Marion Weinzweig was an 18-month-old girl in Poland when World War II began. To survive, her Jewish parents sent her to live with Catholic friends, but the Nazis soon learned there was a little Jewish girl in that home. So, that little girl was shipped off to a Catholic convent, to live and learn as a little Catholic girl, until it was bombed by the Allies. During that bombing, she remembers running through streets and repeatedly tripping over dead bodies. Fortunately, her father somehow survived the Treblinka death camp and eventually found her. They became “displaced persons” and lived in Allied camps. Her description of postwar survivors as Jewish-zombies wandering aimlessly across Europe, looking for family members is chilling. By the time she was 8-years-old, she and her father found a way to Canada, where she experienced little luxuries, like her first chocolate bar. She chronicled all this pain extremely well in her 2016 autobiography Lonely Chameleon, the title of which reflects that her survival required that she “fit-in” so many different situations, without being noticed.
Except for the crazy holocaust-deniers, everybody knows the broad story of six million innocent people slaughtered for the crime of having Jewish parents. Most readers have also looked at the Holocaust through the eyes of certain individuals or read Exodus by Leon Uris. However, Marion Weinzweig saw the Holocaust through the eyes of a small child, and it is heartbreaking. It is a different kind of suffering. She vividly remembers the gnawing hunger and loneliness. She becomes very existential – not belonging anywhere to anything or anybody. She never discussed her experience until her older years, not unlike the PTSD of combat veterans. It is a perspective that every serious student of the Holocaust needs!
My take-away from this book is that bad change comes slowly and maintains that slow pace, until it suddenly accelerates. She describes an ever-increasing list of little restrictions on Jews, like one day when Jews were forbidden to hold the job of dogcatcher, seriously. Slowly, it got worse and worse. Now, that’s scary!
Another take-away is that the U.S. immigration system prevented those poor refugees from coming to America, until they had a U.S. sponsor who would guarantee their financial obligations . . . shame on us . . . never again!