Written almost 25 years ago, when the author was in her late fifties, Alicia: My Story tells us of how she lived from ages eleven to seventeen years old under persecution and death during World War II. Her family lived in the eastern part of Poland, which was allocated to Russia under Stalin’s agreement with Hitler. While the Russian soldiers are generally painted sympathetically in Alicia’s experience, this occupation brought the first tragedy to her family, her mother and father and her four brothers. Her oldest brother Moshe was given a chance to be educated in Russia. But the conditions he found there were terrible, with the students forced to do heavy labor and exist with barely no food and no contact from their families. He ran away and came back to his family but the occupying Russians took him to jail, fearing disclosure of the conditions in Russia. He died in prison, the family being told that he had food poisoning.
Then Hitler invaded Russia and the Germans occupied Poland. While the family was not sent to a concentration camp, the Shoah (Hebrew name for the Holocaust, meaning “destruction”) was no less devastating for them. Their experience was in some ways more wrenching, in being rounded up and murdered under the implacable gaze of their neighbors, the Poles who were not Jews.
They were first relocated into ghettos and then subject to “actions” where without warning German soldiers would come and rout them out, taking groups to nearby meadows where they were shot and killed. One by one Alicia’s family is killed. Alicia’s grief and shock at their deaths translates into burning anger and a fierce desire to keep the remaining family members together. Eventually only she and her mother are left and they spend months in the countryside, her mother hiding in fields and ravines while Alicia works for neighboring farmers. Some of these Poles become more sympathetic to the Jews’ plight when they themselves start to be targeted as undesirables by the Germans.
The narrative is easily read and holds your interest. Ms. Appleman-Jurman has spoken of the enormous effort this book cost her, not only in time but in reliving the events over the three years it took her to write it. Although she had to recreate the dialogue after so many years, the evidence of her immersion into the past events conveys the emotional impact you feel when you read it. You truly understand Alicia and see her suffering. She travels a long journey and has experiences that would seem to be fabricated if you did not realize how inexplicable fate can be. She survived to tell her story, which she continues to do in person and through her testimony. Her website can be found at http://aliciamystory.com.
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