Monday, August 25, 2014

Such Good Girls by R D Rosen

You know how, when you lie down on your ear a certain way, you can hear your blood pulsing?  When I was very little, it sounded to me like soldiers marching.  This fear was ingrained in me from infancy because I was only 3 when I would wake up, panting in fear, desperate that my mother would be gone.  Much later in life, I would see archival footage of German soldiers goose-stepping and recognize them as the soldiers that scared me when I was little, the ones I could hear marching, the ones I knew were coming to take my mother from me. 

This early fear may be the reason I have read several books on the Shoah.  Anyone who has read The Diary of A Young Girl or The Upstairs Room or other books about Jewish children hidden during World War II will appreciate the focus of Such Good Girls: The Journey of the Holocaust’s Hidden Child Survivors by R. D. Rosen.  The concept for the book happened almost by accident when the author happened to meet a child survivor at a dinner, a story shared in the introduction of the book.

The first three chapters introduce the reader to three different women who were each hidden under unique circumstances.  Sophie hides with her mother who teaches her young child the Catholic catechism all the while trying to keep their true identities a secret.  Flora moves from situation to situation, and from religion to religion.  Carla’s story also includes being taught another religion and her story overlaps that of still another child survivor.

By beginning with personal stories, Rosen puts an emotional “face” on the experience but the three stories also expose how each woman’s experience is unique.  So when the book shifts in the second part to focus on how conferences were eventually organized for these particular survivors.  The survivors share their stories as they find things in common.  It was interesting to me to learn that these children survivors were not considered by concentration camp survivors to be true Holocaust survivors.  Nonetheless, the psychological repercussions that their individual experiences have on them as adults suggests that trauma is trauma, that one person’s suffering is not necessarily more or less than another’s, and what we do to cope in the face of horrific circumstances.

There are some redundancies in the book because Rosen will allude to something, then tell the story in more specific details, and later still make another reference to the same story.  As the book itself points out, memory can be a peculiar thing and what we think we know clearly to be true, even something we recall in great detail, may not in fact be what happened.  Perhaps he extrapolated and assumed his readers would forget things from one page to the next. 

As horrifying as the stories are, they are handled with a delicate hand, allowing the reader to hear the stories without being overwhelmed.  There are aspects of these children’s experiences that are not often discussed by others but should come as no surprise.  The book closes, as it began, with a personal story, first that of the author’s and another from one of the survivor’s, bringing the book full circle, back to where it began, in a way. 

Time is relentless and there will be fewer living survivors then eventually none.  Their stories matter and the difficulty one experiences in hearing the stories is nothing compared with the pain of living them and telling them.  They, the survivors and their stories, should be honored.  This book does a good job of doing precisely that.

2 comments:

  1. I am happy that some of the stories have been preserved for future generations.

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    Replies
    1. Betty, As am I. So much of the emphasis in survivor research has been on the adults. When you think about the implication of a child who has no authority over any of the choices being made, the unique powerlessness of being dependent on what others think is best, it seems obvious that a child's experience of survival would be different from that of the adults who could make some decisions. Albeit, so many had no choice, no options, with political doors slamming shut and locked from every side.

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