No Common Place: The Holocaust Testimony of Alina Bacall-Zwirn

No Common Place: The Holocaust Testimony of Alina Bacall-Zwirn

No Common Place: The Holocaust Testimony of Alina Bacall-Zwirn

No Common Place: The Holocaust Testimony of Alina Bacall-Zwirn

Synopsis

But in the wake of her husband's death, and afraid that the story would never be told, Alina Bacall-Zwirn, a survivor of the Warsaw ghetto and four Nazi concentration camps, decided to bear witness to the history she and her husband suffered. In a unique format that combines personal testimony, photographs, letters, legal documents, and contributions from Alina's family, No Common Place interweaves a survivor's story with her reflections on the impact of her traumatic past on herself and her family.

Excerpt

The following pages were composed from interviews, letters, and other documents concerning Alina Bacall-Zwirn, born Alinka Handszer in Warsaw, Poland, on February 5, 1922, and her husband, Leo Bacall, born Leshek Bakalczuk in Davidgrodek, Poland, on July 12, 1915. Leo and Alina were married in the Warsaw ghetto on September 7, 1941. They immigrated together to the United States in 1949 and lived in New York and New Jersey until they retired to Tamarac, Florida, in 1978. Leo died in 1984, and Alina later married Charlie Zwirn. After a yearlong battle with lung cancer, she died, surrounded by her family, on the morning of April 3, 1997, one month after the completion of this manuscript. She is survived by her three children -- George, Walter, and Sophia -- and six grandchildren, the youngest of whom was born just four months before Alina's death. "The family," Alina told me the last time I saw her, in March 1997, "is finally getting bigger."

I first met Alina in January 1993, at her home in Florida. Alina, together with her daughter, Sophia, who was visiting from Connecticut, talked to me about Leo's frustrated efforts to publish a book about his and his wife's experiences in the Holocaust. A decade before he died he had prepared a manuscript with the assistance of a freelance writer, but due to a perceived lack of an audience for Holocaust narratives, as well as to problems of style and organization within the manuscript itself, the story was never published. Alina and her family wondered whether "One Small Candle" (as the manuscript was titled) could be edited for publication. But Alina realized that, despite growing interest in the testimony of survivors of the Holocaust, the problems of "One Small Candle" could not be solved merely by editing or minor revisions. Not only were there factual errors, but Alina felt that the manuscript ascribed thoughts to Leo and her that were not their own. "He [the writer] put in his philosophy too much," she later told me.

Together we developed an alternative strategy. An immigrant to the United States in 1949, Alina felt too uncomfortable with English to pen her own history. Yet I was hesitant to say in other words . . .

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