30.01. The Testimony – a new memoir from Halina Wagowska

Finished this lovely book, The Testimony, which will be launched at Readings St Kilda on Thursday 15th March. Written by 81 year old Halina Wagowska, a survivor of Auschwitz and Stutthof, as her last testimony before “she drops off the twig”. It is a great tale of the resilience of the human spirit. It also reminds us, as her story continues to her life in Australia, of the immense value that refugees of all kinds bring to Australia. Something that gets forgotten alot in the current hysterical debate (read “demonisation”) about “boat people”.

I’m looking forward to the launch, Halina Wagowska reads like one of those people you really want to see in real life. She will be in conversation with Anna Epstein (curator of the Jewish Museum of Australia) and the book will be launched by philosopher Peter Singer. For details of the event, jump here.

The Testimony
The Testimony is the memoir of a woman determined not to remain a victim, despite having been a victim of the most horrific crimes against humanity, the Holocaust.

The Testimony begins by relating her idyllic pre-war childhood in Poland. From there, we descend with her, deeper and deeper into the hell of Nazi occupation as her family is moved first into the ghetto, then to Auschwitz-Birkenau and finallz to the hell of Stutthof.

Without drama, she tells of the physical conditions in the camps and gives us a glimpse of the emotional impact of the dehumanisation, fear,hatred and despair.

What makes the book really glow for me though, are the personalities of the people who share her journey. Stasia, the gentile housekeeper who goes with the family into the ghetto; Frieda, who becomes her ersatz mother in Stutthof or Sasha, the Russian who finally liberates her. It is these, and the relationships that carry her beyond, to a gentler life in Australia, that create the sense of hope in this memoir.

This is fascinating stuff, told in a simple, straightforward style that makes it accessable and easy to read.

It is not only a testimony of what happened to her, but a testament to the power of the human spirit and the capacity human beings have to illuminate the lives of those around them, no matter what the circumstances.

Read as part of the Hardie Grant Bookclub.
To read what other bookclubbers think, jump here.