RUTH KLUGER has won two major prizes for this book, and it is easy to see why. This is a work of shocking revelation, not so much about Theresienstadt and Auschwitz, but as an acute self-analysis simultaneously rooted in past and present.
Kluger painfully describes her "shabby, shameful" childhood in the prison of post-Anschluss Vienna, where Nazi boys sing about Jewish blood spurting from their knives. No Jewish child is allowed to swim, ride a bike, skate or go to the cinema. There is a wonderful moment of resistance when, in 1940, Kluger defies the law and removes her yellow star so she can watch Snow White. In the cinema, the baker's daughter, a 19-year-old Nazi, threatens to denounce her. Kluger does not miss the irony: "The story of Snow White can be reduced to one question. Who is allowed to live in the king's palace and who is the outsider?"
Kluger is conscious of myths that inform our psyche, and how such myths resonate for her story. She remembers the Viennese legend of Drunken August, who falls into the pit of plague bodies but escapes with a hangover. Her own situation is different. Hitler's Austria escapes with little damage, but Europe's Jews are devastated to this day.
What is most original here is the clarity of a child's point of view mixed with an adult's mature analysis. In primary school, Christian girls are cutting out paper swastikas as their Jewish classmates are thrown out: Kluger vividly depicts a vicious Nazi Vienna that hated its Jewish children.
Not only is she at war with the Nazis; she is also critical of her position in the Jewish family. …