- Hiding Places: A Mother, a Daughter, an Uncovered Life by Diane Wyshogrod
This book is an intensely moving and very personal account, told by a daughter about her mother’s time of hiding during World War II. But it is much more than that. The author, a clinical psychologist, explores her own reactions to her mother’s story and intersperses her narrative with imaginary scenarios, in which she may be an actor, or the courageous man who hid the family, or her father. But the book’s strongest impact lies in its conveying the daughter’s efforts—largely unsuccessful—to grasp the mother’s time in hiding, to find a language to express the inexpressible. This reviewer, having also been hidden for more than a year during that war, often cannot help but see the daughter as one of the uncomprehending “normal” people out there, to whom a survivor makes no sense.
The author, an immigrant to Israel from the U.S., lives in Jerusalem; the mother, to whom I shall refer as Lutka—her name in Poland—lived in New York (she passed away after the book was completed). The interviews about her life before, during and shortly after the war were conducted over a number of years in the 1990s, during visits by both women.
Lutka was raised in Żółkiew, a medium-sized town of Poles, Jews and Ukrainians, near Lwów. Her father owned a pharmacy, and the family, which would have been considered quite affluent, was much respected by the local population. Although they observed religious customs, the family belonged to the stratum of secularized Jews that flourished in pre-war Poland. Lutka grew up speaking Polish and attended school with other Polish children.
In 1939, when the war broke out, Lutka was fourteen years old. Her town was occupied for several days by the Germans, and then by the Russians, who occupied that part of Poland until 1941. The author is shocked by this Russian prelude, which, indeed, is often overlooked. She had not thought that the time of hardships began already then. During the Russian occupation, private property was nationalized. Lutka’s father became an employee, first in his own pharmacy and then in another one. The family had to move out of its comfortable apartment. Then, in June 1941, the [End Page 167] Germans returned. A ghetto was established, and in 1942 the shooting and deportation of Jews began.
When rumors began circulating about another large deportation, the family decided to go into hiding. A man Lutka’s father knew, a frequent comer to the pharmacy, was asked to take them in—for only a few days, they thought. The few days became sixteen months. For nearly a year and a half, the family of three, father, mother and daughter, sat in the Łozińskis’ cellar, a dark hole in the ground accessible only through a trap-door off the hallway. At night, the Łozińskis felt it was safe enough to have them sleep in their living room, the parents on a sofa, Lutka on the floor.
It is with the cellar portion of the story that the author has the greatest difficulty. She simply cannot comprehend how, day after day, her mother could sit in darkness, not reading, not doing anything, barely whispering here and there with her parents. “What did you do in the cellar all day long?” she asks Lutka time and again. Sitting in the dark, doing nothing, waiting—for what?—defies understanding by someone who lives a normal life, eats at normal times, goes to school or work, reads and does all the significant and insignificant things one does in the course of a day. Such a person—most of us—cannot possibly find words for the “nothingness” that applies to existing in a hole. But the author does not get it. She keeps asking questions, like how they washed, or how they performed their bodily functions. Recalling her own experiences at a retreat, she wonders: Is it like meditation? (pp. 90–92...