The Testimony by Halina Wagowska

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The Testimony by Halina Wagowska

Category: Autobiography
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: The life of a Holocaust survivor that carries on much further, showing the growth of a warm, humanitarian heart that could not be extinguished.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 208 Date: September 2012
Publisher: Hardie Grant Books
ISBN: 9781742703572

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The Holocaust must have been particularly horrendous for the young survivor. Halina here says how she had barely three years of schooling before the events of the Final Solution took over, and her life was changed for ever. It was a life a little different to those around her – a nanny who took her to a cathedral and brought her home full of the Catholic anti-Semitic sentiment. Religion and its effects were of little consequence – she was more worried that those seeing a photo of her and a dog had more admiration for the look of the dog than of her. But things were only to change for the worst – existence in the Lodz ghetto, and later, the death camps. This book is just not arch enough to be too structured and self-aware, so when Halina sees those by tram travelling through the ghetto and wonders what the life of the gentiles on it is like, this only provides one small glimpse of how her life turned into one of those thinking of and helping others, with special affinity for those in minorities everywhere.

Before then we have a typically strong narrative of the Holocaust as seen from this young Polish girl. It's brief and succinct, but still as powerful as ever to read the miserable experience in the ghetto, and not one but two death camps. Her comments on her inadequacy in describing the Holocaust fully are a little too self-belittling, as in a way it features a pig learning to play the violin, and an incredibly powerful section covering the death of Halina's mother.

But from the end of the War, and her recovery of some normality, we get a second half to the book, that is a very loose, episodic autobiography. I'm not sure that this section adds much weight to what the book and some characters in it define as the lifelong necessity to testify about the Holocaust, however interesting it is. The sections of her life she chooses to feature – she glosses over her private life in just a paragraph or two – are interesting and at times relevant to the subject, but provide for a disjointed book. There is the immigrant experience proving her outsider status continued long after VE Day, as she worked as an office cleaner in Melbourne. There is also, before she documents some of her humanitarian happenings and colleagues, a reportage of her group travels down the Silk Road – I was grateful to read it, but it is a large chapter in a small book that is edited to provide snapshots of this author a lot beyond the bloodlands of Europe.

Which is pretty much the point. The fact that this spirited lady was only inspired to work with others in mind – she may have lost religion at an unspecified point, but her kindred feeling for her common woman and man is a spirituality that definitely survived the nightmarish events of the War and the awkward restructuring of her life immediately afterwards – proves to be a victory over and above the Nazis. Every instance of testimony is a small victory, of course – one more life allowed to live and narrate what failed to kill it, and I think I would have had much more respect for this book as a whole if it hadn't diversified so widely to cover more subjects, but this testimony remains an interesting, simply- and warmly-written little book, introducing us to someone who has lived a life worth living.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

Treblinka: A Survivor's Memory by Chil Rajchman does not get as far as discussing much post-Holocaust life, but is utterly horrific testimony of just how much death was in the death camps.

Buy The Testimony by Halina Wagowska at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Testimony by Halina Wagowska at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Testimony by Halina Wagowska at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Testimony by Halina Wagowska at Amazon.com.


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