Thursday, April 17, 2008
I Have Lived A Thousand Years by Livia Bitton-Jackson
Bitton-Jackson, Livia. 1997. I Have Lived A Thousand Years.
I Have Lived A Thousand Years: Growing Up in the Holocaust is the memoir of Elli L. Friedmann. Born in Czechoslovakia, Elli along with her family were taken to Auschwitz when the ghettos were liquidated in 1944. The book covers the years 1944-1945, although it hints at what came before and what comes after. The book concludes with Elli and her remaining family members arriving in America in 1951.
Her prose is concise and powerful. As a child, she loved to write poems. And this is evident in her memoir. The imagery is strong; there is power in her words. The emotions resonate. When our story opens she is around the age of 13. Here is her description of when the Nazis came and her school was closed, "I weep and weep. I weep for my classroom, which is no longer my classroom. For the school that will never be my school again. I weep for my life, which will never be the same." A bit further on we read her description of what it was like to be shown where the family's treasure was buried. The unspoken words being that she may be the only one to survive. "I don't want to know the spot! I don't want to be the one to survive! I don't want to survive alone! Alone, I don't want to live. Oh God, I don't want to live if you don't! I don't want to know about anything! I don't want to know!"
Her descriptions are so powerful, so real. The way they are written, so straight-forward, so concise, instantly put me in her shoes. The people aren't just numbers, aren't just statistics, aren't just nameless, faceless strangers. They're real; they matter; their stories, their lives count.
This was a very powerful book for me. Elli's determination to survive, to ensure her mother's survival is so courageous, so incredible. The fact that hope and strength and courage and dignity can survive in the midst of such horror is amazing to me. Wonderfully amazing to me.
This book is definitely a must read.
The title of the book comes from the liberation scene. Elli and her brother and mother are all together. They are trying to survive until they can be liberated. Freedom is within their grasp, yet there is still danger and fear on the prowl. When they are liberated, Elli is taken for an old woman. They think she is a woman who is in her sixties, they're flabbergasted to learn that she is just fourteen years old. She says, "I am fourteen years old, and I have lived a thousand years." What great imagery.