Found and Lost: Mittens

While confined

Vis our quarantine: I wrote the following short essay for Notting Hill Edition‘s newsletter as an introduction to a reprinted extract  from FOUND AND LOST: Mittens, Miep and Shovelsful of Dirt:

‘Whilst quarantined with the symptoms of Coronavirus, I spend my days dozing, reading, streaming infotainment, writing, drinking coffee and savouring a single wedge of Panettone at four. I haven’t left this apartment in three weeks and white and pink blossoms have just begun to appear on the Ailanthus trees along the street below. At night, the lights of the Empire State Building blink like a red siren. Against the backdrop of this eerie lazaretto, I conjure dear Miep casting her net for vegetables, potatoes, whatever food she could cadge day after day, then hauling it up the steep wooden stairway to the eight people barricaded inside. I recall her description of the eyes of those pale people swallowing her thirstily when she’d appear on the landing and Anne’s – always Anne’s – rapid-fire barrage of questions – “What’s in the bag? What’s the news?

Miep told me that she would never forget the night she and Jan, at Anne’s request, slept overnight in the hiding place: “All through the night I heard each ringing of the Westertoren clock. I never slept, I couldn’t close my eyes . . .  For the first time I knew what it was like to be a Jew in hiding.”

Miep and the other helpers brought daily solace with face-to-face visits, library books, even a cake one day out of the more than seven hundred and fifty days that her friends remained (silent all day) in four small rooms whose windows were always covered. All the while Anne Frank was writing and rewriting her private diary on the backs of the old account books that Miep had scavenged for her.

I once proudly gave the Hebrew edition of Anne Frank Remembered to a cousin living in Tel Aviv whilst I was staying with her. Esther had survived World War II in the forests of Romania, freezing and eating roots and grass with partisans. She had seen her own father murdered by someone who wanted his boots; was barely in her teens when she sailed to Israel on an Exodus ship. A few days after receiving my book, Esther came into the small guest room holding it. She sat on the end of my cot and, in a cavalier tone, stated: “I hope you’ll forgive me, Alison. But the life of these people in your book was like living at the Hilton Hotel, compared to the rest of us.” Compared to Anne and the others Miep was hiding, I’m at the Hilton now.

Finally, my cough and chills are abating. My sense of smell hasn’t returned. Oh, how I worry that it won’t. That Miep and Anne’s enemy was a boot-wearing Nazi scourge rather than a mindless submicroscopic pathogen makes me ashamed of my grumblings, though in both cases a myriad of people are suffering and dying daily. Alike and not alike. One commonality strikes me, though: just as Amsterdam’s Westertoren bells rang day and night, chimes from St. Columba’s Catholic church on the street below peal as well, punctuating my seamless, odorless, run-on days. Anne wrote: “Father, Mother and Margot can’t get used to the chiming of the Westertoren clock. Not me, I liked it from the start. It sounds so reassuring, especially at night.”  I think so too.’

Alison Gold and Miep Gies

(From Notting Hill Editions newsletter)Alison Leslie Gold’s works include Anne Frank Remembered, written with Miep Gies, Memories of Anne Frank: Reflections of a Childhood Friend, A Special Fate, Fiet’s Vase and Other Stories of Survival and Found and Lost: Mittens, Miep, and Shovelfuls of Dirt. Her non-fiction work has received numerous tributes including a Best of the Best Award, a Notable Book for a Global Society Award. This week’s short read is from FOUND AND LOST: Mittens, Miep, and Shovelfuls of Dirt by Alison Leslie Gold. Miep Gies risked her life to shelter Anne Frank’s family in the secret attic rooms of an Amsterdam office. After years of silence, Alison Leslie Gold became the only writer whom Miep trusted with her story. Together, they co-wrote Anne Frank Remembered. Gold’s friendship with Miep changed her life, and was key in helping her on the long road to recovery from addiction. The extract charts that first meeting. (Extract not included here … can be found in Section IV – Found and Lost)




“…full of wry humor and quiet desolation…”- Review in TLS

From the April 20, 2018 issue of TLS


Alison Leslie Gold


Mittens, Miep, and shovelfuls of dirt*

180pp. Notting Hill Editions UK. £14.99. US edition $7.oo – $16.95.

