Survival Artist, A Memoir of the Holocaust

By Schuchman, John S. | Sign Language Studies, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview
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Survival Artist, A Memoir of the Holocaust

Schuchman, John S., Sign Language Studies

Eugene Bergman, Survival Artist, A Memoir of the Holocaust (Jefferson, N. C: McFarland & Company, 2009, 204 pp., paper, $35, ISBN 978-0-7864-41 34-1)

EUGENE BERGMAN'S Survival Artist is a personal account of his family's Holocaust experience. Although Bergman, a retired Gallaudet professor, is a deaf individual, he did not encounter deaf people or deaf culture until his arrival in the United States after World War II. He became deaf at the age of nine as the result of an attack by a soldier shortly after Germany invaded Poland in September 1939. UnfamiHar with deafness, his family later employed a Jewish- German refugee speech teacher to teach the young boy how to Hpread even though Bergman spoke only PoHsh and Yiddish, both of which were unknown to the teacher. Needless to say, the lessons failed. Throughout the war years, the young Bergman only could Hpread and understand the words of his older brother, Bronek. Since his survival often depended on it, Bergman became an astute observer of people in order to understand the awful miHeu that was the Holocaust.

At the outset, I should point out that Eugene Bergman and I were faculty coHeagues at GaHaudet, and I have heard a few of his pubHc presentations about the Holocaust. In those Hrnited presentations, he has referred to the rifle butt to his head that caused his deafness and his efforts to avoid detection of his circumcision as a Jew when asked to drop his pants. I am glad that he has decided to offer up a more complete memoir of his experience. He is a justifiably proud man and his story of survival and personal achievement is worth reading.

Survival Artist is the account of one family's "survival" of the war years, 1939-1945. The family consisted of his parents, Eugene, and his older brothers Bronek and Dadek. They stayed together as a family unit until the Warsaw Uprising in August 1944 when German soldiers murdered his father and eldest brother Dadek. Professor Bergman has written his memoir based on secondary sources as well as the recollections of his brother Bronek and himself.

Fluent in both PoHsh and Yiddish, the family members masked their Jewish identities and pretended to be PoHsh Christians. Bergman often refers to the physical characteristics of being "blonde and blueeyed," not Jewish-looking. Combined with their mastery of the Polish language, they survived while their father used his experience and skills as a small business entrepreneur to find food and lodging for the family.

Originally from Poznan in western Poland, the family sought refuge from round-ups and deportation to the concentration camps in the East.

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