Monday, November 22, 2010

I Have Lived A Thousand Years: Growing up in the Holocaust by Livia Bitton-Jackson 1997

"Hers is a story of unimaginable brutality, but also of faith, hope, and courage, exemplified by her closing message: Never give up."  from a review by Kathryn Berman on the Yad Vashem International School for Holocaust Studies site.

Livia Bitton-Jackson was thirteen in 1944 when she was deported with her mother and brother from her hometown of Somorja (which had been part of Czechoslovakia, then was occupied by Hungary, then reverted to Czechoslovakia after the war) to a ghetto in the town of Nagymagyar in Czechoslovakia. Her father had already been arrested and sent to a forced labor camp. With great specificity the author describes the next two years as she, her mother and brother were moved from camp to camp.

The memoir opens with a foreword that describes a scene in Seeshaupt, Germany in 1995 when the author attended the fiftieth reunion of her liberation which had occurred in that town. It was an emotionally difficult reunion and one that made her think about the passage of time. She worries that with the aging of Holocaust survivors and the birth of subsequent generations, memories of the Holocaust will fade. To address those concerns she has written this memoir for a young adult audience, what she calls the third generation. 

Despite the fact that it’s written for young adults, all readers will be interested in her story which, although it has the same arc of many Holocaust memoirs, still has details that make important points and distinguish her story from others. Bitton-Jackson (whose name then was Elvira Friedmann) focuses on cruelty and starvation and also on luck and kindness, but she especially focuses on courage. 

In clear direct prose she starts by discussing restrictions such as the forced closing of businesses, including her father’s, and then moves on to the forced wearing of the yellow star and the crowding in the ghetto. She describes the burning of books and Torah scrolls, the old men rending their garments and reciting psalms. She writes about the inhuman conditions under which they were made to assemble and were then transported, the crying babies, the food, water and sleep deprivation. But she was lucky, too. Even though she was underage, which normally would have meant that she would have been gassed with the other children,when she arrived at Auschwitz she was singled out for work because she had golden blond hair.

But mostly she writes about the terrible conditions and the cruelty: the unbearable cold, the unbearable heat, the illnesses, the blisters and sores, the beatings, the starvation. She talks about how whenever they arrived at a new camp the current inmates swarmed  around new arrivals, asking where they had come from, what had they seen, what did they know. Each group sought information about loved ones they had been separated from. She was determined to save her mother and endangered her own life on more than one occasion to keep her mother alive and next to her. She pleaded, she hid, she stood up to authorities. She is especially adept at describing what the emaciated inmates looked like, including herself, her mother and her brother. She paints an indelible picture of horror.

The memoir includes a useful map of the camps where Bitton-Jackson  had been interned and a chronology.

To see a web-based brochure on former Jewish synagogues (including in Somorja) and some cemeteries in Slovakia, click here.

To read a 2/18/11 New York Times article on current thoughts about the need for new kinds of exhibitions at Auschwitz written by Michael Kimmelman, click here.

Markus and Laura  Friedmann – author’s parents
    Ellie (Elvira) L. Friedmann – author
    Bubi – her brother
Perl Friedmann – sister of Markus; married to Abram Schreiber
    Hindi, Suri, Layi, Breindi – their daughters
    Benzu and Elyu –their sons
Celia ? – sister of Laura
    Imre – Celia’s son
Serina - sister of Laura  

Bonnie Adler
Gyuri Kardos
Ilse Grunwald
Yitu Singer
Lisa Kohn
Beth Stadler
Misi Lunger

Somorja (Samorin), Slovakia
Budapest, Hungary
Nagymagyar, Slovakia
Komarom, Hungary
Dunaszerdahely, Slovakia
Auschwitz, Poland
Satoraljaujhely, Hungary
Plaszow, Poland

Landsberg Concentration Camp, Germany
Muhldorf - a satellite of Dachua Concentration Camp, Germany
Waldlager Forest Camp, Germany
Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp, Germany
Seeshaupt, Germany
Brataslava, Slovakia

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