AND YET, I AM HERE! by Halina Nelken


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As a teenager, Nelken, who is Jewish, kept a diary of the permanent destruction of her comfortable life when the Nazis overran her homeland. Unlike Anne Frank, this girl survived the Holocaust to tell the full story. Now an art historian, she was born to a prosperous, assimilated Polish family. And she recalls, with bittersweet verisimilitude, her idyllic early days in Krakow—the people and the pastry, the kitchens and the streets. Moved from home to the ghetto and to ever more confined quarters and constricted living conditions, Nelken goes on to describe the travails of her parents and brother, her friends at gimnazium (when she was allowed to attend school), her work (including enforced street cleaning), and, with special grace, her youthful yearnings and romances. Despite lack of rest and food, she notes the music, poetry, and aspirations she found in the ghetto. “Somehow,” she wrote in her diary, “I hope that something will happen and my life will change for the better.” Then the ghetto was closed, and Nelken, her mother, and sister-in-law were sent to the Plaszow, Auschwitz, and RavensbrÅck concentration camps, where the likes of Amon Gîth, Franz Hoessler, and Dr. Mengele were her keepers. By the closing days of the war, some prisoners were able to escape and, save for her father, the author and her immediate family endured. Her story of purgatory is a lifetime ago and a world away from her present life in academic Cambridge, Mass. But she fulfills a moral obligation to remember the past, while urging us not to heed the “professional Holocaustniks” who weren’t even there. “If only,” she wishes for those who were, “I could protect all of us from forgetfulness, individually, as we were, we living people!” In moving testimony, her legacy is another story snatched from six million. An intelligent and writerly memoir. (16 illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: March 1st, 1999
ISBN: 1-55849-156-2
Page count: 296pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 1999