The Journey (copyright 1992) written by Ida Fink is a work of Holocaust literature about two Jewish sisters struggling to survive the persecution of the Jews in 1942 Poland. The novel, an auto-biographical fiction, was originally written in Yiddish and published in Poland, but was translated into English by Joanna Weschler and Francine Prose. Fink's ultimate purpose of writing the novel is to show the inhumanity of genocide. By using juxtaposition of the cruel, passive behaviors of the non-Jews and the delicate lives of the girls, she reminds the reader of the difficulty of being a Jew during the war. She uses the strong, underlying theme of survival to bring attention to the era, now known as the Holocaust, and show the immense effects it had on real human lives.
Fink, a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor, writes from experience of hiding her own Jewish identity through the war. She was born in 1921. After escaping Poland in 1942, she lived in disguise among Polish farm workers inside Germany. Now living in Israel, she is the author of 3 novels, including The Journey and two other short Holocaust fictions: A Scrap in Time and Traces. Though her books are fictional, they contain many auto-biographical elements from her knowledge and experiences of the Holocaust.
The novel itself begins with Katarzyna and Elzbieta, sisters whose names change twice for identity protection reasons, as the central characters on a journey to survive the Holocaust. Undercover as Polish peasants, they make it into the labor-force of Germany attempting to hide their Jewish race through the war. Fink gives Katarzyna a unique narrating role to guide the reader through the story. By shifting between first and third person, Fink exaggerates the theme of self alienation in Katarzyna's life, focusing on the relationship between the person she is and the person she must become to survive. Katarzyna, a girl of intuition and strength, has an optimistic, superstitious side of her personality, providing a flickering hope of survival throughout the dark journey. She has an incredible instinct for acting in unexpected situations and a sense of chance that follows the girls throughout their risky quest.
In one section, the girls encounter two informers who blackmail them by taking their papers and refusing to return them without being paid. "Wouldn't it be better to deal with this like civilized human beings," one of the informers smarts off. Katarzyna, with her keen, on-the-spot instinct, replies, catching the man off guard, "What do you mean, `human'?" This supports the theme of non-Jews in charge using their power for their own benefit. Thus, this quotation parallels the theme of the novel in that the Jews are being treated as anything but humans. This incident reveals the horror of the Holocaust and other cases where those in power use their position to their own advantage selfishly.
Even though this story is set over half a century ago, you see that it's possible for the same thing to happen today, in any place where racial prejudice gains power. In a fair world these Jewish girls wouldn't have had to face the immense struggles of their story. Fink strongly stresses the humanity of the girls and their right to life just as any other person deserves to live, whether German, Pole, or American. I think that this novel is relevant to our power-hungry culture and great for illustrating the inhumanness that can be caused by obedience to a discriminating authority. I would suggest it for high school students as well as adults who are currently in the thick of making decisions concerning the keeping or giving up of their constitutional rights. It opened my eyes to see what might happen if our government gains enough control to powerfully, for its own benefit, suppress another race. It was also comparable to the other non-fiction Holocaust works I have read, probably due to Fink's knowledge and experience of the time period.