Fragments: Memories of a Wartime Childhood

Overview

Winner of the National Jewish Book Award

An extraordinary memoir of a small boy who spent his childhood in the Nazi death camps. Binjamin Wilkomirski was a child when the round-ups of Jews in Latvia began. His father was killed in front of him, he was separated from his family, and, perhaps three or four years old, he found himself in Majdanek death camp, surrounded by strangers. In piercingly simple scenes Wilkomirski gives us the "fragments"...
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Overview

Winner of the National Jewish Book Award

An extraordinary memoir of a small boy who spent his childhood in the Nazi death camps. Binjamin Wilkomirski was a child when the round-ups of Jews in Latvia began. His father was killed in front of him, he was separated from his family, and, perhaps three or four years old, he found himself in Majdanek death camp, surrounded by strangers. In piercingly simple scenes Wilkomirski gives us the "fragments" of his recollections, so that we too become small again and see this bewildering, horrifying world at child's eye-height. No adult interpretations intervene. From inside the mind of a little boy we too experience love and loss, terror and friendship, and the final arduous return to the "real" world. Beautifully written, with an indelible impact that makes this a book that is not read but experienced, Fragments is "a masterpiece" (Kirkus Reviews). Translated form the German by Carol Brown Janeway.

"This sunning and austerely written work is so profoundly moving, so morally important, and so free from literary artifice of any kind at all that I wonder if I even have the right to try to offer praise."—Jonathan Kozol, The Nation
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Majdanek extermination camp outside Lublin, Poland, was equally as murderous as Auschwitz, and nearly as large. It is curious that it is much less well known, but that is where the author spent about four years of his childhood, as an orphan, entering the camp around age three. His survival is a testament to his resilience. In sparest prose, the author describes such daily occurrences as starving babies who devour the ends of their own fingers. There are numerous Holocaust memoirs on the market, but this one is qualitatively different, for it attempts to introduce us to the worst of the Nazi horror through the mind of a child. Wilkomirski, today a musician living in Switzerland, worked with a psychiatrist to piece together these "fragments" of the story of his childhoodrecollections that, he claims, he has dredged up through the psychiatric process. Though presented as fact, this blackest night of the soul reads like fine literature. (Sept.)
Library Journal
Wilkomirski, a well-known classical musician in Switzerland, was a small child when the roundups of Jews began in Poland after the German invasion of 1939. He vaguely remembers that his father was killed in front of him. Then he was separated from his mother and brothers. Eventually, at the age of three or four, Wilkomirski found himself in the Majdanek death camp outside Lublin. Here young Benjamin learned to survive on his own while surrounded by strangers. In Majdanek he witnessed every Nazi depravity. Owing to his age he had a very small vocabulary, which was further reduced to understanding whatever was needed to survive. This memoir illustrates the horror and sadness that this small child went through and the terrible loss of family, heritage, and a normal childhood. Written from "fragments" of childhood memories, it conveys the feeling of a child speaking with no adult interpretations. It is helpful to have a brief knowledge of the Holocaust and the death camps to be familiar with events the writer refers to. A powerful book; strongly recommended for Holocaust collections.Mary F. Salony, West Virginia Northern Community Coll. Lib., Wheeling
Kirkus Reviews
At once horrifying in its details and beautiful in its simple, elegant prose, this Holocaust survivor's narrative is a small masterpiece.

Wilkomirski's memoir is the result of his efforts to recover, with the help of a psychiatrist, hitherto repressed memories of a childhood spent in concentration camps. The book begins with his earliest memories of family life in Poland, when he was a toddler. As the title suggests, the recollections he has managed to salvage truly are fragments, ranging from the vague (how many brothers did Binjamin have?) to the gruesomely specific (the brutal murder of Wilkomirski's father in his tiny son's presence). The very young boy (he is three, perhaps four years old) is led away by a woman who promises to take him to a place with the lilting name of Majdanek. It was, of course, a a concentration camp. There, with the aid of benevolent strangers, he learns how to endure, albeit at the cost of a shattered soul. At a Polish orphanage after the war, Wilkomirski, his family gone, is again led away by a woman—one who promises him a better life in beautiful Switzerland. Meanwhile, young Binjamin still partially yearns for the familiar world of the camps, the only world he knows. Wilkomirski's narrative style blends the child's viewpoint with the mature understanding of the adult, unsentimentally recreating situations with arresting poignancy. Thrust into the cozy, comfortable Swiss way of life, the author is haunted by fears of betrayal. Has he betrayed his mother by calling another woman "mother"? Has he betrayed those who perished by living among the enemy, those "who live in whole houses and who don't wear striped shirts"?

Considering the high literary quality of this book, its admirers will no doubt lock horns with critics of the "recovered memory syndrome." Wilkomirski's voice is brave and lyrical, and his memoir is a piercing window onto the past.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805210897
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/23/1997
  • Pages: 155
  • Product dimensions: 5.24 (w) x 8.01 (h) x 0.51 (d)

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 4, 2002

    Kids survive Nazi camp and tell about it

    This story is by Binjamin Wilkomirski and is about him as a boy sent from Nazi concentration camp to Nazi concentration camp during the war. Though he was sent to many different camps, the ones he talks about most are the ones stationed in Krakow, Switzerland and in Majdanek. The reason that he has named the book ¿Fragments¿ is because he has shared with us only fragments of his childhood. This book was very good because it is very intense and also explains what life was like for kids during the war. This book is very good, yet should not be read by younger kids. I would rate this book 5 stars. Although the best books I have read are Harry Potter and this book wasn¿t as good as the HP series, I think that ¿Fragments¿ was very interesting and kept you in suspense during the time you were away from the book. ¿Kids survive Nazi camp to tell about it today.¿

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