My Road from Kovno to Jerusalem
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Noteworthy but unremarkable as Holocaust memoirs go. Birger served in the Israeli government in important commercial posts, including directing the Jerusalem International Book Fair and the Economic Council on Printing and Publishing. This book industry background, like the foreword by ex—prime minister Shimon Peres, only establishes Birger’s love of books, not his credentials to write one. Normally, description of the unreal Holocaust setting can compensate for literary shortcomings, but the language here is too often stilted: “a very small number of mothers had managed to save their offspring.” Instead of a dramatic night watch for Liberation, Birger only notes that “for a while, we had been able to observe that something was wrong with the Germans.— A post-liberation highlight was meeting General Patton and explaining why he preferred fighting for Jewish Palestine to resettlement in the United States. From his youth in Lithuania fighting anti-Semites to his underground activities in the Kovno ghetto and the hellish stay in the Dachau extermination camp, it was Zionist dreams and Hebrew culture that kept Birger alive. The only survivor in his family, he constantly convinced himself that circumstances were bearable and that he must live through the hunger, disease, and back-breaking labor to exact the revenge of survival. On his slow emergence toward health, marriage, and normalcy, he decided that, while Germans denying knowledge and complicity with Hitler were liars, there were good and bad people of every nationality, so any racism would make him guilty of Nazism. Like the rest of the world, Birger remained silent about the Holocaust for decades (“I did not want to seem melodramatic”) until his son wrote from the tank corps during the Yom Kippur War of 1973, “do not worry, we will win—there is no going back to Dachau.” A writer so established in the publishing world still would have benefited from better editing and translation.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 1-55704-386-8
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: Newmarket Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1999