Bo, Jen­ny, and I

Huguette Her­rmann
  • Review
By – January 8, 2013

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.

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