Schindler’s Legacy: True Stories Of The List Survivors, by Elinor J. Brecher
As someone who has read quite a lot of material relating to Oskar Schindler and his activities in Poland and Czechoslovakia to save more than a thousand Jews, it is perhaps inevitable that I would come to a book like this, which presents the stories of some of the survivors among Schindler’s Jews. It is a powerful book, but its organization and structure also make it somewhat repetitive, as one notes the patterns of difficulties that these survivors of Hitler’s final solution faced as free men and women in the United States. The author ably combines accounts of interviews together to make for a compelling book of a bit more than 400 pages, but the book raises as many questions as it answers and also provides evidence of the serious damage that continued to affect the lives of the people who survived through the generosity of Hitler and their own resilience. Intriguingly, the author suggests that many of the survivors attempted to surround themselves either with friendly company that reminded them of the Old World or tried to blend in with American society around them, that some were religious and others defiantly not so, but that all were affected strongly by their experiences.
The book itself is divided into a number of chapters extending over 400 pages by the people or family that the author was able to interview. There are a lot of repetitious aspects to their story, as many of the survivors attempted first to return home to Poland, found the nation unwelcoming for survivors of the horrors of the Holocaust, and then managed to find temporary housing in Germany and surrounding areas while seeking a permanent home, which the survivors in this book mostly found in the United States or in Israel. There is the struggle to learn English, the frequency of intermarriage, the struggles with faith, the divorces, the deaths due in part to grief, the long experience of trauma and suffering, the desire for violent revenge against those who like Marcel Goldberg were viewed as being treasonous collaborators with the Germans, greedily exploiting their own people, the decision whether to have children or not in the knowledge that their children would be overprotected as a result of their own horrifying experience, the struggle between the desire to tell their own stories and to hide it and preserve their own anonymity and privacy. The author does a good job at telling these stories, but the same elements pop up over and over again.
And this, by the end of the book, leads the reader to a sense of fatigue over the repetition. Whether we are grieving over the losses of the Holocaust suffered by survivors, whether one is looking at the unfriendly atmosphere in a Poland that does not want the Jews to play a large role in their society and almost seems to rejoice in the property stolen from Jews by Poles, or whether we are looking at the efforts by survivors to appear normal and come to grips with the nightmares and problems that continue to plague them, the way the book is structured forces the reader to see the same sorts of stories over and over and over again. And in that sense of repetition, one realizes that the horrors of Nazi Germany and the ordinary horrors of life leave the same sort of trace, and that living in a nation of laws is only a defense from life when people live by the law and do not live according to their own lusts and their own hatred, which all too easily make a hell on earth where a heaven is promised. And those who survive such a hell, as the people in this book did, carry that hell with them wherever they go and as long as they live, and pass on some aspect of it to their children as well.