Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Amidst the Shadows of Trees, by Miriam M. Brysk

Miriam M. Brysk. Amidst the Shadows of Trees: A Holocaust Child's Survival in the Partisans. East Stroudsburg, PA: Gihon River Press, 2013. 142 pages. ISBN 9780981990699.

Miriam Brysk escaped the Lida ghetto with her parents in 1942, joining Jewish and Polish partisans in forest brigades. Children and women were not generally welcome in the forests, but Miriam and her mother had a special status because Miriam's father was a surgeon whose skills were highly valued. In Amidst the Shadows of Trees, Miriam recounts how at the age of four, the German army invaded Poland and began to attack Warsaw, where she lived with her parents. They moved to Lida, which was in the Russian-occupied part of Poland, where they lived for the next three years. In 1941, though, the Germans attacked Russia, and Lida became a prison for them and many other Jews. As the violence escalated, it became apparent that they would need to leave Lida if they were to survive.

At the age of eight, living in the forest and hiding from Nazi soldiers, Miriam was issued her own pistol. She recounts those years with detachment, telling of the dangers that existed for unattached women and even girls such as her. Hunger was a constant, as was the cold, damp, and mosquitos, since their camp and hospital were located on an island in the middle of a swamp. In 1944, they were liberated by the Russian army, and their long trek to the United States began. Living at times in displaced persons camps in Russia, Hungary, Romania, and Italy, they were finally able to secure entry visas into the United States. Miriam's accounts tell of the difficulties catching up in school, since she had not been able to attend school at all in her life. Ultimately, she did very well for herself, earning a graduate degree and working as a scientist researching cancer therapies. She fought depression her whole life, finding strength in her family, her research, and her art. (One of her works is used as the cover illustration.)

I found this book interesting and inspiring. I recommend it to anyone interested in Holocaust or war memoirs.

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