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Book Reviewed:

Child Survivors of the Holocaust
Paul Valent
Softcover; 288 pp.; $18.95 U.S./$34.95 CAN
ISBN 0-415-93335-8

This book can be ordered at Amazon.com. Canadian readers can purchase the book through Amazon.ca.

Reviewed by Paula E. Kirman. This review was originally published in the Edmonton Journal, October 13, 2002. Reprinted with permission from Paula E. Kirman and the Edmonton Journal.

You can read the Edmonton Journal online. Internet subscriptions to the Edmonton Journal are also available.

It is no understatement that trauma experienced as a child will permanently affect a person's life. In fact, it is the subject of numerous studies. Child Survivors of the Holocaust is a study of this topic in a unique way - it contains first-hand accounts both of the horrors of that time, as well as how severe trauma will always be an undercurrent in one's life, even many years after the fact.

Approximately 1.5 million Jewish children were killed during the Second World War. However, some children survived, grew up, had families, and tried to live some semblance of a normal life. In Child Survivors of the Holocaust, ten survivors tell their stories, in their own words. While each from different social and economic backgrounds, all have in common the fact that they were Jewish children at the time of World War II. Each of them describe how their worlds were shattered piece by piece, and in some cases, how being surrounded by death and torture because almost normalized, a part of their day-to-day lives.

Paul Valent is an Australian-based psychiatrist with an interest in trauma. He is also himself a survivor of the Holocaust, and his empathy and own pain can be felt at many times during the book, even when someone else is telling their story. Valent provides a brief commentary after each personal story, but it is not a psychiatric analysis, but rather observations of how that specific person's experiences have shaped his or her worldview.

First published in Australia in the mid-1990's, the book's introduction was written by Thomas Keneally, who wrote the book upon which the movie Schindler's List was based. Keneally himself had interviewed many survivors who had been children at the time of the Holocaust. He most likely has a strong constitution, because if the stories in Valent's work is any indication, survivor account such as these are emotional, graphic, and extremely disturbing.

Child Survivors of the Holocaust is a book with a two-fold purpose. It was primarily intended to be an examination of how trauma leads to conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder or other psychiatric illnesses. Without deep, textbook analysis, the reader can see this point proven when the survivors come back to the present tense and describe how their current lives are still reeling from what they witnessed and experienced as children. Even though the perspective is that of a therapist, this is a book for laypeople who want to deeply delve into the subject of trauma, as well as the subject of the Holocaust.

But perhaps more importantly, the book gives a voice to those survivors who may otherwise never have told their stories. And as the Holocaust falls further and further into the past, and many survivors who were adults at the time are growing very old and passing away, stories such as these may be all that will remain to pass along to future generations who will still need to learn that this unspeakable horror is part of our collective human experience.

Paula E. Kirman is a freelance writer, editor, photographer, and website designer in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.