Reading Readit: After This – Survivors of the Holocaust Speak 46



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On 27 January 2015, the world commemorated the 70 year anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Some years earlier Alice Nelson, at the request of her mother-in-law, set aside her second novel to work with fourteen Holocaust survivors in order to help preserve the last living memory of that time. After This

As a young girl raised on a farm I was accustomed to seeing brands and lip tattoos on animals. Our neighbours at the time were a mini United Nations with many nationalities living together in one short street. Mr W was a gentle self-effacing man who attempted to teach me German; Mrs W was a very beautiful woman who cooked food totally foreign to Australia in the 1950’s. Their home was where I acquired a taste for rollmops and freshly baked black bread.

I knew they were refugees, but had only a child’s understanding of what that meant. Then one day I saw our neighbour with his sleeves rolled up and learned that people too could be numbered like cattle. Mr W noticed me staring and spoke to my parents before telling me the child’s version of what had happened to him. That was my first encounter with a Holocaust survivor.

In After This: Survivors of the Holocaust speak, we are privileged to read the recollections of 14 men and women, ordinary people who have lived extraordinary lives. As the author says: “Each individual recounts the story of their life before the Holocaust, their wartime experiences and their new lives as migrants to Australia after the war. The survivors come from a range of different backgrounds and countries but all endured the horrors of the Holocaust. Their experiences are diverse, although of course there are many overlaps: persecution, discrimination, hiding, ghettos, deprivation, trains and camps. Each individual narrates their particular Holocaust experience, but emphasis is also given to their lives before and afterwards, so that they are not portrayed just as victims.”

In an age when we try to explain away the Holocaust and argue statistics, this book reminds us the statistics are people; mothers, fathers, grandparents, siblings. As the survivors near the end of their lives, there is a need for their history, their words and experiences to be passed to the next generation. One of the survivors says: “The Holocaust is a monumental part of history, so please do not forget what I am saying. I won’t be here forever to tell the story. It is in your hands and the hands of your generation and generations to come – to always remember.”

In her Introductory Essay, Alice Nelson tells us that the survivors relate their stories not because they seek redemption “…   no redemption could ever be possible and to speak of healing or catharsis belies the horrifying enormity of their experiences.” Rather this sharing of their lives, despite the pain it brings is a “way to counteract apathy as well as forgetfulness”.

The survivors have not only shared their memories with Alice, they have shared their personal mementos and photos; photos taken before the war, some in their prisons and others in their new homes in Australia. This book and its memories remind us how resilient people can be. Despite its subject matter it is an uplifting read which I recommend to anyone. Betty, Izaac, Fryda, Bill, Rosalie, Rosa, Aaron, Erica, Kurt, Chaim, Richard, Hanoch, Pola and the person who wished to remain anonymous, thank you for sharing your lives with us.

“As the Holocaust recedes in time, as the last surviving witnesses to this terrible memory pass from the world, it becomes ever more important to listen to the stories of survivors. To listen and attend and remember”.



About the Author

Nelson, Alice

Alice Nelson is a Perth-born writer whose first novel The Last Sky was shortlisted for The Australian/Vogels Literary Award, won the T.A.G. Hungerford Award and was shortlisted for the Barbara Jefferis Award for Literature. In 2009 she was named Young Novelist of the Year by the Sydney Morning Herald.

Alice works as a freelance journalist and teaches creative writing. She is currently completing her doctorate in the School of English and Cultural Studies at the University of Western Australia.


After This: Survivors of the Holocaust Speak by Alice Nelson

Available for $21.25 via Booktopia

Published by Fremantle Press

Karen OBrien Hall

Karen O'Brien-Hall followed many careers in her life and loved each one! From accountancy to the hospitality industry, from managing an employment agency to Executive Assistant to the Chairman of a multi-national, when she retired Karen was in Public Relations. Whatever her career path at the time, Karen is a lifelong volunteer. Married to "the love of my life", John, her second love is community theatre where she enjoys acting and directing. Karen enjoys time in her garden and can always finds time to read, around 8 – 10 books a month. Her reviews appear on Starts at Sixty, Goodreads,The Reading Room and her own page

  1. The second and third paras are reminiscent of a street in which we lived in Windsor (Brisbane) in the early 1960s. The circumstances are almost identical.
    The holocaust is something we are behoven to remember. The lessons learned must be used for all time to prevent its recurrence. This is a subject about which I have read greatly. I will now add to the list by seeking out Alice Nelson’s book.
    Thank you, Karen.

  2. Yes Karen,it is important that we share this ghastly episode,which already is being minimised and denied,so that this horror may not be repeated. I would like to read these accounts,possibly not for pleasure but in recognition of the individual recount of how they managed to survive this terrible journey.

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    • Thanks for your comments Catharine, the stories are well told in a simple journalistic style. The different problems faced by them after the war make interesting reading.

  3. Yes I met a friend’s mother in London who apologised for having seconds at her daughters dinner party but explained she vowed never to be hungry again if she ever got out of the camp. She showed me her tattoo and told me how when she knew she was going to be taken to the camp she arranged for her friend to look after her baby girl until she got out. Her husband was killed and she only lived by agreeing to be an officer’s ‘party girl’. When she was released she spent quite a long time trying to track down her daughter as her friend had lost her home and moved away.

  4. I knew a womyn who was of considerable girth. She was 15 lined up along the grave to be shot. By some fluke she fell but not shot. Her last thoughts she thought was I will never taste chocolate again!! The mind is bizarre. She lay in the grave with the dead for 2 days before she dared try to move/ escape. Which she did and NEVER deprived herself of chocolate again.

  5. Thankyou to all for sharing their stories. I cannot conceive how difficult what they suffered. I will visit Auschwitz later this year and I will pay my respect to all that suffered and died.

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  6. My mother in law couldn’t stand the smell of turnips after spending 4 years in a camp. She came from a village that was resisting Nazi occupation so the Nazis lined everyone up, shot every 10th person, and took the rest to labour camps. she was number 9, her brother was unfortunately the 10th, so was shot by her side. She had some extraordinary stories to tell …

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  7. Perhaps could be recommended reading for upper high school students. A horror that should never be forgotten.

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    • Excellent idea Julia. Many of the Holocaust Museums have “living history” for schools where survivors speak with the children. As you can imagine, time is not on our side for this to continue and records such as this book are such an excellent resource for ensuring the future sharing of the story.


  9. Yes my mother and father both Polish endured concentration camps ended up in Refugee camps in Africa thanks to Aust Gov came to Australia on the USS General W.C.Langfitt in 1949. Many stories told some very heartbreaking. But they were the lucky ones to survive. But unfortunately both passed away at the age of 54

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