The Win­ter’s Jour­ney of My Youth: A Memoir

Helen Stud­ley
  • Review
By – September 13, 2011
The Winter’s Jour­ney is a live­ly mem­oir of a hor­ri­ble expe­ri­ence. The abrupt tran­si­tion from accom­plished swim­mer pop­u­lar among her peers to an out­lawed Jew for­bid­den to swim at the town pool, is quick­ly tran­si­tioned by a humor­ous alter­na­tive — a descrip­tion of a swim­ming hole used by nud­ists, who cor­dial­ly invite her to join them, even in a suit. To off­set most of the offend­ing actions, there are usu­al­ly coun­ter­points of humor, and also the kind­ness of some peo­ple, espe­cial­ly the author’s boss in the slave labor camp where both she and her father worked. Through sheer mox­ie, Helen, a non-book­keep­er, served in that role to the civil­ian, Ger­man but non-Nazi Mr. Runge, who befriend­ed her, taught her what to do, and warned her before round ups. The fam­i­ly of three, the father and his two daugh­ters, were brave and resource­ful and great­ly aid­ed by var­i­ous peo­ple. Unlike most tales of a crowd­ed hid­ing place, there are hilar­i­ous accounts of the var­i­ous board­ers. In fact, if Stud­ley had mar­ried a Japan­ese board­er, he would have tak­en her to Switzer­land, but she refused to leave her father and they could not get anoth­er visa. Stud­ley was man­ag­ing to pass as a gen­tile on the street until a gen­tile woman from the same camp, jeal­ous of Runge’s atten­tion to Stud­ley, exposed her to the SS and she was jailed. What hap­pened next, and how Stud­ley saved her­self among the jailed pros­ti­tutes is the best part of the book. Even in Auschwitz, although tat­tooed, at that late date, she did not have to cut her hair; and at lib­er­a­tion, the nurse who tend­ed her dur­ing her bout with typhoid, could not believe she was a pros­ti­tute and soon made oth­er arrange­ments for her. Can you imag­ine a Holo­caust sto­ry that because of its live­ly por­traits of the peo­ple with whom they shared var­i­ous liv­ing places, is enter­tain­ing, as well as trag­ic? That is what Stud­ley has accom­plished. Sequences are not always clear, but it’s worth the effort to unrav­el them.

Addi­tion­al books fea­tured in this review:

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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