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Apr 2005 Journal

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A courageous journey of healing (book review)

SEVEK AND THE HOLOCAUST: THE BOY WHO REFUSED TO DIE
by Sidney Finkel
2005, $9.95 plus $6 airmail postage (for Europe) and packaging
from Sidney Finkel, 367 Tulip Circle, Matteson, IL 60443, USA

As described by Martin Gilbert in The Boys, some 100-odd Polish boys (among them a few girls) who had survived concentration camps or being in hiding were flown to Crosby-on-Eden, England, in August 1945. Among them was Sevek Finkelstein (now Sidney Finkel), who in this slim volume of 104 pages describes his horrendous experiences, his rescue, and, ultimately, his emigration from the UK to the United States. The photograph on the book's cover shows the 14-year-old Sevek in the doorway of the transport plane's hold, smiling broadly and handing down a toddler into the arms of his older brother Isaac, who too had survived the camps and arrived in the same plane.

These are the recollections of a boy who, after an 'idyllic' middle-class childhood in Piotrkow in Central Poland, survived being dive-bombed on the open road shortly after the invasion of Poland, life in the Piotrkow ghetto for three years, deportation to the slave labour camp in Bugaj, separation from his family, incarceration in Czestochowa and Buchenwald concentration camps and, in the final stages of the war, Theresienstadt, where he was liberated by the Russians. His story and that of his family is told simply and without flourishes and, like other eye-witness accounts of the Holocaust, it is a valuable document that is being used by some American schools for the teaching of Holocaust history. It provides cogent testimony for the resilience, as well as the generosity, of the human spirit: asked later in life whether he hated the Germans, he replied 'No.'

Sevek, together with some ten of the other Polish boys, had the good fortune to be taken to Bunce Court School in Kent soon after his arrival in England. This was the German-Jewish school that had been brought over from Ulm by its far-sighted headmistress, Anna Essinger, in 1933. The book's penultimate chapter describes touchingly what the two years before the school's closure meant to the bewildered and traumatised boy. For him, as for the others, it became the gateway to rehabilitation, a place where he was treated lovingly and caringly and which 'turned me back into a human being'.

Sevek's story undoubtedly has a happy ending. The only other photograph in the book shows him with his American family, and the epilogue is written by his granddaughter and by his son, who concludes: 'For Sevek, it is true acts of courage that allow Sidney, my father, to tell his story so that we too can confront our innermost fears, so that we can take the courageous journey of healing.'
Leslie Baruch Brent

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