A Family Mission
by Dr. David S. Greenfield
Since the close of World War II, many talented writers have tried to convey to the rest of the world something of the enormity of the Holocaust.
All failed utterly.
Those who were too poetic or philosophical tended to omit the visceral depravity that defined the period. Those too literal and graphic succeeded only in triggering the mind's self-protective mechanisms that clamped down on our emotions and rendered us numb.
In this slim (45 pages), hauntingly evocative volume, David Greenfield takes a different approach. Instead of asking us to absorb the story of six million people, he offers us only a fleeting glimpse of two - his parents. And rather then inundating us with all-too-familiar and largely incomprehensible images taken during the war, he invites us instead to view only a handful of photographs of contemporary Poland that might properly be called afterimages.
These photographs and accompanying text document a trip to Poland in 1993 during which Greenfield wanted to investigate firsthand his father's hometown and to meet the family of the Polish Catholic woman who risked her life to save his mother and her sister during the war.
Under other circumstances, his simple picture of a nondescript, empty room with a wooden-slatted platform floor would be meaningless. But in the context of this book, and told that this place was a delousing center for incoming inmates to the Majdanek concentration camp, this photograph gives one's imagination free rein to conjure up its own library of nightmares more effectively than any purely literal depiction possibly could.
This as much the author's story as that of his parents. One gets the clear impression that his purpose wasn't so much to stand aside and tell their story objectively as it was to tell it specifically through his own eyes, to convey something of how it affected him personally. There was no attempt to be exhaustive, which is impossible anyway, or to provide a factual history lesson; the dates and locations he cites are not there so much for the historical record as they are to drive home the point that these were real events that happened to real people.
Josef Stalin once said that the death of one man is a tragedy; the death of a million men is a statistic. Journey to Poland is one man's effort to reduce a familiar statistic to comprehensible human proportions, and in this he succeeds brilliantly, with subtlety, restraint and passion.
- Lee Gruenfeld
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|Lib. of Congress #96-095054|
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