Carved in Stone

Holocaust Years - A Boy's Tale

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Manny Drukier
  • Toronto, ON: 
    University of Toronto Press
    , August
     2017.
     280 pages.
     $29.95.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781487522841.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

In Carved in Stone: Holocaust Years-A Boy’s Tale, Manny Drukier provides an account of his journey to Poland fifty years after the Holocaust to retrace and chronicle his past in an effort “to rehabilitate myself” (10). In order to do this, Drukier spends months travelling and delving into his prewar childhood, wartime experiences, and the onset of his postwar life. From birth through liberation, he visits the sites of his youth, provoking contemporary meditations and memories.

Like survivor Ruth Kluger’s memoir Still Alive: A Holocaust Girlhood Remembered (Feminist Press, 2001), Drukier shifts back and forth between current day (1996 when the first edition appeared) and the experiences of his childhood. When he maps the geography of his life the reader is pulled along within the increasingly devastating maelstrom that engulfs young Manny and his family. In Carved in Stone, this literary device is more effective in the earlier part of the book. Particularly powerful are his visits to his former homes and awkward attempts to connect with the current occupants. We, along with the adult Drukier, are able to visit the ghosts of his youth hovering in the landscape of contemporary Poland.

Drukier has a keen eye for detail and a remarkable memory. On the one hand, his skilled observations serve him well. His descriptions of his family’s prewar life and colorful characters in both his maternal and paternal lineage are exceptional. Descriptions of any length are rarities in child survivor memoirs given that authors may not recall the details of their families’s prewar lives or that they focus on wartime events to the exclusion of the pre-Holocaust years. By painting a vivid and unvarnished picture of Polish life before the war, Drukier not only enlivens his story but also puts into sharp relief the richness of what was lost. On the other hand, there are times when the details crowd the page—he goes off on almost stream-of-consciousness tangents that distract from, rather than add to, his story. And, unlike Kluger’s work which probes deeply into the author’s psyche, Drukier stays on the surface, observing more, and analyzing less.

The memoir gains focus with the start of the war. Drukier’s descriptions of the Staszów ghetto are powerful; the family is still intact and taking care of each other, actions that become less and less possible as the noose tightens. Readers learn about the horrors of Buchenwald but also of the lesser-known slave labor camp at the Hugo Schneider Aktiengesellschaft munitions plant (HASAG) where he was incarcerated.

Drukier is matter-of-fact about his own resourcefulness as well as the brutality that eventually becomes a fact of his daily life. It is to his credit that he does not try to explain his own survival. Certainly, he places no stock in divine intervention. The author makes it clear from the beginning that when he arrives in Warsaw and attends high-holiday services, he is not particularly observant. But it is not that his experiences as a teenager during the Holocaust pushed him away from God. Rather, he notes that his family was not particularly observant before the war. Despite this, they attend services in a makeshift ghetto shtibel (one-room, informal place of Jewish worship) and the young Manny, approaching his thirteenth year, assumes he will observe his bar mitzvah there. As he worries nervously at being ill prepared for the service, the situation in the ghetto worsens: a close cousin dies, his mother is seriously ill, food grows scarcer. His bar-mitzvah date comes and goes without even the briefest mention of it. This and other poignant memories highlight the fact that in  extraordinary and extreme circumstances, Manny sees his world very much through the eyes of a child.

Drukier describes his life after liberation. The “life after” is a significant aspect of survivor memories that is often neglected. Including this period in his memoir shines an important light on the chaos in the immediate postwar period and illuminates Drukier’s own agency, despite his age—now eighteen-years old—in determining his direction. He also touches very briefly on his arrival in New York and his imminent move to Canada. Details of his marriage to Freda are largely absent; a surprise since she accompanies him on his trip to Poland and figures prominently as his travel companion.

Carved in Stone was originally published in 1996. Twenty-one years later, in 2017, it was reissued in paperback. There is no explanation as to why there is a two-decade gap between the two editions, nor do there seem to be any additions to the later version. At least one correction is in order: the author notes that 1,000 Poles rescued Jews during the war (90). This is an outdated statistic. According to Yad Vashem’s website, Righteous Among the Nations Department, 6,863 Polish rescuers have been acknowledged as of December 2018. An addendum of a few pages that fill in this gap or offer the author’s details on his life since, would have addressed the reader’s curiosity and given additional breadth and context to Drukier’s narrative. Moreover, Drukier’s perspective—twenty years later—on his earlier confrontation with his past would have been welcome.

Does Drukier’s journey serve as “a rehabilitation” as he hopes at its outset? His final chapter mentions his feelings of agitation as he returns to Toronto, his sense that he can never allow himself to enjoy life fully. It seems his past still shapes him. Nevertheless, Drukier has attempted to grapple with this and, in the process, added a noteworthy voice to the canon of Holocaust memoirs.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Beth B. Cohen is a historian whose work focuses on the Holocaust and the subject of Jewish refugees who settled in the United States after World War II.  Her publications include Case Closed: Holocaust Survivors in Postwar America (2007) and Child Survivors of the Holocaust: The Youngest Remnant and the American Experience (2018).

Date of Review: 
January 5, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Manny Drukier settled in Toronto in 1948. He was the publisher of the Idler and A la Carte magazines, and his business interests have included manufacturing, importing and real estate. At present he operates the Idler Pub in Toronto.

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