Review of The Tattooist of Auschwitz

As a former high school History teacher, I am only too familiar with the horrific details of the Holocaust — the concerted attempt by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime to exterminate Europe’s Jewish population by any means necessary during the Second World War.

Thus, it was with some trepidation that I picked up the best-selling novel, The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris.

The book is an account of the struggles of real-life Holocaust survivor, Lale Sokolov – the tattooist of the book’s title – to stay alive in the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps using his wit and cunning, while at the same time pursuing an improbable, but bitter-sweet, romantic relationship with a fellow Slovakian Jewish inmate named Gita Furman.

It is a story of human suffering and man’s inhumanity to man, but also one of hope, love and endurance.

Critics have not been kind to the book.

Many, like the Auschwitz Memorial Research Centre, claim that “the book contains numerous errors and information inconsistent with the facts, as well as exaggerations, misinterpretations and understatements.”

The Guardian’s critic Jane Housham referred to the book as a “glossing over of the concentration camps’ unremitting misery with sugary romance.”

Fair enough, but The Tattooist of Auschwitz is clearly labelled “A Novel” on its front cover. To approach it in the same manner as a non-fiction historical account is unfair and sure to be disappointing.

We’re all familiar with movies that include the preface: “Based on a true story.” Well, that’s what this book is — a story based on the first-person reminiscences of 87-year-old Holocaust survivor Lake Sokolov. Like all first-person accounts, it may have its intrinsic problems.

Having said that, does its historical inaccuracies detract from the novel’s effectiveness in telling a good story while at the same time introducing many readers to the horrors of the Holocaust for the first time?

I think not.

Indeed, historical fiction is a controversial genre as evidenced by a recent New York Times piece about ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz’ and the History in Historical Fiction. To read this article, click here.

In short, it is best to approach the book as an historical novel based on the experiences of a real-life Holocaust survivor. Viewed in this way, I can say with confidence that this novel should become a welcome addition to the Holocaust canon.

If it encourages readers to pick up a non-fiction account of the Holocaust, that’s even better.

I give The Tattooist of Auschwitz 4 Stars out 4 and highly recommend it.

Rick Young, January 23, 2019

Addendum: When I began teaching high school History in the late 1970s, I took it upon myself to interview several local Holocaust survivors for use with my students when we covered the topic. To be sure, it was one of the most humbling and moving experiences in my life.

Unfortunately, in my moves to four different schools during my 30-year career, the taped interviews got lost in the shuffle.

Reflections on the Gillette “The Best Men Can Be” Ad

By now, you have probably seen the Gillette television ad, “The Best Men Can Be.”

If not, watch it before you read this Blog.

I have hesitated to comment on the controversial so-called Gillette “Toxic Masculinity” commercial for a couple of reasons — not least among them, the prospect of being labelled a “toxic male.”

But it’s time to weigh in, so let’s get started…

First, the use of the term “Toxic Masculinity” is, for me, a “red flag” or “buzz word” in that it demonizes all males with one wide brush stroke.

Masculinity, as defined by the Urban Dictionary, is: “…an aspirational and normative style of being and living as a natural-born man that a critical mass of the members of that population applaud.”

Toxic is: “used to describe a person who is tainted by a subconscious malevolence or psychosis that affects the lives of those who come into contact with them.”

Put them together and you end up with: “A social science term that describes narrow repressive type of ideas about the male gender role, that defines masculinity as exaggerated masculine traits like being violent, unemotional, sexually aggressive, and so forth.”

Now, I support the underpinnings and goals of the modern #MeToo movement as much as the next person. But, to have the term “toxic masculinity” thrown in my face if I tell an off-colour joke, watch an afternoon of football on TV, or use the phrase “Be a man” off -the-cuff is a bit much.

To use the term in a corporate ad to boost sales of a sagging product smacks of capitalist opportunism.

Second, as much as I don’t like them, I have grown accustomed to ads that portray men as stereotypical “lovable, clueless oafs or the alpha male who gets the girl.”

Now, I know that the cosmetics industry has traditionally inundated women with ads suggesting that they are inadequate and in need of betterment, usually regarding their physical appearance. Just think of the endless ads for moisturizers and creams to fix wrinkles, hair colouring to hide the gray, concealer for under-eye bags and endless diets to shed that fat.

Personally, I find these types of ads offensive and an affront to my female friends and relatives.

Frankly, I find Gillette’s attempt to tell me that something’s broken and I need to work to fix it just as offensive.

Yes, I am very aware that there are some bad hombres out there. But is it my job to show them the error of their ways and set them on a different path?