ISBN 978 1 910749 59 3

The Holocaust historian Alison Leslie Gold has made a career out of piecing together stories that might otherwise have been lost to history. Anne Frank Remembered rescued the story of Miep Gies, one of the Dutch citizens who hid Frank and safeguarded her diary after her death. In Found and Lost, a memoir composed of letters, Gold attempts to recover her own history, reckoning with the death not only of Gies, but also of her parents, lifelong friends and even a lover. Writing to a childhood companion, she comments, “My deathbed duties (aunt, mentor, father, role-model, lover, mother) seem to be at an end for the time being as all of the above have passed on”. Full of wry humour and quiet desolation, Gold’s voice is a large part of what makes this book so compelling. Found and Lost meditates on the incomplete, unreliable and miscellaneous nature of letters. As the book’s “series of deaths” unfolds, we encounter poignant fragments of correspondence (Gold’s sister’s letters chronicling their mother’s deterioration, without any of her responses), unexpected connections (earnest enquiries from readers of Anne Frank Remembered along with Gold’s diligent answers) and letters that go unanswered (spam emails and a sycophantic literary agent floating the possibility of Gold’s writing “something like Patti Smith’s Just Kids”). This juxtaposition of quotidian detail with profound sorrow in Found and Lost is often very moving. “‘My own life’ was never really my own at all”, Gold writes. “It was only ever a fabric of which, if I am the weft, then my loved-ones are the warp.” This sentiment appears at its most harrowing in the fond, intimate letters Gold writes to a deceased friend, Lily: “Who else to write to but you with this news”, she begins one of them, when she hears that Miep Gies has died. Though Gold is aware that nothing can prevent the pain of loss, her intimate address becomes as much a struggle against life’s contingency as a meditation on ageing and death. Formal experimentation here sometimes comes at the expense of clarity. It is not always apparent how the book’s distinct forms (letter, autobiographical prose and disjointed poetic description) relate to one another and cohere. Nevertheless, in its attention to even the most minute emotions, this memoir captures the rough texture of lived experience in a way that often eludes more straightforward autobiography.    


[*TO Order “Found and Lost” : USA




or order from your local independent bookshop]

“Was I sleeping while the others suffered?”

“Was I sleeping while the others suffered? Am I sleeping now? Tomorrow, when I wake, or think I do, what shall I say of today? That with Estragon, my friend, at this place, until fall of night, I waited for Godot?”

[from Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett]

[- see visual -Barry McGovern as Vladimir in Waiting for Godot]

On International Holocaust Memorial Day, January 27th, genocide/s inflicted during World War II are meant to be commemorated worldwide. Following, is an extract from Fiet’s Vase and Other Stories of Survival, Europe 1939-1945 taken from the Introduction to Part II.  It makes an effort to put this seventy-plus-year-old backdrop to that Holocaust in context:

World War II lasted for 2,174 days. The precise sum of what was lost between 1939 and 1945 is incalculable. Even the numbers – civilian as well as military deaths – are not precise. Estimates are that 362,561 Americans, 484.482 British and members of the British Commonwealth died, so did 420,343 Greeks, 240,000 Dutch, 6 million Polish, more than 6.8 million Germans, 3 million Japanese (138,890 in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima), 6 million Chinese, more than 20 million Russians (among them 3-5 million murdered prisoners of war) . Two hundred and fifty thousand Gypsies, and tens of thousands of homosexuals, disabled and mentally defective people were murdered. In total, in Asia and Africa, Australia and Europe – Romania, Hungary; Czechoslovakia, France, Austria, Lithuania, Latvia, Belgium, Yugoslavia, Italy, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Norway; Luxembourg – more than 46 million died. Six million Jews from across Europe died, a million or more of them children. The attempt to destroy the entire Jewish population of Europe is now commonly described as the Holocaust or Shoah.

Of the estimated 3.3 million Jews living in prewar Poland, 3 million were annihilated during the war. Poland became the central convergence and collecting point for transports of deported Jews from across Europe. Millions of Jewish people were dropped there, from trains that headed back to collect more human cargo and return to Poland. Raul Hilberg describes how “a man would step off a train in the morning and in the evening his corpse was burned and his clothes packed away for shipment to Germany.” Six major (and many minor) death camps were located on Polish soil – Kulmhof. Belzec, Sobibor, Lublin, Treblinka and Auschwitz. Gas was the preferred method of annihilation, leaving Polish soil soaked with Jewish blood like no other part of Europe.

