By HEATHER HEMINGWAY
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Jewish independence in Israel. Yet, let it not be forgetten what the Jews experienced to reach such freedom.
In 1939, World War II began along with German dominance, Hitler’s idea of a perfect Aryan race and the beginning of Jewish extermination. Such was the setting for the novel “The Survivor.”
The autobiographical account is one of a Polish Jew named Jacek (Jack in English) Eisner who not only relates the story of his survival from the Nazis, but also the horrors experienced by his people during the Holocaust.
After reading Eisner’s story, one will realize Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List” only grazed the surface of Jewish suffering.
Eisner’s purpose in writing his poignant story is primarily to preserve the memory of those who gave him the strength to survive.
“I was liberated, I was free, I had survived. Thank you, thank you, Grandma. And Mama, Papa, Halina … all of you. You have not died in vain, nor ever be forgotten,” Eisner said when the war was over.
In “The Survivor,” Eisner relates the story of his teenage years — of his survival from Nazi rule in the Warsaw ghetto and later in several concentration camps.
The book begins with the relocation of the Jews into the Warsaw Ghetto.
“More than 400,000 Jews were jammed into an area meant to house only 100,000 people,” Eisner said.
“Available apartments vanished overnight. Thousands of Jewish families moved into stores, attics, or basements. Others rented one or two rooms from those with larger apartments… By November 15, 1940, the ghetto had been fenced off with barbed wire.”
Eisner recounted many events within the ghetto such as the scarcity of food and the mass burials for those who starved to death. He told of how he and a gang of boys would smuggle food into the ghetto to keep their their parents and siblings alive.
He told of his involvement with Jewish revolutionaries and of his participation in a Jewish uprising. He also told of how the Nazis retaliated by burning buildings to the ground — forcing the last of the Jews from hiding, including the Eisner family.
Although he, his childhood sweetheart, Halina, and parents were some of the last to leave the ghetto, their fate was just as doomed as those who had gone to the “work camps” before them.
At the camp, in the midst of SS officers shouting orders and the confusion of the masses of people entering the camp, Eisner, Halina, and his family were separated, wondering if they would ever see each other again.
The story of his survival is unlike any other. Eisner’s story is one that exemplifies the adage that true stories are sometimes the most unbelievable.
“The Survivor” puts readers on an emotional roller-coaster, painting a vivid picture of the tragedies of separated families — husbands from wives, children from parents, brothers from sisters.
The book also helps readers appreciate the simple things in life, such as food, freedom, family and the necessities of life.
“The Survivor” is a well-written novel that not only describes Eisner’s survival but also preserves the memory of his people.
In his closing remarks, he said: “We shall go on. … That I pledge to you. I, the survivor.”