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The Night Sky: A Journey From Dachau to Denver and Back Hardcover – October 1, 2011
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Here is a book of many parts, all fascinating.
Maria Sutton wanted to have a history or sense of belonging. As a child, while attending her mother's citizenship ceremony in Denver, she is called a Dirty DP! A few years later she overhears a conversation that reveals that her father is not the kind, hardworking man to whom her mother is married, but a complete stranger named Jozef Kurek. Thus begins her 40-some year search for family, a quest begun with romantic naiveté which falters but never fails despite the hard truths she encounters.
Through heartwarming family reunions and heartbreaking family revelations, with the aid of a retired Russian KGB agent, Polish genealogists, Ukrainian translators, Dachau archives, a half dozen flights to far away lands and, eventually, with the blessings of Google, email and the generous support of those she meets along the way, Maria Sutton pursues and finds family. (In deed, the reader would not be surprised to find his own long lost Aunt Maud appearing on the next page.)
And Maria Sutton has an extraordinary family to find, if only for the reason that they have survived (or not survived) one of the worst periods of Eastern European history. Just as in Timothy Snyder's highly praised history Bloodlands, Maria's search illuminates the enormity of the atrocities suffered by Ukrainians and Poles under both Stalin and Hitler. Whether it is worse to be sent to Siberia or Germany as slave laborer or to have one's head cut off and mounted on a village post by SS or Russian soldiers, was not really a matter of debate for Maria Sutton's family. It simply happened and if, in later years, their stories get a bit tangled that does not deny the reality.
When one reads about the plight of the displaced refugees in Germany at the end of WWII, confined to crowded, filthy, numbingly boring camps, desperate to avoid being sent back to their Soviet ruled homeland, equally desperate to emigrate to the USA or Australia or wherever life might begin anew, one can understand the contentment that four year old Maria felt sitting on the stoop of a two-room shack with a private outhouse in Golden, Colorado in 1952 and looking up at the night sky.
The persistent innocence that permeates her life-long quest is not shared by her mother, Julia. When Julia does disclose something of her past, her stories are often at odds with one another. But one thing is certain: when Jozef abandons her in the refugee camp and the two little girls are candidates for adoption, she refuses. As she often says to them, I didn't give you up. And so it is with great admiration that we read Maria Sutton's dedication to Julia, my mother, the real hero of this story.
In that respect, the author is certainly her mother's child. --BookReview.com
About the Author
Maria Sutton's memoir, The Night Sky: A Journey From Dachau to Denver and Back is the culmination of her forty-three year search for her father. Without knowing the spelling of her father's name, or his date and place of birth, Maria was able to find him - proving that with unwavering determination, anything is possible.Born in a Displaced Persons Camp in war-torn Germany, Maria was three when she immigrated to the United States in 1951 with her sister, mother, and stepfather. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting and Finance from the University of Colorado, and has also attended the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
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So what is this book? For Mari Sutton, it's a very personal account of her life's journey to track down her missing relatives after her family was scattered at the end World War II. Alternatively, for me this was a unique opportunity to read a very personal account of historical facts that cover many decades and nations. The facts were laid out very well and the personal story makes them come alive.
Mari Sutton was born in Bavaria soon after her parents were allowed to leave the Dachau concentration camp in Nazi Germany. Neither her mother or father were Jewish, and Dachau's ugly purpose was to imprison Jews and criminals. Since male citizens in Germany were conscripted to join the war, there was a severe labor shortage. So Sutton's parents were allowed to leave Dachau for quasi slavery positions at a farm. This is the world that the author was born into: slavery on a Bavarian farm.
But before long, her family is separated. I won't give any more details than that.
Sutton's story is very raw and personal, because it covers her close family members. I'm impressed with the way she was able to balance her factual and emotional accounts and weave them into a stronger story. The facts themselves are sensational and the emotions are, well, emotional. Woven together, they make an incredibly strong story.
Her story is unique. The fact that her mother and father weren't Jewish makes this story unique, because they were allowed to leave Dachau and survive the war while so many other family's stories ended in the camps. The way her story spans so many decades is also unique. Again, I don't want to give any spoiler details.
I can't help but share one detail from the opening chapter of the book though. Mari's description of her mother dressing up for her ceremony to take the oath to become a U.S. citizen is incredibly moving. She describes so well how her mother was poor, but managed to pull together an outfit of a beautiful blue dress and a string of borrowed pearls. Very moving.
