Tuesday, December 15, 2009

book review - Journey to Nowhere - Eva Figes

The story of what happened to the victims of Nazi Germany is one that has been told many times before from both a historical perspective as well as through personal accounts. But rarely do those stories go much past 1945 following the story of one Jewish woman who was not just exposed to the extremes of fascism but also Zionism.

Eva Figes tell not just her own story, which is dominated not just by the war but by a failed relationship with her mother, as well as the story of the maid who returned to them in London after a gap of years following the wartime departure of Eva’s family from Berlin.

The story of Edith who is a quiet woman without too much selfishness and ambition is one that serves to highlight the cruelty that can be handed out even by those wearing the mask of friendship.

Having survived barely the years of Nazi rule by luck and the kindness of others Edith is then bullied into going to Israel to start a fresh life. Once there she discovers that the victims of the Nazis are disliked, victimised again and the dream of communal happiness is a bitter illusion.

Edith returns to London to try and find refuge with her old employers. Now proud to consider themselves part of British society a reminder of the past is not welcomed by Eva’s parents. Her mother in particular shows a cruelty to a former employee reduced to complete loneliness that is also shown to her daughter. The obsession with her position in society and her unwillingness to engage with her daughter or Edith leaves a bitter taste that Eva is still dealing with.

In some respects this is not only a historical record of what happened but a living document aimed at challenging those who are blind supporters of Israel. The idea that it was a perfect place is punctured pretty quickly but Eva, in her position as a Jew, is also prepared to take on the sense that the Israeli state has of being a victim.

She has inevitably suffered for her views the insult of those keen to label her anti-Semitic. But as the tale of Edith shows clearly cruelty doesn’t have to wear a black uniform with a swastika armband for it to hurt.

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