Non­fic­tion

My Sister’s Eyes: A Fam­i­ly Chron­i­cle of Res­cue and Loss Dur­ing World War II

Joan Arnay Halperin; Morde­cai Paldiel, fwd.
  • Review
By – August 4, 2017

There are few books of Holo­caust tes­ti­mo­ny that include pic­tures of fam­i­lies who lived through those times. This book is valu­able as it con­tains fam­i­ly pho­tographs dat­ing from before 1939 and up until 1997. The pho­tographs have been col­lect­ed by Ignas and Hala Krakowiak’s daugh­ter, Joan. In 1997, Joan’s moth­er agreed to cat­a­log some of her expe­ri­ences and share them with gen­er­a­tions-to-come and begins to share her life in both words and pictures.

The read­er learns about the Pol­ish Jew­ish couple’s wed­ding in 1935, and then sees them encounter the laws the Nazis began to instate regard­ing Jew­ish life in Europe. The cou­ple moved to Bel­gium in an attempt to improve their sit­u­a­tion, but the Nazi laws pre­vent­ed them from start­ing a busi­ness there. Soon after, a daugh­ter, Yvonne, was born. After Poland was occu­pied, Ignas and Hala real­ized that they had to escape to France. 

But France did not remain safe either. The only way to leave the coun­try was to acquire a visa to Por­tu­gal. This was ille­gal, but Aris­tides de Sousa Mendes, the Por­tuguese Con­sul Gen­er­al, ignored the law and allowed thou­sands to flee to safe­ty, includ­ing the Krakowiaks. (Lat­er, Aris­tides de Sousa Mendes was pun­ished by the Por­tuguese gov­ern­ment and died penniless.)

Por­tu­gal could not be a per­ma­nent home, so the fam­i­ly was sent to Jamaica. There, to their shock, they were con­fined to a camp with a 10:00 PM cur­few, and where the abil­i­ty to find work was lim­it­ed. How­ev­er, Ignas bought a bike for trans­porta­tion and took Yvonne with him every­where he went. Then tragedy struck: Yvonne was injured in a bicy­cle acci­dent, sep­sis set in, and she died. The impact on Hala was devastating.

By 1943, they had applied for accep­tance to the Unit­ed States and were accept­ed for entry. The remain­der of the book shows the read­er how they man­aged to adapt to Amer­i­can life.

In addi­tion to the text and the pho­tographs, there are let­ters from the 1942 Jamaican camp where chil­dren who knew Yvonne express their shock and loss after her death as well as let­ters from fam­i­ly in the Pol­ish ghetto.

This col­lec­tion of fam­i­ly mem­o­ra­bil­ia, let­ters, post­cards, fam­i­ly trees, and Nazi sig­nage gives a com­pre­hen­sive look at what Jew­ish fam­i­lies in Europe went through dur­ing the Nazi era and beyond. A use­ful resource for the edu­ca­tion of today’s youth, this book is rec­om­mend­ed for ages 12 to 16.

Marge Kaplan is a retired Eng­lish as a Sec­ond Lan­guage teacher. She is a con­sul­tant for the children’s lit­er­a­ture group for the Roseville, MN school sys­tem and is a sto­ry­teller of Jew­ish tales.

Discussion Questions