- Series: The Helen Rose Scheuer Jewish Women's Series
- Paperback: 216 pages
- Publisher: The Feminist Press; First Thus edition (April 1, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1558614362
- ISBN-13: 978-1558614369
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #92,910 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Still Alive: A Holocaust Girlhood Remembered (The Helen Rose Scheuer Jewish Women's Series) Paperback – April 1, 2003
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"Instead of God I believe in ghosts," writes the literary scholar Ruth Kluger in this harrowing memoir of life under the yellow star, a controversial bestseller in Germany.
Born in Vienna, Kluger somehow survived a girlhood spent in Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, and Gross-Rosen. Some of the lessons she imparts are surprising, as when she argues, against other historians, that the female camp guards were far more humane than their male counterparts, and when she admits that she has difficulty today queuing in line, a constant of camp life, "out of revulsion for the bovine activity of simply standing." Her memories of her youth are punctuated by sharp reflections on the meaning of the Shoah and how it should best be memorialized in a time when ever fewer survivors are left to act as witnesses. Those reflections are often angry--"Absolutely nothing good came out of the concentration camps," she writes, recalling an argument with a naive German graduate student, "and he expects catharsis, purgation, the sort of thing you go to the theatre for?"
But they are constantly provocative, too. Though readers will doubtless take issue with some of her conclusions, Kluger's insistent memoir merits a wide audience. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
In the 1950s, when Kluger's children were small and growing up in the U.S., she caught German measles from them. Her family doctor said, "You must have led a sheltered childhood." In reality, she spent her early years in Theresienstadt and Birkenau-Auschwitz. Kluger's memoir which has already become a bestseller in Germany is a startling, clear-eyed and unflinching examination of growing up as a Jewish girl during the Holocaust. Calmly, and chillingly, relating the everyday events of her youth Aryan students making colored paper swastikas and then asking Jewish students to judge them, breaking the law to go to an Aryan movie house to see Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and being challenged by a neighbor Kluger charts how she and her family moved from a middle-class Viennese life to dealing with the constant threat of death in the camps. Kluger's style is wry ("the muse of history has a way of cracking bad jokes at the expense of the Jews"), and she can shock readers with simple, honest admissions, such as her embarrassment, in the 1970s, when her mother asks unanswerable questions of a speaker about the death camps. Kluger, who is now professor emerita at UC-Irvine and has won awards for this memoir as well as her literary criticism, has written a deeply moving and significant work that raises vital questions about cultural representations of the Holocaust (why did the highly praised, socially conscious 1947 film Gentleman's Agreement never mention "the Jewish catastrophe"?) and searches for what it means to be a survivor. Already compared by European critics to the work of Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel, this is an important addition to Jewish, Holocaust and women's studies. (Nov.) Forecast: This is a standout in the crowded field of Holocaust memoirs and should have strong sales.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
I loved the frankness of her prose. It seems this is the next generation of holocaust survivors: the children who grew up and led fulfilling lives. Almost every page has something memorable. I went through th 200 quotes I selected on my Kindle and caem up with the top ten or so:
Recipes for gefilte fish are no recipe for coping with the Holocaust
No great poetry was composed in the concentration camps. If it were not so, one might entertain the idea that the camps were good for something, that they were, for example, a kind of catharsis, producing fine art. In fact, they weren't good for anything
The French have only recently begun to remember how they collaborated with the Nazis; it was in France that my father was handed over to the Germans.
I would have become an agnostic anyway, but the Nazis added to my disappointment the feeling of having grasped a rotten plank during a shipwreck
Even though I despised the law that excluded me, I still felt ashamed to have been found out. For shame doesn't arise from the shameful action,
but from discovery and exposure.
should be obvious by now that these pages hardly deal with the Nazis. I didn't know any Nazis, but I knew the difficult, neurotic people whom they oppressed, families who hadn't had ideal lives anymore than their Christian neighbors had.
Witness the foregoing pages, where I dusted off the ramshackle mementos of my father and brother, enjoying my stay in the attic of memory,
my hearers act surprised, assume a stance of virtuous indignation, and tell me that, given the hardships we had to endure during the Hitler period, the victims should have come closer together and formed strong bonds. Particularly young people should have done so, say the elderly. But this is sentimental rubbish and depends on a false concept of suffering as a source of moral education.
Only the language was what it had always been, the speech of my childhood with its peculiar inflections and rhythms, a sense of humor that Germans often don't get, and a wealth of malicious half tones that would be obscene in any other tongue; also an intense lyricism that easily degenerates into kitsch. I understand this language, but I don't like it. I speak it, but I wouldn't have chosen it. I am hooked on it, and it's the reason I go back for visits.
