When Karen Liebreich set out to write her family history she planned to centre the story around a few treasured objects. These few mementos evoked memories of her grandparents and their siblings in Vienna and Czechoslovakia before the Holocaust. But as her research progressed it became clear that almost nothing of her family had survived the devastation that hit central European Jewry in the 20th century.
Not only did few objects or photos survive, even the bodies had no graves. Instead hidden scandals began to emerge; the very officials who oversaw the murder of those family members were later entrusted by the Red Cross with reconstituting the shattered families, or re-writing Europe’s postwar history.
Amazingly, the unfolding catastrophe of one family tragedy also revealed stories of warmth, humour and, ultimately, revival. The tale of vanished aunts, uncles and cousins contains in microcosm the history of the Jews of central Europe.
This is a harrowing, yet deeply moving, and meticulously researched description of personal loss. Karen Liebreich’s vivid account of her family; the many that died at the hands of the Nazis and the few that survived, is a loving act of remembrance quite as much as it is a timely reminder of the darkest consequences of anti-semitism taken to its extreme. In connecting with the particular, we are reminded of the magnitude of a human catastrophe that is otherwise hard for the imagination to compute. A must read for anyone who wants to understand some of the factors that brought us to these turbulent times in which we live. Amongst these pages a host of lost family members are brilliantly conjured into life again, and in doing so reach across the decades to touch us with their humanity.