San Diego Jewish World Review: May 31, 2009

San Diego Jewish World
By Sheila Orysiek

SAN DIEGO—Naomi Litvin uses the voices of five of her family members to tell the story of their journey from Transylvania (Hungary/Romania), through the Nazi killing machines of the concentration camps and slave labor to eventual freedom.  The voice of the interviewer/author is silent and so the reader hears only the tale from those who lived through it – much like a stream of consciousness spoken into a tape recorder.  It brings a sense of immediacy to the story; there is no filter.

The main voice is that of Edith Festinger Litvin, surrounded by the chorus of her siblings, husband and brother-in-law – and it is Edith about whom the story revolves.  Born in 1926 in Transylvania which changed hands between Romania and Hungary, she thus had problems after the war with establishing a national identity for travel as a displaced person.  As the youngest of nine siblings, she brings to life the pre-war world her immediate family inhabited, surrounded by extended family, community, customs, religion and outlook.

This world was disrupted by the oncoming war with tales from travelers of what the Jewish population in Western Europe was suffering.  Much like the rest of the world, it was unbelievable – and then it came into their community and tore them from all they knew.  Edith relates the horrors of being transported in freight trains, sorted upon arrival at the concentration camps and the realization that her parents were most likely immediately murdered.

As a Holocaust memoir the details are familiar, but Edith’s story is as much about joy as it is about horror – if not more
so.  She doesn’t linger in the mire of her bad experiences.  She not only has youth on her side, but a naturally upbeat personality.  Upon liberation she takes up the life of a young woman, eager to go forward, meeting young men - and they certainly seemed interested in meeting her.  She was also fortunate to find a number of her relatives had survived. 
A Jewish American soldier, who landed at Utah beach as part of the US Army Amphibian Task Force, falls in love – goes back home to Michigan to work on the logistic/legal details to bring her to America and then returns to Europe for her.  She becomes the first European bride brought to America under the War Bride Act.

The book is well planned out, bringing together several voices, but weaving a single story.  Occasionally the reader notices the unusual use of a word, the change of tense in the middle of a paragraph, or an incomplete thought.  But since these voices are (for the most part) those of non-native English speakers, one soon realizes that this is the end product of naturalistic speech.  However, the occasional typo or error of grammar in the non-voice text might have been avoided.

This is another memoir of the Holocaust – all of them necessary to our understanding of the human experience and it is an engaging story.