Very little slipped through death’s fingers in Poland. Yet a few of the doomed did live.







It seems to me as if, after a brief pause to sit up and rub our eyes, we never really awakened from yesterdays bad dream. We seem to be lying in that very same springless bed while related nightmare/s continue.  According to UNHCR, the U.N. Refugee agency:

We are now witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record.

An unprecedented 65.6 million people around the world have been forced from home. Among them are nearly 22.5 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18.

There are also 10 million stateless people who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement.

In a world where nearly 20 people are forcibly displaced every minute as a result of conflict or persecution, our work at UNHCR is more important than ever before.

And those mentioned by UNCHR count refugees and those displaced, but not the other million forms of misery, torment, wars, drone strikes, oppression, cruelty, persecution spangling history since the much-memorialized world from 1939-1945. Here’s Beckett’s quote reconfigured, from one who, like Vladimir, is often supine. (Forgive me Sam.) Then, reconfigured again:

Am I sleeping while the others suffer? Was I sleeping then? Yesterday, when I woke, or thought I did, what  did I say of yesterday? That with Miep, my friend, at that place, until fall of night, I waited for Godot?

Will I sleep while the others suffer? Will I sleep soon? Today, when I wake, or think I do, what shall I say of tomorrow? That with Micah, my grandson, at this place, until fall of night, I await Godot?

[drawing by Yacob]


A review, an audio podcast, sick as a dog

 [- Jan Steen, “The Sick Woman” 1665 -]

I never get sick. I’d be the first to tell you that. But then, once in a blue moon, I do. Like now. Throat closed, frogs voice, sweaty, hot/cold, achy, sleepy, sleeping, sleepish. Sheets damp, new sheets, damp sheets. Its been this way for a week while, one by one, threads of life’s passions gripped in my fist, have floated away like balloons. My threadbare hand hangs limply.

A review of my recently published book Found and Lost: Mittens, Miep, Shovelfuls of Dirt is received. Here it is:









The review’s in the The Jewish Chronicle, London, 11 January 2018 issue. [Click link to read.] Hard to focus on anything, let alone even one spinning plate – work, tasks, promises. Don’t know how I feel about the review. Sweats. Heavy sleep. Croaking voice. Days, nights, come, go, don’t end, don’t begin. Those once spun plates have rolled onto their sides, like sad dreidels after a holiday. I receive an edited version of an interview done at The Montague on the Gardens Hotel, Bloomsbury, London, last October. I listen, am satisfied, even pleased. [Click link to listen too. But, beware, it’s a half hour interview.]

The interview was conducted by George Miller who is a silky smooth, bright reviewer, daddy of the highly-respected podcast – author’s talking about books, writing, politics and more. George is originally from Scotland. Listening to him pose thoughtful questions, I wonder, Why are Scottish folks always so bright and sweet? George made it seem so easy, did make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. I write him a grateful email then sink back into deeply dented pillows. You’d think I just ran for a train ….

Days pass. Can’t really read, can’t watch Netflix, tv, it hurts to speak on the telephone. The one thing I repetitively do is listen to talking books on my iPad, eyes tightly closed, not always knowing (never caring) if it’s day or night. I cherish John Le Carré’s Absolute Friends read by the author; smile and sweat to Alan Bennett’s The Laying on of Hands, also read by the author; come in and out of sweaty dozes to Nicotine by Gregor Hens (translated from the German, translator unknown by me) read by liam Gerrard.

I must be on 29th street at 12. I dress, overdress, sit and catch my breath, wipe the back of my neck with a kitchen towel. I’ve missed the fortnight of deep freeze and blizzard, but see from my window that piles of dirty snow remain. Some cars have managed to dig themselves out, others not. In the elevator I stand as far away as I can from a neighbor boy eating a Kit Kat bar. We’re used to seeing each other. He asks:

Want to hear a riddle.


What do you call someone who can sit on a Gummy Bear and tell you what color it is?