One of my own quirks is that I really don't like it when authors bounce around in time. I like time to be a linear march from start to finish. If an author is going to deviate from this linear approach, then they really run the risk of losing the reader to the point that we become unstuck in time and the story makes no sense. But because much of this story is based on interviews from family members, there wasn't any choice but to go back and forth from decade to decade, sometimes more than once from a different speaker's perspective. Mari Sutton does this well. She took us out to the past and the brought us back to the present over and over without ever marooning us in either time. Well done.
This story should be required reading. Required by whom? You and I for starters. High school students and college students. Anyone who might be tempted to think that the atrocities of WWII were fictionalized or exaggerated. Anyone who takes our contemporary lifestyle for granted. You name it, we should all take a few days to read this family's story. We'll all be better off for it.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mari Sutton for recording this story and sharing it with the rest of us.
It all begins with World War II and three people: Jozef Kurek, Maria's biological father, Julia, her mother, and Wasyl, her uncle and mother's brother. In trying to find her father, she re-traces the lives of her parents as they tried to survive the war. For many years her mother wouldn't talk of that time in her life but as she got older she began speaking of it. Maria gleaned information from things her mother would say and hours upon hours of research. She learns that her mother was an amazing and strong woman who survived horrible conditions; a woman who refused to give up on life or her children even when it seemed all was lost and a woman who married a man she didn't love (but grew to care about) in order to give her children a better life in America. Her father Jozef was a man who she held high in her mind but as she learns more about him she finds he isn't the man she had hoped he'd be. Her Uncle Wasyl she had to find for her mother as they were separated when they were young and her mother had always missed him.
Maria was consumed although I guess some would call it obsessed with finding out everything she could. At one point she even hired a KGB agent to help her find her Uncle Wasyl. Her mother was already eighty-eight and Wasyl eighty-five when they finally got to see each other again after sixty-five years. She knew how important it was for them to meet before it was too late and when they did I sobbed it was so beautiful. I greatly admired her dedication and desire to find out as much as she could about her family's past. To be able to go back in history like that and visit the places you knew your parents had been is an experience in itself. It made me remember going to the farms where my parents grew up. They were just little shacks really - a kitchen, two rooms. To let your mind go back and think of your parents sitting in those kitchens or playing in the woods was something I'll never forget so I could relate to Maria's experience in that way. For her to sit down and write a memoir such as this was a labor of love. Even though not everything turned out how Maria would have liked it, this was still a journey well taken.
I would not hesitate to recommend this memoir to those who love to read them or those who have an interest in WWII because there is a wealth of information regarding it in this book. For me, I loved how Maria weaved history in with the personal side of her parent's lives. To me that's what made this memoir different from others. I have always been interested in books regarding WWII and the people who lived through it so that was a huge reason I was interested in this book to begin with but it turned out to be so much more for me. As much as the way people were treated by the people working for Hitler horrifies me I feel the need to read the books. I think for me it's to give respect to those who lost their lives and those who survived by sheer force of will. It's important that none of us forget what happened so that it never happens again. It's also interesting to note that many people know that millions of Jewish people lost their lives but so did many Ukrainian/Polish people. It made me grateful that my Ukrainian grandparents had all immigrated to Canada long before this war.
Well I could certainly go on but this is a book you need to experience for yourself. This memoir really did touch my heart. It's a heart wrenching story and yet hopeful as well. It's a story of survival, courage, determination, and a lot of love. My one regret reading this is that I had an e-copy from the author and apparently the book has photos as well. I would have loved to see those as I think they would have added so much to the story itself. The Night Sky is a very powerful memoir and one that is well worth reading!
A little girl hears her mother's conversation. Thus is set into motion the events of that girl's later search for long-lost relatives and answers to questions raised long ago.
Through these events we get a glimpse into just how truly horrible the Second World War was for a group we often don't hear about in America, the people who lived in Eastern Europe. As bad enough that the war was for Western Europe who were only invaded by Nazi Germany, it was doubly so for Eastern Europeans who were oppressed by both the Nazis and the Communists. Maria's book shows just how terrible that was.
Maria's life-long struggle to find out about her past is an inspiration!
What else can I say about this book. It will sadden you but then warm your heart on the next page.
Fire up your Kindle and download it today!