Shira Birnbaum is science and medical writer at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
In this collection of Holocaust memoirs, Birnbaum presents the unique first-person stories of six child survivors, all members of her father’s extended family. The stories trace war’s ravages through the eyes of rapidly maturing children and adolescents. Each tale is extraordinary. One chronicler tells of passing as a gentile, surviving by selling her blood and submitting to Nazi experiments for pay; another details her escape from Poland to Lithuania to Africa; another memoir depicts the liquidation of the Warsaw ghetto and the author’s daring escape; yet another family member describes her wartime sojourn in the relative safety of Shanghai. Riveting as these stories are, Birnbaum adds yet another layer to enhance the reader's understanding. In a chapter-by-chapter analysis that follows the memoirists through each year of the war, Birnbaum explores textual cues that illustrate childhood resilience. Through the astute perception of a psychiatric nurse, she elucidates survival strategies and ties them to today’s young survivors of traumatic conflict. This book is an important contribution to Holocaust psychology studies and will be of significant value to both specialists and those interested in obtaining a deeper awareness of the effects of catastrophic sociopolitical upheavals on children. Highly recommended.
What did it take to escape the Holocaust? This is the guiding question of a book on refugeeism, survival, and memory by American psychoanalyst Shira Birnbaum, who has done a great deal of work to combine psychological, historical, and familial themes in her consideration of these questions. Coming from the second generation of Holocaust survivors, the author examines the strategies of Polish Jewish children and youth of the time who were coping with the progressive decomposition of the world as they knew it. The author collated, translated, and edited the stories of six members of her family. The memoirs are notable for the amount of remembered detail and the ability of their authors to emotionally travel through time. Thus, we get not only a record of events, but also a moving glimpse into the feelings that accompanied the subsequent partings with loved ones.