Monday, July 7, 2014

Burned Child Seeks the Fire by Cordelia Edverson published in 1984 in Swedish, in 1997 in English

"Even readers who think they have become inured to the pain of Holocaust memoirs will be sucked in and beaten down by the brutal honesty of Edvardson's words." from a review in Kirkus Reviews 5/20/2010

In this carefully composed, concise memoir, Cordelia Edvardson (1929-2012) tells us what it was like to be “born” Catholic but to be labeled a Jew because her father, who did not live with her, was a Jew. Also, her mother’s father was born Jewish but converted to Catholicism. She remembers feeling different from the time she was very little, before she even understood the concepts, the ideology, the politics. This feeling of being "other" is reinforced, for example, when her mother and step-father will not let her join the Union of German Girls where she hopes to become part of a group of kindred spirits. They do not explain why.

 As she gets older she confronts the gradual imposition of restrictions which lead up to the wearing of the yellow star and she tells us that because her mother thinks it is dangerous for her to live at home, she is constantly changing addresses although she often risks sneaking home during the day. Like so many others who were looking for safety for her children, the author’s mother constantly seeks for ways to protect her daughter. She arranges for Cordelia, then fourteen, to become a Spanish citizen, but the scheme backfires and Cordelia is deported first to Theriesenstadt and then to Auschwitz.

Before being deported she is assigned to live in the Jewish Hospital in Berlin, a place for Jews with “connections” – having a non-Jewish parent, for example. Edvardson describes it as a version of Hell. Residents know their lives could end at any time and do just about anything to protect themselves in order to stay alive. They trade sexual favors for comfort and protection, and many raid the hospital’s supply of drugs. Edvardson is relieved to be deported to Theresienstadt which she and her mother understand to be a work camp.

Her descriptions of life and death in Auschwitz are searing. She understands that to survive she has to appear strong and ready to work. And the work she is assigned to do is devastating.. She sits in Mengele’s presence and records the numbers read off of arms of those who are about to be gassed.

After the war she is sent to Sweden where she recuperates and decides to live. After reuniting with her mother, she becomes a journalist and moves to Israel where she was the Middle East correspondent for a Swedish newspaper. Edvardson, a child growing up in Nazi Berlin, paints a vivid picture of herself as the "burned child" of her title, whose life is forever scarred by her wartime experiences.

To read an obituary in the Jerusalem Post of Cordelia Edvardson, click here.
To read a review in the Forward of a book about the Jewish Hospital in Berlin, click here.

Elisabeth Langgasser
    Cordelia Edvardson –daughter of Elisabeth

Sylvia Krown

Berlin – Grunewald
Berlin – Eichkamp
Stockholm, Sweden
Jerusalem, Israel