Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Christian by Disguise by Erna Kamerman Perry

By Carrie Anne

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. (taken from Amazon description)

I cannot imagine the horrors visited upon the Jewish families during the Holocaust.  Even more, I can't imagine tucking those memories away, pretending they didn't happen, or trying to ignore the pain.  For that, I commend Perry for coming forward with her story.  She's right, those people available to tell their tales are fewer every day.

Unfortunately, with a title such as Christian by Disguise, I was expecting something more.  Bright, with an ability to pick up quickly on other languages, Erna was taught to read Catholic prayers, in the hopes she could pass for a Polish Catholic should the need arise.  Her lessons saved her and her mother.  The charade continued, though, and Erna learned more about the Catholic faith, and began to question her Jewish background.  This is a story we haven't heard, and I was interested in following her spiritual awakening.  Unfortunately, at one point her mother says "Let's not argue about religion.  You'll make up your own mind when you are older."  And we, as readers, never learn any more.

This is not to say that she doesn't have an interesting story to tell.  Her close calls and near captures took my breath away and brought me to tears.  It just isn't the story I was expecting to read.

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