Livia Bitton-Jackson’s 1999 young-adult book is not the first Holocaust memoir I’ve read, but it may be the most memorable. Not an easy read, of course, none of them are. I had to put it down several times and go off and do something else to forestall being consumed by anger and tears.
Especially affecting is the fact that she was only thirteen when her Czechoslovakian family was humiliated by the invading Hungarians, turned over to the SS and shipped to Auschwitz. Only the infamous Dr. Mengele saved her from the gas, telling her at "selection" to lie that she was sixteen, because she was tall for her age and he was struck by her blond hair and blue-green eyes. He’d apparently never seen a Jew who looked Aryan.
All the pertinent details of the experience are revealed, slowly in dramatic fashion. The recreated scenes and dialogue (and telescoped events) are more historical fiction than unadulterated fact. Which is not to question their truth, however. In the end, her story of strength and survival in the face of so much cruelty and heartbreak is inspiring. Some of us really can survive almost anything. Of course, she was left with much to work through: "My friends, my family, all those achingly dear to me, my entire world, rose up in smoke, vanished."
The book’s dedication is especially touching: "…to the children in Israel who, unsung and unacclaimed, risk their lives every day just by traveling to school…the only guarantee that a Holocaust will never happen again."
That, and the fact that they are protected by the IDF.