False Papers: Deception and Survival in the Holocaust
J, Peter, Shofar
by Robert Melson. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000. 199 pp. $26.95.
There is certainly no shortage of Holocaust survival accounts. We are now able to read the most amazing first-person narratives of what it was like to exist in one of the many ghettoes and camps of Nazi-occupied Europe. Although no two stories of the Holocaust are alike in their content or horror, there is enough of a similarity among these narratives to create a kind of identifiable sub-genre. Within this grouping, however, the book before us stands out as different.
The book is different in both form and content. In terms of form, it is the remarkable story of the Melson family's survival as told by the various members of the family. The story is broken down into chapters according to the event's chronology. For each segment, the author allows his father ("Willy") to relate his recollection or his mother ("Nina") to tell her story and, in some cases, allows both voices to be heard. On occasion, Melson adds some historical background to place the recalled events into a context. As he himself begins to have memories (Robert was born in 1937), he adds his own fragments of memory and impressions. When differences or tensions in memory arise, these are not harmonized away, but allowed to stand on their own merit. This gives the story a three-dimensional aspect that is of necessity missing from single-person accounts. We learn not only about the events, but how different participants experienced and understood them. Thus, Robert Melson, a political scientist at Purdue University, has created both a survivor's account and an academic document.
But it is not only the form that is different. The account of how the family managed to hide out in the open is in itself an amazing story. …