Monday, October 14, 2013

Mini-Review of "The Crooked Mirror - A Memoir of Polish-Jewish Reconciliation" by Louise Steinman

The timing of the publication of this book, "The Crooked Mirror," could not have been more fortuitous for me.  As I write this review, I am getting ready to board a plane to Krakow for the wedding of my son and his lovely Polish fiancee.  The book has given me a new perspective for understanding the continuing work of reconciliation that is going on to bring about rapprochement between Poles and Jews who escaped the Holocaust or who are descendants of those who suffered in one of the many death camps and concentration camps that the Third Reich built upon occupied Polish soil.

The book will also  serve as a catalyst for my continuing conversations with my son, daughter-in-law and her Polish Catholic family.  In previous trips to Poland, my son and his fiancee have taken me to places that Louise Steinman has written about in this memoir of her personal involvement in this reconciliation movement.  Her intimate descriptions of Krakow and its wonderfully preserved old city brought back memories and made me even more eager for this next trip to take place.  Our visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau gave rise to many of the same emotions and questions that the author chronicles as she described her own visits there.  Our visits to the Kazimierz ghetto - the cemetery, the recently-opened Holocaust Museum, Oskar Schindler's factory - all evoked deep thought and feelings.  My future daughter-in-law is a fine painter who occupies a studio loft in a building next door to the well known Fabrika Schindlera Amelia.  Her father owns a chain of very fine pastry shops, one of which is located in Kazimierz.  So, my own in-law's Catholic lives are closely interwoven with the Jewish history of Krakow and of Poland.

Ms. Steinman's family hailed from the small town of Radomsko, to which she has often returned looking for clues about how to feel about the loss of her family, about the role that Poles may have played in the Holocaust, and how mutual forgiveness and understanding can be achieved.  Much of her searching has been directed by being made aware of an English translation of the Yiddish "Sefer-yizkor li-kehilat Radomsk veha-seviva" - The Memorial Book of the Community of Radomsk and Vicinity.  In the wake of the Shoah, memorial books were written for many towns to ensure that the memory of those whose lives had been snuffed out in the Holocaust would remain alive for future generations.

The author is very transparent about the difficulties that she has had - and continues to have - making sense of the myriad of facts surrounding what happened in Poland during WWII. Were the Poles complicit in helping the Nazi to exterminate Jews?  Or were they courageous in sheltering Jewish children and families to ensure the survival of at least a remnant of those who had lived in Poland for many hundred of years beside their Christian neighbors?  This book is full of stories from both ends of the heroism-villainy spectrum.

Ms. Steinman's personal journey - geographic and emotional is part of a larger movement to seek true understanding and forgiveness across the chasms that were created between Poles and Jews by the seismic events of the Holocaust.  This book is a welcome addition to the tools for dialogue that are being produced.

Here is a link to some earlier Blog articles I have written about Krakow and Poland that are relevant to this topic.

White Rhino Report - Krakow+Holocaust Posts


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