Livia Bitton-Jackon’s “My Bridges of Hope”: Book review

Livia Bitton-Jackon’s follow-up to her memoir of Auschwitz, “I Have Lived A Thousand Years,” (read my review of that book <a href=""here) tells the story of her “frantic search for love and meaning at a time when the world around us seemed to be collapsing under the aftershocks of war.”
Returning to their village in Czechoslovakia, they find their house stripped bare and vandalized, full of trash and excrement, and set about recovering their appropriated furniture and property piece by piece from neighbors who initially protest and pretend they don’t know where any of it went until Livia or her mother spot mirrors and chairs and cabinets in their neighbors’ houses.
Livia struggles to make sense of what she has gone through, unable to move on and unable to understand how those around her seem to be living as if nothing had happened:
“They laugh and grow fat. They marry, and make money, and buy things […] We have just lived through a thousand deaths. The deaths of little children, babies […] suffocating in gas … burned alive in open pits … Our brothers and sisters … our friends, people we loved so, frozen to death on roadsides. Starved to death. Our darling aunt Serena gasping for air in the gas chamber … her gold teeth yanked out. Her skin pulled off to make lamp shades. Her meager fat made into soap. Her delicate bones made into fertilizer. […]
And we grow fat on potato soup and noodles. And make vulgar jokes and laugh. Dance at every wedding all night through. […] This hysterical merry-go-round of flirtation and courting and laughter … it’s maddening. […]
We never talk about what has happened to us. Never. We keep staring into the sun and don’t see the shadow. Frantically we keep turning our face to the sun …
I cannot bear the sun! It’s cruel. It’s a hoax. Sunlight is mockery. So is music. I cannot bear the sound of music, loud and brash. It’s deafening. I cannot bear all the food we are gulping down as if in a contest. It’s nauseating. It’s insanity. I cannot bear any of this.”
The ordeal is not fully completed, as anti-Semitic sentiment continues to ripple through Europe in pogroms and random attacks – while spending the summer of 1946 as a counselor in a Jewish childrens’ camp in the Tatras mountains, Livia must flee with her charges as a drunken mob of Partisans storms the villa seeking to kill all those inside.
Livia works as a teacher in Bratislava while also working for the underground railroad helping refugees through Czechoslovakia on their way to the West en route to Palestine.
As the Communists take over the state and tighten their grip, Livia and her mother flee to Vienna, and then to Germany, before finally securing VISAs for America, leaving Europe behind – “this cursed continent and its blood-soaked earth. Its mass graves.”

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One response to “Livia Bitton-Jackon’s “My Bridges of Hope”: Book review

  1. Pingback: Livia Bitton-Jackon’s “Hello America”: Book review | ronanconroy

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