Huguette Herrmann’s skillful memoir blends together the personal and the political in a deeply moving story of living through the Holocaust as a teenaged immigrant in England, where she fled in 1940 from her native Belgium with her mother Jenny and her grandmother Bo, both highly unconventional women.
As refugees, Herrmann and her family adapted to their changed circumstances with a touching combination of difficulty and grace. Herrmann in particular developed the skill of acute observation, and later in life she was able to look back and analyze the sociological effects of troubled times on the ordinary people she encountered in her everyday life. Her skill in creating vivid portraits of these people lends this slim volume a depth of color and intensity unusual even in this genre.
Hermann’s background as an archivist and translator provides a strong foundation for this book, with an introduction written in an academic style with footnotes documenting the sources of each bit of historical data. Occasionally Hermann uses diary entries to show us how she observed the world around her; at other times she employs straight narrative with occasional dialogue to tell the story. In each case, the writing contains both warmth and personality.
Writing about her childhood in Antwerp and her adolescence in England, Herrmann provides a full account of how her life was shaped by wartime circumstances and the unconventional family that shielded her as best they could from the trauma of bombs and blitzkriegs. Ordinary experiences such as trying to fit in at school take on significant meaning for a Jewish child living outside her own country during a war in which Jews were being hunted and killed.
Photographs of family and friends add an additional dimension to this growing-up story, imbuing it with a comfortable sense of reality that makes it easy to relate to. As the author grows from a girl to a teenager, we follow along with great interest, always wanting to know what comes next, and we are amply rewarded for the effort of our quest.
Linda F. Burghardt is a New York-based journalist and author who has contributed commentary, breaking news, and features to major newspapers across the U.S., in addition to having three non-fiction books published. She writes frequently on Jewish topics and is now serving as Scholar-in-Residence at the Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center of Nassau County.