A woman recollects a childhood in Germany upended by the Nazis—and her determination to begin anew without forgetting the past.
Justin (A Long Journey, 2017) enjoyed a “tranquil” youth in Germany—her Jewish home was filled with love, music, and poetry—until the Nazis robbed her of her innocence and security: “The joys of my childhood were slowly contaminated by fear as the political climate changed.” The author’s life became subjected to a gradual but unalterable ostracism: Her non-Jewish friends could no longer play with her; teachers she respected stopped acknowledging her presence; and fewer and fewer people attended her parents’ convivial parties. Her family’s garden was defaced with a swastika and her sister Eva was interrogated and expelled from the country—she innocently misread a Nazi poster aloud—at the age of 9. Justin was eventually sent, with her sister Helga, to a boarding school in the Netherlands, and her father was arrested and nearly sent to a concentration camp. In 1939, the family reunited and escaped to the United States, forced to start over penniless in a culturally unfamiliar land, an alienating experience poignantly described by the author. In 1947, Justin fulfilled a lifelong dream and went to medical school, penetrating the “male domain of medicine,” and had her own practice by the 1960s. The memoir candidly discusses the author’s attempt to simultaneously confront but also move beyond the trauma of her youth, an anguish that relegated so many Jews to reticence and secrecy: “We had learned early in our childhood that it was dangerous to speak. In Nazi Germany, silence was safer than talking.” Justin’s account is beautifully impressionistic—she furnishes a string of brief vignettes that contrast life under Nazi rule with her formerly idyllic existence. She writes plainly, a style that ably conveys an unembellished strength, and her grief is accompanied by a moving expression of gratitude for survival. The brief book is adorned with gorgeous color and black-and-white photography—from various sources—presented on brilliantly glossy pages. This is a stirring testament to a remarkable life, full of both despair and heartwarming triumph.
A survivor’s simply and beautifully conveyed remembrance, powerful and edifying.