As a former high school teacher and football coach, I always felt that I was a role model to my male students and players, whether I wanted the job or not.

Without preaching, I was quick to point out and correct what I thought was inappropriate behaviour on the part of my male students and players towards their female counterparts, but to refer to any of them as toxic?


And I don’t need Gillette or any other corporations telling me what to do in their pursuit of higher profits.

And, third, at the risk of being called a “Snowflake,” I am miffed at being called “part of the problem” and told I need to “get my head checked” if I dare question the contents and motives behind the Gillette ad.

Gillette representatives, themselves, say, “the controversy was not the intended goal of the ad, which is part of a larger campaign that takes a look at redefining Gillette’s longtime tagline The Best a Man Can Get.”

In short, if the ad ends up hurting the company’s sales, you can bet it will be pulled regardless of its positive underlying message.

I welcome your Comments.

Rick Young, January 16, 2019

Ken Thorne is still rockin’ after all these years

Long-time London musician Ken Thorne’s musical journey began in his native England playing the Recorder in elementary school before taking up the Violin and then the Viola in his secondary school’s orchestra. 

“I don’t even remember the names of the strings on those instruments.  But it was great fun being part of an organized orchestral sound,” he recalls.

The young Thorne joined his family’s Church choir where his musical efforts paid off financially.

“It was a bit mercenary actually as one got paid for singing at weddings and funerals,” he says. “It taught me a lot about vocals.”

A local youth club held Saturday night teenage dances where Ken and his friends could listen to the latest records of the day.

“Just before we came to Canada in November 1962, kids in woodworking class started building their own guitars as everyone was really into the guitar groups like The Shadows. I don’t think any of them were ever playable,” Ken laughs.

The music bug really bit him in Grade 11 at London’s Wheable Secondary School where he befriended guitarist George Attrill who could play tunes, like “Walk Don’t Run” by The Ventures. They decided Ken would get a guitar and play rhythm while George would play lead.

“Dad got me a Kent guitar and a small amplifier from Eaton’s. I paid a schoolmate a pack of cigarettes to teach me the E chord, so I could play the song “Bo Diddley” by Ronnie Hawkins.  I thought it was great that you could play a song made up of one chord,” Ken recalls.

In 1963, the British Invasion spearheaded by The Beatles and Rolling Stones hit the airwaves. For teenage Ken Thorne, it was a defining moment.

“One just had to learn to play those tunes you heard everyday and lots of guys got into guitar-playing and forming little cliques. Some even had the aim of playing music. George and I recruited a singer and drummer and learned enough songs to bluff our way through a Teen Town gig in the basement of All Saints Church on Hamilton Road.  We were called The Tek-niques and it soon became a regular occurrence.”

Following The Tek-niques came A Small Experience with Ken on rhythm guitar and vocals, George Attrill, lead guitar and vocals, Rob Pugh, bass guitar and vocals, and well-known London drummer Graham Lear, who would go on to play with the likes of George Olliver, Santana and Paul Anka.

“We played British and American rock cover tunes while most of the other bands in London were into the Soul R & B thing,” says Ken.

They played University Frat Houses, Wonderland Gardens and the teen dance circuit in halls and arenas.

Eventually Ken was told by his parents that he had to get a “real” job, and the band dissolved shortly afterwards. 

“I ended up working at London Life Insurance Company and then left that and returned to University and Teacher’s College, eventually taking a position in Elgin County to teach Science and Math to grades 7 and 8.”

A call from Rob Pugh in 1973 led to the formation of a new band called Daybreak that worked the Southwestern Ontario arena and dance hall circuit and local bars for 23 years before folding in 1996.

Ken’s present band, Tom Cat Prowl, was formed in 1996. The lineup consists of Ken on rhythm guitar and vocals, Chet Risser, lead guitar, Robert Keener, bass guitar and vocals and Gene Vandevyvere on drums and vocals. 

“We mainly play danceable Rock’n Roll music,” says Ken. “All of our songs are recognizable and great for audience participation and sing-alongs.”

Ken also does solo “Acoustic Rock’n Roll” performances which give him an opportunity to play different tunes from the group format.

In addition, he belongs to a mentoring group called Ruby Tuesdays (organized by Jake Levesque, another long-time London musician), which meets once a week to give interested musicians opportunities to develop their performing skills in front of others.

Calling himself a self-taught Rock’n Roll guy, Ken likes well structured organic songs that tell a good story and have an identifiable hook with a good melody and harmonies.

In 2015 Ken released a solo CD of 10 personally written and arranged tracks titled “Red Light Go.” It can be downloaded from CD Baby and other streaming sites.

