With a different subject, I might call this a ‘sweet memoir’ but since the subject is the memoir of a Holocaust survivor, sweet just doesn’t seem to be the appropriate word. It is however, a truly first person memoir of survival by a Jew who was born and lived in Wyszkow, Poland, just northeast of Warsaw.
Rabbi Samuel Cywiak although not interred in a concentration camp, fought daily for survival for six years every day of the war from 1939 to 1945. He was chased from town to town and country to country trying to survive almost starving, and one time eating raw meat (a squirrel) which was not kosher.
It is indeed about the Holocaust though since the event itself prompted the everyday life or death of this Jew, Rabbi Cywiak. In 1938 he was 19 and studying away from home to become a rabbi when he returned to Wyszkow to be with his family to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. (Rosh Hashanah began just last Monday, September 17.)
My interest in this book came from the fact that he was the Rabbi at the local synagogue, Sons of Israel in St. Augustine, FL. I have had so many friends who attend the synagogue and had heard his name mentioned numerous times, however, his flight to stay alive during the Holocaust (or this book)didn’t come to my attention until a year ago. There was a fairly long article in the local paper when he was retiring at the ripe old age of 89 or maybe 90. He began his duties here in 1991.
Then when I read the acknowledgments in the sample I received on my Kindle, the first person noted was my doctor who I have been seeing for a number of years, so my interest really peeked then. He was Rabbi Cywiak’s doctor as well.
Rabbi Cywiak contends throughout the book that the Holocaust was about hate. He says, “Hitler started winning support by using hate. He pointed his finger and started to blame groups that he believed caused Germany to lose the war (World War I.)”
The last paragraph of the memoir mentions hate again, “We’re all followers of the same G-d, so we should all be able to get along together and be good to each other. Hatred is not what G-d teaches.”*
Although Rabbi Cywiak was not in a concentration camp, he and his father when he returned home for Rosh Hashanah, were forced from their home at gunpoint and taken to the woods to stand in front of a dug pit. His father, being a very wise man and a rabbi as well, pushed his son into the pit just before the entire group of men were slaughtered and fell dead into the pit. The young man acted as though he was dead, too, and was therefore was able to 'play dead' and escape later into the woods. Surely he would have been murdered had he returned to town.
He was on the run throughout eastern Europe and Russia just avoiding slave labor and death by luck and wit. He found out later that other members of his family his mother and sister and brother were murdered in concentration camps, all but one brother who escaped death.
Rabbi Cywiak, according to my doctor, has moved to Miami to live with his family, due to his advanced age.
While this would certainly not be considered high literature, it’s certainly a poignant and very readable memoir by a survivor. With millions of Jews slaughter, it was good for me to read the recollections and thoughts and feelings of one innocent man who was there at the time and had a connection to my home town.
I have always had an interest in the Holocaust and have read so little besides short articles. My question always has been how can a person or persons hate another that much that they would like to see them die? Hate them enough to spit on them, scream at them for their religious beliefs. these are questions which I could never answer. And unfortunately, hatred of others is still with us even today. A lack of understanding the religion of others is still with us today. Killing because of hatred, is still with us. Apparently we’ve learned nothing.
Following Rabbi Cywiak’s Jewish observant rules, writing the Sacred Name, Orthodox Jews will replace letters or syllables with other characters. For example, G-d Bless. I am following those rules in the review.