Isabella: From Auschwitz to Freedom, the autobiograhy of Isabella Leitner and co-written with her husband Irving Leitner is actually the combination of the author's two previous works Fragments of Isabella (published in 1978) and Saving the Fragments (published in 1986). It is interesting to note that Irving also produced a play Isabella, based on the first book, which was first performed in Russia on May 8, 1993 as part of a celebration of the defeat of Nazi Germany. This was one of the first times that the people of Societ Russia were exposed to the experiences of Nazi prisoners in the death camps and the play received a standing ovation. Interestingly enough, on May 8, forty-eight years earlier a United States ship brought the first survivors of Auschwitz into an American harbor. Isabella and her sisters were among the passengers. Isabella recalls that In our battered beings we carried the charred souls of millions of innocent children, women, and men. (p. 15) And so begins this extraordinary book.
Leitner's book is divided into three parts:
- Book One: Auschwitz
- Book Two: Liberation
- Book Three: America
Even with these individual sections, the book moves forward and back in time. Even so, it is beautifully written. As I was reconstructing a brief account of her story, I was perusing another set of books that I plan to review soon. People of the Holocaust is a two volume set containing brief biographies of many different people connected in some way to the Holocaust. Isabella is one of the people included and her story is succinctly told in only a few pages. Isabella, her mother, four sisters and brother were deported from Hungary to Auschwitz in May 1944 after three months in a ghetto. Isabella's mother and youngest sister were killed immediately on arrival. Isabella and two of her sisters escaped during the Death March. Years later Isabella learned that her brother lived while her other sister died shortly after liberation. The survivors were liberated by the Soviets and made their way to America.
In an opening poem, Isabella remembers the day her mother and sister died:
My eyes turned skyward in search of a patch of sky,
but all I could see was a kingdom of hell
breathed in the darkest of swirling, charcooal gray smoke,
and my nostrils were saturated with the scent of
burning flesh, and the scent was that of my mother,
my sister, and each passenger's kin,
and half a century later, I am unable to inhale
air only, for the scent of singed human flesh
is permanently lodged in my nostrils.
I do not look different from other people,
but tread gently as you pass me by, for my skull
is inhabited by phantoms in the dark of night
and sights and sounds in the light of day
that are different from those that live in souls
who were not in Auschwitz a half century ago.
Because this pain was still so real and touchable even fifty years later, it is so important for us to remember and teach tolerance and peace to our young.
TITLE: Isabella: From Auschwitz to Freedom
AUTHOR: Isabella Leitner and Irving Leitner
TYPE: Holocaust memoir
RECOMMEND: In particular, I really liked the format of this book. The chapters are often brief and lend themselves to reflection. I also think it is important for the reader of Holocaust works to realize that for many the war was not over when peace came - rather it was merely the beginning of survival and adjustment outside of the camps. This book covers both aspects of survival.