A Hungarian woman’s debut remembrance of her journey from Holocaust survivor to public witness.
Author Lyon’s early childhood was nearly idyllic; as one of six siblings in a Jewish family, she was raised in the rural Czechoslovakian town of Velky Berehi, a small, tightly knit community where Jews and gentiles lived in peaceful harmony. However, the 1938 Munich Agreement, signed when the author was 8 years old, ceded control of part of Czechoslovakia, including the author’s hometown, to Hungary—a grim turning point in the young girl’s life. Hungary was allied at the time with Nazi Germany, and anti-Semitism was common. The government assigned the author a new first name, Hajnal, and renamed her town, as well. After the Germans arrived as conquerors in 1944, they deprived her family of its livelihood and made all Jews wear identifying yellow stars. Lyon was eventually shipped to the Ghetto Beregszász before being sent to the infamous concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. She was imprisoned at seven different camps until she was rescued in 1945 by the Swedish Red Cross and sent to live with a loving host family in Sweden for two years. Then she reunited with some of her family members in the United States, where she met her husband, Karl Lyon, with whom she later had children. What little remained of her Hungarian kin was now behind the Iron Curtain, and it took relentless petitioning of the Soviet Union before she was granted permission to visit them again. The author’s recollection is as emotionally wide-ranging as it is historically astute, and her account of forced alienation from her own culture and religion is engaging. The author became a prolific public lecturer on the catastrophe of the Holocaust, and her unflinching sense of moral purpose enlivens her entire memoir. Much of the story is heart-wrenching and thus difficult to read, but Lyon manages to leaven her work with wit and inspiration. There’s no shortage of first-person accounts of the Holocaust available today, but this one serves as an able reminder of the urgent necessity of returning to the past with eyes wide open.
A stirring meditation on survival and preserving one’s identity in the midst of cultural dislocation.