Saturday, August 28, 2010

Book Review: A Long Labour: A Dutch Mother's Holocaust Memoir

I've discovered that there is whole genre of fiction I did not recognize as such - women's holocaust narrative which exists within the larger context of Dutch Holocaust Literature. The book, A Long Labour was written by Rhodea Shandler whose name at birth was Henriette Dwinger. Rhodea was a Dutch Jew born in Leeuwarden, Netherlands in 1918. She was one of the few Dutch Jews to survive the extermination of approximately seventy-five percent of Jews in Holland. In 1951, Rhodea emigrated to Canada with her husband, Ernst and their five daughters. For many years she felt no compulsion to share her experiences with her family until advancing age led her to the decision that her story must be told.She writes,"Strange that the urge to write often comes after a time lapse. Perhaps there is sufficient distance now between the events and my recording of them for my mind to rest, to be able to make sense of those long-ago occurrences."

I found this book provided a window into an aspect of WWII that I've rarely encountered other than in Anne Frank's Diary. Rhodea writes about some of the choices she had to make in order to save her life and the lives of those in her family. But she also writes about how she and other Jews were unable to help most and that they didn't know until after the war that they would never see those family members sent to work camps. In many parts of the book, these choices are stated in a very matter of fact manner, without much emotion. Perhaps, after the passage of so many years, Rhodea has come to terms with her choices. Nevertheless, they must have been extremely difficult ones to make. Her memories of returning home, of the struggle to reunite with surviving family members, of trying to reclaim personal belongings given to so-called friends for safe keeping and of trying to adjust to living in a society complicit with what happened are compelling.
The Long Labour also made me understand what it must have been like for the survivors whose connection to the past after World War II was often completely eradicated. Aunts, uncles, fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers...sent away, never again to return. It must have seemed impossible.
The pictures put a face to the names in the book, and I was especially touched by the picture of Rhodea's brother Simon, playing his violin. Simon a gifted musician did not survive the Holocaust. The Introduction written by Dr. S. Lillian Kremer, University Distinquished Professor Emerita, KSU is well worth reading.
Rhodea Shandler died in 2006, shortly after the memoir's completion.

Book Details:
A Long Labour
A Dutch Mother's Holocaust Memoir

by Rhodea Shandler
2007 Ronsdale Press & Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre

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