Strange and Unexpected Love: A Teenage Girl's Holocaust Memoirs

Overview

"During the long nights in the attic, Jan and I told each other about our lives, what we'd done and what we expected to do. We excluded present time, the war, its ferocity, its irrationality; the hours spent in the attic seemed borrowed, not real, because they were unbidden." "What an unlikely pair we made; a Ukranian shoemaker and a Jewish high school girl! We had begun to think of ourselves as a couple, each one finding in the other someone to confide in, a person with whom to share an impermissible yearning or a strange dream." "I told him
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Overview

"During the long nights in the attic, Jan and I told each other about our lives, what we'd done and what we expected to do. We excluded present time, the war, its ferocity, its irrationality; the hours spent in the attic seemed borrowed, not real, because they were unbidden." "What an unlikely pair we made; a Ukranian shoemaker and a Jewish high school girl! We had begun to think of ourselves as a couple, each one finding in the other someone to confide in, a person with whom to share an impermissible yearning or a strange dream." "I told him uncensored stories in the belief that if I didn't offer them now, no one might ever hear them." Strange and Unexpected Love is a dramatic and intensely detailed account of one family's survival during the four-year Nazi occupation of the Ukraine. It is a moving and lyrical account of a young woman's emotional and physical awakening and her first experience with love. Fanya Heller was raised in a traditionally observant middle-class Jewish family in the town of Skala in Eastern Poland. Despite starvation, disease, restrictive and squalid hiding places, and constant danger of arrest by the Nazis, Fanya and her family lived through the war thanks to the courage of two Christian rescuers. One was Sidor, a Polish peasant who hid them on his farm. The other was Jan, a young, handsome Ukrainian shoemaker turned militiaman. Fanya had not known Jan before the war, but he had loved her from afar. When the Nazis occupied Skala, he came to the rescue, protecting her and her family by finding them secure hiding places and providing them with food and other supplies. In time, touched by his devotion and self-sacrifice, Fanya reciprocated Jan's love. With life totally dismantled, their love created an island of sanity and safety in an otherwise chaotic existence. Heller has an exceptional eye for detail and does a dextrous job of giving the reader an intimate sense of the day-to-day lives of her family under siege. As Rabbi Irving Greenb
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
It took 10 years of psychoanalysis for Heller--of middle-class Polish Jewish background--to face and record five teenaged years of Nazi terror she had experienced in occupied Poland. This trauma culminated, ironically, at the time of their liberation, when her father was murdered. Many suspected Heller's non-Jewish, Ukranian militiaman lover who, along with a peasant family, risked his life to save the rest of her family. The reason for the murder, according to speculation, was the father's disapproval that his daughter's lover was not of their faith. The family's sufferings (near-starvation and illness in a lightless, lice-infested hideaway) are hair-raising and well-told here. With the mystery of her father's death still unsolved, Heller ends her wrenching memoir with her marriage in 1946 to a Jew. In a postscript she writes that she, her husband (who died in 1986), son and two daughters lived in various European cities before emigrating to New York City in the late '60s. (Sept.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780881255317
  • Publisher: KTAV Publishing House, Inc.
  • Publication date: 7/1/1996
  • Pages: 282
  • Product dimensions: 6.03 (w) x 8.96 (h) x 0.87 (d)

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 10, 2010

    Very touching and intense at times

    It just breaks my heart that people had to suffer so, but the story was so well written. I just have one question...what ever became of Jan? I know that Ms. Heller said his last unanswered letter was on the table. But did she ever learn anything about him? I realize the difference in their Faith was an obstacle, but he DID put his own Life on the line to help her and her Family. I was disappointed in not learning either what became of him, or is ever found it in her heart to let him know that she was moving on?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2006

    Great story

    This is one of the best stories that I have ever read. But it absolutely broke my heart! That's all I can say.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 2, 2003

    Moving and insightful memoir has much to offer

    This is a well written memoir, full of detail and meaning. In short, quickly paced chapters, the author introduces believable, all too human characters. Jews are depicted as ordinary people, with all the strengths and faults that implies. With the notable exception of JAN and SIDOR, the Gottesfeld Family's unlikely saviours, Poles and Ukrainians are shown to be anti-Semites, not to be trusted, with few redeeming virtues. A gross generalization, but understandable under the circumstances. Germans are simply evil. All the expected details of Jewish persecution are here: random shootings, dehumanization, petty brutality, etc... Some characters survive, but most don't, and justice has nothing to do with it. One unexpected, yet honest insight provided by the book is the apparent contempt for their 'goyim' neighbors felt by some members of the Jewish community - notably the author's mother - even before the outbreak of hostilities. One sometimes hears the phrase 'All politics are local.' In this case it appears that all hatreds are local as well, as uneducated and less affluent Slavs take pleasure in seeing their 'rich' and sometimes arrogant, non-Slav neighbors humbled, and yes - even killed. Heller's book is a stark reminder of what people are capable of doing when given the chance to deprive others of their humanity. At the same time it offers beacons of hope in the form of JAN and SIDOR, two very ordinary, uneducated 'goyim' who somehow manage to find the strength of character to go against the tide, to risk everything - including death - to do the right thing. The fact that their circumstances after the war are unknown lends pathos to their deeds.

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