Monday, March 3, 2008

The Cage

Sender, Ruth Minsky. 1986. The Cage.

The Cage by Ruth Minsky Sender is one of the most outstanding Holocaust memoirs I've ever read. The narrative is told loosely through a framework. That is in the first chapter, Ruth Minsky Sender begins her narrative by setting it in the present day (or what would have been the present day when it was being written). She frames her story around questions her children asked about why they had no grandparents, no cousins, no extended family, etc. This, I believe, is quite effective in drawing you into the story. Of making you see the big picture.

Nancy looks at me, bewildered. "Why did they let them do it? Why didn't people stop them?"
Why did they let them do it? Why did they let them do it? It echoes in my ears. Many voices ring in my ears. Voices I have heard before. They are all calling, Why? Why? Why did they let them do it?
I hear Mama's voice, filled with hope. A world full of people will not be silent. We will not perish in vain. She was so sure. But she perished, and the world was silent.
Tears fall down my face. Nancy's soft hands wipe them away. "But, Mommy, it could not happen here. Our neighbors, our friends, they would help."
Suddenly it is 1939 again. (4)
In simple but haunting prose, the narrative tells the story of one girl's survival. Riva, our narrator, is a child-soon-to-be-a-woman growing up in Lodz, Poland. Her world changes, her future changes when the Nazis invade Poland. Friends? Neighbors? Vanish overnight it seems. You see, it's not safe to be 'Polish' anymore...better to be German. To blend in with the oppressors. To take up their mantras. To join with them side by side. To pursue the destruction of the Jewish race. There is no one to stand up for the Polish Jews. (Or should I say there are few if any that are willing to make such a stand.) The story of Riva and her family--her mother, her brothers, her sisters, is powerful.

Riva finds her strength in poetry. You might could even say that poetry saves her life in more ways than one. This is her story.

Camp Mittelsteine, Germany
September 23, 1944
Riva Minska, Number 55082.

When my tormented heart can't take any more
The grief within rips it apart;
My tears flow freely--they can't be restrained
I reach for my notebook--my friend.
I speak to my friend of my sorrow
I share my anger, my pain.
I speak to my friend of tomorrow
Of a future we'll build once again!
The pillars I build for the future to come,
I knock down and build once again.
I share all my dreams, share my hopes with my friend
Share the pain that is filling my heart. (178)
First sentence: Warm rays of sunshine fill the house, mixed with the sweet smell of lilac in full bloom.
Last sentence: As long as there is life, there is hope.
245 pages

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