Ross’ debut recounts the gripping life of Holocaust survivor Abe Peck.
Ross met Peck while volunteering at a survivors’ event; the result is a book-length interview. The author supplements Peck’s story with personal material and historical background. Peck’s childhood home, the Polish town of Szadek, was invaded by Nazi forces when he was 14 years old. Over the next six years, Peck survived the ghetto, work camps, and forced marches, finally being liberated by Allied forces at age 20. Though Peck’s survival is in a sense a triumph over the Third Reich, the overall tone here is more mournful than triumphant. Peck is part of the 2.5 percent of Szadek’s Jewish population that survived the Holocaust. He lost 83 of his 89 immediate relatives. Peck himself is quick to state that his survival was as much luck—being a certain number in an SS roll call, for example—as it was persistence. Photographs of lost family members further communicate this sense of immense loss. Peck recalls experiences of grief, grueling labor, illness, starvation, anti-Semitism, and cruelty. After his liberation, he married another survivor, had a son, and built a successful furniture business in the United States. A particularly bittersweet chapter portrays Peck’s return to Szadek to help rededicate the town’s Jewish cemetery. While Ross is an able writer, the real impetus of the book comes from Peck: thoughtful, generous, and a natural storyteller. His quietly devastating account of his adolescence is accompanied by incisive reflection on the ways his experiences shaped his life and sense of self. Ross is clearly a good interviewer, although she sometimes intrudes. She describes the death of Abe’s father, for example, as “heart-wrenching”; of course it was, but such interjections are a distraction. Still, the book is an affecting and effective portrait.
An elegiac, bittersweet, and well-told account of a remarkable man’s life.