Reinhard Kaiser and Margarete Holzman
"Dies Kind soll leben". Die Aufzeichnungen der Helene Holzman, 1941-1944 ("Let This Child Live" - The Writings of Helene Holzman, 1941-1944)
Schöffling & Co, 2000. 384 pp
Helene Holzman was a German-born artist of Jewish ancestry but brought up a Christian. In the early 1920s she married Max Holzman, a German-Jewish publisher and bookseller, and the couple, together with their two young daughters, went to live in the university town of Kaunas. In 1940 Lithuania became incorporated into the USSR and the Russians closed Max Holzman's bookshop, forcing him to seek work in Vilnius, the capital, to which the whole family then intended to move. But in 1941 the Germans invaded the country. Their arrival had been preceded by months of rumours and a steady stoking up of anti-Semitic feeling. This memorial, written by Helene Holzman in 1944 and 1945, and now edited with scrupulous care by her daughter and Reinhard Kaiser, tells the story of her three years under Nazi occupation and her renewed persecution (described in an appendix) by the Russians afterwards.
This is a tremendous book, destined surely for translation into many languages and for correspondingly impressive sales. We learn how Max and their elder daughter Marie were shot (the latter, vivacious and popular, at the age of only nineteen) and of Helene's own indomitable spirit which enabled her to survive outside the ghetto, to help many of her fellow-citizens, and to defeat the Russians, the Lithuanian 'partisans' and the Nazis by a mixture of energy, sharp-sightedness and disdain. She saw clearly that most of these people were cowards, immature and unimaginative, as dangerously unpredictable as young children suddenly allowed to indulge their basest desires.
There are many books about the Holocaust but this one offers a special perspective, an insight into the way in which terrible events affect those lives which outwardly must continue to be conducted as usual. There is nothing exotic or distant about it. Its strength is in its astonishing depiction of detail. With its harrowing stories dispassionately set down, it is riveting - and deeply anger-making.