In our hearts we all know that some aspects of the Shoah have been repeated elsewhere, today and yesterday, and will return in new guise tomorrow; and the camps, too, were only imitations (unique imitations, to be sure) of what had occurred the day before yesterday
What did he expect? Auschwitz was no instructional institution, like the University of Göttingen, which he attends. You learned nothing there, and least of all humanity and tolerance.
How else are we to tell victims from victimizers? The camp sites hide as much as they communicate.
Over the years many people have asked me: "I knew X or Y, who was interned at Theresienstadt. Surely you remember him or her?" Not once have I been able to give a positive answer. Theresienstadt wasn't a village of friendly neighbors and social interaction. It was a transit station.
To the Socialists and Communists in the camps, the Jewish prisoners were inferior beings: they had learned this much from the Nazis.
in life, nothing offended me more than the generalization that the camps turned us all into brutal egotists, and whoever survived them must be morally defective. Again, the blithe refusal to look closely, to make distinctions, to reflect a little.
and it was these unknown details that haunted me. I couldn't talk to my mother about his death.
"There is some evidence that they tried to comfort one another, and wouldn't that be better than resistance?" Again the silence.
I see the other guy standing before the toilet, waiting for me to come out, no privacy anywhere. Life in a big stable. The owners occasionally show up in their ominous uniforms to make sure that the cattle behave. Makes you feel like the scum of the earth.
Only when I had children of my own did I realize that one might well decide to kill them in Auschwitz rather than wait. I now believe that I would have had the same thought and perhaps carried it out more efficiently.
Every survivor has his or her "lucky accident"--the turning point to which we owe our lives. Mine is peculiar because of the intervention of the stranger.
They exchanged recipes the same way I recited poems. At night a favorite game was to surpass each other with the recital of generous amounts of butter, eggs, and sugar in fantasy baking contests
Therefore this is not the story of a Holocaust victim and becomes less and less so as it nears the end
I write in their memory, and yet my account unavoidably turns into some kind of triumph of life
Because Konrad Lorenz became a Nazi and one of the Party's privileged professors, yet after the war became a reasonable citizen again and was awarded a Nobel Prize. Lorenz himself denied that there was such a thing as evil; there was only "aggression," a normal expression of animal behavior, and fixed action patterns, he wrote. The title of his bestseller, On Aggression, is in the original So-Called Evil (Das sogenannte Böse). A morality derived from science in the service of denial.
Martin Walser says, well, hatred of Jews was one of those variants of xenophobia which comes naturally to all men.
I think that the Jewish catastrophe can't be explained with abstract arguments taken from ethology or the mice of the veterinary science professor or Konrad Lorenz's views on the strutting rivalry of male animals.
And there were, in fact, both men and women with whorehouse fantasies who wanted to know whether I had been raped.
I'd explain the concept of Rassenschande, the rule against miscegenation Aryan style, because I found it interesting that a malicious idea could serve as protection (albeit not a foolproof one) against sexual abuse.
To make a living and support my two sons, I went back to graduate school and became a professor of German literature. For many years I had refused to have anything to do with the language, the two countries (Austria and Germany), or their people. But I was good at my new job
Though the other side persists: belligerent Israelis will say, "Jews don't walk into gas chambers anymore," as they get ready to counter violence with violence. The Jews who were gassed are the inferior Jews in this scenario, which doesn't sit well with me.)
What you have been reading is neither a translation nor a new book: it's another version, a parallel book, if you will, for my child ren and my American students.
The story was overall good and I'm glad I tool the time to read it. The only thing I didn't like is that it was jumpy. She talked about different things 8n different chapters from her past, from the present, something else she had already talked about before but added more detail.
Kluger's personality comes across as irrepressible. Her book inspires me rather than depressing me. For example, having described her childhood compulsion to memorize poetry early in the book, Kluger mentions composing poems about the camps with (not so appropriate) catchy rhythms and rhymes, because it made them easier to memorize, and of course she had to commit them to memory since paper and writing implements were scarce, and anyhow, how else could one be sure of holding onto them? I smile as I remember that. Even as she starved for food and water, she found a way to create treasures that no one could take away from her, as long as she lived.
I have to confess that I do not read German, so I would not be able to appreciate Dr. Kluger's literary criticism. I am sad that she has not published more poetry and observations of life.