Rabbi Hugo Gryn "came clean" in January 1978 by speaking publicly for the first time about his experience of the Holocaust and subsequently spent a year publicly speaking on the subject as though he were a witness on a stand. He was prompted to do so by the whisperings of revisionists who denied the Holocaust--regrettably as prescient a reason still to read this affecting account and those of its ilk. Where the first section is charmingly self-conscious at times, reading as a fascinating insight into pre-war life in Berehovo, a Carpathian town, towards its close the shadow of war has started to fall relentlessly, preparing us for the middle movement of this unfinished symphony. The trainee rabbi's 1951 descriptions of life at the old brick factory, Auschwitz and Lieberose display the scrupulous matter-of-factness of one compelled by catharsis to write but unable to engage: shock, in other words. This is reminiscent of Primo Levi's If This Is A Man
, and the recently republished The Pianist
by Wladyslaw Szpilman and the effect is all the greater for the literalism. There are moments of dark humour, such as the new arrivals at Auschwitz (including the Gryns) laughing at the "lunatics" they find with shaven heads and grotesquely mismatched clothes, only to realise that these broken people had arrived only a week earlier. And in a moment that chills the reader's blood, who guesses what the unwitting Gryn doesn't, he walks into an extermination chamber building thinking it's a bakery and only survives a mass gassing because a guard points out that he is too old for a "shower". These are survivalist anecdotes, for that quickly became the main activity of those who returned from the camps, who grappled with awful, and often mortal, guilt over their fateful existence. That as a life Chasing Shadows
is incomplete matters little; rather, the specific focus of testimonies such as Gryn's retains a relevance and imperative that brooks no indulgence or sentimentality, and thus renders the unbearable readable. This is a moving and worthy testament to an extraordinary man who taught and spoke of beauty and civilisation even after staring hard in the face of evil. --David Vincent
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.