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Book Review: Through The Eyes Of A Survivor by Colette Waddell

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Almost everyone who knows me knows that I always have a book with me, some even know that I am a reviewer. A question that I am frequently asked is “So what are you reading today?” I was asked this while reading Colette Waddell’s great book Through The Eyes Of A Survivor, and after I answered the response that I got shocked me. “Oh, another Holocaust survivor story, boy that plot has been done a million times”. This gave me pause for thought.

Yes, there are many books about the subject, and some very fine ones – André Lacaze’s The Tunnel at Loibl Pass is a great example. What all of these books do is add to our collective historical knowledge of what I consider to be the darkest period in human history. Each of these books add pieces to a giant jigsaw puzzle that might eventually explain what happened, and make sure that it never re-occurs.

Waddell has done a superb job of putting Through The Eyes Of A Survivor together. It is the life history of Nina Morecki, following Nina from early childhood and growing up as a young Jewish girl in pre-war Poland, transitions into life under the harsh world of Russian occupation, then the inhuman and inexplicable atrocities of the Nazis, and finally a new life in America.

The author has written not one, but two books, and the style of writing is one that I have never seen before. Nina tells a vignette, and then Waddell puts this into historical and cultural context. The amount of research to achieve this is mind-boggling. As far as I can tell the project took about six years to put together. There is a symbiosis between the subject and the author that is remarkable. In reading Through The Eyes not only do you have a very disturbing life story, and great analysis of the period, but also a very interesting account of how a friendship is created between the author and Nina.

As a reviewer, I tend to just flit from project to project – read it, review it, forget it! Through The Eyes did not allow me to do that; I was hooked. I even found myself ‘Googling’ places and events that were mentioned. I also learned quickly that this was not a good book to read late at night (there is no way anyone could sleep with the disturbing story fresh in your mind).

I learned a great deal from Through The Eyes. I had no idea how bad life was in Poland for the Jewish community even before the war, as the Poles distrusted and envied these hardworking people. Nor did I know how the Ukrainians were often the ‘weapons’ of choice to help with the ‘Final Solution’. I certainly had no idea that even after the Germans had surrendered and the war was over, there was still persecution and hatred towards the Jews from the local people.

This is a very deep and moving book. One of the aspects that struck me as strange was that while Nina was living as almost an animal in a Nazi camp, she makes almost no reference to wanting to strike back and kill them. The only real reference to death is her own, after her husband Josef died in 1988.

Nina has led a long life, and as Through The Eyes clearly shows, it has not been an easy life. Even after reaching America to start a new life, things did not go well. Today we talk about troops coming home with Post Traumatic Syndrome (PST), and having trouble re-integrating into society. Well try living by your wits for several years, knowing that this could be your last day, this could be your last piece of bread, this could be your last breath!

Imagine being asked to dig a large pit that you and scores of other people are going to share as a grave. Imagine ending up in that pit, but you are not dead, but you are surrounded by those who are, or are about to die, blood everywhere, and people moaning. If this is not your idea of hell, I don’t know what it could be.

I can honestly say that I hated this book. I hated that this was a true story, I cannot understand how humans could be so mean to other humans. This is a must-read book.

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