Baba Schwartz's story began fifteen years before the Holocaust could have been imagined. It is the story of a spirited girl in a warm and loving Jewish family, living a normal life in a small town in eastern Hungary. In The May Beetles, Baba describes the innocence and excitement of her childhood, remembering her early years with verve and emotion, remarkably unaffected by what took place after the Nazis arrived.
What did happen was unspeakable horror. Baba describes the shattering of her family and their community from 1944, when the Germans transported the 3000 Jews of her town to Auschwitz. She lost her father to the gas chambers, yet she and her two sisters survived this concentration camp and several others to which they were transported as slave labour. They eventually escaped the final death march and were liberated by the advancing Russian army. Baba writes about this period of horror with the same directness, freshness and honesty as she writes about her childhood.
Baba wrote this book in 1991 but only revealed the manuscript last year, when she was eighty-eight. The May Beetles, prepared with the assistance of Robert Hillman, has a story to tell that will affect all readers deeply.
About the Author
Baba Schwartz, a Hungarian-born baker renowned for her superb cakes and pastries, lives in Melbourne. Her book The Lost Art of Baking with Yeast is the culmination of a life-time of baking.
‘Put down whatever you are reading and read this book. Baba, a charming, gifted and lively young companion, will take you back to a luminous childhood in Hungary before the war, will show you the darkening, and finally lead you to the gates of Hell. The human perversity on the other side of those gates remains incomprehensible, impenetrable to reason. But what Baba and her family embody – their antidote – is the durability of ordinary love.’ —Robyn Davidson
‘Baba Swartz is a storyteller whose voice is so natural you swear you are hearing it. When it tells of her joyful discovery of the wonders of the natural world, of human creativity and of human beings as the come, in all sorts, into her life as a child in Hungary, it’s a voice of strong, but delicate, vitality. Soon she was to suffer and witness the worst crimes known to human kind. Yet the voice that tells of those crimes is recognisably the same one that tells of the wonders of her childhood. She will not renounce her fidelity to those wonders and to the gift of happiness later in her marriage and children. That is the miracle of this book. It would not have been possible were it not for Baba's mother and sisters who suffered all with her, but especially her mother. As much as anything, May Beetles is an elegy to her.’ —Raimond Gaita
‘Told with the tempered calm of a born writer, Baba Schwartz’s memoir evokes the world of a Jewish Hungarian childhood, and brings us one of the great survival stories of the Second World War.’ —Joan London
‘A calmly personal account of a mighty cataclysm; astonishing in its dignity and composure, unforgettable in its sweetness of tone’ —Helen Garner
‘This book is testament to two miracles. First, of Baba’s survival. And second, of the survival within her of the girl - now an old woman - who nevertheless perceives the world, utterly without sentiment, as a place of "inexhaustible sources of delight”. An important document of witness, survival and the quiet triumph of loving life despite what it has shown you.’ —Anna Funder
‘Her memory is astonishing and from the point of a reader, in its nuance and recall of detail, this makes the story utterly trustworthy throughout … Baba’s love of life shines through at every moment.’ —Robert Manne
‘This story is full of genuinely heart-stopping moments – compulsive reading, especially towards the end’ —Australian Book Review