Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Christian by Disguise - Erna Kamerman Perry

Summary:  For nearly all of the sixty-odd years since the end of World War II, I hardly mentioned the Holocaust or my experiences in it.

And yet, this period covered the first ten years of my life and has had a dramatic and traumatic effect on me. Life kept me busy and I buried the memory of that time fairly deep. My mother, my uncle, friends and acquaintances familiar with my past—or those who shared in it—occasionally would remark on an episode. For the most part, however, we were mute on the subject. Neither my husband nor my children knew much about it, just a single event mentioned in passing and made to sound irrelevant.

But years have passed and those who have experienced the Holocaust are disappearing. Death is no longer something far on the horizon but a frequent visitor to many around me. And so, it seems that I must take the chance of telling my story, a story that was a part of the horror my people experienced.

I have no illusions that another thread in the weave of the narratives about the Holocaust will make any difference: the deniers of it will keep denying, the haters will keep hating, genocides will keep occurring. I only want my children, my (few) relatives, my friends, and those readers interested in the historical horrors of the twentieth century to know that once there was a little girl who, through no fault of her own, had to lie and pretend so she could live to see another day.
 (Summary and image from  I was provided a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.)

My Review:  We've come a long way in Holocaust memoirs since Elie Wiesel bravely published Night, sparking decades of debate and revelation about the Jewish Holocaust.  There are so many different stories of bravery, and each deserves to be told.  Erna Kamerman Perry's story is one we hear less often - the story of a child who survived by following the council of her mother and turning her back on who she was.  Erna and her mother escaped the Polish ghetto with nothing.  Benefitting from "Polish" looks, they passed themselves off as Polish refugees and found sanctuary in a Catholic church.  Perry's  mother worked as an indentured servant and encouraged Perry to do her best to blend in.  She found herself torn between staying true to her mother and her heritage as a Jew, and trying to fit in, attending chapel and catechism classes, going through confirmation, and being "adopted" by a Catholic family in the area.  

I was entranced by Perry's narrative.  Her style of writing was so comfortable, I felt like I was listening to a favorite aunt tell me a story.  An important and necessary story, and one from her heart.  I can't imagine how difficult it would be at six to be told "You are Jewish.  That is who you are, but now pretend you're not.  Your name isn't your name, this one is.  Remember who you really are but don't show it at all!", and to grow up as a functioning adult!

I had known that children passing themselves off as Christian had occurred, but learning Perry's firsthand experience was enriching.

My Rating:  Four stars

For the sensitive reader:  Perry indicates a few incidents of sexual harassment she endures in Italy after her escape.


Anonymous said...

The term 'Polish ghetto' is incorrect. The German Nazis established the 'ghettos' on occupied Polish soil. The 'ghettos' were not Polish as implied by the comment. Please correct the error.

Unknown said...

The correct terminology for the Ghetto is, German Nazi Jewish Ghetto on captured Polish soil. Please correct your review of the book. Poland nor Polish people never established a "Polish Ghetto."

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Please be aware that there were no "Polish ghettos." The ghettos were established and operated by Nazi Germany following their invasion and occupation of Poland. Prior to World War Two, there were no restrictions on where Jews in Poland could live. Please do not mislead your readers. A correction or clarification would be appreciated.

Marsh Mayhem said...

Thank you all for your responses! I apologize if my time offended you, I simply used the terminology that the author herself used.

Marsh Mayhem said...

I can imagine that from the perspective of the five-year-old, it wouldn't matter who established the ghetto. The trauma would lie in being torn from any life you had known so young, without being able to understand the political or social ramifications or excuses.


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