When not performing, Ken keeps busy with his online business, Thorne’s Insect Shoppe Ltd., importing and exporting specimens of dead, dried insects to collectors, institutions and artistic workers all around the world. Visit for more information.

Asked if he ever considered making music his full-time job, Ken replied: “I’ve always considered myself a part-time professional musician. I just did not run off on the road and get stuck in that rut with all its pitfalls.  I have many interests and things to do, so I strive for a nice balance in life. This way I meet so many wonderful people, have fun and keep it going.”

Readers can go to the Tom Cat Prowl website — — to check out the band’s upcoming gigs and they can contact Ken at  to be put on a mailing list for news of his solo performances.

This story originally appeared in the monthly online publication, Aging Well. To subscribe to Aging Well, contact Pat Moauro at

Celebrating mental health every day

It was one year ago that I embarked upon a fruitful year of mental health wellness after struggling with a bipolar depression episode that lasted almost two years.

I outlined my struggle in detail in a Blog I prepared for Let’s Talk, an advocacy program by Bell Canada to promote mental health education, research, and awareness.

Entitled Living with Bipolar Disorder: Let’s Talk 2018, the Blog can be accessed here. 

Since that time, I have appeared on The Morning Show on 1290 CJBK with Lisa Brandt and Ken Eastwood to discuss my experience and I have spoken to numerous people about their personal struggles.

Every day I wake up, I thank Dr. Akshya Vasudev, Assistant Professor of Geriatric Psychiatry and Medicine of the LHSC Geriatric Mental Health Program, the man who helped nurture me back to good mental health. I will forever be in his debt.

I know that the holiday season is an important time of the year for many people.

For many it is a time to get together with family and friends and take stock of another year come and gone. For others, especially those struggling with mental health issues, it can be a time of loneliness, personal isolation and pain.

The Canadian Mental Health Association has some suggestions for dealing with a family member or friend whom you think is struggling with mental illness:

How can I help a loved one?

Supporting a loved one who is experiencing holiday depression, anxiety or stress can be difficult. You may not understand why your loved one feels or acts a certain way. Some people who experience this feel like they have to do things a certain way or avoid things or situations, and this can create frustration or conflict with others. You may feel pressured to take part in these behaviours or adjust your own behaviours to protect or avoid upsetting a loved one. Support can be a delicate balance, but you should expect recovery—in time.

Here are some general tips:

  • Ask your loved one how you can help them.
  • Be patient—learning and practising new coping strategies takes time.
  • If your loved one is learning new skills, offer to help them practice.
  • Listen and offer support, but avoid pushing unwanted advice.
  • Set boundaries and seek support for yourself, if needed.

To access the entire article, click here.

I wish you and yours good mental health this festive season.

Rick Young

December 21, 2018

Remembering Sights, Sounds and Smells from the Past


Recent scholarly studies suggest that sights, sounds and smells from our past can evoke emotionally charged memories.

For example, the sound of children playing outside could bring back fond memories of playing on a schoolyard, while the sound of a dentist’s drill might remind you of “scary” visits to the dentist as a child. And visiting a landmark from your childhood will no doubt remind you of time spent there.

As the holiday season approaches, I got to thinking about some of the sights, sounds and smells that I remember from Christmases past. Things like neighbourhood Christmas Tree lots, the annual Santa Claus Parade, singing Christmas Carols at school and the smell of a Christmas turkey cooking in the oven.

This led me to reminisce about the broader myriad of familiar sights, sounds and smells which were a part of my everyday experience as a child growing up in London’s industrial East End in the 1950s and early 1960s

To be sure, many of the sights, sounds and smells from my 1950s working-class upbringing would be foreign territory to most children in 2018.


One of these sights/landmarks is Ealing Public School which I attended from Kindergarten until Grade 7. Driving by the historic school today conjures up many childhood memories including playing marbles with my pals on the schoolyard, community Christmas Bazaars, a school assembly during which I and some friends dressed up and lip-synced the words to the Monster Mash on Halloween in 1962, Field Days, and the time I got the strap for spitting on my younger brother.

It saddens me to hear that Ealing may be closed due to declining enrollment at some point in the near future.

Another landmark was the old General Steel Wares building that I walked by everyday on my way to G.A. Wheable Secondary School. It was immense and straddled both sides of Adelaide Street. Once known as McClary Manufacturing, the firm manufactured home appliances like stoves for years. It is long gone.

Then there’s Silverwood’s Park where my friends and I spent our summers in the public pool and our winters on the outdoor skating public skating rink.

