“The story I am about to tell is only a fragment”: A Holocaust survivor remembers the small choices—some fraught with guilt—that allowed her to live as others died.
When the Nazis came to the Polish town of Mielec, writes Eber, a scholar of Chinese history and retired professor at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, they contented themselves with rounding up Jewish men for work details, forcing them to shave their beards, beating them. Everyone knew that worse was to come, and Eber describes “a particular tension, a disquiet, fueled by rumors of what the Germans planned to do next.” Eventually, in 1942, they made their move, rounding up the people of Mielec and herding them to a nearby town, then deporting them to urban ghettos. Throughout, Eber recalls, as she “came to resemble the half-starved ghetto children one sees nowadays in photographic exhibits” and withdrew into a fearful selfishness, her father remained optimistic, sure that they would survive if only they stayed together. But then the long trains bound for Auschwitz began to arrive, and Eber slipped away from her family. On the run, trying to remain calm lest the Germans spot her by the fear in her eyes, she returned to Mielec, only to be driven off by her erstwhile non-Jewish neighbors. In the next few years, sheltered by a Polish family that refused to join in the hatred, she became certain that she was the only one of her family left alive--and, moreover, she writes, “I eventually was convinced that I was the only Jew left alive.” Eber’s memoir is always affecting, her writing always elegant; some readers, however, may have trouble following events in sequence, for the narrative jumps about in time and place and the point of view frequently shifts from that of knowing adult to innocent child and back again.
Still, it’s worth sticking with. A fragment, yes, but one that glimmers—and enough fragments make a monument.