OverviewWinner of:2015 National Jewish Book Award; Biography, Autobiography, and MemoirThis memoir is a fascinating portrait of mother and child who miraculously survive two concentration camps, then, after the war, battle demons of the past, societal rejection, disbelief, and invalidation as they struggle to reenter the world of the living. It is the tale of how one newly takes on the world, having lived in the midst of corpses strewn about in the scores of thousands, and how one can possibly resume life in the aftermath of such experiences. It is the story of the child who decides, upon growing up, that the only career that makes sense for him in light of these years of horror is to become someone sensitive to the deepest flaws of humanity, a teacher of God's role in history amidst the traditions that attempt to understand it—and to become a rabbi. Readers will not emerge unscathed from this searing work, written by a distinguished, Boston-based rabbi and academic.
Reviews"I have a thought about why this particular memoir, of all memoirs, deserves to be read, indeed, must be read. World-wide, Anne Frank is considered to be the authentic voice from within the Holocaust. Her diary is indeed precious and incredibly touching. And yet it ends with her deportation to Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen where she dies a gruesome death. That is not part of her diary. The reader is left in a void. From that same hideous place that claims her life emerges a little boy to continue the story. Joseph's voice originates from within Bergen-Belsen, and perhaps poses the questions and challenges to G-d that Anne might have posed, had she survived. His story and her story merge. These two youngsters from Holland, Anne forever a teenager, Joseph approaching the status of elder, provide a perspective of unusual insight from within the Holocaust, and from within survival. Surely Joseph's sensitive portrayal of this brief period of his life illustrates dramatically that for Jewish children, liberation was not particularly liberating. By reading this memoir and savoring its wisdom and lessons, perhaps we can assume a degree of [Joseph’s] burden and confer meaning upon it by sharing its insights with our children and grandchildren.” —Robert Krell, MD, professor emeritus, department of psychiatry, University of British Columbia
“Joseph Polak’s memoir is a unique document, riveting and unnerving. All Holocaust memoirs describe not only what happened but also the survivor’s terrible search for bearings. But as one who survived the Holocaust at age two, Polak has nothing to grasp hold of. He is as skeptical of his own survival as we are. Polak’s great contribution is exploring the Holocaust not by way of what he remembers but rather by way of what he has been told, read, and discovered. He then pieces together his remarkable story devoid of sentimentality—a distinguishing trait of the best memoirs. But Polak’s is again unique in chronicling what he has been told of arrest, deportation, and camps together with the austere post-reunions and the more recent returns to the European sites. The story of his and his mother’s postwar experiences actually traces the brutal legacy of the Holocaust itself. Finally, he interrogates his experience in unflinching terms, letting neither God nor man off the hook. Readers are generally interested in survival stories. In this case, they will want to see how it was possible for a toddler to survive what most adults could not. How did it happen? And how did he come to know about it? It has all the elements of a detective story and fantasy tale together. The story is so fantastic that, as Polak himself says, it goes against what we know of the Holocaust and the concentration camps. Every page teaches the reader something new, in language that is fresh and original.” —Alan Rosen, PhD, author, The Wonder of their Voices
"Joseph Polak is an outstanding writer. His memoir is an essential contribution to Holocaust literature . . . .This fast-paced, brief memoir reads like a novel. It is haunting and melancholic, unforgettable and poignant. Polak is a wonderful writer, proffering a terrifying truth while speculating about the wisdom of the Torah and the apparent absence of God." —Charles Weinblatt, nyjournalofbooks.com
"This book is about a different Holocaust—the one that survivors of concentration camps endured after April 1945. That is when survivors began to experience the horrific and persistent memories of what they had lived through, according to Joseph Polak, who entered the camps when he was just a toddler." —Eleanor Ehrenkranz, jewishbookcouncil.org
Author BiographyJoseph Polak is an infant survivor of the Holocaust, during which time he was a prisoner at two concentration camps: Westerbork and Bergen-Belsen. He has published extensively in leading popular and scholarly periodicals and newspapers, including the Boston Globe, Commentary, Jewish Law Studies, Judaism, and Tradition. He is an assistant professor of public health (health law) at Boston University School of Public Health; the rabbi emeritus of the Florence and Chafetz Hillel House at Boston University; and the chief justice at the Rabbinical Court of Massachusetts. He lives in Brookline, Massachusetts. Elie Wiesel is a Romanian-born Holocaust survivor, author of 57 books, and winner of the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize. He lives in New York.