Eva and Eve: A Search for My Moth­er’s Lost Child­hood and What a War Left Behind

  • Review
By – June 7, 2021

In March 1938, when Hitler’s armies annexed Aus­tria, forcibly strip­ping the coun­try of its sov­er­eign­ty and offi­cial­ly mak­ing it part of Ger­many, there were 185,000 Jews liv­ing in Vien­na. Out of a pop­u­la­tion of two mil­lion peo­ple resid­ing in the for­mer impe­r­i­al city, this com­mu­ni­ty of Jews, many gen­er­a­tions old, con­sti­tut­ed ten per­cent. Vien­na held the largest pop­u­la­tion of Ger­man-speak­ing Jews in all of Europe at the time.

Julie Metz’s moth­er, Eva Singer, was one of them.

In March 1940, when Eva was twelve years old, she and her par­ents were final­ly able to rip them­selves out of the esca­lat­ing dan­ger to escape to the U.S. How did they do it, when 65,000 of the Vien­nese Jews were ulti­mate­ly caught in the Nazi trap and mur­dered? How did they sur­vive in Vien­na for the two years after the Anschluss, when Jews were hunt­ed and no place was safe?

The answers to these ques­tions, and many oth­ers like it, are the sub­ject of Metz’s insight­ful memoir.

Metz is both a graph­ic design­er and a free­lance writer, and her dual tal­ents dri­ve the nar­ra­tive with both visu­al col­or and ver­bal clar­i­ty. The book takes place in sev­er­al time frames: her mother’s past, the author’s present, and the years when Eva, now called Eve, was active­ly moth­er­ing Metz. Although Metz plays with time, the tran­si­tions are smooth and we always know where we are in the sto­ry, ever anx­ious to learn more of each expe­ri­ence to see how it weaves togeth­er with the others.

At first, Metz feeds us tea­spoons of his­to­ry, but soon the force of the sto­ry itself plunges us into the vio­lent past with a cold splash. The book is ten­der­ly writ­ten, par­tic­u­lar­ly when we are so drawn in that it can feel like we have wan­dered into a diary, com­plete with details about the weath­er and the bloom of nature as the scenes unfold.

Yet at oth­er times we receive for­mal his­tor­i­cal infor­ma­tion about the crit­i­cal events that took place in Vien­na between the years 1938 and 1940, when the Singers were final­ly able to flee. This suc­cess­ful­ly brings into focus the enor­mous road­blocks the Nazis con­struct­ed to pre­vent the Jews from leav­ing the coun­try, despite the imper­a­tive they placed on them to do so, plus the dev­as­tat­ing hard­ships they imposed on those who found them­selves caught between these two dia­met­ri­cal­ly opposed forces.

Along­side the account of the sto­ries and facts that enabled Metz to piece togeth­er her fam­i­ly her­itage is a lay­er of inter­wo­ven com­men­tary on today’s cul­ture and pol­i­tics in the U.S. as they relate to immi­gra­tion pol­i­cy and practice.

Yet despite the con­nec­tion Metz makes to today, she tells us she did not always feel a con­nec­tion to her mother’s past, nor did she know how much it affect­ed her own. She only became inter­est­ed in her hid­den her­itage when, after her mother’s death, she came across a small book in the back of a draw­er that her moth­er had nev­er shown her. It con­tained hand­writ­ten mes­sages, and she learned it was a poe­sie album,” a child’s auto­graph book com­mon­place in Vien­na at the time. What oth­er secrets had been hid­den from her, Metz wondered.

We expe­ri­ence the pow­er that the lit­tle album exert­ed on Metz’s curios­i­ty in the flow of the sto­ry she tells. In a way, her mother’s death gave her new life. The research jour­ney it pro­pelled her on was long, ardu­ous, and inter­mit­tent, alter­nat­ing among search, serendip­i­ty, and suc­cess. We fol­low the nar­ra­tive with a good deal of hope that she will find out not only the answers to her ques­tions but the peace that comes with ful­ly know­ing and accept­ing the past. Clear­ly, the Holo­caust has left a sig­nif­i­cant stamp on Metz and her world­view, and in the end the fact that she now rec­og­nizes its force is the crown­ing achieve­ment of the book.

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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