Saturday 11 November 2017

This week's Book of the Week is Driving to Treblinka (published by Awa Press), Diana Wichtel's remarkable account of her search for her father, both within her own memories and in the parts of the world that made her father (and by extension herself) who he was (and by extension who she is). Wichtel's father survived the Warsaw ghetto, escaped from a train bound to the extermination camp at Treblinka, and survived the rest of World War 2 with a Jewish resistance group hiding in the Polish forest. He died in a Canadian psychiatric institution. 

>> Read Thomas's review below.

>> Read an extract

>> Another extract (and a cheesecake recipe)

>> Hear Wichtel talk with Kim Hill.

>> Wichtel writes about her Jewishness

>> "A book should be an axe for the frozen sea within us." (Franz Kafka)

>> An interview with Wichtel

>> Our stock selection of books on Jewishness includes many on the history imposed upon Jews (and others) by the Nazis in the form of the Holocaust. 

>> A brief history of the Warsaw ghetto

>> More detail

>> Treblinka

>> A little about Jewish partisans in Nazi-occupied Poland.

>> Thomas's review: 
Driving to Treblinka: A long search for a lost father by Diana Wichtel
“It is not you who will speak; let the disaster speak in you, even if it be by your forgetfulness or silence,” wrote Maurice Blanchot in The Writing of the Disaster. When Diana Wichtel was twelve she moved from Canada to New Zealand with her mother and sister and brother, leaving her increasingly erratic and temperamental father behind. He never followed them and they lost contact. Many years later, Wichtel learned that her father had died in a Canadian psychiatric institution. Trauma expresses itself most eloquently through trauma. Ben Wichtel had survived confinement in the Warsaw ghetto, where he several times woke up next to someone who had died in the night. He jumped from a tiny window in the railway carriage that was transporting him to the Treblinka extermination camp and survived the rest of the war hiding in the forests of Poland with a Jewish resistance group. Almost everyone in his family was killed at Treblinka. Ben Wichtel could not choose not to be damaged by these experiences, and the harm of the Holocaust continues to be passed down through the generations, both within a family and in wider society. “I was always looking for my father,” writes Diana Wichtel, “even when he was still there,” but “you get so used to nothing making any sense that you stop asking questions.” Upon arrival in New Zealand, Diana’s mother set their lives in a new direction and closed down the part of their lives that contained the children’s father. “When parents run from their history they also obliterate the history of their children," writes Wichtel. My mother didn’t know that the things she needed to leave behind in order to survive were precisely the things I needed to hold on to.” Many years later, unable to silence the clamourings of her memories of her father, Diana set out to find out more about him, travelling both to North America and to Poland, where she met and received information from relatives, visited the site of an underground hideout in a Polish forest that might have been where her father hid, and eventually found her father’s grave (with his name misspelled). Her search for the memory of her father involved both a search within herself and a search in the outer world, for memory is most effectively resolved by place. Wichtel’s writing is for the most part forensic and spare, effectively drawing emotional response from the reader rather than imposing it upon them. Although Wichtel finds probably as much about her father as it is possible to find, there is a sense that he is more absent than ever, if anything her father is almost overwritten by what she learns about him (but maybe that is what memory is for). The family provide a new headstone for his grave, one that acknowledges his story, but what happens to the recipient of a gift when they have died long before the giving of that gift? Memory and story are ways of externalising memory and loosening its unspeakable hold (which makes memory a form of forgetting). But, Wichtel insists, “there is no closure”. The Holocaust cannot make people better people. There is only unhealable trauma. “There is no personal growth to be had in that fathomless void.”

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