MEMORY FIELDS by Shlomo Breznitz
Kirkus Star


Email this review


By authority of his excellent prose, discomfiting honesty, risky form, and shattering fidelity to the traps of remembering the nearly unbearable, Breznitz has produced a Holocaust memoir that stands with the best of them. An academic psychologist (The New School and the Univ. of Haifa), Breznitz brings more than a hint of velleity to his account that will remind some readers, with cause, of Primo Levi. But unlike Levi, Breznitz was not himself at Auschwitz. His Czech parents were, though--and with moving foresight they had arranged to convert to Catholicism so their daughter and son might live out the war sheltered in a convent orphanage. Life in the orphanage is grim; Breznitz is bullied and, in turn, bullies; the nuns know he is Jewish but he remains in mortal terror of taking off his underwear in case one of his fellow ""orphans"" might discover the fact and give him away. The ambiguity of survival is made indelible by two incidents in particular: Breznitz's knack for remembering whole Latin prayers is noticed by the nuns and the local prelate, who link it with the legend prophesying a future Pope arising from a Jewish convert. But the author's intelligence also is nearly his undoing: One Christmas Eve, the local German commandant visits and is serenaded; when he asks if anyone knows ""Silent Night"" in German, Breznitz's sister unthinkingly moves forward, her brother joining her in solidarity--and, as they sing, it occurs to them that the only Czechs who commonly knew German in that village were Jews, and that they have just given themselves away. And in fact they have: The German commandant leans forward and tells them not to worry, their parents will be coming back. Breznitz's narration and knowledge of psychological shadings make this scene and others heart-stopping and universal in a way few books of this kind manage to do. Likely to be a classic of Holocaust literature: not to be missed.

Pub Date: Jan. 7th, 1993
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Knopf