MAN OF ASHES by Salomon Isacovici


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Distinguished by geography as well as by its painful testimony, Isacovici’s (d. 1998) memoir was first published in his adopted country of Ecuador. Like Elie Wiesel, Isacovici came from Sighet, Romania, and it took longer for the Holocaust to reach that far east. The comparison with Wiesel ends there, as we get mundane phrases like “my tenacious desire to survive”; otherwise, the co-author and the translator have done an admirable job with the unearthly suffering depicted here, and the unusual psychological self-awareness of the survivor. Isacovici, typically, has few theological insights about the momentous events he lives through, but there are a few reflective philosophical moments. The author’s peaceful childhood was already rocked by a sense of evil learned from predatory owls and a destructive flood. And while life with his large farm family was otherwise uncomplicated, young Salomon had already learned to smuggle to get ahead. Much of the memoir’s early drama involves the creeping Nazi threat opposing the Jews” wishful thinking—that the war might be ending and that “it can—t happen here.” The residents of the author’s town heard blood-curdling testimonies from Polish refugees, tales of massacre and rape. Only a few other memoirs document such breaks from the Nazis” code banning sex with non-Aryans, and, together with descriptions of the brothels at Auschwitz and the kapos as often being released prisoners “who slept with young boys chosen from among the prisoners,” the memoir offers these more unique bits of historical significance. The author’s family is shattered in Birkenau, but he survives Auschwitz with jobs peeling potatoes and mining coal at Jaworno, and he survives a gruesome death march as the Soviets advance. Isacovici is able to rejoin two brothers in a fruitless return to the family farm and to many European cities in search of a haven. He then joins the family of a woman with whom he has a serious romance, who end up with visas for Ecuador, where he feels an empathy for the suffering of the local Indians. Above average in the torrent of Holocaust memoirs, this account tells an unforgettable and unique story.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-8032-2501-6
Page count: 244pp
Publisher: Univ. of Nebraska
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 1999


by Antonia Mehler