A Mother and Child Reunion. At Auschwitz.


/Beth Wareham

Reparations: A Novel of War and Rebirth was written by 85-year-old writer Ruth Sidransky. It is based loosely on her years in post-World War II Germany and Austria, smuggling for the Jews rising up out of the sewers and coming in from the woods where they spent the war.

Sidransky started the book in 1950 and worked on and off on it for a decade. It then spent 65 years with little attention until now. Published along with two of the author’s other works, Reparations resonates with a master’s control of language and, given the dates it was written, rings with fresh horror at events that were then recent.

In her travels in Vienna, Sidransky teaches English to Viennese hoping to emigrate out of Austria. A silent woman sits in front of her during each class, watching her every move. One day, an anti-Semitic shout rises from the back of the room and the silent woman makes herself known: She is Clara. She is Jewish and she will stand between her Jewish teacher and the room of Austrians. She will protect her.

Sidransky and Clara become friends and slowly, Clara tells her story. She was experimented on by Mengele but allowed to live. She will never be able to have children. Her entire family is dead.

Her mother had a pin, a round simple pin that disappeared with her the day Clara’s mother was taken. Their mother and daughter reunion would not be joyous: As Clara arrived at Auschwitz, she found her mother in the mud, drinking out of a rain puddle.

Clara’s mother did not survive. Her pin did. She gave it to her daughter who then gave it to Sidransky asking that “someone, remember us. Just one person, please.”

Remember her. Whisper “Clara” from time to time, like a little prayer. She deserves it.

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We Know She Was Here: She Left Behind the Pin She Hid at Auschwitz

/Beth Wareham

Forty years ago, Ruth Sidransky wrote about her experiences as a young American Jew teaching English immediately following the war in Vienna. In this big, sweeping novel, the lead character, Molly Rose, is almost set upon by her English class when they discover she is a Jew. Her protector, a taciturn young woman, sits in front of her in class everyday going forward, protecting her from the other students who would need more than a World War to tame their racism.

That young woman was real. She had been experimented on by Mengele and she had lost her entire family. She could not have a family of her own because of the damage to her body. She gave Sidransky the pin so that she would be remembered, to someone, somewhere.

Let’s remember Clara too.


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