Kaufman. Jonathan. “A Hole in the Heart of the World: The Jewish Experience in Eastern Europe After World War II”, Penguin, 1997.
With Holocaust Memorial Day almost here my thoughts turn to that horrible period in the history of my people. At this time of year, almost every year, I find myself wondering “What If”? If Hitler had been accepted to art school would things have been any different for the Jews of Europe? What would have happened if the Jews had been able to fight back? Where are they now? What of the ones who hid and stayed? These are tough questions. Joseph Kaufman concentrates on five families of Jews in Eastern Europe who survived the Holocaust. Among them are a West German cantor and survivor of the concentration camps who crossed to Berlin after the war to be a minister to the Jews who were still there, A prominent Berlin communist Jewish family, a Hungarian rabbi who was dismissed by the leaders of the Communist party, young people from Prague, Warsaw and Budapest who discover their Jewish roots after the war, and a Polish Catholic woman who helped care for the Jews.
Kaufman magically weaves these stories together and gives the reader a touching look at the lives of people who were either impacted or touched by the madness of the Third Reich.
Most of us probably think that after the war there would be few Jews in eastern Europe but we learn that is not true. There has been something of s rebirth of Jewish culture and Kaufman accounts for the Jews who are there and shows how they survived fascism and communism and survived. It is even possible to identify with these people as Kaufman tells us their stories. Some of these courageous people have returned to their motherlands and there are not many left to tell the story. The book keeps interest high and the triumph of these men and women show that the Jewish experience made and kept them whole.