Once They Had a Coun­try: Two Teenage Refugees in the Sec­ond World War

Muriel R. Gillick
  • Review
By – August 31, 2011
This schol­ar­ly but very acces­si­ble work is based upon exten­sive research, direct­ed by the expe­ri­ences of the author’s par­ents, who were teenage refugees from Ger­many sent to pre­sum­ably safe Bel­gium on a Kinder­trans­port. Gillick recounts their com­par­a­tive­ly hap­py days in La Hille, the children’s first place of refuge in Bel­gium; the hero­ic efforts of the adults super­vis­ing them to save their lives by spir­it­ing them out of their next stop, the intern­ment camp of Le Ver­net; and their dan­ger­ous escape to Switzer­land, which was no haven. Their ordeal there, to which a large por­tion of the book is devot­ed, took place in an inhos­pitable series of camps, but where, how­ev­er, one was not des­tined for the ovens and if lucky, might be host­ed in a Swiss home. After the war, the young sur­vivors scheme their way to the Unit­ed States, where they strug­gle to assim­i­late and suc­ceed. The author says that although her par­ents essen­tial­ly dis­claimed their Judaism due to their expe­ri­ences, they lived the basic pre­cepts of Judaism: tsedakah; gemi­lut chasadim, and tikkun olam; and that she, her hus­band and their chil­dren remain firm­ly in Judaism’s sphere. The author, who is a clin­i­cal pro­fes­sor in the depart­ment of pop­u­la­tion med­i­cine at Har­vard Med­ical School, writes, It is no acci­dent, I think, that I have devot­ed my career as a physi­cian to car­ing for the old­est and frailest of patients, some of the most vul­ner­a­ble and need­i­est peo­ple.…”
I learned much that was new in this well researched and insight­ful­ly nar­rat­ed work. Index, notes.
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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