To No Man’s Glory: A Child’s Journey From Holocaust To Healing: A Memoir, by Vincent (Arturs Lejnieks) Benson with Victoria Harnish Benson
I must admit that I am no stranger to this sort of memoir. In the larger sense of memoirs of difficult and traumatic childhoods, I am not only a reader of this sort of literature but also, lamentably, a writer. In addition to that, this particular book is part of a subgenre of memoirs of crappy childhoods, but is part of a particular set of memoirs from Holocaust survivors who have sought to convey their own painful experiences in the hope that other people will be able to gain insight about what it is possible for mankind to inflict and to endure. The person who loaned the book (from a personal copy that had been signed by the author, who is a personal acquaintance of mine from a United Church of God congregation in Southern Oregon) read the book and wondered if she and others would have to experience the same sorts of things that the author had written about. I must admit I do not know, and only God knows how we are to be tested and whether or not we will have to suffer in that fashion. God knows some of us have suffered a great deal already in our lives.
This book is about 250 pages long and is written in chronological fashion, mostly focusing on the period of World War II but also including a poignant discussion of the author’s life after the war ended. The book begins with the author as a small child growing up among the horrors of the Holocuast, surviving thanks to divine providence, a great deal of pluck, and the insights of his “aunt,” who he was lamentably unable to keep in touch with after coming to the United States. The author details the sort of things he saw in the Holocaust, including the aftermath of rape, the death of close friends, and other Nazi atrocities while shuttling between times in Nazi holding camps and resistance communities in the forest as well as a dramatic flight to escape the Soviets along with some German soldiers. The author also discusses the sometimes arbitrary nature of adoption from the displaced persons camp in postwar Germany and his own difficult experiences with an adopted father who gave him a last name but was simply unable to love him like a father should.
There are a lot of questions that this particular memoir prompted for me. For one, it was quite remarkable the sort of life experiences that someone could have that would not necessarily be visible. Many of us have suffered a great deal and have felt a great deal of internal pressure to make sense of that suffering by writing about it. This book deserves to be remembered within the fruitful and sorrowful genre of Holocaust memoirs in that it provokes a great many questions about the tensions within Latvian society over the survival of Jews in World War II and the behavior of the United States in accepting refugees but not encouraging refugee populations to maintain ties to their background or in helping such people cope with the trauma of their past experiences, and even preserving their own names even while seeking a new life. The author is kind in talking about his own failed first marriage, his sorrow at the death of his second wife (this book’s coauthor) and his recognition that the scars of his early life are not something that can ever be entirely left behind. It is also deeply poignant that the author recognizes that there are some memories not included here because they are better left alone, as well as a great many interesting historical sidebars to supplement the narrative.