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We know the young Jewess, the center of this journey-through-hell story, only as Maria Janczewska, the name she assumes with her forged papers. Maria is in her teens, living at home with her parents and her husband Jan, when the Nazi monster begins to crunch her native Poland. She is pampered, irresponsible, weak. And she is one day told by her mother, ""I think, darling, that you are now going to have to grow up fast"". Grow up fast, Maria Janczewska does. First her parents are killed; then she witnesses Jan's brutal death. Her time in the Warsaw ghetto is a mere preparation for what is to come. She must for a while go through the motions of mistress to a Gestapo official. She must dance, and charm, and laugh with the enemy, whom she must personalize as the young, handsome, sensitive Nazi officers or destroy herself with objectless hate. But she cannot. Maria works with the resistance movement and is taken political prisoner. And here she escapes only temporarily from the infernal destitution through lesbianism. But even from this love she can draw no life. She is sustained only by a wish for preferably fast death. Upon release, during the German retreat from Poland, Maria holds a gun to another Aryan head, another fair-haired officer of the Third Reich: ""Had he been dressed I should have fired. And then, no doubt, I should have been delivered"". Maria is not delivered and she will continue to live out her days in the rarefied air of those who can know no joy. A slow-starter which becomes increasingly exciting, complex, shattering.

Pub Date: Sept. 12th, 1962
Publisher: Pantheon