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.