A Promise of Sweet Tea: Mem­oirs of a Survivor

Pin­chas Eliyahu Blitt

January 18, 2021

In a vil­lage in pre­war East­ern Europe, young Pin­chas Blitt is sur­round­ed by col­or­ful char­ac­ters, vivid sto­ries and the rich lan­guage and tra­di­tions of his ances­tors. As anti­semitism ris­es, Pin­chas is beset by fears, but he finds belong­ing in fam­i­ly, Jew­ish texts, and prayers. In 1939, Pin­chas adapts to the new Sovi­et occu­pa­tion, but when the Nazis arrive, his beloved vil­lage is dec­i­mat­ed, and he and his fam­i­ly must flee. A pre­car­i­ous exis­tence on the run brings Pin­chas face to face with his own mor­tal­i­ty and faith, and with a sense of dis­lo­ca­tion that will accom­pa­ny him through­out his life.

Discussion Questions

This beau­ti­ful­ly writ­ten and poignant mem­oir pro­vides a sear­ing account of the rel­a­tive­ly rare expe­ri­ences of a Jew­ish fam­i­ly who sur­vived the Holo­caust by hid­ing and liv­ing in the forests” of West­ern Ukraine. Told from the per­spec­tive of a boy who was 9 or 10 — he wasn’t sure – in such evoca­tive lan­guage that the read­er also feels like a child who is stalked by the Nazi’s. Blitt could actu­al­ly see the eyes of the killers when they mur­der oth­er Jews who are hid­ing close to him in the marshes.

Most Jews in his small back­woods vil­lage have nowhere to go, and are at home when the Ger­mans and Ukraini­ans come to rob and mur­der them. For exam­ple at one point, a Pol­ish farmer, a friend of his fathers, offers to shel­ter their fam­i­ly of four by allow­ing them to stay in his barn over shab­bat (which this reli­gious fam­i­ly observes – along with all the oth­er hol­i­days — through­out the war) and they are about to say the prayer after their mea­gre meal” when the farmer comes to tell them his grand­par­ents, a Rab­bi and his wife, were mur­dered in their home.

What is unusu­al, in addi­tion to their skill and luck in sur­viv­ing by hid­ing in the for­est, is that this fam­i­ly remains deeply reli­gious and obser­vant through­out the war, keep­ing the shab­bat and Jew­ish hol­i­days, and say­ing prayers though­out the day. These tra­di­tions anchor their lives and sus­tain them.