A smart ass.

As I already knew the punchline, it’s not easy to smile, but I try. I knew it with a Life Saver rather than a Gummy Bear.

He licks along the edge of his candy bar.

Do you know any riddles?

It’s hard to think, my scarf and hat weighs a ton. But, ah-ha, my child’s brain isn’t daunted.

Why is a barefoot boy like an Eskimo?


The barefoot boy wears no shoes and the Eskimo wears snowshoes.

He grunts rather than reacts to the punchline, dashes back toward the laundry room as soon as the door opens.  I can’t tell if my riddle hit or missed.

An hour later, weak, dripping, I’m squeezed into the same elevator with three of my neighbors. I cover my mouth with my scarf as a precaution, gesturing to all who nod and understand that I’m under the weather. Before we reach the 12th floor, I’m an expert in their similar illnesses.

Mine lasted two weeks. Awful.

No. It takes twenty-one days to run its course.

The last to speak holds a bag of what must be Chinese food because it’s filled the elevator with the smell of fried rice.

Mine hung on… then it went away. Then … it returned for a week. Chicken soup’s the ticket.

Once inside, am incapable of going back across the street to order fried rice for lunch (breakfast?) though I’m hungry now. I drop pieces of clothing on the hallway floor as I stumble toward the bedroom. My clothing is just too heavy to hang up. Am utterly drained by the time I slip back between sheet and duvet once more.

Letter to a dead friend. Promise kept.

Dear Lily,

The memory of our long day together in 2009 in Athens remains lodged in my viscera. Though I’m not one for remembering dates, or years, or who wore what when, as you are/were, I am certain of the date because – after thirty-nine consecutive years of friendship – I never saw you alive after it. Nor did we ever have another afternoon tea together as only you could prepare it – milky, sweet – and I never saw your green eyes change color again. Since then, I’ve been making and bringing the tea, and it doesn’t compare in flavor to yours. As you well remember – do you? – less than ten hours after I left to catch a boat to Hydra, between night and dawn, your heart stopped. When next I kissed you, you were stretched out in an open coffin that had been transported from Athens by caique and placed below your house beside the sea. Your arms were crossed over your big heart.  Soon you were hoisted to the nearby church, then carried up those stone steps by young Greeks to the freshly dug grave on the hilltop off the Vlihus road overlooking the sea.

Since then, I’ve relished my many visits with you there, me sitting or lying on the flat grave stone beside yours, drinking tea, coffee, wine for you, breaking fresh bread, a breeze or lazy bees passing between us …. Because you’d given your permission to me to write about you/our friendship before you died, I’ve recounted that last day in my recent book published beautifully by Notting Hill Editions, UK, in October, to be published by New York Review of Books Press, USA, this coming March.  [Excerpt follows ***] In my telling, I neglected to mention, among your other bequests on that fateful day, the cellophane package that appeared from which you removed a long-sleeved pink child’s shirt onto which a white tree-of-hearts with a bird on top had been sewn. You explained: I found this at the flea market. Locking eyes with mine, you instructed: This is for Thor and Talia when they have a baby. Give it to them!

I promised I would, of course, meaning well, then took it to Hydra with me, then Amsterdam, then New York, where I put it aside as no baby seemed to be on the horizon. One by one, others died, then death after death. After various seasons, my hair became entirely white, later I discovered that my feet were longer and wider than they once had been. I’m not kidding, Lily. Now I understood why my shoes had been bothering me in recent years – I was buying the wrong size, wrong width. To keep my promise, I hung onto the gift though no baby materialized to which I could present it. It seemed as if this would always be so. New books were written, published, unpublished, I sold my Hydra house, de-cluttered my NY apartment in several stages filling bags and bags with debris from my past, but not the child’s shirt from the Athens flea market against decreasing odds.