Silverwoods pool June 29 1949 590

One of the sounds I remember were the factory whistles which went off several times a day to mark the starting times, break times, Lunch time and quitting time at the factories and plants where many of our parents worked.

Another sound were the steam and diesel locomotives that chugged their way through my neighbourhood several times a day and blew their whistles as they came and went.

One of the sights I recall vividly was the moving of retired steam locomotive Engine 86 from the CNR shops at York Street and Rectory Street to Queen’s Park on the Western Fair Grounds in 1958.


The move took four days using sixty foot sections of rail, which were moved from the rear to the front as the locomotive was pulled along with a winch. Its progress was covered in great detail in the local media.

Once located at its permanent location facing Dundas Street, the engine soon became a popular attraction for East End children. I spent many hours clambering over the locomotive with my friends and ringing its bell incessantly.

Alas, it was all too good to last.  The Public Utilities Commission disabled the engine’s bell after late-night ringing awakened the neighbourhood, and later sealed its smoke stack after a kid was found sitting in it. Today, Engine 86 is enclosed behind an iron fence sending the message that it is off-limits for any curious child.


Although it has fallen on hard times and become increasingly irrelevant in recent years with competition from bigger, better out-of-town attractions, the annual Western Fair was a big deal for kids growing up in the 1950s and early 1960s. We were even given a day off from school – Kid’s Day – to take in its sights, sounds and smells.

To be sure, the Fair was the ultimate sensory experience for London and area kids of the pre-digital era. Sights I remember include the crowded midway and rides, Crown & Anchor games, displays of farm equipment, free grandstand shows and farm animals there for the petting.

Sounds I recall were people screaming as they went around and around on the Himalaya, a very popular ride, and as they steered towards each other on the Bumper Cars.


The smell of onions frying today takes me back to the Western Fairs of my youth as does the “greasy” smell of french fries, corn dogs and other deep-fried delicacies.

I could go on and on with many more memories, but I think you get the drift, Dear Reader.

This holiday season, take time to recall the sights, sounds and smells of the past and make some new ones for the future.

(Editorial Note: Do you have some of your own historical sights, sounds and smells you would like to share? Please feel free to share in the Comments section of this Blog. Thanks.)

Rick Young

December 20, 2018

100 Christmas Songs from Worst to Best


“If you are on the Internet long enough, there comes a year when you will be forced to rank something. Now it is my time. So I am taking the liberty of going through the 100 holiday songs being foisted upon us everywhere and ranking them from Most Especially Heinous to Best. This is probably a good idea, and I feel fit and confident! I bet this will be an easy, pleasant process. I’m amazed I haven’t already compiled several lists just like this!” — Alexandra Petri, The Washington Post.

In light of the recent kerfuffle over Baby, It’s Cold Outside, Alexandra Petrie’s list is certainly very timely.

You may see songs you have forgotten about or you may see some that you’ve never heard of.

For example, I didn’t know there was a song called “I Farted on Santa’s Lap (Now Christmas Is Gonna Stink For Me).” I’m not sure I needed to learn this!

Feel free to identify your Best & Worst Christmas Songs in the Comments section.

Click on this Link to read Alexandra Petri’s List of Holiday Songs from Worst to Best Holiday Songs:




Conflict to be expected on City Council


Is it me, or does anyone else see a pattern developing already in reporting on the new city council by the local media? That is to say: Freak out at any sign of discord or disagreement among the Mayor and the councilors.

I’m not sure why this is happening.

Isn’t this type of political conflict to be expected when you gather together 15 individuals, all with their own constituencies and agendas, to make decisions for the common good?

Now, I know Mayor Ed Holder ran on a platform of being the “Great Conciliator” who would be able to bring the 14 Councilors together for a consensus to emerge on decisions which have to be made — some of them being very contentious. But to expect consensus on every issue is naive and just plain silly.

Having run on what for all intents and purposes was an anti-BRT ticket, Holder’s choice of Councilor Jesse Helmer — the BRT Project’s biggest cheerleader — as his Deputy Mayor may at first chance seem odd. But, to be sure, it is a calculated political attempt to bring Helmer into his fold and perhaps burden him with so much work he won’t have time to do a lot of lobbying for the project.

Maybe the local media and Londoners grew too used to the homogeneity of the last council which seemed to march lock-step on most civic issues.

But, as I learned in my first-year Political Science class at UWO way back in the mid-1970s: “Politics is conflict, and the resolution of that conflict.”

Given the differences of opinion on major issues like BRT and supervised injection sites on this new council, I’m sure we can can expect more conflict rather than less over the next four years.

Londoners, including the media, better get used to it.

December 6/18