Sunday, November 26, 2017

One of the Girls in the Band by Helena Dunicz Niwinska

genre: memoir

One of the Girls in the Band is the memoir of Helena, Polish violinist, who through a series of heartbreaking circumstances finds herself in a women’s orchestra in Auschwitz concentration camp. She starts her story at the beginning, with her early childhood and, as a woman in her 90s, she follows her story to the present. Like most memoirs of this period, it is a remarkable tale of survival that shares the common theme of friendship with tiny glimpses of beauty among horror and unthinkable tragedy. 

The musical and musician aspect gives it a different slant and the narrative voice is very strong. Helene responds to other written memoirs of fellow survivors and tries to shed light on the intentions of those who she feels have been slandered in memory. *possible spoiler next sentence* She tries to sort through the ethical misery of playing your violin while watching families walk to the gas chambers - I can’t imagine this sort of turmoil and it’s hard to think about.

I had a hard time with all the foreshadowing and the translation isn’t particularly lyrical or beautiful. But, having now visited Auschwitz (I purchased this book in the bookshop there) I appreciated having some context and a visual sense of where the events took place. I’m glad Helene took the time to write her story.

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