There were two cataract surgeries, I went to Iceland with my sisters. While we were gazing up at the sky  above the Arctic Circle seeing Northern Lights for the very first time, I later learned that Mother Nature had been busy far away in Los Angeles. Did we dare to  hope? Yes and no. Yes: Hope against hope. No. Not wanting to endure one more heartbreak. But, we all held our breath. Months passed slowly … On November 7th, weighing in at 7 pounds 14 ounces, an alabaster creature appeared on stage. He received a wondrous name – Micah – after a kindly prophet from the Old Testament. When we knew he was healthy, a collective sigh was audible from coast to coast and heavy weights fell from shoulders, yours too, I’m sure. In December I packed a suitcase full of gifts. Your package was included and on the 14th of December I was able to put my arms around warm little Micah for both of us. I handed Micah’s father (your little American peanut of long ago) the shirt, From Lily, I told him. Promise kept! More in April when I climb the Hydra hill to sit beside you. Will bring photos, ask for your advise on various issues. I must admit, I’m scratching my head as am amazed you knew there would be a baby when no one else did. But, then again, you’ve always been smarter than the rest of us. Until Spring.

Yr. A.

[Lily’s portrait painted on block of wood by French sculptor Jean-Noel Lavesvre]


[*** condensed from Part I, from letters to our French friend Ruffe – Found and Lost: Mittens, Miep, Shovelfuls of Dirt – available at New York Review of Books Press website]Dear Ruffe,

Lily hadn’t been to Hydra for two years. She’d been holed up at the family’s Athens apartment. She was out of the hospital ten days when I arrived on September 29th. ‘I was born in a warm place,’ she told me: ‘Tehran. My children and husband want me to go to England, for better medical services, but I don’t like the cold. I don’t like the Anglo Saxon.’

Lily’s emphysema had progressed to the point where now she was tethered to a large oxygen tank. The tumour in her breast that she had refused to have treated had metastasized and was now inoperable. (Once, she took my hand and put it on what then felt like an asparagus tip.) ‘Maybe I’m eighty-five,’ she told me, ‘or ninety. I’ve lost count.’ She wasn’t kidding: she had often falsified her age upward as well as downward through her life when it suited her.

Rather than rush from Athens airport to Hydra, and because she had said ‘Hurry’ when I had spoken with her on the phone, I’d made a hotel reservation in Athens. In the morning, I stole a bag full of breakfast foods from the hotel dining room to bring with me. Like I’d done in the past, I spent the entire day with Lily. Arrived at 9:30, left at 7:30 in the evening.

In the course of the day we ate spinach pies, halvah, slices of marble cake, hard boiled eggs, toast, bacon, croissants, rolls, jam, butter, cheese, salami. We ate like horses. I’d also picked up a loaf of bread and a string of garlic from the market. During our day together she wrote letters of farewell to her granddaughters, taped a message of farewell for my son, referring to him as her ‘third child’, found several £20 notes in a copy book and gave one to me for my son.

She summoned me to the bathroom. I came. She was naked, standing, stretching without the help of the oxygen tank.

I will send this now and continue when I’m less jittery. …



Dear Ruffe,

As in the past, we took naps in the afternoon; Lily slept in her chair beside the oxygen tank. The house was knee-deep in clutter: treasures to Lily, garbage to others. Because there had been an infestation of giant cockroaches, I had refused to sleep over or even nap in recent years, but not that day, so for an hour or two all was silent.

Lily’s green marbled eyes burnt with delight while she peeled a large, bone-yellow garlic clove, then folded it into a fat slice of bread. This was something she had done all her life: either rub garlic on bread, or fold it inside to swallow it whole.

As usual, when I left she stood on the terrace and blew kisses to me while I waved and blew kisses to her, walking slowly backward toward the corner. She was wearing an overly large metal-grey second-hand man’s Armani jacket that I had arrived wearing and had given to her. As we had for all thirty-nine years of our friendship, I turned the corner, paused, then unturned the corner, went back, to wave again. Of course she had not moved, stood waving, looking like a young woman. She had always outwaved me; I was always the one to leave first.

The next morning, September 30th, I took the first hydrofoil to Hydra. At 11 a.m. Lily’s husband Alan telephoned to say that a few hours after I’d left, Lily had felt an intense pain in her stomach. She had toughed it out through the night but at dawn he’d called an ambulance. She died in the ambulance: ‘With no fear,’ he told me.

My first thought was: Death by garlic. It occurred to me that, having been in the hospital for two weeks hardly eating because she did not want the indignity of a bedpan, she knew perfectly well that gorging all day, as we had, would be lethal to her system. Since she would be forever attached to an oxygen tank, she might have swallowed a garlic clove as big as the Ritz so as to die at a time of her own choosing. This would have been in her Russian character.

