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Hiding in Plain Sight: The Incredible True Story of a German-Jewish Teenager's Struggle to Survive
Book Review

Hiding in Plain Sight: The Incredible True Story of a German-Jewish Teenager's Struggle to Survive in Nazi-occupied Poland By Betty Lauer (Smith & Kraus, Inc., $27.95, 550 pages )

There was a time when Holocaust literature was slim indeed, when there was little more than the "The Diary of Anne Frank" and "Judgment at Nurenberg" to acquaint a mass audience with the enormity of the horrors. For the most part, the subject was avoided. "Nobody wanted to touch the wounds" was the way a survivor friend of ours put it.

And then things changed. Maybe it was the impact of the Eichmann trial or the euphoria following the Six Day War. In any event, by the time "Schindler's List" brought the detailed machinery of the extermination of the Jews to a world-wide audience, so many novels, memoirs, and historical accounts had been published, so many films and plays had been produced, one could wonder what was left to be said. But of course there was more.

And now we have "Hiding in Plain Sight," a memoir that ensnares, envelops and grips the reader for 550 pages, every one a page turner. Despite its length, this is the proverbial book  you cannot put down, an intimate, detailed, miraculous account of a single teenaged girl who, together with her mother, takes on the entire Nazi apparatus, outwitting the Gestapo and the Poles that aided them in their obsessive search for Jews from 1939 to the war's end. 

The writer has incredible powers of recall and memorable powers of description; she brings to life a multitude of characters: how they looked and spoke, what they wore, the impressions they wished to create, the impressions they inadvertently revealed. She traces an eight year odyssey that brought her from a comfortable German home to a series of Polish locales, convincing a hostile world that Betty Lauer, a German Jew, is Krystyna Zolkos, a Polish Catholic -- even though she speaks Polish with a German accent.   

The book begins in 1938 when Betty is twelve years old. Her father, a prosperous German businessman, has left his wife and two daughters for America planning for them to join him soon after. But they become caught in an increasingly ominous trap. The entire Jewish community of their city is forcibly relocated to Poland. At first the three find havens with loving relatives. But as the noose tightens, they move from one locale to another, avoiding the ghetto and transports, ultimately deciding to live out the war "hiding in plain sight." Betty and her mother succeed. Her sister, Eva, is discovered and killed.

Betty's survival is due, in no small part, to her extraordinary mother, who assumes the role of Krystyna's aunt and is among other things a shrewd judge of character, observant, quick on her feet and on the uptake, skilled at making the correct expression, adept at dealing with people. She knows how to make friends, how to bribe with class, whom to trust, how to survive.

The book takes the reader, year by year, through the disastrous period, describing events as witnessed by a young girl struggling to stay alive in an alien, hostile world. There are incidents of courage and kindness, many more of cruelty and betrayal, descriptions of lesser known events: the Warsaw uprising of the summer of 1944, the destruction of Warsaw by the Nazis and the forced evacuation of the entire city's population, life in those parts of Poland appropriated by Germany during the war and populated by ethnic Germans, the slow liberation of Poland by the Russians, the chaotic post-war conditions, encroachment of Communism after the war.

Forthright, powerful and moving, this book brings one inside the mind and heart of one brave young girl who managed the miracle of surviving by "hiding in plain sight."

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About the Authors:  Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer are a wife and husband team who successfully bridge the worlds of popular culture and traditional scholarship. Co-authors of the critically acclaimed interactive oral histories It Happened in the Catskills, It Happened in Brooklyn, Growing Up Jewish in America, It Happened on Broadway, It Happened in Manhattan, It Happened in Miami. They teach what they practice as professors at Dartmouth College.

They are also travel writers who specialize in luxury properties and fine dining as well as cultural history and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. More about these authors.

You can contact the Frommers at: 

Email: myrna.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU
Email: harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU
Web: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~frommer/travel.htm.

This Article is Copyright 1995 - 2012 by Harvey and Myrna Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

 

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