A daughter chronicles her father’s extraordinary life, including the suffering he endured under both Nazi and Communist tyrannies.
Nachman Libeskind was largely raised in Lodz, Poland, where his Jewish parents eked out a modest living with a small grocery store. Libeskind, who had three siblings, was an infectiously happy child, obsessed with art and music. Instead of sending him to a cheder, a traditional religious school, his parents reluctantly enrolled him at the Vladimir Medem School—a much more progressive, practical academy that changed Libeskind’s life. As a teenager, he was politically active in the Bundist movement and jailed; he quickly learned the precariousness of life in Poland as a socialist and as a Jew. After Nazi Germany annexed Lodz, it became clear that he had to flee the country. He headed to the southern hinterlands of the Soviet Union, and he met his future wife, Dora Blaustein, in Uzbekistan. The two were forced to work in labor camps in Kyrgyzstan before they eventually returned to Poland. The political climate there remained perilous, with Jews subject to harassment from the Soviet secret police and anti-Semites, both seemingly ubiquitous. In 1957, Libeskind moved his family to Israel, an exciting prospect for Dora, who was reunited with family members there. Later, they all moved to New York, where Libeskind made a name as a painter. Berkovits, Libeskind’s daughter and the author of this cinematically gripping debut biography, does a masterful job weaving together a coherent narrative, culled largely from tape recordings that her father left behind. She has a rare gift for storytelling, and along the way, she intersperses her own, first-person accounts of her father as she knew him (“I remember the first time we talked about my father’s imprisonment when I was a young teenager and felt that somehow he wasn’t telling me the whole story”). Overall, the prose is lively and direct, and the story is deeply affecting. Sometimes, the author’s tendency to leap forward and backward in time is a touch disorienting, but this is a minor quibble when balanced against the work’s virtue as a whole.
A moving tale that’s emotionally powerful and historically edifying.