Stunning contemplation of human relationships, power, and the creation of history through the prism of one woman’s Holocaust survival.
In language that is both marvelously blunt and bitingly sharp, former concentration-camp inmate Kluger (German Literature/Univ. of California, Irvine) recalls her experience growing up in Austria at precisely the right age to have her childhood circumscribed and eventually choked by Viennese anti-Semitism and Hitler's war machine. Placed in Theresienstadt at age 12, she escaped the gas chamber through an accident of fate (an offhand act of kindness from a Nazi) and spent the war shuttling from camp to camp with her mother, who also survived. After a strangely simple escape from one of the final death marches of the war, they immigrated to New York City. Kluger dives in an out of her narrative to consider such topics as her imperfect relationship with her family, her creation of herself as a social being, and the encounters and relationships she's had with Germans since the war. She considers the nature of power and who holds it, extending her line of thought to the crushing sexism of the ’40s and ’50s and making an excellent case that “the Nazi evil was male, not female.” Though the work is relatively slim, it is all meat; Kluger's bristly intellect makes every page hit hard. “This is not the story of a Holocaust victim,” she asserts. In the place of easy sentimentality, we are given a complex testament, one that handily encompasses such phrases as “in a way, I loved Theresienstadt.” Kluger is the farthest thing from an apologist; she merely refuses ever to simplify.
A work of such nuance, intelligence, and force that it leaps the bounds of genre.