Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Book Review: 'Survivor's Journey From the Alps to the Red Sea' by Marek Herman

Survivor's Journey From the Alps to the Red Sea by Marek Herman

Ave atque vale

Marek Herman, 1927 – 2019, was a survivor, having been born in Lvov, Poland, he fled to Italy following German occupation of his city, was captured by the Germans after Italy’s surrender, became a member of an American Office of Strategic Services, fled to Israel where in 1948 he fought with the Eighth Battalion of the Negev Brigade in the Israel War of Independence, and served as an instructor and platoon sergeant and then commander of the 52nd Battalion of the Givanti Brigade. This book is his posthumous autobiography and one that bears consideration for the valor of a man who survived.

Though there are many fine books about the Holocaust and families who survived that horrid situation to find their Gilead in the new state of Israel, few are actually written in the hand of an individual such as Marek Herman. Reading his fascinating story brings that time in history vividly to life, allowing the reader to wholly empathize with both the man and the events.

The brief synopsis outlines the journey well – ‘Marek Herman’s life had not easy from the beginning. And yet, not even growing up an orphan in the city of Lvov, Poland, had prepared him for what the future had in store. Nazi Germany invades Poland in 1939 and changes the lives of people in the entire continent. Jews instantly come under persecution. In order to save himself, Marek, lives under a borrowed identity, and crosses the border into Italy together with the Italian soldiers who were stationed in Poland. A chance encounter he happens to witness, completely transforms the rest of his life. Marek immediately joins the resistance in Northern Italy, where the Jewish boy fights side by side with his new friends, the anti-fascist fighters. This book relates Marek Herman’s life, heroism and hope for a better future during all the vicissitudes he goes through from Poland, through the Alps, and all the way to the Red Sea.’

Marek’s autobiography was originally published in 1985. The English translation from the Hebrew is by Judy Grossman and is now available after Marek’s passing to a wider audience. In Primo Levi’s Foreword he states, ‘The diary of a European Jew – which includes years of the Second World War – whose author survived and wrote this story, can be described as a dramatic event, as the fierce will to survive or as unusual luck. In Marco (Marek) Herman’s journal, however, luck did not play an important role…In his journal he tells of how he was constantly tested by fate; he never raised his voice, not to complain, nor to abuse. Despite the fact that in the fifteen years of his life he had already lost everything a person holds dear: family, homeland, home and language, the youth Marco stubbornly hung on to the same hope that for thousands of years had fortified and united the Jewish people.’ 

As an infusion of respect and admiration, this meaningful journal encourages us all to will to live heroically. Very highly recommended. 

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.