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I always begin reading survivors’ memoirs with trepidation. Surely I am about to begin a journey into a world of darkness but I don’t quite know how all enveloping the darkness and how skilled the guide who will bring me on that journey. I also understand that the story I am about to read is not about abstract history, but about one survivor; not about Six Million but about one of those Six Million and the world she inhabited. I am also hesitant because to if I am disappointed in the work, it may seem as if I am dismissive of the life that is embodied in that work.

I began reading this work with less hesitation confidence because I had read earlier works by Fred Rosenbaum, in which he collaborated with Sonia Orbuch, a woman partisan fighter, and knew so well that he had the unique capacity to meld his skill as a writer, his mastery of the history with the story that the survivor would tell. He would not impose his voice on hers, not impose his agenda on hers. And he would not work on just any story, but one that had to be told

So when Fred approached me to write this foreword, I recalled our meeting last summer in Krakow during the Krakow Jewish Festival and remembered most particularly the evening we had spent at the grand concert that filled the square in Kazimierz, the once vital center of the Jewish community, with music and joy. Surrounded by good food and wonderful music I met Moses and Elli Lubitzky, two of Eva’s children, and caught but a glimpse of their mother’s story. I learned more, as the readers will learn on her life after the Holocaust, her life as a chicken farmer in Colchester a backwater town in Connecticut between Hartford and New London where Jews had come not to settle in an urban environment but to work the land. As a young professor at Wesleyan University, thirty six years ago, we lived on a nearby lake in a rural town even smaller than Colchester, and bought our challah on Friday from the local Jewish Bakery. We knew those farmers and we knew those Jews. I learned from Elli that from Colchester, Eva Lubitzsky went to Manchester, where my former wife’s family lived for generations. She had been a classmate of my former-brother-in-law and sister-in-law who had also been my student at Wesleyan. Jewish geography: the world works in mysterious ways and soon I would learn the full story.

Like most memoirs, Eva Lubitzky Out on the Ledge: A Woman’s Courageous Journey between Two Worlds has three natural divisions before during and after, her life as the daughter of Gerer Hasidism, pious prosperous Jews living in the industrial city of Lodz, the Manchester of Poland; Eva’s life in the ghetto of Lodz, the longest lasting ghetto in Poland and her deportation to and struggle in Auschwitz; and finally her life after the war, efforts to learn of her family’s fate, to find out what happened to her husband, life in DP camps and in Germany itself, her remarriage and then her long and not altogether easy adjustment to the United States.

A word about the title, which is at once so very attractive and equally perplexing: the Hasidic Master Nachman of Bratzlav taught: “the world is a narrow ledge; and most essentially one must not fear at all.” Borrowing from Reb Nachman, Martin Buber said that truth is to be found by walking the narrow ledge, knowing that one can fall into the abyss on either side, yet by traversing that ledge we confront, the hard, difficult but all so important truth. Yet I am confused by which two worlds Eva traverses: was it the world of her childhood, where God’s presence was to be found and loving protective parents were ever present and the world of Lodz and Auschwitz where parents are killed and God is ever more absent? Are the two worlds, the world of Europe in all its darkness and the world of America or are the two worlds, the two Evas, the Gerer Hasid and or the toughened more worldly person she had to become to endure all that she endured? The mystery remains even after a careful reading, perhaps unintentionally so, perhaps ever so deliberately.

Nevertheless, Eva provides us a wonderful glimpse into her former self: the charming young, naïve, loving and gracious girl to whom so much was given by devout, caring and comfortable parents. She also introduces us into a religious world alien to many of her readers, where piety was in the air, a natural, normal way of being and the first glimpses into her own desire to break away from that warm but narrow world. In interwar Europe, the divisions between Jews were often within the family. Sitting around the table were children who were choosing different paths for themselves; Zionist and Bundists, secularists and the pious might sit together about the same Shabbes table or Seder table. Contact was retained with those who had left the fold; the bonds of love overcame political and ideological divisions. Eva was never forced to break with her family of her own initiative. Even her loss of faith is without anger or bitterness; merely the insistence that the God that was so present in her parents’ world was not there when her world was shattered. She describes with admiration her father’s refusal to eat non-Kosher meat even as he saw his wife and daughter eat treife in order to survive. The events that turned her world upside down began not from within but from without.

