Monday, February 25, 2008
Hillman, Laura. 2005. I Will Plant You A Lilac Tree.
"We are going to Brunnlitz, to Oskar Schindler's camp!" I recall the shouts of joy that filled the barrack at Plaszow. But the terrible place where I now stand is not that hoped-for refuge. It is Auschwitz. (1)
I Will Plant You A Lilac Tree is a memoir of one of the women saved by Oskar Schindler. Hannelore Wolff. Except for the two-page prologue, the book is a chronological account of Hannelore's life in Nazi Germany. The book opens with her attending a Jewish boarding school in Berlin. Since Hitler had come to power, it was dangerous for Jews to walk on public streets. In spite of the risk we walked along a tree-lined avenue in a suburb of Berlin, the ever-present yellow Stars of David sewn to our jackets. (3) One day she receives a letter from her mother with the news that her father has been taken by the Nazis and has died. Weeks later she receives another letter. A letter saying that her mother and two brothers will be deported to the East on May 8, 1942. In what could only be perceived as foolish-yet-brave behavior, Hannelore writes a letter to the Nazis saying that she wishes to be deported along with her family. They grant it. Now this family of four is facing the great unknown as they board a train that could lead them--probably will lead them--to their deaths.
Hannelore's story isn't always easy to read. Let's see if I can phrase this better. Those readers who aren't well-versed in Holocaust memoirs may find it difficult to read. The way the Jews are treated is despicable. It is callous. Hannelore's story is an account of some of the wrongs she faced, some of the wrongs she witnessed. But it is also a story of courage, of hope, of strength in a time of great despair. While sometimes surviving was a matter of luck--of chance--part of it had to do with will as well. Those that lost the will to live, those that gave up hope, those that gave in to despair... Starvation. Disease. Nazis. The Nazis were responsible either directly or indirectly for so many deaths. Hannelore's story of how she survived the various camps and came to be one of the lucky few saved by Schindler is amazing and fascinating and in places quite heartbreaking.
But this memoir isn't just a testament of survival, and it isn't just an account of the wrongs against the Jewish people. It is a love story as well, a story of how love can be found even in the darkest places, the most despairing times. A story of how one young man and one young woman found hope and love in each other. A story of how that love helped them endure.
I definitely recommend this one.