Yitzchak Mayer, born in Antwerp in 1934, tells an amazing story in this autobiographical novel. Mayer’s family fled from Belgium to France when World War II broke out. After being captured, they managed to escape and live in hiding until his father was caught and deported to Auschwitz. They never saw him again.
Mayer uses this framework to create a fascinating story in the form of a letter from his mother, Rosie, to his father, Moritz. Rosie is raising two young sons while pregnant with a third. Unable to speak French, she pretends to be mute and depends on her son Erwin (Yitzchak) to communicate. Erwin’s younger brother, Jackie, must also conquer his fears to survive. The family visits the police to search for Moritz, and undertakes a harrowing journey from France to Switzerland using forged documents.
The narrative merges facts, dreams, and memories into a suspenseful tale that is beautiful despite the horrors that the family encounter. The family trudges through snow in the dead of winter to arrive in a small Swiss village. Since they have crossed the border illegally, they are prisoners and the brothers are separated from their mother. Mayer captures the fear and anguish of a woman desperate to save her children, yet strong enough to survive in difficult circumstances.
There are many Holocaust memoirs in print today, but this one stands out because of its presentation. The author manages to capture his mother’s voice and tell his family’s story vividly. He also captures the anxiety of young children separated from their parents. The combination of fear, defiance, and courage rings true.
This is an excellent choice for all libraries collecting Holocaust literature, and book clubs will have much to discuss as they consider the plight of this family.