A Holocaust Memoir of Love & Resilience
Mama’s survival from Lithuania to America
Author: Ettie Zilber
Book form: paperback with photographs
Publisher: Amsterdam Publishers
Bookreview: As the Second World War is further behind us, the question arises whether it is still important to keep the stories of that time alive. Zlata Santocki Sidrer believes that the stories of 1940-1945 must always be told, even though it hurts, because with it the bad memories also come back to life.
Zlata Santocki was 15 years old where the Second World War broke out. With her parents and three sisters she lived in Pren, a small town near Kovno in Lithuania. In 1940 Lithuania was occupied by the Russian troops; a year later the German troops occupied her fatherland. At that time approximately 210.000 Jews were living in Lithuania. Hardly a few months after the German occupation all the Jews had to wear a yellow star and mid-August of that same year, 1941, the Jews were ordered to live in the ghetto which was created for concentrating all the Jews. From there it was easier for the occupier to deport all the Jews to the concentration camps. In July 1944 the Germans cleared the ghetto of Kovno. The women – including Zlata – were deported to camp Stutthof; the men were deported to Dachau.
When in the beginning of 1945 the Russian liberators came closer to the camps, the Germans tried to wipe out all traces which could prove that horrible things were going on in the camps. Part of the cleaning was removing the remaining Jews, including Zlata, through so called Death marches. One night, while the prisoners were resting in a barn, the German guards disappeared. The next morning, the prisoners realized they survived the war. Then the search for their family members began. Zlata succeeded in leaving Lithuania and through wanderings she came to America where she started a new life with her husband and her daughter who had just been born.
It were her daughter Ettie Zilber and her sister who regretted that they hadn’t been able to record their father’s story, because he had died too soon. So they decided to write down their mother’s story, now there was still time. This is how ‘A Holocaust Memoir of Love & Resilience’ was created. And it is a very well written book. Some parts are very emotional, they give the reader an impression of the difficult decisions people were facing at that time. For instance, when Zlata is in the concentration camp, she sees her mother and her younger sister. She beckons her mother, who has to decide which daughter she would join. A choice also between life and death…
This book is an excellent combination of two generations and their experiences with the Second World War. It is divided in three parts. In the first part Ettie let her mother speak about her personal experiences during the war and the years thereafter. In the second part Zilber describes how she traveled back in time by following her mother’s footsteps in Lithuania. She personally wants to experience the places her mother has lived, like she almost wanted to feel her mother’s emotions during those very difficult years. In the third part – and this part gives the book an extra dimension – the author pays attention to the children of the second generation. By giving examples, for instance about never spoiling food, Zilber shows how the war continues for several generations. Many so called 2G-children will recognize the behaviors of their parents in their own lives when they read this book.
So, to return to my question in the beginning if it is important to keep the memories alive, the answer is simple: of course these stories must be kept alive. The war generation is diminishing rapidly, soon there is no survivor who can tell what really happened in the Second World War. Terrible events as the Holocaust should never be forgotten. However, those stories are also important for the following generations. As we carry the war still in our soul, we can only understand ourselves better, if we know the stories from the past.
Assessment: X X X X X Excellent