The American perception of life during World War Two is cast in images of women working, doing jobs traditionally reserved for men, of busy factories, constantly turning out munitions of war, ration books, victory gardens, and pictures of heroic looking young men in uniform occupying places of honor on walls, mantelpieces, and end tables all over America. The reality and horror of war was far away - not so for Mrs. Irma Seidenman.
Andrzej Szczypiorski's The Beautiful Mrs. Seidenman is a novel set in Nazi-occupied Poland during WW II. Born in Warsaw in 1924, Mr. Szczypiorski fought in the Polish Resistance, took part in the Warsaw uprising in 1944, and served time in a German concentration camp. Drawing on his wartime experience, Szczypiorski assembles a montage of characters struggling for survival in wartime Warsaw, cleverly knitting their experiences within the lives of his main characters, Pawelek Kry ski and Irma Seidenman.
Mrs. Seidenman had been a neighbor of the Kry skis before the war. A beautiful Nordic looking woman, Irma has been able to elude the Nazis, dodging the fate of the rest of Warsaw's Jewish community. Irma possesses two crucial attributes, blue eyes and blonde hair, that have, with the help of forged papers, established her as Mrs. Maria Magdalena Grotomska, the widow of a Polish Army officer. With the help of Pawelek, who is obviously in love with her, she has been able to blend in with the rest of the Polish population, until one fateful day, when she rounds the corner of a Warsaw building and comes face to face with Bronek Blutman. Blutman is a Nazi toady, a nefarious Jew who is surviving by fingering Warsaw Jews who have escaped the Nazi net.
Using the narration of Mrs. Seidenman's rescue, Szczypiorski, interjects the lives of a collage of Warsaw's inhabitants caught up in the terror of the Nazi occupation. His prose successfully instills the sense of despair felt by Pawelek's friend Henio as he decides to return to the ghetto. It is through Szczypiorski's eloquence, we experience the dignity of judge Kujawski and the conniving tactics of Lolo, we pity the Jewish lawyer Fichtelbaum and hate the consciencelessness of the Gestapo officer Stuckler.
Szczypiorski's novel exposes the American audience to a harsher reality of the War. His vignettes draw a poignant picture of individual responses to the Nazi terror in an easily readable style that transports the reader into the lives of his characters. The Beautiful Mrs. Seidenman is an enlightening account of the War experience viewed from the perspectives of the many innocents trapped in its inhumanity.