showed. I was wired, unsure, reeling from a disastrous first marriage and a damaging financial onus. The anecdote is basic: I asked Rochelle what she thought of a tie I had put on and she said that it was very nice. In my neuroticism I challenged her, and said, in effect, to cut it out and tell me the truth. It was a classic defense in action — en garde! Her response was part gesture, part words; stepping toward me, she looked at me caringly and said that it was, indeed a very good-looking tie. I was disarmed. I had been told the truth twice and each time rendered tenderly, sincerely. I was married to Rochelle for 29 years until she died in a horrific car accident in 1999. Rochelle nurtured me with respect, she was kind to me, she gave me all the ingredients that I needed to grow. Grades in a master’s program became only A. I began to write better, four years into our marriage, my first significant story was published, “Herbie,” which is in my present collection. I was listed with Norman Mailer, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Joyce Carol Oates in an anthology of short stories, edited by the famous Martha Foley, bless her soul. So, a nurturing marriage provided me with insight into myself and love.

The value of that experience was to see the failure in not selecting an occupation or profession that was more suitable. How can you do that unless you know who you are?

A shrink said to me once, with consternation, “Why in the world are you a teacher?” In short, she thought I could have done better for myself. (Because I didn’t know any better; because I did not have counseling or healthy parental input.) I thought safe and became ensconced in schools. What is more neurotically safe than tenure?

DA: You taught high school English and social studies in New York City. What was the value of that experience?

MF: “Nicholas” is one story that represents dismay; “Young Man” is a description of my despair as well. I hated it, yet I was terrific at it. You can’t keep the life force down. I wrote throughout the years I spent in the penal colony. I got two articles about my experience in one high school published in the New York Times — that poisoned my relationship with other teachers for years. Acting out, I enjoyed the turmoil, for what I had said was devastatingly true. I think of Alceste in The Misanthrope.

I ran an alternative high school for several years and that was exciting, but it lasted for a short time and was knocked down. I was a New York Jew in Suffolk County, the land of the nouveau riche. Although I have a few good memories of teaching, I rue the experience as wasted except for the serendipitous rewards one gets from it. Teachers in public schools are as much slaves as their students, except, unlike their students, they are castrated. Frank McCourt says much the same thing about his teaching “career.”

DA: What prompted you to become a psychotherapist?

MF: To know. Pain. Intellect. I became a therapist to learn about myself and if I learned enough, like a good Jew, I would share it with you as well. I was intellectually ambitious.

At times a morose thought haunted me: is that all there is? — ending with a stone that says teacher. I wanted to grow, to come to the end of my days with a better appreciation of who I was and what I could do. So I became a teacher, writer and psychotherapist, and they bind together as a triple helix, brushing shoulders here and there to produce better thinking, better writing, a better living existence. I am not driven, how appalling. I am a seeker. “Reach what you cannot,” Nikos Kazantzakis’ Cretan grandfather advises (Report to Greco).

I live with that injunction; I had settled for a while with “Reach what you can.” As I look back, I also remember reading Freud, not understanding much, but reading him in my college days for “fun.” Moses and Monotheism and his book on DaVinci are real mind pleasures. Years later I was interviewed by Robert Langs, a Freudian psychoanalyst, for his book Madness and Cure. I was Mr. Edwards. The upshot was that I fought off a crazy shrink unconsciously and consciously; Langs saw into me pretty well …

DA: It’s pretty amazing that you wrote the first part of The i Tetralogy over a two-week period.

MF: The very first lines of The Tetralogy were written on the back of a torn envelope retrieved from a glove compartment as I waited for a friend to come home. I began to write and write. When I left him, I wrote for a good part of the night and for most of the week. It was a short novella and really didn’t need much editing. It poured out of me. It was as if I had channeled the contents of my soul in this particular direction. I cannot recall what it felt like, but I can say that I did not have to ponder for a day or week what I was going to say.

I was not concerned with plot or event; I was concerned with saying what I had to say although I did not know what I had to say. I believe it was everything I had experienced as a young boy and man as a Jew; it was as if I had lanced a lifelong abscess.

DA: It’s a remarkable achievement to write the four books of The i Tetralogy without having firsthand experience of the death camps.

MF: Without grandiosity I share what Freud said about his Interpretation of Dreams, to wit, a book like that comes but once in a lifetime. I doubt I will ever again reach such depths as I did with that book –but who knows? One of the gifts of the four volumes was that I took the putty knife and scraped clean the inner windowsills of my self.

The Tetralogy is four books on a related subject. I decided very early on to write volume 2, feeling that I had to strike while the iron was hot, to tell the story now from the point of view of the perpetrator. “i” was told in first person tense from the point of view of the victim. I consciously chose first person for the immediacy of that tense; and that was a killer to do.

It worked! You can taste things in that book, all kinds of sense and feelings. What you are asking is a profound question and I will kick it right back to you, Kafka never was a bug; Melville never was Ahab (or was he?). Acts of imagination can more than compensate for first-hand experience.

Allow me to dig my heels and go deeper. I believe that each of us is capable of being an executioner. I believe man is a damaged creature, he shits and sings from openings. I do not enthrall him. At times I find myself experiencing repugnance as a member of this species. We are invested in our magnitude. I turn rocks over to see the grubs others might choose not to see — that is a writer!

