From Dark­ness to Light: Tes­ti­monies of Six Holo­caust Survivors

Ronald J. Diller

  • Review
By – August 10, 2021

To learn about the Holo­caust expe­ri­ence of Euro­pean Jews, we must sup­ple­ment aca­d­e­m­ic mate­r­i­al with the per­son­al sto­ries of sur­vivors, whose authen­tic­i­ty and insights are unique­ly valuable.

From Dark­ness to Light is a col­lec­tion of six short tes­ti­monies from four elder­ly Jew­ish sur­vivors liv­ing in Israel. As its Israeli-based edi­tor, Ronald J. Diller, explains, they under­went atroc­i­ties and injus­tices that still plague their lives but they also nev­er let Hitler kill their dreams to one day live in Israel, and for accom­plish­ing this mir­a­cle, they won.Diller suc­ceeds in high­light­ing both the dev­as­ta­tion and tri­umph of these narratives.

Lil­lian Ronen’s tes­ti­mo­ny, in Chris­tian­i­ty Saves My Life,” illus­trates why a Jew might veer from their reli­gio­nun­der the severe pres­sures of the Holo­caust. As a starv­ing, ter­ri­fied pre-teen in the War­saw Ghet­to from 1939 through 1941, she sur­vived by help­ing to throw bod­ies into mass graves, and work­ing for pros­ti­tutes (“decent women who had to become sex work­ers”). Nights passed fit­ful­ly in ver­min-infest­ed base­ments. Mrs. Ronen, now in her nineties, recalls that harsh cir­cum­stance matured me like an adult and that scared me.”

Lil­lian soon took solace in the rit­u­als and sym­bols of the Catholic reli­gion. After the War­saw Ghetto’s revolt failed, she spent over three dan­ger­ous years pass­ing” as a devout Catholic. She roamed through rur­al Pol­ish towns, helped by many car­ing peas­ant fam­i­lies. At the war’s end, Lil­lian chose to recu­per­ate in a Prague Con­vent. Years lat­er in Israel, mar­ried and pros­per­ous, she focus­es on her chil­dren and grand­chil­dren (a bless­ing salut­ed by many sur­vivors as the best revenge.).

Miri­am Wadislavki’s tes­ti­mo­ny also under­lines a less com­mon Holo­caust expe­ri­ence. Unlike many sur­vivor mem­oirists, she does not remem­ber being hun­gry in the ghet­to. There was mutu­al help, and the Jews sup­port­ed each oth­er.” Like­wise, at vari­ance with many oth­er sur­vivors, she recalls that gen­er­al­ly, the rela­tion­ship between ghet­to Jews and the Judenrat(governing coun­cil, cho­sen by the SS) and Jew­ish police offi­cers was one of under­stand­ing and cooperation.”

Miri­am and her moth­er sur­vived by doing hard work for non-Jew­ish peas­ants in the coun­try­side, bare­ly escap­ing from mur­der­ous Ukrain­ian loy­al­ists. The two­some soon took charge of two female orphans who had escaped from a for­est exe­cu­tion site. The quar­tet then nar­row­ly made it through to 1945, when the area was lib­er­at­ed. Today, still haunt­ed by hair-rais­ing child­hood mem­o­ries, Miri­am, in her nineties, enjoys fif­teen grand­chil­dren and eigh­teen great-grand­chil­dren who mean every­thing to her.

Mordechai Mark, in his nineties, recalls that on arrival as a four­teen-year old teenag­er at the Auschwitz Death Camp his thir­ty-nine-year old moth­er out of com­pas­sion for my grand­moth­er, gave up her life, joined her in the line for the cre­ma­to­ri­um, to die togeth­er.” Lat­er, at the Mau­thausen Slave Labor Camp, food rations dropped far below the dai­ly calo­rie require­ment. For­tu­nate­ly, a kitchen helper, Mordechai secret­ly aid­ed starv­ing oth­ers while declin­ing offers of their gold teeth for food.

The oth­er three tes­ti­monies in From Dark­ness to Light are sim­i­lar­ly eye-opening.Taken togeth­er, the book’s six accounts human­ize the Holo­caust. While the sur­vivors’ mem­o­ries of unfor­giv­able hor­ror are dis­tress­ing, their rec­ol­lec­tions of help and com­pas­sion will inspire.

Pro­fes­sor Emer­i­tus of Soci­ol­o­gy, Pro­fes­sor Arthur B. Shostak is the author in 2017 of Stealth Altru­ism: For­bid­den Care as Jew­ish Resis­tance in the Holo­caust. Since his 2003 retire­ment from 43 years teach­ing soci­ol­o­gy he has spe­cial­ized in Holo­caust studies.

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