Virginia Barton

Haunting memories of life in Poland

Catholic Herald, 11 December 1992       

  

Review: A Square of Sky by Janina David (Eland, £8.99)

 

Some readers may remember the appeal for funds made in this newspaper two Christmases ago, for the Polish orphanage Kostoweic. They may also remember that quite by chance Jewish author Janina David heard about the appeal and wrote to us about her connection with Kostoweic.

4During the height of the war she was sent there, with false identity papers to be cared for by the nuns. A Square of Sky tells of the events that led up to that experience and those subsequent to it. They are sad and haunting memories. First published in 1964 in two volumes, Eland now offer one unabridged volume at a very reasonable price.

The author was born in 1930. Almost too vividly she recreates her childhood years and succeeds in transferring her deeply-etched memories of place and people to the modern reader. She was the only child of prosperous Jewish parents living in historic Kalisz, in those days not so far from the German border. Unable to escape westwards when war broke out, the family retreated to the east, intending to reach Russia. They were trapped in Warsaw where some of the most memorable scenes in the book are set.

The attempt to give Janina some kind of “normal” life-lessons, exercise, music; friendships – is very painful for the reader who is looking at those years down the wrong end of a telescope as it were, knowing only too well what lies ahead. We walk closely beside the shadows of beloved father, mother, glamorous uncle and the rest of the extended family, hoping against hope that the ending will be different. Father and mother desperately want that. Though they will perish, Janina will survive. That she did, to write a book of considerable honesty which would have pleased father particularly.

Janina’s survival owed much to her intelligence and personal courage. But besides the anti-semites, thieves and cheats there are real heroes and heroines: Eric, Sr, Ludwika, and the anonymous German officer who finds the nuns and orphans hiding in a cellar and leads them to the safety of a train through blazing Warsaw streets. Were it not a real-life, only too painfully true story, it would make a ripping yarn.

 

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