Eva provides us with a powerful glimpse into the world of the Lodz ghetto, German-occupied Poland’s second largest ghetto where Mordecai Chaim Rumkowski reigned supreme. Unlike his counterpart, Adam Czerniakow, the Chairman of the Judenrat [the Jewish Council] in Warsaw, who presided over a laissez-faire and permitted multiple centers of influence within the ghetto, Rumkowski controlled everything tightly in Lodz. He articulared a specific strategy for keeping his ghetto alive: “Survival through work.” He centralized all services in the Judenrat; housing and commerce, health and culture, even religion. Rumkowski, not a Rabbi, officiated at weddings. He went overboard, even having his picture put on ghetto currency, but he had a strategy. He reasoned that if the ghetto could be made into a work camp that provided quality goods for the Wehrmact at a competitive price and also made his immediate German supervisor Hans Biebow rich -- filthy rich -- both the German army and Biebow would have a stake in maintaining the ghetto. In the midst of squalor, disease, starvation, and the stench of raw sewage, Lodz's Jews got up each morning and went to work within the confines of the ghetto and in work details outside.

Conditions deteriorated further when Jews from Germany, Luxembourg and Czechoslovakia were brought into the ghetto. Five thousand Gypsies were also incarcerated in one section. By 1941, 40,000 workers were employed in ghetto factories run by the Council. Lodz was also different from Warsaw and the other ghettos in that there was little private enterprises. No smugglers alleviated hunger. Rumkowski would not permit it. The Judenrat ran everything--hospitals, dispensaries, schools, orphanages, even a thriving cultural life.

And Rumkowski understood the price that he would have to pay.

Yet, despite its impressive productivity and the profits made by ghetto industries, the Nazis were not content to let Lodz remain a working ghetto. During the first five months of 1942, 55,000 Jews and all 5,000 Gypsies were deported and murdered in gas vans at Chelmno. Rumkowski was informed of their fate. More than 2,000 patients were deported to Chelmno from Lodz Hospital, including 400 children and 80 pregnant women. Eighteen patients who tried to escape were shot.

In early September 1942, the Nazis demanded that all children and old people be surrendered. Rumkowski complied. "The decree cannot be revoked. It can only be slightly lessened by our carrying it our calmly," he said. In a public speech, he pleaded: "Brothers and sisters, hand them over to me. Fathers and mothers, give me your children."

Rumkowski was consistent. "I must cut off the limbs to save the body itself," he argued. "I must take the children because if not, others will be taken as well." In the next ten days, 20,000 children and old people were deported to certain death in Chelmno.

In a normal world, women and children are protected. In other ghettoes children were protected to the end. Adam Czerniakow said: “they have asked me to kill the children with my own hands, this I cannot do.” So he swallowed cyanide and would not sign the deportation order.

Such were the conditions under which Eva lived. But she was young, and young people are living two lives: an inner life of self discovery, and an outer life of harsh brutality. The two were linked: every moment could be her last. Nobody knew what tomorrow would bring; the working assumption was that tomorrow would only be more difficult than today. But the response on the part of some young people was to live more intensely, to deepen one’s inner life in order to lessen the horrific impact of what was happening externally.

Because her father had died in the ghetto, Eva no longer worried about disappointing him or embarrassing him. Because the world had been turned upside down, Eva’s mother could not quite demand the rigid allegiance that would have once seemed normative. Eva guide into the larger world was a girl friend Cesia and her first experience of love came with her girlfriend’s brother Verik who soon became her husband. Listen to her words, experience her innocience:

{jb_quote}We would hold hands, the first physical contact I’d ever had with a male outside my family. And then we’d sneak out to one of the seldom used passageways connecting the compound to share caresses and to kiss. It may not sound like much from the standpoint of twenty-first century America but given my sheltered background it was electrifying. Verik was my first love. He touched my mind, body and sou.{/jb_quote}

When one cannot plan for tomorrow, one only has today. Marriage and courtship in the ghettos were intense. Life in the shadow death is still life, made all the more precious by its precariousness.. The readers will learn to appreciate that this first love and first marriage was unspoken through the courtship and long marriage of Eva to Martin Libitzsky. The story was never shared with her children. It remained in the zone of the unspoken, perhaps also the untainted.

Rumkowski strategy worked for a time, but even he could not anticipate the degree to which the Germans were pursuing two wars: the War Against the Jews and the World War. And with time running out, with the Soviet Army in Poland, the Lodz Ghetto was liquidated in August 1044, the last ghetto of Poland, it had lasted longer than all the others.

And so Eva is deported to Auschwitz. Listen again to her words:

{jb_quote}Even at this point it never occurred to me or to those close to me, to fight back or escape. Physical resistance was far from the mind of almost every other Jew in the ghetto as ell even those few who unlike us knew of th Warsaw ghtto revolut fifteen months earlier. We lacked weapons,,, Nearly all of us had been worn down by years of malnutrition and disease...Our region had neither dense forests nor friendly peasants, nor roving partisans.{jb_quote}

The ghetto’s liquidation arrived before its liberation.

