Scriptwriter and novelist Popescu (autobiography: The Return, 1997; Amazon Beaming, 1991) tells the romantic tale of his wife’s parents—a potent story, extracted from their taped testimonies, of devotion in an unlikely setting.
Blanka and Mirek were each transported by the Nazis from Auschwitz to work in Mühldorf, a satellite of Dachau, where they met and fell in love. In Mühldorf, there was a truth in the cynical slogan Arbeit Macht Frei—at least in the case of the young lovers. Mirek, a political prisoner, had been employed to clear the sewers of the destroyed Warsaw ghetto, turning over recovered valuables to his captors. Then he was used to defuse Allied bombs. A consummate networker, he was also an underground agent, operating as a camp electrician, and was able to guide and teach Blanka the skills necessary to survive. She sorted loot stolen from gassed and incinerated victims, ran the tea kitchen for the living workers, and eventually became housekeeper for the camp kommandant. The text, artfully constructed in the first person, is largely in her impassioned voice. There are vivid character sketches, flashbacks to Blanka’s shtetl home, and precise depictions of barracks life. There’s also jealousy and melodrama and sensuality. Blanka’s story is one of ardor and endurance, Mirek’s one of high adventure. Finally, of course, the lovers were reunited after the war and, like many survivors, married and started a family and life anew. And, like many Holocaust memoirs, this one is an engrossing tale. “One might envision” his book, says the author, “as Gone With the Wind in the forties in Europe.” That’s a diminishing mistake, and the novelistic approach, too professional in its effort to relive the survivors’ true histories, may strain a reader’s credulity.
A powerful, often haunting narrative of love in the worst of circumstances, though told with more art than is necessary or, perhaps, appropriate.