Christian By Disguise: A Story Of Survival, by Erna Kamerman Perry
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Bostick Communications in exchange for an honest review.]
This book is a short memoir about the author’s experiences as a Jewish girl surviving by being able to pretend to be a Polish Christian while living at a church while her mother served as a laborer. The most notable parts of this book occur at the beginning and end. At the beginning of the book, the author modestly states that “I only want my children, my (few) relatives, my friends, and those readers interested in the historical horrors of the twentieth century to know that once there was a little girl who, through no fault of her own, had to lie and pretend so she could live to see another day (1).” At the end of the book, she closes with a statement of moral courage by saying: “As I breathed the air of New York Harbor, I told myself that I would try to face the future with courage and that I would look forward to my life with hope. More importantly, I decided that I would never dwell on the past with bitterness. And I never have.” Here we see the essential virtues of this work as a combination of excessive modesty about what is an excellent little book as well as a resolution to look at life, even a life filled with horrible traumas resulting in a great deal of fear and timidity in life, without the sort of bitterness that poisons us and robs us of a better future.
This book is not divided into chapters, but rather has a single narrative flow that begins with the family history of the author, an explanation of her father hunger , her tensions as a spirited and sensitive and somewhat naive and very curious girl with her somewhat overprotective mother, who was clearly forced into stress far beyond her abilities to successfully manage. This book manages to show how the author stayed alive in part because her mother was good at using her feminine wiles and because the author had a good memory of Catholic prayers, managing to avoid death at the hand of the SS when they were denounced by an old village crone. The rest of the story is filled with stories of tense hiding, of the sort of lying that results from living in fear in an extremely abusive environment, of life as a refugee, of shy and timid flirtation as the author becomes a young woman, and of the triumph of hope over fear, even as the author recognizes her many fears and anxieties.
At its heart, this memoir may not change the minds of any haters, or convince those who willfully deny the truth of the Holocaust, but all the same, the world is at least a little better for this elderly woman speaking honestly and forthrightly about her own childhood, about the experiences that shaped her even as it shows appreciation for God’s divine providence in bringing her alive, if deeply scarred, and providing her with a loving and understanding husband who was gentle and loving. This is ultimately a story of resilience and of the triumph of goodness over the evil and corruption of the world, a triumph of decency that is so gentle that it looks with compassion on the fate of a German family waiting in vain for their sons to come home from the Eastern front even as the author waited in vain to see her father again after his brave but doomed acts of resistance against the Nazi wehrmacht. In telling her own voice without demonizing the ordinary volk of Germany, this book is a triumph of graciousness, even as it reminds us of the continued and present dangers of anti-Semitism that exist in this world . Hopefully this book can serve to encourage and inspire those who have survived their own deep traumas to seek a way to speak dark truths without bitterness or without losing a sense of innocence and graciousness to others who are caught in horrors too great to comprehend, in which we are all twisted and deformed under the resulting heat and pressure, but for our refinement into precious gems, rather than to embitter or destroy us.
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