IN THE UNLIKLIEST OF PLACES : How Nachman Libeskind Survived the Nazis, Gulags, and Soviet Communism
By Annette Libeskind Berkovits
Disclaimer: Copy provided free by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
I feel very guilty about writing a negative review of this work as its pedigree is excellent – apparently.
““I was born in 1909 in Lodz, but my passport says Przedborz …” He stopped suddenly and searched for a button.
“Ach, I forgot to explain this,” he said utterly frustrated, then pushed the wrong button and erased what he had just recorded. “Shayze!” An uncharacteristic curse escaped his lips. He took off his glasses and said, “I think it’s time to prepare lunch.”
Annette Libeskind Berkovits thought her attempt to have her father record his life’s story failed. But in 2004, three years after her father’s death, she was going through his things and found a box of tapes—several years’ worth—with his spectacular life, triumphs, and tragedies told one last time in his baritone voice.” (Goodreads)
The true life story of a remarkable man, Nachman Libeskind – someone who was to suffer imprisonment in a Nazi concentration camp and escape only to face further punishment in the Soviet gulag. The fact of his survival is astonishing.
“Nachman Libeskind’s remarkable story is an odyssey through crucial events of the twentieth century. With an unshakable will and a few drops of luck, he survives a pre-war Polish prison; witnesses the 1939 Nazi invasion of Lodz and narrowly escapes; is imprisoned in a brutal Soviet gulag where he helps his fellow inmates survive, and upon regaining his freedom treks to the foothills of the Himalayas, where he finds and nearly loses the love of his life. Later, the crushing communist regime and a lingering postwar anti-Semitism in Poland drive Nachman and his young family to Israel, where he faces a new form of discrimination. Then, defiantly, Nachman turns a pocketful of change into a new life in New York City, where a heartbreaking promise leads to his unlikely success as a modernist painter that inspires others to pursue their dreams.”
This inspiring man is the father of the world famous architect Daniel Libeskind – responsible for the Jewish Museum in Berlin. The book is written by his daughter a distinguished person in her own field, wildlife conservation. How does such a clichéd, laboured and often toe curling narrative come to be published? On investigation this is via a specialist operation called Life Writing (Wilfrid Laurier University Press). As Ms Berkovits own life is a fascinating journey it’s understandable that the combination of her own life story plus that of her father enabled it to be published.
I was very moved by Nachman Libeskind’s life story – his struggle to survive the major traumas of the 20th century is inspiring and humbling. He can bear witness both to Man’s cruelties and atrocities and yet provs Man’s indomitable will to survive. For me he is an individual on a par with Primo Levi surviving Auschwitz.
Whereas I can appreciate the narrative is recounted by his daughter who sees him first and foremost as her ‘dad’ I felt he was diminished by the homely folksy style she affects. I suppose she sought to present him as Everyman but instead has reduced his essence to that of a leprechaun.
Published September 10th 2014 by Wilfrid Laurier University Press