Amidst the Shadow of Trees

October 10, 2013
BY John Starrels

101113_mishmash_bookNot long from now, the last survivors of the Holocaust will have passed on. Our collective memory, those of us who were spared this horror, will become secondhand.

This is why Miriam M. Brysk’s book could not have appeared at a more appropriate time. There are three basic narratives in her treatment, each of which sheds penetrating light on various aspects of the Holocaust. First, there is the recollection, the retelling, of the monstrous event through the expert eyes of a child. She expresses understandable irritation when her elders condescendingly chide her that someone so young could not possibly grasp the enormity of this horror. Brysk proves them wrong.

The second narrative focuses on the efforts of a condemned people to maintain the normal rhythms of daily life such as the regular games Brysk played with a girl neighbor.

“We collected paper labels from bottles and cans, usually extracted from the garbage, and traded them, much like children in America,” she writes. The background against which these games were played was anything but prosaic.

And then there is the old theme of alleged passive collaboration of Jews in their own extermination. This argument, most prominently associated with Hannah Arendt, has been refuted on countless occasions. Brysk’s account of how, at age 7, she escaped with her family from the Lida Ghetto and linked up with Jewish and Soviet partisans in the Lipiczany Forest in order to wage partisan war against the Nazis decisively refutes this argument. This is a well-written, emotionally wrenching book and well worth reading.

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