Country of Ash: A Jewish Doctor in Poland 1939-1945, by Edward Reicher, is a compelling memoir, and one that speaks forthrightly about the Holocaust and how it affected Reicher and his family.
The horrific incidents and events that took place between 1939-1945 are depicted with candor, leaving no detail undisclosed. From the Lodz ghetto to the Warsaw ghetto and all locations in between, Reicher writes about the horrors of the Jewish ghetto life, the inhumanities that the Jewish population faced and had to deal with, and the agonizing moments of family separation.
At one point he had to make a choice between his severely ill father in his house, and his wife and child back home. He chose to stay with his father, because he felt he would not be able to go on without him. He felt that his family would be able to survive, and prayed he made the right decision.
Being a doctor who specialized in skin disorders, he was forced to treat the Germans. which he did. He was not given special privilege for his efforts. Reicher literally saved Germans from the agony of skin diseases, including syphilis and gonorrhea. He did so out of duty as a doctor. He also treated other Jews who ended up turning on him, and did nothing to help him. He eventually was able to hide on the Aryan side of Warsaw, disguised and running from place to place.
Reicher witnessed a lot of abusive actions and witnessed Jews being murdered. He, himself, suffered abuse, but he writes about that in a minor fashion compared to what other Jews endured. He had involvement with Chaim Rumkowski, a man that he described as a madman, and a self-appointed “King of the Jews”. He courageously testified against Hermann Hofle, and how Hofle helped send hundreds of thousands of Jews to their deaths in Poland.
Reicher survived the Holocaust, along with his wife and daughter. His daughter, Elisabeth Bizouard-Reicher translated her father’s book to French from Polish, and now, it has been translated to English by Magda Bogin.
Country of Ash: A Jewish Doctor in Poland 1939-1945 is not only a tribute to the strength, determination, and fortitude, but a tribute to all of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. It is a tribute to those who were not Jewish, yet did strive to offer a place to hide and offer food to Reicher and/or his family. It is a memoir that honors Reicher’s daughter, Elisabeth Bizouard-Reicher’s determination to see her father’s memoir in print for all the world to read the horrors and inhumanities suffered by the Polish Jews.
Country of Ash is intense, graphic with its depictions, and a brilliantly written account of one man’s environment and interactions during the Holocaust. It is written without flourish or exaggeration, but written as Edward Reicher witnessed events, and as he found himself involved in the many crossroads of decision and action.
It is not a book I will soon forget due to the extensiveness and intensity of the content, which makes it a difficult read. But, read, I had to, because I wanted to know the truth of his story. It is not a book I will soon forget.
May 16, 2013 – 7 Sivan, 5773
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