Days of Awe: Perfection and Apology

By Johannah Knudson / September 18, 2017 / 0 Comments

The High Holy Days of the Jewish tradition are nearly here. During these days, we ask for the forgiveness of anyone we may have harmed. We look at ourselves deeply, examine our motives and actions, and atone for any negative effects, intentional or otherwise, we have caused. We do this to repair any harm we have created, and also to repair our own imperfections. It’s an opportunity to make the world better and ourselves better, as well. With this in mind, to inform someone of a hurt they have caused is a service to their spiritual evolution. It gives them…


Confusion, Disaster, and Empathy for the Invisible

By Johannah Knudson / September 14, 2017 / 0 Comments

As if the environment were reflecting the chaos and confusion resulting from reactionary extremism, natural disasters have thrown any sense of normality off its footing: multiple hurricanes tore into the southern coastline of the U.S., a massive earthquake shook Mexico, wildfires scorch the American West, and floods have devastated South Asia. The world is disorienting and disoriented, tilting beneath our feet. Meanwhile, the more I work on this book, the more vivid the lives of my ancestors seem–their homes, their families, their personalities. I feel like I know them and understand their world not fully but intimately in certain aspects.…


Anger, Love, and Daring Acts of Compassion After Charlottesville

By Johannah Knudson / August 15, 2017 / 0 Comments

In the aftermath of Charlottesville, many are responding with anger toward those who tote the symbols and rhetoric of hate. Why I’m Angry Seeing swastikas and Nazis all over the internet makes me irate. It is deeply painful, and it’s exhausting. That alone feels like an assault. Seeing the confederate flag openly waved and other confederate symbols publicly displayed is detestable. The racist, antisemitic, and misogynist slurs spewed by white supremacists at the rally in Charlottesville are infuriating. The violence that resulted in injury and death are abhorrent, as is the continuing incitement of hatred by this vocal minority. Appropriate…


Charlottesville, WWII Hungary, and the Eruption of Hate

By Johannah Knudson / August 13, 2017 / 0 Comments
Photo by veeterzy on Unsplash

Right now, many of us are in shock, outraged, furious. How could an event like yesterday’s Neo-Nazi, white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA happen? It’s the 21st century. Aren’t we beyond this? Hasn’t humanity evolved, learned from past suffering and atrocities? And behind that anger and disbelief is pain–pain that is hundreds, if not thousands of years old. It’s the pain of pogroms and lynchings, the pain of segregation, of legislated discrimination and socially condoned denigration. It’s the pain of knowing that our ancestors suffered brutality, enslavement, and murder. It’s the pain of constant and institutionalized bigotry in a variety…


Right-Wing Rage and Humanity’s Identity Crisis

By Johannah Knudson / August 8, 2017 / 0 Comments

Are we a species motivated by brutality and hate, hell-bent on self destruction, or will we shift, en masse, to an agenda that sustains life, guided by intelligence, understanding, and compassion? Will we move into the worst or the best of our human potential? As the ruthlessness of conservative extremists is exposed, their rhetoric heats up. The volume of right-wing bitterness and hatred is turned up to a piercing high—in the news, on the street, online, and at home. The volume of right-wing bitterness and hatred is turned up to a piercing high—in the news, on the street, online, and…


Hungry for Truth, Hardwired for Empathy

By Johannah Knudson / July 18, 2017 / 0 Comments
My grandparents, from the Beaver County Times, Alquippa Ambridge Home Edition (Pennsylvania), Saturday, April 6, 1963

Empathy is the opposite of prejudice, persecution, and oppression.This is why I’m writing the epic story of my great uncle Stefan’s survival across the forests of WWII Eastern Europe.


Kinds of Blue: Searching the Past for Clues to Our Uncertain Future

By Johannah Knudson / July 11, 2017 / 0 Comments

This blog is the “story behind the story” of one man and his life before, during, and after WWII, a survivor of Eastern Europe during some of its darkest days. I write this blog in parallel as I write the story of my great uncle Stefan, who withstood forced labor, torture, an 18-year sentence for sabotage, seven months of solitary confinement in Hungarian prison, a Serbian-lead prison break, and escape into the hills as he watched fellow Jews transported in cattle cars to Auschwitz. For nearly a year, he and his brother lived in dirt dugouts, holes in the ground…


Ways to Seize Power: A Brief Review

By Johannah Knudson / June 27, 2017 / 0 Comments

How many ways can a leader or a regime wrest control from a government or a people? Following are three examples from history. Overthrown Coup, short for Coup d’état, is “the sudden, violent overthrow of an existing government by a small group. The chief prerequisite for a coup is control of all or part of the armed forces, the police, and other military elements.” 1 This is what happened—or, at least, was attempted—in August of 1991 when a group of political hardliners moved to overthrow the Soviet government. Their aim was to bring back the communism of old; in effect, to…


High Crimes and Atrocities: Testimony

By Johannah Knudson / June 15, 2017 / 0 Comments
My Uncle Steve (Stefan) with his parents, Rosa and Moritz (my great grandarents), before the Holocaust

JUNE 15, 2017: As the nation investigates an elaborate corruption that has ties to its highest offices, the term testimony has been broadcast far and wide—in print, over wires and airwaves, and in countless individual conversations. A testimony is a story in one’s own words, a formal telling of one’s experience, a public account of an event or condition in order to clarify, illuminate, or prove its existence. A testimony roots broad events, currents, and conditions in utterances of a single human being, moments of recounting words, gestures, and impressions.   JUNE 1, 2017: I write this on Thursday, June 1,…


Me, the Kremlin, and the Fall of an Empire: Moscow, 1991

By Johannah Knudson / June 1, 2017 / 1 Comment

In the summer of 1991, I toured the Soviet Union with a group of “student ambassadors.” Just a few months later, that entity no longer existed. The U.S.S.R. had collapsed, splintered into 15 separate states. Student Ambassadors We crossed 11 time zones over four weeks, traveling by train, bus, and plane. We went as far east as Irkutsk, Siberia, north of the Mongolian Border, to Lake Baikal, the deepest lake on Earth. We traveled to Almaty, Kazakhstan and Tashkent, Uzbekistan, a country that borders Afghanistan. We visited Tallinn, Estonia, rerouted from Latvia, our original destination, due to political turmoil. We…



My Great Uncle Stefan
My Great Uncle Stefan