THE JEWISH POST & NEWS

Winnipeg, Manitoba

December 16, 1998

 

THE LIGHT AFTER THE DARK

Reviewed by Bob Hopkins

 

Alvin Abram is a storyteller and author, an active member of the Canadian Jewish community, and a representative of the Shoah. In The Light After the Dark, Alvin Abram tells six true stories of men and women who lived through the horror of the Holocaust.

            In his foreword to the book, Irving Abella writes, “Above all, these are stories of inspiration, of the indomitability of the human spirit and of the refusal to surrender to the cruelties of that dreadful moment in history.”

            While there is much to inspire in these accounts, my first reaction was of amazement at the behaviour of people on both sides of events. What a lesson in humanity.

            These stories make personal the atrocious events in history, the people who were the victims, and some other people who were just there, and by being there, played roles in what happened.

            The simple, first-hand telling of these stories offers a remarkable look into the horror it would have been to live them.

            Besides the history that can be learned through all the detail about places and events, the testimony of these people gives us much to think about. How would I have reacted? What would I have done? Indeed, even being survivors seems to mean different things to different people.

            Each story begins with some kind of flashback, a technique that is more effective in some cases than others. And, in each case, we meet the characters before the horrors begin, and follow them until ultimately, they find their way to Canada.

            Maps and photos are included with each story and help the reader to settle into each new narrative. There is a glossary in the back of the book, as well as listings of the historic people and places mentioned.

            An Eye For An Eye is the story of a boy who, at age 17, escaped the destruction of the ghetto in Dzisna, Byelorussia by jumping out a window and fleeing into the fog. He hid in the swamps and, later, watched his brother murdered by supposed friends as the two of them tried to escape. This is a sad story. A young man’s innocence was destroyed. He became a brave fighter, joining with various armed resistance groups and later the Soviet Army, but always facing bigotry and animosity from anti-Semitic groups that made up the partisan fighters. At age 21, Zalman Katz had been fighting a bloody and dangerous war for five years. He vowed to avenge the atrocities done to those he loved, but lives without peace, because of the burden of this early life.

            Michael Kutz, at age 11, found himself using dead bodies as a ladder to crawl out of a mass grave. Then he ran naked and bloody through a cold winter night and sought help at a convent. The mother superior gave him food and clothing, but sent him on his way the same night. This account was both chilling and deeply moving.

            Next is the story of Moishe Perlman, whose father was a fine man. This is simply another remarkable story. Moishe and his family struggled to survive, moving from place to place and hiding in bush and forest. Following much death and detail of some of the Ukrainian chapter of this history, we see another side of humanity. Devotion grows among Moishe and a group of young people who come together after the war to fight for a small space for a group of orphaned children. It is also the story of Lena Kuchler, who responded to the needs of these children, and the struggle that did not end with the war.

            Dubi Arie’s story is first that of his remarkable mother. This woman took her two young sons, and, acting largely on premonition, fled Warsaw to the Siberian wilderness. Because of her strength and courage, she and her boys were the only survivors of their family. Dubi Arie’s story then follows his growth as a soldier and artist.

            Marjan Rosenberg managed to survive the Holocaust, living as a Catholic Poland. During this time, he revealed his true identity to a parish priest. In 1993, he received a letter asking him if he would offer testimony on the priest’s behalf to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust commemorative authority that recognizes the righteous gentiles for helping to save Jewish lives during the war. “After much soul searching,” he says, “I replied. My answer was difficult, but I believe it was correct. I included with my letter a money order for $100, and requested that it be used towards a holy mass in the priest’s honour. I informed the writer that I could not in all good conscience give testimony for him as a righteous gentile to Yad Vashem. My confession that I was Jewish occurred in a confessional. “As a Catholic priest, he was sworn to keep secret whatever was told to him within that sanctuary . . . The priest had integrity and kept my secret because that was what he was obliged to do, and for that I will be eternally grateful.” It’s curious that a simple decent act should occasion such recognition, even though Rosenberg didn’t provide the Yad Vashem testimony.

            Finally, Feiga Schmidt honors her mother through the telling of how she, Batia Schmidt, saved her daughter’s life over and over again through her intelligence, strength and special vision. This is an inspirational story. It is especially interesting because Faiga doesn’t tell the story like a devoted daughter, but like a person honestly awed by the power of another human being.

            These stories enlarge our understanding of both history and humanity. Irving Abella writes that books like this one are profoundly important. I agree. This testimony is powerful and moving – a most worthwhile read.