Karmi’s debut, a matter-of-fact memoir focusing on his ordeals in Nazi concentration camps, strikes a relatively upbeat chord largely discordant with works by other Holocaust survivors.
Born into a Jewish family in the then-Hungarian city of Satu Mare, a young Karmi grows up in a country that is increasingly hostile to its Jewish population. With Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, the hostility becomes a matter of official policy; despite his valiant service to Austria-Hungary in World War I, David’s father’s foreign heritage results in the family’s expulsion to Poland. There, the Karmis attempt to bunk with unhelpful relations, then undertake great risks to return to Satu Mare, only to find their home and possessions seized. Soon the family is deported once again, this time to Auschwitz, where young David is separated from his parents and sister amid horrific rumors of their likely fate. David survives not only Auschwitz, but a transfer to a second camp in the ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto and then a death march to Dachau in Germany as the Allied armies close in. The author ascribes his improbable endurance to the fact that he never gave up hope—he writes in an afterword, “I always look forward to tomorrow and try to forget yesterday”—and indeed, the book lacks the tonal despair employed by fellow survivors such as Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel, instead echoing the optimism of Anne Frank’s pre-camp diaries. But perhaps just as important to David’s survival as his sunny outlook are his quick wits, good fortune and knack for making the right kinds of friends—ranging from fellow inmates who share his pluck to a sympathetic Wehrmacht lieutenant who even invites David out of the camp to his family’s home for meals. Though Karmi’s narrative loses steam once he details his post-war emigration to Palestine, his prose moves along at a respectable clip and rarely lingers on trivial details, until a handful of later chapters profiling Karmi’s successful but relatively dull American real-estate career.
Eminently readable and largely remarkable.