canada africa partner reservation Very readable Holocaust memoirs with careful delineation of sources

Very readable Holocaust memoirs with careful delineation of sources

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Adieu: A Memoir of Holocaust Survival by Alfred J. Lakritz; Calabasas, CA: Belmonte Press; c) 2024; ISBN-9798989-685103; 237 pages including acknowledgments; $20

SAN DIEGO – Holocaust survivor Alfred J. Lakritz settled in Oakland, California with his mother Marjum and younger brother Herbert thanks to Alfred’s maternal great-uncle Max Fass, who had preceded the family to America and agreed to sponsor them.

With Alfred’s father, Simche, the family had lived in Kiel, Germany, but after the Nazis began their state-sanctioned war against the Jews, they fled to Antwerp, Belgium, and then to Vichy, France. In 1942, when Alfred was eight and Herbert five, their parents arranged for the boys to be sent to a summer camp run by a Jewish rescue organization. Much to the boys’ chagrin, their safety-minded parents allowed them to stay well beyond the summer. While they were away, their father, who had aided the French Resistance, was arrested by the Vichy government.

He was sent north to the Drancy transit camp, outside Paris, and from there to Auschwitz and later to his death in Majdanek. Simche had a premonition of his fate and sent a Nazi-supplied postcard from Drancy, which he ended with the misspelled word ‘adjeu’ instead of ‘adieu’, which is a final way of saying goodbye then bye.

The boys only learned of their father’s death after the Germans were expelled from France and they reunited with their mother and resumed their school education in Marmande, France. Much later in life, Alfred discovered details of a massive machine gun battle at Majdanek, which killed his father.

The administrators of the children’s summer camp had stayed one step ahead of the Nazis, moving Alfred and Herbert to a series of temporary shelters, including a convent in Lourdes, a city where Catholics believe the Virgin Mary miraculously appeared. Their mentors taught the boys to pose as Catholics, replacing the last name LaCroix with Lakritz.

Their permission to immigrate to the United States came in 1950, five years after the end of World War II. Alfred became a high school student in Oakland, California. After losing his French accent, he graduated from UC Berkeley and its law school. He and his wife, Judy, had two children, and those children raised a total of four grandchildren.

The memoir, his first book, involves painstaking research.

I admired it for two reasons. First, Lakritz carefully identified what he personally remembered, and what he thought he remembered what he suspected, what other people told him and what he found in history books and documents. I have read other Holocaust memoirs that merge these different types of sources.

Second, his account contained some candid facts about his family. Although he was certain that his father loved him, he recalled that his father became very impatient with him during his childhood – which he attributed to the stress of the time. He believed his mother had made a mistake by remarrying after they settled in the United States. Worse still, she stayed with her second husband even though he knew she wasn’t happy with him. And he was also self-critical. A member of a French Christian family who had helped save the Lakritz family wanted his two boys to stay with the Lakritz family in California while they learned English. Alfred told him with regret that his house could barely accommodate his own two children and refused to take in the French boys. His French friend never spoke to him again, probably thinking that since his relatives had risked their lives to save his family, taking in the boys – even if it meant overcrowding – was the least the Lakritz family could do.

The memoir is clearly written, making it easy to read.

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Donald H. Harrison is publisher and editor of Jewish World of San Diego.