KINDERGARTEN by Elzbieta Ettinger


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A stark and powerful dissection of the courageous/contemptible game of ""adjustment"" by human beings under extreme stress--in this case, a Jewish girl in Nazi-occupied Poland. Elli Rostow had cut down her grandfather's body after his suicide; had known other family self-slaughters; had seen grieving women and children sent to be exterminated; had been propelled into death's humiliations and horrors. Elli's mother--now known by the Polish name of Maria--is her introduction to the survival tactic of becoming ""Polish."" (Watch the inflection, study the Catholic prayerbook, make up heavily to hide the ghetto pallor.) Those who fail are wiped out, and in a succession of locations, jobs, Elli learns the ropes. But she suffers unbearable memories, just manages to hold off a breakdown such as her cousin Lili's who gave way under the pressure of life without warmth, honesty and love. To the end Elli dares not confide even in the man who loves her, a Polish underground fighter, whose work, evolved from guilt, seems mockingly irrelevant to Elli's own agonizing charade. But in the bestiality of persecution and massacre, the victims also lose their humanity. (In the Warsaw ghetto an oppressor's corpse is shredded and packed into candy boxes.) War, Elli's grandfather had said, ""kills the conscience in man."" And conscience, love, is dispensable in the kindergarten maneuvers of historical brutality. A chilling suggestion that death, too, has its games.

Pub Date: Feb. 4th, 1969
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin