Saturday, April 27, 2013

Sky Tinged Red

Earlier this week my friend Dora mentioned to me that she had a book for me to read, a typical conversational topic for us. "What's the name?" I asked.

"Sky Tinged Red".

"Sounds familiar" I replied, only then realizing why. "Your father's book", I exclaimed. "You have it!"

A little background....Dora is from Radom, Poland, the same town as my grandfather. She was 15 years old when the war broke out. She spent the war years in the Radom forced labor camp, Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. While her immediate family survived, 80% of her family did not, cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents were sent to their deaths at Treblinka.

Dora's father had the unusual distinction of surviving two and a half years in Auschwitz, a place where a few months was unusual. Isaia Eiger was an accountant in Radom where he also directed the Jewish orphanage and was active in the Zionist movement. He was sent to Auschwitz in 1942 along with 200 leaders of Radom. There he was part of the resistance. His survival hinged on his ability to speak seven languages. He became the registrar, taking information from the many people who arrived in daily transports. In this capacity he learned about subsequent events in Radom and how his family was faring. When Dora and her mother were sent to Auschwitz in 1944, her father was there to greet them. He was able to help them get indoor work as seamstresses during the harsh winter, furthering their own odds for survival.

Of those seven languages, Dora's father chose Yiddish as the language for this memoir. At that time Yiddish was the language of many Jews throughout the world. The memoir was written immediately after the war when memory was fresh, but it was not until his death in 1960 that Dora discovered three copies typed in Yiddish. In the intervening years Dora raised her family. It was not until the early 1980s that Dora took on the task of translating this memoir.  To her dismay she discover that it ended abruptly in 1942. She searched in vain for the other portion of the memoir. In 2006 her nephew brought over more of her father's papers that were in the files of her late brother. No typewritten pages were to be found.

It was only as she began to box these materials for Yad Vashem that she discovered the entire handwritten memoir. There it was hiding in plain sight. Busy searching for typewritten pages, they had missed these narrow yellowing pages, not recognizing them for what they were.

Once again Dora began to translate these pages. This was more challenging than before as Dora is now legally blind. Nonetheless she is quite indomitable. A lack of vision might slow her down, but not stay her from proceeding. With the aid of a magnifying machine she could examine each word. Letter by letter she transcribed it, building sentence after sentence. At this stage she couldn't read a sentence for context as it wouldn't fit on the screen at a magnification level sufficiently large for her to read. It took almost a year of painstaking work for her to complete the translation.

Almost seventy years had passed since it was written. Time for two generations to come of age, great-grandchildren her father had never known now stepped in to bring his story to fruition. Her two grandsons Etan and Jonah took the lead, driving the effort forward to share the legacy and story of their great-grandfather. I suspect there is a little "beshert" (Yiddish for fate) at work here, the pages waiting patiently to be discovered when the time was right.

I saw pieces along the way, serving as Dora's eyes as we read through the names list verifying spellings. Many of the names were familiar from my work on the Radom KehilaLink (Jewishgen.org ancestral website). Sometimes I felt as if I knew the residents of this town but soon I would know them through the lens of her father's experience.

Among the range of survivor accounts, this is an unusual and important book. There are not many people who were members of the resistance in Auschwitz and survived to tell of it. Even more rare is a two and a half year perspective on the camp from the inside. Isaia Eiger was a well educated and thoughtful man who tells his story for future generations, "a memorial to former comrades" and an "indictment of the murderers".

You can find some excerpts of the book on-line. You can learn more about it or purchase a copy on-line.

2 comments:

  1. Just ordered the book online...looking forward to reading it.

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  2. Michael N HindinMay 22, 2013 at 10:40 PM

    Incredible story about surviving the worst humans can inflict on other humans. Don't read near bed time.

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