This is a blog about my reads as well as everything related to them.
My taste is for good quality literature - old and new. Some of it I review here or on my main book blog Edith's Miscellany.
More than two months ago, I found a small parcel in my letterbox, neatly wrapped into brown paper and handaddressed by someone working for Amsterdam Publishers in the Netherlands. It contained the book giveaway that I had won on GOODREADS just a few days earlier and that I had expected to arrive with me only some weeks later. This was a nice surprise – not least because there was a beautiful art card of a Dutch painting from 1656 attached with a handwritten inscription on behalf of the author and the publishers. Alas, my agenda was too tight at the time to allow me to read Outcry. Holocaust Memoirs by Manny Steinberg right away.
Already the first page of the book caught me although it reveals little more than that the author was born Mendel Steinberg in Radom, Poland, in May 1925 and that he had two younger brothers, Stanley born in 1927 and Jacob born in 1934. Overall, this information is of little consequence and most readers will just read over it, most likely forget it, but for me it built a bridge to my own family. My mother’s three older brothers were born in the same years! Moreover, the birthday of the eldest is in May just like the author’s. The fates of our two families under Nazi rule were very different, though, because my family had the good luck (and it was nothing else!) not to be of Jewish faith, nor to have Jewish ancestors in our genealogical tree. As far as I know, the ordeal of the concentration camps was spared all members of my family, but nobody ever talked about the war years, least of all to me who was a child when those who could have shared their memories were still alive and in their minds. Thankfully, instead of keeping his memories to himself like so many others and not just in my family, Manny Steinberg made them public.
By contrast to other memoirists the author didn’t jump right into matters, but took his time to first recount his happy childhood. Although the chapter is titled Sunshine, his early years haven’t been a bed of roses for Mendel. Only eight years old he lost his beloved mother when his youngest brother Jacob was born. Fortunately, when his father remarried after the mourning period, he was at good terms with his step-mother. His home in the Jewish quarters of the small Polish town of Radom consisted of a two-room apartment harbouring also the tailor’s workshop of his father, so overall the family wasn’t particularly well-off, and yet, the income sufficed to feed them all well (except during the time of the Great Depression) and to give the boys a good education. Moreover, their relations with each other were warm and loving, plus they had many friends. However, already in the second half of the 1930s Mendel and Stanley faced Anti-Semitism in their surroundings and with the German invasion of 1 September 1939 everything changed to the worse.
As the title of the second chapter suggests, Shadows were gathering over the family. It’s here that the inconsistencies concerning the ages of Mendel and Stanley begin. The author says that “the Nazis, like locusts were covering our country, leaving only destruction and death behind”, when he was approaching the age of the Bar Mitzvah, thus his thirteenth birthday. That would have been in spring 1938, when Nazi Germany annexed Austria (not that my country would have put up any resistance!). Only about eighteen months later it was the turn of Poland to see the German bombings that the author describes in the opening of this chapter and the creation of crowded Ghettos where thousands died from penury, illness and Nazi violence. By this time Mendel must have been past fourteen really. The family survived the daily terror of Ghetto life for nearly three years and then came an early morning in June 1942 when the Nazis knocked at their door. They separated and deported them. Mendel, now already seventeen not fourteen as stated in the book if he was really born in 1925, and his father were taken to a concentration camp nearby not knowing what was the fate of the others yet.
And this is the beginning of the age of Darkness in the life of Mendel Steinberg now become prisoner number 27091. The events recounted in this chapter are just as terrible, shocking and hard to believe as in other memoirs of the kind. The author creates a very vivid picture of the daily horror he experienced not sparing the reader appalling details, nor hiding his own state of mind that is often one of desperation and hatred. Only the fact that fate had it that he knew his father alive and in another barrack of the camp and that his brother Stanley was with him during most of his imprisonment gave him the strength to hold out until the liberation in April 1945 that brought back the Light. Mendel, Stanley and their father survived and seized the first opportunity to immigrate into the USA and start a new life.
I already mentioned the inconsistencies regarding the ages of Mendel, Stanley and Jacob in different stages of the story. I must admit that they confused me quite a bit. In addition, I’m not sure about how accurate the chronology of historical events in this memoir is. I’m no expert in the history of the Third Reich or World War II, but nonetheless sometimes the information the author gives is at odds with what I know. Maybe this is just because so many years have passed and we all know how unreliable our memory can be. For the rest, it is a very touching book that convinces with simple language without unnecessary flourish. If the topic weren't so horrible, I'd say that I enjoyed the read. In any case, the book deserves more attention – so we never forget!
by Manny Steinberg
Second (revised) edition