In this debut memoir, a Jewish American woman charts her family’s escape from Nazi-occupied Europe and celebrates the memory of a sibling she never met.
It was a hot afternoon in July 1956 when Halperin discovered that she had a sister. The 11-year-old author was enjoying a picnic with her parents in Bear Mountain State Park in New York when her father, Ignas, had a chance encounter with a fellow Polish refugee. The meeting led to a revelation that the author’s older sibling, Yvonne, had died while the family was fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe for America. However, Halperin had been unaware of her existence. The author begins the narrative by documenting her parents’ lives in Poland before World War II. She describes how her mother spoke of her youth in Lodz as “a great life…a life full of family all around.” Her parents married in 1935 and later relocated to Brussels, where Ignas opened a shoe shop. Yvonne was born in 1938, and the following year, Germany invaded Poland. By 1940, the family joined the crowds of desperate refugees intent on escape. Halperin follows her family’s passage through Bordeaux, France, to Portugal and onward to Jamaica where, tragically, Yvonne died following a bicycle accident. Presented in landscape orientation and in full color, the book records a journey of terror, hope, and loss, using family photographs, letters, and legal documents. It’s like being allowed access to a family’s private archive, and Halperin’s erudite, tender prose carefully explains the significance of each and every slip of paper. For instance, regarding her mother’s application for a U.S. immigration visa, she writes, “Hala tightened her grip on the pen. She pictured the marble stone they placed above Yvonne’s grave and with a heartache that was unbearable, she wrote: ‘I have no children.’ ” The author’s laconic but powerfully evocative style allows the reader to step back to the very moment when this heartbreaking declaration was made. Overall, this is an important and deeply personal memoir that vividly documents the struggles of a refugee family.
A thoroughly researched and intensely moving remembrance.