In this book, one family faces two forms of evil: the Germans and the Soviets. Yet despite the heart-wrenching experiences that Daniel Finkelstein’s parents endured — their shattered families, their forced starvation, their torturous work and treatment — they were able to create lives of love and success in a new world.
Two Roads Home is a testament to the strength and perseverance of the European Jews caught in the nets of both Nazi and Soviet terror. Written by Finkelstein, a political columnist for the Times of London, the book blends meticulous research with tender family feelings.
Finkelstein is the grandson of Dr. Alfred Weiner, the founder of the world’s oldest Holocaust archive. He opens this book with a searing epigraph from Weiner: “I am prepared to forget, as long as everyone else remembers.”
Despite its descriptions of incredible suffering, Two Roads Home is uplifting and deeply satisfying. Finkelstein’s research relies on numerous sources: a diary written in Bergen-Belsen, letters sent to Siberia, and personal testimony, among many others. He carefully traces his parents’ individual, and very different, experiences of the war before they met and formed a family. His maternal grandfather was a German Jewish intellectual leader who was able to relocate his family to Amsterdam when there was still time. But their safety was temporary: Finkelstein’s grandmother and their young daughters, including his mother Miriam, were caught and sent to Bergen-Belsen.
Finkelstein’s father’s family was Polish and, before the war, prosperous. When Stalin took control, his grandfather was sent to Siberia, while his mother and grandmother were deported to Kazakhstan, where they lived in an animal stable in freezing conditions and worked almost beyond endurance.
Told in accessible segments that alternate between his parents’ stories, the narrative shows us how the two coped with the destruction of all they held dear, and how they miraculously managed to hang on and come out whole. Finkelstein offers us a fully conceived, three-dimensional portrait not only of their personae, but also of the cultural, political, and social forces that shaped who they became.
In an age of so much confusion and obfuscation, we are fortunate to have a book with a clear voice that is so committed to truth-telling. Professional Holocaust scholars and general readers alike will find much to learn from it.
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.