Regret is the theme of this candid, complicated memoir, which chronicles New York Daily News reporter Einhorn’s visit to the Polish family that sheltered her Jewish mother during World War II.
The author went to the town of Bedzin in 2001 to investigate her mother Irena’s story of being hidden by gentiles after her parents were rounded up by the Nazis and put on a train headed for an unknown destination. As the legend went, Irena’s father, Beresh, tried to persuade his wife to jump from the train with him, but she refused. He jumped anyway and headed back to Bedzin, where he collected his baby daughter from the elderly aunt caring for her and handed over Irena to a Polish woman he knew named Honorata Skowronska. Pleading with her to keep the child safe until he could return, Beresh gave Honorata “his money, his jewelry, the deed to his factory and apartment” before being arrested and deported once again. After the war, he returned from Auschwitz, retrieved his child and emigrated to Detroit. Whether or not he ever promised Honorata that her family could have his home in Bedzin is a murky question that drives much of the memoir. Irena never dwelled on memories of Poland, but the author hoped that her trip there would help repair a fraught relationship with her difficult, demanding mother. However, shortly after Einhorn first contacted Honorata’s son Wieslaw, who remembered Irena as his “sister,” her mother died of cancer, underscoring yet again the loss of connection with the past. Running parallel with her family saga is the author’s attempt to dispel the instinctual, stereotypical antagonism she felt for the Polish generation that betrayed the Jews, while marveling at the resurgence of interest in Jewish culture she found in young Poles she met. Einhorn delicately and movingly interweaves the personal and the epic.
Well-wrought, honest and even more ambiguous than most family histories.