The coffin was brought by boat to the harbor of Kamini, our little village on Hydra, below the house we knew so well that she inhabited for more than sixty years; a house which, I was once told, she had bought for a single gold sovereign. She had retreated to the island because, she said, the war had made the world unfit to inhabit (unless it was that the war had made her unfit to inhabit the world). The Orthodox service took place at the church ten steps from her house. She was buried in the graveyard along the road that stretches to Vlichos, the final village on the west side of the island. …




Journey inside a terrarium

Train stations: Penn Station, Bath Spa Station, Waterloo Station, London Euston Station, St. Pancras Station, Gare du Nord

Airports: JFK, Heathrow, Charles de Gaulle

Hotels: Annabelle’s Guest House, Fitzroy, Montague On The Gardens, Hotel Zora, Dolce Chantilly

Book launched: Found and Lost: Mittens, Miep and Shovelfuls of Dirt

Publisher: Notting Hill Editions, – available to order

Blurb: In this haunting memoir, Alison Gold gives a luminous account of key moments in her life that brought her to be the writer she is. They tell of her early activism; they tell of her descent into alcoholism; they tell of her recovery; they tell of her discovery of the power of writing to give a shape and meaning to a life. Found and Lost is both a tender memorial to the extraordinary people in her life, and a compelling tale of redemption.

Starting with her childhood experience of running her primary school ‘Lost and Found’ depot, Gold develops, though a series of letters, a meditation on ageing, friendship, loss and the forces that link us to the dead. In the very act of writing, she begins to find a route out of depression and grief.

Alison Leslie Gold is best known for her works that have kept alive stories from the time of the Holocaust, stories of courage and survival – most famously her Anne Frank Remembered, co-authored with Miep Gies (who risked her life to protect the Frank family). She has never chosen to write about her own life or what made her into a gatherer of other people’s stories, until now, in Found and Lost. For she has chosen to go back to her childhood in order to chart the origin of her need to save objects, stories, people – including herself – who she has sensed to be on a road to perdition

Praise for Alison Leslie Gold: ‘Let us give recognition to Alison Gold. Without her and her talent, too, this poignant account, vibrating with humanity, would not have been written.’ – Ellie Wiesel on Anne Frank Remembered

Atmospherics in terrarium – October 21 -22: Orionide Meteor Shower, best just before dawn.

The Orionid Meteor Shower in 2012 [by Jeffrey Sullivan/Flickr]

The Orionid Meteor Shower will reach its peak on Friday night and Saturday morning, with the best viewing shortly before dawn (wherever you are).

Last year, the annual show was less than spectacular — a bright gibbous moon hung in the sky for most of the night, stealing the glory from the meteors.

But this year, there’s barely a sliver of moon in sight — the new moon was just on Thursday. And much of America can expect a nearly cloudless sky, to boot.

NASA says that viewers can expect to see up to 20 meteors an hour during the peak of the shower. If you miss it tonight, you can try again in the wee hours of Sunday morning, and a few stray meteors might still be spotted as late as Nov. 7.

Here’s some advice on how to watch, from NASA:

“As with observing any meteor shower, get to a dark spot, get comfortable, bring blankets to stay warm, and let your eyes adjust to the dark sky. A cozy lounge chair makes for a great seat, as does simply lying on your back on a blanket, eyes scanning the whole sky.

“The Orionids are so named as they seem to originate, or radiate, from near the famous constellation Orion. However, they will appear to streak across the entire sky.”

“The comet last visited Earth in 1986 and will return next in 2061.

“As Comet Halley moves through space, it leaves debris in its wake that strikes Earth’s atmosphere most fully around October 20-22, every year. The comet is nowhere near, but, around this time every year, Earth is intersecting the comet’s orbit.”

The Orionid meteor shower is not the most prolific of the annual meteor showers (the more-prolific Perseids are more famous for a reason, and the Leonids have provided some of the most stunning shows in history). But the fast-moving meteors in the Orionid shower can produce occasional bright fireballs, and can leave “persistent trains” lingering briefly in the sky, Earthsky writes.