Author: Cipora Hurwitz

ISBN: 13: 978-1885881380

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The writing style of “Forbidden Strawberries,” the memoir of Cipora Hurwitz, a Polish Jew forced to grow up during the Holocaust, is stark, matter-of-fact, and not necessarily elegant, but because of this simplicity and especially because of Hurwitz's vivid recollections, it is powerfully emotive. The recorded impressions of a small, perceptive child (she was six in 1939) are somehow more clearly horrific than if one was reading the memoirs of an adult in similar circumstances and not just because, yes it was horrible that these monstrous things happened to children. It's because a happy child such as Hurwitz didn't have the slightest conception of evil. To read how the concept crashed into her consciousness with the murderous and hateful activities of the Nazis is nearly overpowering. For instance, during one ghetto “aktion” she witnessed three Germans cruelly plucking out the beard and sidelocks of a Jewish man:

"Shema Yisrael," the man shouted, clearly in pain. The spectacle frightened me to no end, and I fled to the inner parts of the house, where I was still able to hear the pleas and the shouts of "Shema Yisrael." In my innocence, I asked myself a number of times why He, up there, did not hear the cries.”

After most of the ghetto inhabitants, including all children, were supposed to have been rounded up and killed, Hurwitz’s parents hid her in their apartment inside the niche of a fireplace where she sat alone all day long. Because their apartment was very near an “execution” wall, Hurwitz could daily hear the cries of the doomed whose hiding places had been discovered:

As I sat listening intently to what was going on outside, I always heard the pleas and screams of those about to be murdered, including mothers screaming: But he’s just a child! Have mercy! Why?! And then, bang! When my parents would come home in the evening, I would always tell them how many shots I had heard, or, more precisely, how many Jews had been murdered that day. As time passed, I learned to distinguish between a bullet that hit a person and a bullet that was simply fired in the air. I learned that a bullet that hit a person made a dull sound . . . “

She survived the ghetto and subsequent camps by the kindness and care of others, her own spunk, and often, something akin to chance. Her struggle to piece together a new life, along with the rest of the surviving Jews, is very interesting and inspiring, and a phase of the Holocaust that is not often written about in such a detailed manner.

The Jewish organization Yad Vashem exists to keep in memory all those lost in the Holocaust (and also to honor Gentiles who rescued Jews during that time) and it seems that Hurwitz is trying to do something similar in her memoir. Often, when she mentions the kindness of strangers, it breaks her heart that she can't remember their names or that she wasn't able to thank them properly. And she clearly feels that her memoir is giving permanent remembrance to the Jews she knew personally who were killed, those who might not otherwise have been remembered by anyone.

Although the reader clearly understands from the outset that Hurwitz will survive, the writing and the storyline are such as to make this book a page turner, difficult to read but even harder to put down.

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