Eva, Cesia and Verick went into hiding with their mothers; when they could no longer hold out, they were deported to Auschwitz. Upon arrival Eva was separated from her mother and her husand. Young and able bodied she faced selection at Auschwitz.

Eva described her experience the way many survivors describe theirs. Numbness and anger, a determination to survive.

{jb_quote}I couldn’t allow my strength of be sapped either by grief for the dead or anxiety for the living. If was as if my relationships belonged to another world. I was in such physical agony that it was hard to think about anything but my empty stomach, parched mouth or aching bones – and the revenge to be taken later.{/jb_quote}

Several women survivors speak of the community they formed: camp sisters who banded together and made the near impossible conditions, but a bit more bearable. There was not always comradeship in suffering, but there were bonds of mutuality, which became essential to Eva during the death marches, the forced evaculation from Auschwitz in the winter of 1945. When she was about to drop down and when to drop down to the ground was to die, they picked her uip. “We won’t let you die here,” they implored. “They picked me up, slapped my face and got me moving again.”

She journeyed from Auschwitz to a subcamp of Flossenberg and later to Theresienstadt where liberation came only on the 5th of May. Eva comments on liberation” “to rejoice wholeheartedly was impossible; too much had been destroyed.”

Eva’s story does not end with liberation. The reader will be grateful that she provides us with many insights into the way back from destruction. She found her first way of returning to life, by becoming useful, helping others as a nurse, but before she could return to life, she had to confront the magnitude of the loss and find out what had happened to Verik, her husband and Cesia, her best friend and sister-in-law and her family. The new was not good and therefore she had to find a new life in the company of other survivors with whom one shared so very much that words were not needed.

Eva’s account is honest. It stressed the sense of friendship and companionship, the desperation that forced some survivors to marry virtually anyone for they could not bear to be alone and in her case the friendships that developed and the tentative steps back into life. Marriage, the birth of a first child or three and the question where to go for staying in Germany was out of the question.

From rags to riches is a favorite motif of the American narrative, yet Eva’s story does not fit into this classical mythic form. She came to America with her husband and they struggled, struggled and struggled some more. The moved from New York to Hartford, Connecticut where they were poor but had a sense of community; they lived with survivors and among survivors, all of whom were facing the same issues: how do we make a living? Where do we live? How do we begin again? Some were more successful than others but all were young, all faced a situation in which tomorrow looked better than today, if not better than at least easier.

Martin and Eva went to Colchester, where they lived in isolation and also barely eked out a living. The return to the land is often the stuff of legend, but life on the land means rising early in the morning, working seven days a week, cleaning up barns and chicken coops, the cold of winter, the heat of summer. There is little romance in her depictions of these years and almost no sense the self reliance and fierce individuality of the Yankee farmer. Martin works two jobs and is frequently away; the responsibility for raising children are Eva’s and Eva’s alone; there is no sense of a village, little description of a warm caring community. One can sense her isolation and her loneliness.

Later, much later life get easier when they move from Colchester to Manchester and from farming to the dry cleaning business, from eking out the bare necessities of life to achieving a sense of stability and if not wealth than at least financial solidity. Having known both communities and the survivors who touched their lives, I appreciate the stories they must have shared with each other. Helen Kopman, Eva’s friend from Manchester who helped her get into the dry cleaning business, was also a ghetto survivor, an Auschwitz survivor. She married in the ghetto less for love and more for stability. Her husband was a baker – his “wealth” in the ghetto consisted of the fact that he always had bread, if there was any flower in the ghetto at all. She too, fell in love after the war, and only belatedly learned that her husband who she had thought dead was still alive, and they were reunited to rebuild their lives and make a family. Such was their triumph. Such was the life of survivors in the fifties and sixties and seventies in post-war America.

There is a final chapter, a coda to Eva’s story. After a life of struggle, she moved to Southern Florida, now the home of the second largest community of survivors in the United States. No longer isolated, she lives in a condominium, which provides a greater sense of community to Florida’s Jewish elderly. She learns to master her past by becoming a witness, a teacher, who lectures in classroom to American students who see in her a symbol of strength and resilience and who learn from her one of the most important lessons of life: not every defeat must be final; one can overcome, and that which one cannot overcome, one must have the courage to endure. It is a lesson that will serve these students well as they struggle through the vicissitudes of their life without quite appreciating the many gifts that they have received.

Martin lost his memory, which may have enabled Eva to recover her own. The journey was long and painful, but its telling is honest and piercing, so very unsentimental and yet so deeply moving.

Michael Berenbaum
Los Angeles, California