It was the summer of 1939 and the world was still suffering through a great depression that had wreaked havoc with the economies of the newly industrialized world. A storm was gathering on the horizon that no one could have predicted would change the very nature of war and human condition forever. In the city of Radom, Poland, 36,000 Jews lived in relative freedom among a primarily Christian population. Having found protection from the Polish Kings since the 10th C. they had flocked to the safe harbor of Poland as Ashkenazim and Sephardim were expelled from country after country in Western Europe. Banished from the Hapsburg Empire, expelled from Spain and Portugal, and freely seeking a better life from Italy and Turkey, they came over a millennium until their population burgeoned to over 3 million. Poland had become the hub of Jewish culture worldwide. Historically it had gained the reputation of being the most tolerant country in Europe. In reality, Jews and Christians lived in completely separate worlds. Separate, but for the most part equal with their Catholic countrymen. Unfortunately, beneath the surface age old hatreds were simmering and threatening. Scapegoats were needed and Jews were the time honored targets. Yet, even with the rising tide of anti-Semitism and the restrictions on what professions Jews could or could not partake in, many of the Jewish population through industriousness had achieved the dream of a middle class existence. The “People of the Book” could now achieve a university education. A better life loomed on the horizon of Europe’s Jews and their children. They lived in a world where hope shone like a beacon towards a prosperous future.
My mother, Dina Frydman, was 10 years old that summer. She lived with her parents, brother Abek and sister Nadja, in an apartment on Koszarowa Ulica in a boisterous Jewish neighborhood. The streets teemed with vivacity; each house sheltered a world of laughter and tears, joys and sorrows. The Frydman’s were hardworking and prosperous; both my mother’s parents worked together in their butcher shop; Joel, catering to the needs of their Jewish neighbors and Temcia, tending to her loyal Christian customers. The Frydman’s practiced a modern religious orthodoxy. Clean shaven this new generation of Jews prided themselves on their education, intellect and culture. In one day, on September 1st 1939 that world disintegrated in a maelstrom of bombs as the Nazis marched across Poland. In The Face of Evil is the story of Dina. It is the story of a young girl that lived an idyllic life surrounded by love until war consumed the world. Caught in the vortex of a storm of hatred, she would struggle to survive amid the destruction of family and friends. Her vanished childhood would become six years of work and slave camps, and finally Auschwitz & Bergen-Belsen. Through all of the loss she would retain her humanity and the goodness that a loving family had bequeathed her. Memory was her treasure. And, so it was that she gave her memory to me. Like a skeleton her words became the bones of the story of which I would create flesh, blood and the spark of life. From this melding of two hearts, a mother & daughter, “In the Face of Evil” was born. The writing of this book has imbued me with hope and a belief in mankind. The resilience of my mother and her optimism in the face of evil is an inspiration for us all. It is also a testament of one survivor, one witness, to the memory of those that perished and an indelible imprint on the historical veracity of the Holocaust.
Review by Drora Arussy, Jewish Book Council
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