Moving artfully and easily from past to present, from a child's perspective to an adult's, Shlomo Breznitz's many voices relate this poignant, gripping, and often terrifying memoir. Caught in Czechoslovakia during the Holocaust, Breznitz and his family moved from village to village until it became clear that there was no escaping the Nazis. Before they were sent to Auschwitz, however, Breznitz's parents persuaded the Sisters of Saint Vincent to take their two recently converted children into the convent's ...
Moving artfully and easily from past to present, from a child's perspective to an adult's, Shlomo Breznitz's many voices relate this poignant, gripping, and often terrifying memoir. Caught in Czechoslovakia during the Holocaust, Breznitz and his family moved from village to village until it became clear that there was no escaping the Nazis. Before they were sent to Auschwitz, however, Breznitz's parents persuaded the Sisters of Saint Vincent to take their two recently converted children into the convent's orphanage. Shlomo - called Juri - was just six years old. Separated from his parents and from his sister, Judith (the nuns segregated the sexes, and communication between them was rarely allowed), Juri recounts his often devastating experiences with the other orphans, the nuns, his teacher and classmates at the village school, the prelate and the mother superior, and the Nazi officers who periodically visited the orphanage. He describes his overwhelming feelings of isolation and loneliness, his persistent dread of being found out as a "stinking Jew" (constantly hiding his circumcision), his earnest determination to be a good Catholic, and the crushing sense of danger that loomed over him at every moment. Memory Fields, however, goes beyond its recollections of childhood. It speaks also for Breznitz the psychologist, as he explores the nature of cruelty and kindness, of stifling fear and outstanding courage, of memory and the ways in which it shapes our lives. In the last chapter of the book, almost fifty years later Breznitz returns to Czechoslovakia and revisits the places so vivid in his memory, in hopes of finding the nuns who saved his and his sister's life. A stunning and evocative story, beautifully told.
University of Haifa psychology professor Breznitz, who was caught up in the Holocaust as a child, has written a spare and eloquent memoir of his experiences. Born into a Jewish family in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, he narrowly avoided transport to a concentration camp, because his parents, who were soon shipped to Auschwitz, managed to place the six-year-old Shlomo and his 10-year-old sister, Judith, in a Catholic orphanage, where they remained until the end of the war. There Shlomo strove to become a good Christian, hiding his circumcision from the other boys, who frequently treated him cruelly, and memorizing the Catholic litany so well that he was chosen to recite for the prelate. The pain of his memories of the convent was reinforced by an anti-Semitic incident that took place in 1959 when the author was traveling through Hungary as a member of the Israeli student chess team. The book is a moving contribution to Holocaust literature. 25,000 first printing; first serial to Parade. (Jan.)
Through the use of flashbacks, the author recalls the trials and tribulations of growing up in wartime Czechoslovakia. This work is not only a memoir but also a psychological study of how the war affected the author as a child and an adult. Breznitz, a psychology professor, clearly portrays his loneliness, his fear of being detected as a ``stinking Jew,'' and his pretense of being a good Catholic. To prevent Shlomo and his sister from being sent to Auschwitz, their parents had the children convert to Catholicism and later placed them in an orphanage. The strongest element in this memoir is the German effort to send the remaining Jews to Auschwitz, and we feel Shlomo's fear as a Sister hides him in plain sight as an aide in the hospital. Designed for the general reader, this work does not have the impact of The Diary of Anne Frank . Nevertheless, it provides an engaging account of a child's life in wartime Czechoslovakia.-- Richard Hedlund, Ashland Community Coll., Ky.
School Library Journal
YA-- As a Jewish child, Breznitz was hidden in a Roman Catholic orphanage during the last, and in many cases most brutal and incomprehensible, year of German domination. He has only recently begun to allow himself to remember the cruelty of the other boys, the fear of the Germans and of exposure, and his awe of, and later love for, the sisters in whose care he had been, seemingly unceremoniously, dumped. His memories come slowly, and in fragments, and he knows much of what he is describing is a result of later experience and layers of truths. These self-described ``fields of memory'' result in a memoir interspersed with comments on various manifestations of human nature viewed from his present perspective as a professor of psychology. As such, it is less a description of the brutality of the Germans at the time and yet more haunting than many such works. The insights are thought-provoking and place this book firmly and gently in an area encompassing psychology as well as biography. This is a small book, but memories of it will linger long after it has been finished. It is easy to read, yet readers are continually given new views of old ideas.-- Susan H. Woodcock, Potomac Library, Woodbridge, VA
Breznitz was born in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, in 1936. To protect them from the Nazis, the author's parents had him and his sister converted to Catholicism. They were then hidden in an orphanage, run by the Sisters of Saint Vincent in the town of Zilina. Breznitz was 6 at the time, his sister was 10. The Nazis periodically visited the orphanage looking for Jews, while Hitler Youths searched the town for Jews in hiding. Breznitz recounts his feeling of fear at being discovered, as well as the feeling of isolation; he also describes the teachers--one of whom got enjoyment out of beating the pupils' hands with a cane. Toward the end of the war an improvised hospital was set up at the orphanage, serving Germans, Russians, and partisans alike, until the Russians captured the town on May 1, 1945. (Later, Breznitz and his sister were reunited with their mother, who had survived Auschwitz, and two years after that their father returned from Siberia.) Breznitz intersperses his story of the war years with happenings later in his life. He offers a first-person account of a sensitive boy's determination to survive.
By authority of his excellent prose, discomfiting honesty, risky form, and shattering fidelity to the traps of remembering the nearly unbearable, Breznitz has produced a Holocaust memoir that stands with the best of them. An academic psychologist (The New School and the Univ. of Haifa), Breznitz brings more than a hint of velleity to his account that will remind some readers, with cause, of Primo Levi. But unlike Levi, Breznitz was not himself at Auschwitz. His Czech parents were, though—and with moving foresight they had arranged to convert to Catholicism so their daughter and son might live out the war sheltered in a convent orphanage. Life in the orphanage is grim; Breznitz is bullied and, in turn, bullies; the nuns know he is Jewish but he remains in mortal terror of taking off his underwear in case one of his fellow "orphans" might discover the fact and give him away. The ambiguity of survival is made indelible by two incidents in particular: Breznitz's knack for remembering whole Latin prayers is noticed by the nuns and the local prelate, who link it with the legend prophesying a future Pope arising from a Jewish convert. But the author's intelligence also is nearly his undoing: One Christmas Eve, the local German commandant visits and is serenaded; when he asks if anyone knows "Silent Night" in German, Breznitz's sister unthinkingly moves forward, her brother joining her in solidarity—and, as they sing, it occurs to them that the only Czechs who commonly knew German in that village were Jews, and that they have just given themselves away. And in fact they have: The German commandant leans forward and tells them not to worry, their parents will be comingback. Breznitz's narration and knowledge of psychological shadings make this scene and others heart-stopping and universal in a way few books of this kind manage to do. Likely to be a classic of Holocaust literature: not to be missed.