Rychner-Reich’s coming-of-age memoir, set during the Nazi occupation of Poland and the Holocaust.
This gripping account, which begins in the late ’30s, depicts a bourgeois German family’s descent from financial and social success to agonizing struggle for survival in Bergen-Belsen’s camps. As the madness of Hitler’s reign progressed, Rychner-Reich and her loving, hardworking family were driven to progressively more desperate measures. The family suffered constraints on their livelihoods and their movements, eventually abandoning their possessions in the flight to Poland. The author paints a clear picture of the Nazi regime’s psychological warfare–the Jews and other targeted groups were constantly adapting their movements or dressing to conform to the latest arbitrary regulation, never knowing what to expect. However, the true horror wasn’t the random enforcement of questionable rules, but the utter brutality of what Rychner-Reich terms the â€œNazibeasts” or â€œNazibrutes.” The descriptions of shocking violence are painful merely to read, to say nothing of what the author witnessed firsthand. The psychological strain that survivors must withstand becomes more painfully evident as Rychner-Reich’s story continues. Aside from two older brothers who emigrated to Argentina before the war, the author lost every member of her immediate family to the Nazis. The memoir is generally chronological, but occasionally jumps back and forth in time–this doesn’t affect the story, instead serving almost to convey the confusion and miasma of the time. The only saving grace for readers is that Rychner-Reich survived to marry, have a family and join her voice with those of other survivors.
Though 70 years have passed since the systematic, inhuman events in this compelling autobiography, it remains incredibly painful to read.