REVIEW BY Prof. Anna Wolff-Powęska

The 1990s saw the revival of the interest in the Second World War and its consequences. Such a tendency, which appeared in academic writing, literature of reminiscence, art and public debate, stems from various reasons. First and foremost, the victims found their voice and began to speak. The time to focus on complex historical processes has finished. It is now the time to listen to those who have been silent for decades, people wounded by the traumatic past events, living with painful memories. In search for the meaning of their own existence, out of necessity to face their own past and to reveal the trauma of their childhood, the Children of the Holocaust bring back memories imprinted in their minds.
Since the very beginning of the Extermination, the literary discourse has been posing the question how to express the inexpressible. How to describe these experiences? Which form is the most suitable to commemorate them and to pass them on to the next generations? Such doubts and difficulties are the consequence of the fact that the ghetto became the symbol of the worst kind of humiliation, destroyed human dignity and shame, feelings connected with the deepest secrets of the human psyche as well as with the most important part of public life. Pride understood as self-esteem is associated with dignity, honour and freedom. Dignity can be neither granted nor taken away. Shame is a more complicated feeling by its very nature. It can be negative, paralyzing and enslaving, but it can also be purifying and liberating. It is inseparable from fear, low self-esteem, a sense of guilt and social disdain.
The book Never Forget to Lie! The True Story of Survival by Felicja Bryn belongs to the literature of reminiscence. It is like other books of this sort, yet at the same time completely different, for each individual fate is exceptional. The book is not a search for the guilty ones, nor an accusation. It is an attempt to pay tribute to those Righteous among the Nations who, witnessing the evil and the failure of all ethical standards of social coexistence, risked their lives to save others. The main character of the published memories has kept the time of the Warsaw ghetto in her deepest memory all her life. She has never been able to forget the harrowing experience of hunger and loneliness after losing her closest family. Although throughout all her life she has met many kind and caring people, ready to give a helping hand, her whole existence has been both an escape and a search; an escape from herself, from the nightmares of her memory, from the feeling of guilt for living a lie which saved her life, from paradoxes of double identity, which were a burden on the psyche of the child and the adolescent; it was a search for acceptation, respect and love, for a sense of security and stabilization. Depression and lack of emotional balance were the result of the constant struggle between the feeling of being different and the need to be “like othersâ€?, between the feeling of anonymity, which did not disappear after she left the coal box which had saved her life in times of horror, and the need to reveal her talents. Always new places and new people around her were the result of her pride and humiliation, the pain of the past which would not go away.
Irit Amiel, another witness of the Extermination, describes the state of mind of the survivors with the term osmalenie – the state of being blackened. The blackening touch results from the death of the closest ones, and from one’s own experience of evil, and it is irremovable. The author of this book has a vague intuition of this. All her life she struggles against her own anxiety, for long years she did not feel at home in her life: who she belongs to, where her homeland and her roots are, whom to trust – such questions accompanied her in her life. The epilogue is optimistic. Felicja finds her love and her homeland. She begins to work for other refugees, outcasts, searching for the meaning of life. The memory of the good against the evil helped her to find hope.
Felicja Bryn, like other witnesses of the Holocaust, had to face the question whether it is worth publishing an account of traumatic experiences and how it should be done. Her book, just like the rest of the documentary legacy of the Holocaust, confirms the words of Elie Weisel: “Jews are the memory of God and the heart of mankind. We do not always realize this, but others do and therefore treat us with suspicion and cruelty. Memory scares them (…) Yet in fact death is not our fate, even if we wanted it to be. Why? We cannot die, as we are the questionâ€?.

For more information contact: feliciabryn@bellsouth.com