Meinstein’s biography of Holocaust survivor Leah Cik Roth, told from her subject’s perspective.
Roth’s story begins in Brustury, Czechoslovakia (now part of Ukraine), with her earliest memory: the death and funeral of her mother when Roth was 5. Traumatic as that event was for Roth, she reminds the reader that “in years to come I would see death every day without the dignity given to my mother.” Roth tells of her childhood among the Orthodox Jewish community of her Carpathian village and of her desire to leave at age 14 due to a tense relationship with her stepmother. Following the Hungarian invasion of Carpathia, Roth traveled to the city of Chust to work as an apprentice basket maker and wig maker. She was in Chust in 1941 when she learned that most of her community, including her father and nearly all her siblings, had been forced over the Polish border by Hungarian forces and executed by firing squads. So begins the truly terrible account of Roth’s journey, which brought her to the ghetto of Sekernice, then to Auschwitz (and face to face with Mengele himself), then to Birkenau, Stutthof, and Brano, and finally to a forced march in the final months of the war. She subsequently escaped to Israel—she offers insight into the early years of that nation—before eventually immigrating to the United States. Meinstein is an eloquent writer, suitably skilled for describing both the lighter and darker chapters of Roth’s life. It’s an idiosyncratic volume—part personal scrapbook, part primary document of several disparate eras and locales—accompanied by various supplementary materials, including a reading group guide, letters written between Meinstein and Roth, lengthy acknowledgements, and thick fanfare: a full 14 pages of reader reviews of this very book. Flourishes aside, the story serves as a particularly unnerving account of the camps and their aftermath as well as a testament to how treasured the survivors remain for succeeding generations of Jews and non-Jews alike. Meinstein is clearly working her hardest to deliver a book worthy of Roth’s story. The result is a collaboration that is affecting on many levels.
A charming, life-affirming biography of survival and community.