THE PIT AND THE TRAP: A Chronicle of Survival by Leyb Rochman

THE PIT AND THE TRAP: A Chronicle of Survival

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Originally published in Yiddish in 1949, this diary/memoir is introduced by novelist Aharon Appelfeld as ""one of the most subdued, unsentimental documents ever written about the Holocaust."" It is, in any case, one of the most unusual: Rochman (1918-78), with his wife, sister-in-law, and two friends, managed to escape from the village/deathcamp atrocities of 1942 Poland (the rest of their families perished)--taking refuge in the apartment of an old non-Jewish whore called ""Auntie,"" then in the rural house of Auntie's brother Felek, an old thief. Alternately abused and clucked over by these unlikely, crankily courageous saviors, the five Jews spent their days standing up in a cramped passage behind a false wall, listening to the chatter of peasant visitors (many of them eager to find escaped Jews, to turn them in to the Nazis in exchange for sugar). Auntie is beaten by Polish police in search of Jews; Felek is executed--probably for banditry, not Jew-hiding. Life in the farmhouse becomes unbearable--illness, food shortages, the constant searches from the police, the constant warfare between Auntie and Felek's widow, with Rochman caught in between. (""They're both delighted that I told the other one off, and each pinches me to thank me and to get me to say more."") So the fugitives move--to a pit they've dug in the stable of Felek's brother Janek--and from there to a dugout behind a peasant family's farmhouse. . . where, after being caught in the crossfire of the 1944 German retreat, they welcome the arrival of the Russian army, which includes Jews. Rochman fills out his diary with memories of the 1942 horrors, with lamentations and prayers. But the anguished ordeal here is shaded with humor: the Auntie/Mrs. Felek cat-fights, the ironies of overhearing every search-party and every anti-Semitic outpouring. And, while surprisingly unilluminating about the emotions of the fugitives (the women remain especially fuzzy), this distinctive memoir offers a fascinating two-layer portrait of Polish responses to the Holocaust--the quixotic bravery of a few against a background of widespread Polish-peasant savagery--and is a worthy addition to any collection of Holocaust testimony.

Pub Date: Aug. 30th, 1983
Publisher: Holocaust--dist. by Schocken