Tuesday, July 19, 2005
“I Refused to Die: Stories of Boston Area Holocaust Survivors and Soldiers who Liberated the Concentration Camps of World War ll. Susie Davidson. ( Ibbetson Street Press 25 School St. Somerville, Mass. 02143 firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.ibbetsonpress.com ) $13.
Susie Davidson, correspondent for the “Jewish Advocate,” award-winning poet, and political activist, was awarded a Mass. Cultural Council Grant in 2004 to help her complete the book she was working on: “I Refused to Die: Stories of Boston Area Holocaust Survivors and Soldiers who Liberated the Concentration Camps of World War ll.” ( Ibbetson Press 2005) Davidson writes in her introduction: “ This compendium for the Boston area, which includes contributions from Holocaust community leaders and poets; is not about the profound legacies left by those imprisoned in death camps: the secret theatre troupes, the hunger study,...the musical compositions resurrected in modern concert halls, the clandestine letters, poetry, journals and other writing... It is rather a portrait of the ongoing legacies of the still among us, those without even the graves of loved ones to visit, those who courageously continue to live their best...inside the walls and the chains of the stark, unforgiving past.”
“I Refused to Die...” includes poetry from well-known local poets, essays from community leaders and supporters, articles on Holocaust community topics, Boston-area Holocaust survivors’ stories, testimony from World War ll liberating military units, and many more areas of interest.
Davidson worked for three years on this project. This is not a book for the beach or to kill time between flights. It is testimony to something that is very likely to happen again if we forget. Given the short memory of contemporary culture; a book like this is essential as an elixir to our collective senility.
In a book as comprehensive as this, it is difficult to give a fully-fleshed picture in a short review. But even within these confines the terrible flavor of the camps are resoundingly clear. In this harrowing account by survivor Sylvia Hack; we get a nefarious slice-of-life in the Auschwitz concentration camp:
“I had malaria at the time. Malaria is a terrible disease which leaves you horribly hot and thirsty. I would step on the bodies of the dead at night when I went down below to urinate. I would envy them, because they didn’t have to see the things I was seeing. I prayed to G-D to take me then.... One time I was so overcome with thirst and burning, I was forced to actually drink my own urine. I never knew it was so salty...” (120)
In this poem by asurvivor Sonia Schreiber Weitz, the poet hails a black solider liberator, a welcomed and unexpected messiah who arrives at her camp:
‘” A black messiah came for me...
He stared with eyes that didn’t see,
He never heard a single word
Which hung absurd upon my tongue.
And then he simply froze in place
The shock, the horror on his face,
He didn’t weep, he didn’t cry
But deep within his gentle eyes
...a flood of devastating pain,
His innocence forever slain.
But there’s a special bond we share
Which has grown strong because we dare
To live, to hope, to smile...and yet
We vow not ever to forget.” (217).
In a conversation I had with Davidson she told me that in her role as a journalist she has written about other people’s accomplishments over the years. She said she has reached a point in her life in which she wants to contribute something herself; of herself...her mark.
Davidson has compiled a collection that should be read in the classroom, and in the home. It is an antidote to a malignant amnesia that seems to have been draped over us, as we experience Holocausts on a lesser scale, but Holocausts nonetheless, in many parts of the world.
Doug Holder is a writer living in Somerville, Mass.