My Kad­dish: A Child Speaks from the War­saw Ghetto

  • Review
By – April 1, 2024

This slim vol­ume is a memo­r­i­al to what was lost in the Holo­caust. Just eight years old when the war end­ed, the author, who died in 2016, recounts her life as a lit­tle girl in the War­saw Ghet­to, fol­lowed by her time being hid­den (in a dress­er draw­er) out­side the ghet­to by a Pol­ish woman. When that became too dan­ger­ous, she was moved to a farm near War­saw. She was also buried in a bomb­ing and dug out by her father, and then, along­side her par­ents, she dar­ing­ly escaped cap­ture and walked east for a month toward the Russ­ian front. After that, she was final­ly liberated. 

Despite the pain and trau­ma she endured, the author, like so many sur­vivors, made a life for her­self. Yet these expe­ri­ences stayed with her, buried for decades until, at the age of six­ty-sev­en, she began to write them down.

Born Klara Alter, Thérèse (Ter­ri) Mas­son com­posed her own Kad­dish, at once prayer of mourn­ing for her fam­i­ly and her tes­ti­mo­ny as a sur­vivor. Because she was just a child at the time, her mem­oir is uncon­ven­tion­al, con­sist­ing of mem­o­ries that are impres­sion­is­tic and some­times vague and frag­men­tary. It is, as she phrased it, an incom­plete gallery” of long-sup­pressed rec­ol­lec­tions and emotions. 

Mas­son inter­weaved her child­hood mem­o­ries with her reflec­tions as an adult, ana­lyz­ing the influ­ence these ear­ly expe­ri­ences had on her life and the per­son she became. In an effort to retrieve her lost mem­o­ries,” in 2004, Mas­son and her daugh­ter, Simone, made the first of four trips to Poland. We were search­ing for a lost world,” Mas­son explained. But it was gone. The lam­en­ta­ble truth is that the cleans­ing of Poland is com­plete. The geno­cide was a suc­cess.” She felt her­self a rem­nant of that lost world. Her daugh­ter describes those trips to Poland as har­row­ing jour­neys, yet deeply rewarding.”

Ter­ri Mas­son left her Kad­dish unfin­ished when she died. Her daugh­ter has edit­ed it and filled in numer­ous miss­ing pieces, adding to it some of her own thoughts and feel­ings about her moth­er. She also includes rec­ol­lec­tions by Masson’s sec­ond hus­band, a num­ber of fam­i­ly pho­tos, and an essay by a Pol­ish friend — all of which enhance the sto­ry of a remark­able woman who sur­vived a geno­cide and, late in life, sum­moned the courage to recount every­thing she had faced.

Gila Wertheimer is Asso­ciate Edi­tor of the Chica­go Jew­ish Star. She is an award-win­ning jour­nal­ist who has been review­ing books for 35 years.

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