A writer offers a World War II narrative based on a 1987 audio memoir recorded by her mother-in-law.
In Shalev’s debut novel, Tanya Anglische is “born and raised in Nowy Sącz” in southeastern Poland. Her father owns a candy factory, and her Jewish family is comfortably upper middle class. Tanya is a young teenager and has just completed elementary school when, on Sept. 1, 1939, the Germans invade Poland. Within a few days, she, her parents, and her two younger brothers (8-year-old Jozef and 4-year-old Dovid) must leave everything behind as they race to flee the Nazi occupation. “Just before dawn,” they leave on foot and make their way over the bridge spanning the Dunajec River minutes before it is blown up. They plod on, part of a mass of refugees, as German planes fly overhead strafing the road. For a while, relative safety is found in Khodoriv, Poland, where they scrape by, hiding from German soldiers. But when the nonaggression pact between Germany and Russia gives this section to the latter, Tanya and her family face a new threat. A Russian soldier knocks on the door and tells them to pack up. The Jews remaining in Khodoriv are herded to the railroad station and put on a freight train for a three-week journey to a frigid northern Russian work camp in Siberia. A year later, the family escapes, continuing its wandering exile. This is a remarkable story of courage, adaptability, and determination to survive, vividly narrated by Tanya, the fictional stand-in for the author’s mother-in-law, Tamar Englander Shalev. Tanya describes, in equal measure, scenes of horror and moments of unexpected beauty. Here, she emerges from a ditch following a German air attack: “The road, which, until a few moments ago, heaved with fleeing families, is now littered with dead and wounded.” And here she witnesses the aurora borealis: “The most spectacular lights and swirls and rays fill the sky….I’m stunned by the grandeur.” Although most American readers will not recognize many of the locations traversed by the Anglische family, a rough map and historical endnotes help supply context.
An illuminating contribution to Holocaust literature and a riveting family drama.