Thursday, January 10, 2008

East of Time by Jacob G Rosenberg

Jacob G Rosenberg was born in Lodz, Poland, the youngest member of a working-class family. After the Germans occupied Poland, he was confined with his parents, two sisters, and their little girls in the Lodz Ghetto, from which they were eventually transported to Auschwitz. Except for one sister (who committed suicide a few days later) and himself, all the members of his family were gassed on the day of their arrival. He remained in Auschwitz for about two months, then spend the rest of the war in other concentration camps. In 1948 he emigrated to Australia with his wife Esther; their only child, Marcia, was born in Melbourne. Rosenberg has published three books of poetry in English, including My Father's Silence and Twilight Whisper, as well as three earlier volumes of prose and poetry in Yiddish: Snow in Spring, Wooden Clogs with Snow, and Light-Shadow-Light.

I first heard of this book when it was book of the month for The First Tuesday Book club, which is on our public broadcaster here once a month. The book itself sounded interesting, but something very unusual happened when the four reviewers on that show discussed this book - they all pretty much agreed that it was a worthy read, which isn't something that is guaranteed to happen!

There is no synopsis on the back cover of this book, so I have instead posted the blurb about the author, because, as this is a memoir, it does still give a fair idea of what this book is about.

In lesser hands this book could quite easily have become nothing more than a list of names of the people that the author knew that didn't make it out of the aftermath of WWII. Instead, we have a series of poignant vignettes about the people that a young Jacob Rosenberg knew, stories about how they influenced him then, and how some of them continue to influence him now. They are short glimpses into the life of a teenage boy as he experiences love and lust and fear and living a life that I am sure very few of us could actually imagine.

There are many heartbreaking tales - men and women of talent and passion and potential who either ended up in the gas chambers, or shot, or who just disappeared. As an example. one of the stories is of a family friend who has come around to share what little the Rosenbergs have (eating soup made with potato peel). Realising that it is getting late, they encourage the man to stay the night, so that he cannot be caught breaking the heavily monitored curfew. At daybreak, he leaves...and is never seen or heard of again.

The author is very clear in his introduction - this is definitely a memoir as opposed to an actual autobiography. As he says in the opening sentence of the preface:

East of Time is a rendezvous of history and imagination, of realities and dreams, of hopes and disenchantments.
Regardless of where the lines are blurred between what actually happened and the parts that are imagined, the story of loss and pain are very vibrant and real, and all too heartbreaking, and are definitely written in a very readable style.

This is the first book I have read by this author, and I will read more once his next book comes out here some time this year. I would love to know more about how he came to survive the concentration camps and how he came to live in Australia.


  1. I don't want to take anything away from the content of this book, but the I found the way it was written was almost - detached. As though the author couldn't bear to write about the situations/people, unless he achieved some distance from them. What horrific times he wrote of, though. We who have never experienced it have no idea...

  2. There may well be an element of truth in that Malvina!