This is an unusual Holocaust memoir written by a Polish Catholic woman, who survived the atrocities of Nazi persecution. Her entire family was arrested for their participation in the Polish Resistance. It is not just the recounting of the suffering they endured. The autobiographical text is frequently interrupted and enriched by the author’s poetry depicting the personal emotional impact of her experiences.
Like Anne Frank’s family, Lilka’s family was middle class, cultured and comfortable before the Nazis invaded their countries. The two girls, of such different backgrounds, were about the same age when Hitler took over. Anne wrote her diary as an adolescent. Lilka wrote her memoir as an adult. Most of Lilka’s family survived. Only Anne’s father survived. The similarities and differences of their experiences are striking.
The most touching segment of Lilka’s memoir is the love that developed between her and Jerzy, a young man in the Polish Resistance. They planned to marry when the war was over. Unfortunately Jerzy did not survive.
Lilka became a child and adolescent psychoanalyst in Toronto, Canada, married, had two children, and after 25 years left her husband. Without any needed explanation, the last poem was written in December, 1996 for what would have been Jerzy’s 75th birthday.
The book is sensitively written and a vivid account of a non-Jewish family’s suffering during the Holocaust. Photographs, mostly taken after liberation, bring the participants to life. This worthy memoir deserves a better title. Although taken from one of the poems, the title is too pedantic, taken out of context. An excerpt from another poem would be more reflective of an aspect of the human condition at a very trying time in human history. “How lucky to die so many deaths and to stay alive.”
Arlyne Samuels a graduate of Brooklyn College, taught and supervised English in New York City for 40 years. She was the coordinator of the book club of the Greater Worcester (MA) Chapter of Hadassah. Arlyne passed away in May 2009 and will be missed by the Jewish Book World team.