A personal attempt to tackle emotionally the Nazi roundup of a 3-year-old relative to the concentration camps.
An American Jew whose family escaped the Nazi death machine when another branch of the family did not, Ripp (Pizza in Pushkin Square: What Russians Think About Americans and the American Way of Life, 1990, etc.) resolved to visit European Holocaust memorials in order to garner a visceral sense of what they expressed—and what they were unable to express. The death of his young cousin Alexandre Ripp, in Auschwitz in 1942, followed his “arrest” with his grandmother in Paris in July 1942 (“arrested suggests more force than needed to take a three-year-old into custody”). This served as a poignant reminder that the branch of the family in Berlin with money, the Kahans, was able to emigrate before the Nazis got them, while the working-class Ripps, namely Alexandre’s father, Aron, born in Grodno, Poland, and relocated to Paris, were relegated to hiding and eventual execution. The author visited many Holocaust memorials in Europe—35, he claims—many off the beaten path in Poland and Austria, and he is not easily impressed by the good intentions of famous artists. Above all, the author craved a “personal connection” to the memorials, a sense of being moved intimately and outside the institutional setting. “You have to find your proper place in the particular stretch of history that the memorial invokes,” writes Ripp. “Tenuously connected or deeply involved, it doesn’t matter which, as long as you are honest.” His father had come from Grodno, and his memories of the Poles were not generous; the author often scrutinizes and suspects his handlers and translators along the route for being emotionally expedient. Overall, his memoir is prickly and selective, occasionally haphazard, yet he maintains an emotional honestly above all.
An idiosyncratic work striving for sense and meaning from a family record of enormous loss and obfuscation.