I'm always a sucker for memoirs, and especially memoirs written about experiences or periods of time that capture some of the essence of what it meant to be a Jew at that time and in that place.
Hava Ben-Tzvi's memoir, called 'We Who Lived, Two Teenagers in World War II Poland' packs a lot of poignant detail into some deceptively simple and easy-to-read prose - I read the book in one sitting. The story begins in Poland, transverses the horrors of World War II and the holocaust, and then skips over to life in Israel, where Hava meets and marries her husband, Ephraim.
Later, Ephraim and Hava are given the chance to study in the US, and even though they intend to return to the holy land, it seems God had other plans.
Essentially, Hava and Ephraim were eye-witnesses, deep in the crucible of suffering that would eventually lead to the birth of the State of Israel, and as such, these memoirs are an invaluable snapshot of that time, and those places.
I often find with a lot of holocaust memoirs that the material is written in a very pared-back, almost spartan way, and the same is true of We Who Lived. When you're dealing with first-hand accounts of such tremendous human drama and suffering, that understated style seems to be the only way to convey what needs to be said without overwhelming the reader, or the writer, with too much detail and too much pain.
Often, these books understandably end up with a kind of distant feel to them as a result, where you feel the writer is trying to reach across the chasm that separates them from people who didn't experience what they went through, but then discovers that words alone are still not alone to bridge that gap.
This book also has a little of that 'distant' feel in parts - where I'd like to have known more about Hava's life in the US, and more about the faces of the dead she sees reflected in her very much alive grandchildren. But on the whole, I think the writer has done a very good job of conveying a lot in a little, understated way, leaving it to the reader's imagination to fill in more of the details.
So, I highly recommend this book as a snapshot of life in Poland during World War II and in the newly-created State of Israel, and I personally feel that each one of these memoirs that makes it out into the world is a gem, in its own way, that needs to be appreciated and found a place in the crown of Jewish literature.
Hava's story is not just her own, it's the story of her people, the Jewish people. And also, a reminder that every day of life God gives us is something to be grateful for.
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