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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nine Suitcases by Bela Zsolt, 15 Jun 2008
This review is from: Nine Suitcases (Paperback)
Bela Zsolt's Nine Suitcases is a memoir of the Holocaust in wartime Hungary. The author, a Hungarian writer of Jewish background, begins recounting his tale from the wartime ghetto in Nagyvarad (now in modern-day Romania). From his confinement in the ghetto hospital, Zsolt describes a Jewish community stricken with poverty and panic. There is talk of euthanasia amongst Jews in order to prevent further mutilation and debasement of their bodies. Despite the looming threat of deportation to concentration camps the community remains fractious, with children chafing at family penury and individuals attempting to curry small favours with their tormentors. The imprisoned Jews hide their valuables in the vain hope of recovering them when they are free men. They yearn for escape but have nowhere to go, even when the door is held open for them. It is a desperately grim position.

Rather than laying out his story in a straightforward chronological fashion, Zsolt turns his narrative back and forth in time. In on of the most powerful passages in the book, he tells the story of his deportation to Russia as if he is still in the ghetto talking to his friend Friedlander, adding details every now and again about the developments in the ghetto affecting himself and his friend. Like the other narrative threads in Nine Suitcases, this is all revived in clear and compelling prose. Zsolt adopts a detached, dispassionate tone for much of Nine Suitcases, reflecting the hopelessness and exhaustion that came upon him in the ghetto. His calm description of Jews being hoarded onto cattle wagons for deportation to the concentration camps is truly chilling. On occasion, however, there are gasps of horror and despair at his terrible experiences, most memorably when he recalls how he fled the labour camps before the Russian military advance, leaving behind those who clang onto their worldly possessions in the rush to escape.

In the final third of the book, Zsolt tells of how he escaped from the ghetto in Nagyvarad and made his way to Budapest by train. This story is very different to what has gone before but is equally compelling, providing a glimpse of the impending defeat of the Axis powers and of the views of Hungarian people after the Jews have been erased from daily life. It is not easy to critically compare memoirs of the Holocaust and I do not wish to attempt that here. I can, however, wholeheartedly recommend Nine Suitcases to anyone. It is a remarkable and unique account of the darkest chapter in twentieth century history.
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