Every Day Lasts a Year: A Jewish Family’s Correspondence From Poland, by Richard S. Hollander, Christopher R. Browning and Nechama Tec, is an extremely profound and absorbing book, a poignant and excellent documentation of family life during the Holocaust.
Richard S. Hollander’s parents were killed in an automobile accident in 1986. After their death he was looking through their attic, and came across a trunk filled with letters. The letters were from his father’s mother, three sisters, their children, and from his brother in-laws, written between November 1939 and December 1941. Richard Hollander’s father, Joseph Hollander had emigrated to the U.S. in 1939, and had overcome extreme odds in order to become a naturalized citizen of the U.S. That he saved the letters in the trunk for all of those years might have been his way of keeping his family with him, of remembering their existence within the decades past and within the Holocaust realm. He never spoke of the letters to Richard.
The letters are written in German and Polish, while Joseph Hollander’s relatives lived in the Kracow Ghetto, and they are a moving and historic family chronicle of every day life endured during the harshest and darkest of times. The firsthand accounts in Every Day Lasts a Year are intense, desperate, loving, edged with concern and fear. Joseph Hollander’s mother, especially, was concerned about whether she would ever see her son again and ever hold him in her arms. Other relatives are concerned that mail wasn’t being delivered on either end, and so the family devised a “code” that would let them know whether letters had been received.
The book is one that everyone should read. It is divided into three sections. The first section is an essay written by Joseph’s son, Richard, pertaining to his father’s emigration, and struggle to free his family, and avoid his own deportation back to Krakow. It also explains how Joseph helped to save other Jews. The second section includes essays on Jewish life in Krakow, and the last section includes the letters, which are profoundly revealing, and an emotional roller coaster, in and of themselves. The anxiety of separation, the Holocaust looming above them, the longing and love are all apparent within the framework of the letters.
The last letter on the last page of Every Day Lasts a Year (sent to Joseph, regarding his mother, Berta Hollander) is especially poignant, and I keep rereading it, and the lines continue to stay with me, fixed in my emotions and mind.
What makes Every Day Lasts a Year and family accounting different than most Holocaust stories is the fact it is not an actual book on the Holocaust. It is a book whose content was written through letters (180 pages of the 280 pages), letters that reveal the historical context and complexities of the daily lives of the family members in Krakow, Poland, and the crisis they were experiencing.
I was thoroughly mesmerized by Every Day Lasts a Year, the historical background of Joseph Hollander’s family’s struggles to survive on a daily basis. The book is involving, and I couldn’t put it down until I finished it. The intensity of the letters, the gravity of the family situation will stay with me, lingering in the recesses of my mind. It is a beautifully written book, and a tribute to Richard S. Hollander’s family. The letters, themselves, are a firsthand accounting of their lives, and a testament to how their lives (and the lives of all Holocaust victims) should not be forgotten. The clearly written and the precisely historic accounting behind the letters are extremely invaluable in understanding the Holocaust and Jewish life in the Krakow Ghetto, and invaluable as a family history, ancestral documentation and chronology.
The poignancy is never diminished in this beautiful and extraordinary family chronicle and portrait.
I highly recommend Every Day Lasts a Year: A Jewish Family’s Correspondence From Poland to everyone.
December 13, 2012 – 29 Kislev, 5773