Around six million Jews died in the Holocaust at the hands of the Nazis. After reading Eva Slonim’s heartbreaking memoir, Gazing at the Stars, to throw a figure like that around seems careless. Europe’s Jewish population, of which two-thirds died in those years, were not just a faceless crowd of statistics. They were mothers, daughters, teachers, doctors, sons, fathers and decorated soldiers. They were much more than just their heritage and beliefs, they were innocent people. Good people. Loving people. They were important members of their communities, before those communities more often than not turned their backs on them.
Eva Slonim recounts her experiences with an air of defiance. Despite the horrors that engulfed her and the people she loved she takes pains to reflect on the moments of happiness amongst the rubble. Reflections on the love she shares for her hard-working parents, for whom she owes her survival, are gut-wrenching.
Born to a large middle class Jewish family in Bratislava, her early years were filled with happiness. Always taught to be proud of her faith, as Hitler gained power and waves of anti-Semitism began to spread through Europe she was told to stand firm and always remember who she was, and be brave. Undoubtedly it is these traits that aided her survival against insurmountable odds.
From an historical standpoint, Gazing at the Stars is an important account of the gradual descent into chaos. Over time basic rights were taken away from the Jewish population like property ownership, voting rights and hospital care as Europe lurched towards war. A reminder of just how quickly society can deteriorate in evil hands.
Slonim wants her story to commemorate those she loved that lost their lives, to burrow through the mass of statistics. She writes of friends and family and their plans to escape the clutches of the Nazis. Hauntingly, nearly all of them are followed with ‘…it would be the last time I would see them’.
Eva Slonim miraculously survived homeless winters and scorching summers in concentration camps. In just a few years she went from a carefree schoolgirl to a test subject of the infamous Josef Mengele. Gazing at the Stars is an extraordinary story we should feel lucky to have shared with us. Short, sharp, and moving, it’s a book you’ll never forget.
Andrew Cattanach is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog and was shortlisted for The Age Short Story Prize. He enjoys reading, writing and sleeping though finds it difficult to do them all at once.
You can follow his ramblings on twitter at @andrew__cat
About the Contributor
Andrew Cattanach is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog. He has been shortlisted for The Age Short Story Prize and was named a finalist for the 2015 Young Bookseller of the Year Award. He enjoys reading, writing and sleeping, though finds it difficult to do them all at once.
Follow Andrew: Twitter