In the Gar­den of Mem­o­ry: A Fam­i­ly Memoir

Joan­na Olczak-Ronikier
  • Review
By – June 15, 2012
The fur­ther we get from the Holo­caust, the more the mem­oirs increase. It seems to be an imper­a­tive of descen­dants to keep mem­o­ries of their fam­i­ly con­stant, to not relin­quish these loved and once vibrant peo­ple nor allow the tri­als they expe­ri­enced to dis­ap­pear into the mias­ma. Some mem­oirs exist, there­fore, main­ly to pro­vide con­ti­nu­ity for future gen­er­a­tions or to fur­nish proof of the Shoah. Oth­ers, beau­ti­ful­ly writ­ten, read like fine fic­tion; a few offer insights that are applic­a­ble to the larg­er pop­u­la­tion, uncov­er­ing a new phe­nom­e­non as a result of the writer’s inves­ti­ga­tion; still oth­ers are intend­ed to teach as well as to remember…”in sun­shine and in shad­ow.”

It took many years and a for­tu­itous meet­ing at the Jew­ish Cul­tur­al Cen­tre in Krakow for the author to become inter­est­ed in trac­ing her com­pli­cat­ed fam­i­ly his­to­ry. There, Paul Chaim Eisen­berg, the Chief Rab­bi of Aus­tria, who was enter­tain­ing with song, respond­ed to her ques­tion about her great-great-grand­fa­ther in detail. Indeed, his pic­ture hung in the rabbi’s office over his desk! Once she embarked on the jour­ney of research­ing her fam­i­ly, she met cousins and oth­er rel­a­tives from all over the world, as the descen­dants of Gus­tav Horowitz (a son of the famous Vien­nese rab­bi) mar­ried Julia Klein­man, the daugh­ter of a wealthy Pol­ish busi­ness­man. The saga of their lives and the four gen­er­a­tions who fol­lowed them reads like an epic nov­el. They are Pol­ish Jews who scat­tered around the world; all but two sur­vived the Holo­caust. The book is full of tales of brav­ery, love, loy­al­ty, grim insights into the Jew­ish con­di­tion vis à vis the Poles, but also, com­i­cal anec­dotes. It took the coop­er­a­tion of long-lost cousins, now reunit­ed, to relin­quish their fam­i­ly archives to the author in order to piece this saga into a coher­ent, mov­ing, and fas­ci­nat­ing sto­ry. Short­list­ed for the Jew­ish Quar­ter­ly Wingate Lit­er­ary Prize in the U.K.
Mar­cia W. Pos­ner, Ph.D., of the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al and Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau Coun­ty, is the library and pro­gram direc­tor. An author and play­wright her­self, she loves review­ing for JBW and read­ing all the oth­er reviews and arti­cles in this mar­velous periodical.

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