This debut novel by Georgia Hunter is based on the true story of her own family’s survival of the Holocaust.
At the outbreak of WWII, Hunter’s great-grandparents were enjoying a time in life when their five children were marrying and beginning their own families. Initially set in Radom, Poland, Hunter traces the branches of the family tree as family members suffer under changing governments in Eastern and Western Poland, break through entrapment in Vichy France, and face exile to Siberia.
Punctuated with global perspective and striking statistics to demonstrate how family members escape the odds, Hunter chronicles their journeys through Europe, Asia, and Africa before a tear-filled reunion in South America and resettlements in the United States and Europe.
While certainly not pleasure reading, I felt compelled to keep turning the pages. I was anxious the whole read, praying the family members would escape each impossible situation as foes and challenges were ever changing. The details in this story haunted me for weeks after I put it down.
The next book I picked up was Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime for the Tipsy Mamas’ Book Club. Set in post-apartheid South Africa with a completely different style and focus, I was surprised to find I continued to think of We Were the Lucky Ones and felt the need to draw comparisons between it and Noah’s account.
Two things stood out above all in Hunter’s work from a content perspective: the global involvement and impact of WWII and the unbelievable statistics of the atrocities documented. In contrast, Trevor Noah paints a very different reality through his telling of stories of his South African childhood. He points out that his education about WWII was extremely limited. Something about a bad guy named Hitler who was defeated. He suggests that our understanding of atrocities in South Africa and other African countries is similar. Something like, there was apartheid, then Nelson Mandela, and then everything was okay. He also suggests that perhaps we don’t know as much about atrocities against Africans because there isn’t any documentation -- no records like those the Nazis kept during WWII. He particularly mentions South African oppression under Cecil Rhodes whom some have called the “architect of apartheid” and Congolese genocide under the rule of King Leopold II of Belgium, the effects of both of which are still felt to this day.
Now, one scholar has argued that perhaps Rhodes wasn’t that bad, perhaps just a man of his time, and besides, he behaved “no worse than the white settlers in North America, South America, and Australia; and in some senses better, considering that the genocide of natives in Africa was less complete.” (Wikipedia, “Cecil Rhodes”, bold italics my addition)
Considering genocide was less complete?
Is there such a thing as relativism when it comes to genocide?
I won’t answer that here. But I will argue that we shape history by what is acknowledged and by what is remembered. You can read more of my thoughts on Born a Crime on the book club blog page.
In the end, what can we gather from these two accounts? Georgia Hunter traveled the world to uncover facts and piece together her family’s story. How far must we too go to have a better understanding of lesser documented and lesser voiced cultures?
Here you will find a catalog of my writing and reflections.