The House at Ujaz­dowskie 16: Jew­ish Fam­i­lies in War­saw after the Holocaust

Karen Auer­bach
  • Review
By – September 17, 2013

While the vast major­i­ty of Holo­caust sur­vivors immi­grat­ed to new lands to rebuild their lives, the Jew­ish Pol­ish fam­i­lies Karen Auer­bach por­trays in this metic­u­lous­ly researched book decid­ed instead to set­tle in War­saw, where they hoped to reclaim the lives they had had before they were thrust into the sav­agery and bru­tal­i­ty of the Holocaust. 

Once known as the Paris of the East,” War­saw in 1945 was a city of rub­ble, desert­ed streets, and burned-out build­ings. The Pol­ish cap­i­tal was a land­scape of ruin,” Auer­bach writes. Yet a few streets had escaped the dev­as­ta­tion. One of them was Ujaz­dowskie Avenue, where at num­ber 16 ten Pol­ish Jew­ish fam­i­lies set­tled into apart­ments in which they would try to silence the echoes of the past as they attempt­ed to con­struct their future.

In part this was pos­si­ble because the neigh­bors at Ujaz­dowskie 16 shared more than a lost past and a com­mon address. Many worked in the pub­lish­ing insti­tu­tions of the post­war gov­ern­ment; some were found­ing edi­tors and direc­tors of the Com­mu­nist party’s ide­o­log­i­cal pub­lish­ing house. These con­nec­tions came about because of an amal­gam of social, polit­i­cal, and pro­fes­sion­al ties, which includ­ed friend­ship, a sec­u­lar Jew­ish back­ground, a shared pas­sion for the same pol­i­tics, and an abid­ing inter­est in Pol­ish culture.

Auer­bach explains that there were a num­ber of such clus­ters of Jew­ish res­i­dents that grouped them­selves togeth­er in post­war War­saw, but that the one she stud­ied for this book was one of the larg­er and more influ­en­tial ones. Their chil­dren were raised with lit­tle Jew­ish iden­ti­ty, yet Jew­ish mem­o­ry was still present on the mar­gins of fam­i­ly life.” In describ­ing these fam­i­lies, Auer­bach notes, Their his­to­ries are a miss­ing thread of the nar­ra­tive of Jew­ish his­to­ry in Poland after the Holo­caust.” This riv­et­ing book goes far in help­ing to cre­ate that thread.

Using mate­r­i­al gleaned from intense research into archives and records of per­son­al cor­re­spon­dence, plus inter­views with fam­i­ly mem­bers, Auer­bach shows how this small group of fam­i­lies recon­struct­ed their iden­ti­ty and their rela­tion­ship to their coun­try, their reli­gion, the polit­i­cal sys­tem, and their culture.

Amply illus­trat­ed with pho­tographs of the fam­i­lies whose lives Auer­bach chron­i­cles, the book rever­ber­ates with hope and trem­bles with the ten­ta­tive efforts of the peo­ple to rekin­dle the flames of their human­i­ty after ines­timable loss and trauma. 

Bib­li­og­ra­phy, index, notes.

Lin­da F. Burghardt is a New York-based jour­nal­ist and author who has con­tributed com­men­tary, break­ing news, and fea­tures to major news­pa­pers across the U.S., in addi­tion to hav­ing three non-fic­tion books pub­lished. She writes fre­quent­ly on Jew­ish top­ics and is now serv­ing as Schol­ar-in-Res­i­dence at the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al & Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau County.

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