What Papa Told Me

  • Review
By – September 13, 2011
With her grand­fa­ther grow­ing old, and she the family’s writer,” it fell to Cohen to sat­is­fy his request for her to inter­view him and record his sto­ry — from his fam­i­ly life in Poland, his youth, the dev­as­ta­tion of his town, the Nazi inva­sion, his incar­cer­a­tion in sev­en labor camps, all locat­ed in Poland: Sos­nowitz. Gogolin, Maslovitz, Diren­furt, Fintchien. Although he had been made a kapo” because of his strength, he could nev­er bear to strike a fel­low pris­on­er for not work­ing hard enough, so he did their work too, but even­tu­al­ly lost his kapo” rat­ing because of it. For a full year, he was at Gross-Rosen, a death camp, where those in his job were killed every th ree months to pre­vent their wit­ness­ing, should they sur­vive. He did sur­vive to be shipped to Braun­schweig Drite con­cen­tra­tion camp where he worked under­ground at the Her­mann Goer­ing fac­to­ry mak­ing grenades. With news of the Amer­i­can advance, the pris­on­ers were moved to Bergen Belsen, where he found his two sis­ters, only one of whom sur­vived until lib­er­a­tion. The shock of the Holo­caust did not end with lib­er­a­tion, how­ev­er, nor with the Sec­ond Gen­er­a­tion. The Shoah claimed its vic­tims many years lat­er, as well. The author’s grand­fa­ther, Mur­ray Schwartzbaum, had still more tragedy to bear, when his beloved first wife, Fela, emo­tion­al­ly dam­aged by her expe­ri­ences dur­ing the years of incar­cer­a­tion, com­mit­ted sui­cide, leav­ing him and their three chil­dren. The fam­i­ly even­tu­al­ly recov­ered, and her grand­fa­ther remar­ried. Here, the third gen­er­a­tion, the author, has revis­it­ed it and grace­ful­ly ful­filled her grandfather’s wish to write down what hap­pened to him before it was too late. Photos.
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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