“I am mother to my mother. I am all she has in the world to console her.” So writes Meyerhoff, a daughter of a survivor, in the prologue of her book. Meyerhoff grew up with the despair of her mother Lotte about her lost family, whom she left behind in Germany in 1939 on her way to America. She boarded the SS St. Louis only to end up back in Europe in Westerbork Detention Camp.
Having lost all of her possessions, even childhood pictures, in torturous travels and travails, the arrival of a big carton from Germany with personal effects and pictures was a life-affirming event for mother and daughter. The package was mailed by Lotte’s three German, non-Jewish school best friends who kept and safeguarded throughout the Nazi period photos, heirlooms and mementos from the family and sent these to her after the war.
Meyerhoff unfolds her mother’s precious memories and stories about members of the family and her relationships with her parents, grandparents, brother, and her three friends, all in a loving, secured, and cultured atmosphere. The friendship of the four girls continued even after the Nazis came to power. A large part of the book revolves around Meyerhoff’s own trips to Europe where she met her mother’s friends and formed life-long relationships with some of their children who were closer to her in age.
The book is well written and easy to read. Meyerhoff even manages to develop suspense in the plot, suspense related to untold secrets, complications, and ambiguities which were part and parcel of the relationship between Jews and non-Jews during that period.