As we celebrate the Jewish New Year, I thought it would be appropriate to share my review of this poignant and powerful survival story.
Born in Poland in 1939, brown eyed, dark haired and Jewish, Monika was off to a bad start. Her Father was marched off and shot in the first few days of the Nazi invasion. Her Mother, not knowing what had happened to him, took her to Warsaw to try and find him. So began the years of running and hiding. Monika was shuttled between aunties, in Warsaw, in the country, in rat infested basements and for weeks silent under a table with a little doll, two toy armchairs and books she did not know how to read; her Mother had found a room in the apartment of a virulently anti-semitic countess and whilst her Mother could pass for Aryan, Monika could not.
Lodged with another auntie she was forced to drink, dance and sing obscene songs for even more drunken farmhands. She never raised her brown eyes. She had learnt fear and obedience.
In 1939 Poland, looking Aryan, or being able to downplay Semitic features, could mean the difference between life and death. Monika Sears, the author of her short but intense Holocaust memoir "From My War to Your Peace" knows that firsthand. Incidentally, she is a cousin of an established Holocaust memoir writer Julian Padowicz, the author of the acclaimed "Mother & Me" series. There are many parallels between the two fates. Julian and Monika, six years apart, share Jewish heritage and a similar socio-economic background. Both report that their Semitic looks increased their chances of being singled out by the Nazis. Both had complicated relationships with their biological mothers and shared tender bonds with their simple but well-meaning Polish Catholic nannies who tried to convert them to Christianity and save their souls. "From My War to Your Peace" is addressed to Monika's son, who is of Italian extraction. She frequently makes affectionate references to Edouardo.
Everything about this book is unpretentious, from the basic cover to the candid, drama-free, "once upon a time in Lodz ..." narrative style. There is undeniable power and poignancy in the simplicity. This is how small children view tragedy - they absorb the sights and the sounds but then get distracted by the parallel worlds. They will see a playmate with his guts spilled, lying on the pavement, and then their attention will shift onto the texture on the soldier's uniform. I highly recommend this book for anyone who is interested in WWII and Jewish history.