I became a Nazi. I felt what it was to become a Nazi. In the book, I composed Nazi “poetry.” Does this frighten you? Perhaps it should, because I believe there is a Nazi in each of us — loosely tethered at that. The T-Rex in our brain stems, the amygdala in juice. You ask how could people imagine such things? I reply, to wit, because it is in you and it is in me. “On the Holocaust” is a talk I gave on a military base in Arizona in commemoration of the Holocaust. It can be accessed on my website, mathiasfreese.com. I go into it much more deeply. I believe if we take hold of the handrails that line our inner conscious recesses we can walk these cavernous hallways into the darkest recesses of human behavior. Care to join me?

DA: Can you explain why you believe most everything we need to know about nature, and gods, is at the center of the apocalyptic nightmare of the holocaust?

MF: The Holocaust is today; human behavior is today. One of the greatest gifts of Judaism is memory. We don’t put it behind us and get on with it. We process – we metabolize — the past. That is why Jesse Jackson and Mel Gibson so misread Jews.

We remember. I view the Shoah as the quintessential statement of the human race. In it is everything you need to know about the species. “Never Again,” doesn’t even approach the issue. We are dealing with the primal, innate template of each of us — and early reports are that it is metastatic.

In the Raison d’ Etre of the Tetralogy, I write about “the confession” of the Commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolph Hoess, who was required to write it prior to his hanging in 1947. A riveting book, perplexing and reptilian in its fascination, here was a man who had studied to be a seminarian, yet ended his life as a loyal and dedicated Nazi. The book has always stayed in mind, for within its pages is the entire Rosetta stone to the Nazi mind, to humankind gone to seed.

Hoess’s autobiographical tale stayed with me, made a deposit in my unconscious. If I recall correctly, the book is matter-of-fact, which makes it awful. It is descriptive and lacks self-analysis and moral insight. That makes it appalling.

I believe that the Holocaust, if we have centuries to come, will be revisited over and over again for the truths it reveals about human nature — and our species. I believe that the array of human behaviors revealed by the victims, the perpetrators and the bystanders reflects mightily about the inward processes of each one of us. There is no escaping this fact. We flee more from light than darkness. The Holocaust compels us to examine why we behaved and acted in such ways; it goes way beyond the Germans and Nazism. The Holocaust is a Baedecker into the human species. Pause for a second: what about humanity — its gods, its religions, its cultures, arts and so on — is not subsumed under Holocaust?

We are often moral cowards. I choose not to believe that there is a secondary school in this country that has a brave teacher who examines the Holocaust as part and parcel of human nature — oh, no, we escape with political, economic and social causes, all the drivel of intellectually deficient teachers who have to hurry to the next unit plan. I remember teachers spending little time on the Holocaust in social studies classes; I gave it my best effort in English class.

DA: You’ve endured your own tragedies over the years?

MF: What can I say? If you read the autobiographical essay at the end of the Tetralogy I write about the death of my wife and the suicide of my oldest daughter. I have had significant losses in my life, who will not? I go on. Closure is for simpletons. I will go on until it is my turn. What is there to learn from such tragic losses? To move on over the crack in the sidewalk, to take Lipitor, to lose weight and stop smoking. Loss is life’s signal for us to query forever.

DA: Could you elaborate on your notion that language is truly the Internet of the human race?

MF: It’s not called the web for nothing. What I imagine, what I say about what I imagine, is already in you. Human beings are a species that are universally alike; so it is the writer’s task, I feel, to simply have them stand on one strand on the web as I jump up and down on a distant strand, and the ripple effect is sent along and the resonance is felt by all similarly. Language provides that. We are all interlocked in our similar innate traits; the great writer, I imagine, uses that web as a trampoline, the rest of us are happy with a hearty ripple, if that.


Reviewed By Heather Osborne for Readers’ Favorite

I Truly Lament: Working Through the Holocaust by Mathias B. Freese is a unique compilation of short stories, taking the reader on a psychological journey through the emotions elicited by the Holocaust. Beginning with a man calling out to a golem, a Jewish monster from folklore, for assistance in escaping his tormentors, the stories provide a different perspective on the Holocaust. There are ones told from the perspective of prisoners in the concentration camps to a mock radio interview with Hitler’s lover, Eva Braun. The author offers the perspective of a Holocaust revisionist, someone who does not believe the Holocaust happened the way it is described, in the form of a letter. The collection concludes with the golem questioning his reason for existence.

I have read many books about the Holocaust as I find the subject very interesting from a psychological standpoint. I have to say though, that Mr. Freese has placed an entirely new twist on the subject. I will admit to being perplexed at first, having expected something a bit different. As the collection unfolded, I was drawn into the raw emotion. I particularly enjoyed the story, “Cantor Matyas Balogh.” Matyas found love so late in life, only to have it ripped from him. Freese does not just tell a tale, he creates a basis for reflection. I believe that he is completely correct when he states that someone can never truly understand the Holocaust. We can write about it, but the lasting impact on the people that survived can never be put into words. I Truly Lament is a remarkable collection that will leave the reader speechless.

The following are comments from your reviewer and do NOT appear in your final review. Usually these are concerns your reviewer had that they did not want to put in your final review. However, if these comments are positive you are welcome to quote them or even add them to your review.

I’ve said all I can say in the review, but thank you for letting me read this. I am truly blown away by your artistry, more than I can possibly convey in my short review. I hope I have done your book justice
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