Look­ing for Strangers: The True Sto­ry of My Hid­den Wartime Childhood

  • From the Publisher
December 23, 2013

Dori Katz is a Jew­ish Holo­caust sur­vivor who thought that her lost mem­o­ries of her child­hood years in Bel­gium were irrecov­er­able. But after a chance view­ing of a doc­u­men­tary about hid­den chil­dren in Ger­man-occu­pied Bel­gium, she real­ized that she might, in fact, be able to unearth those years. Look­ing for Strangers is the deeply hon­est record of her attempt to do so, a detec­tive sto­ry that unfolds through one of the most hor­ri­fy­ing peri­ods in his­to­ry in an attempt to under­stand one’s place with­in it.

In alter­nat­ing chap­ters, Katz jour­neys into mul­ti­ple pasts, set­ting details from her mother’s sto­ries that have cap­ti­vat­ed her through­out her life along­side an account of her own return to Bel­gium forty years lat­er — against her mother’s urg­ings — in search of greater clar­i­ty. She recon­nects her sharp but frag­ment­ed mem­o­ries: being sent by her moth­er in 1943, at the age of three, to live with a Catholic fam­i­ly under a Chris­t­ian iden­ti­ty; then being giv­en up, inex­plic­a­bly, to an orphan­age in the years imme­di­ate­ly fol­low­ing the war. Only after that, amid post­war con­fu­sion, was she able to recon­nect with her moth­er. Fol­low­ing this trail through Bel­gium to her past places of hid­ing, Katz even­tu­al­ly finds her­self in San Fran­cis­co, speak­ing with a man who claimed to have known her father in Auschwitz — and thus known his end. Weigh­ing many oth­er sto­ries from the peo­ple she meets along her way — all of whom seem to hold some­thing back — she attempts to stitch thread after thread into a uni­fied truth, to under­stand the count­less moti­va­tions and cir­cum­stances that deter­mined her remark­able life.

A sto­ry at once about self-dis­cov­ery, the trans­for­ma­tion of mem­o­ry, a fraught moth­er-daugh­ter rela­tion­ship, and the oppres­sion of mil­lions, Look­ing for Strangers is a book of both his­tor­i­cal insight and imag­i­na­tive grasp. It is a book in which the past, through its very mys­tery, becomes alive, imme­di­ate — of the most urgent importance.

Discussion Questions