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The Beautiful Mrs. Seidenman


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For the reader seeking immersion in recent Polish history, this intensely Catholic, unabashedly patriotic European bestseller is a rare find. The central incident is the arrest of Mrs. Seidenman, a Jewish widow living under an assumed identity in Warsaw during World War II. She is betrayed by a former acquaintance and arrested by the Naxis, but her friends' determined efforts lead to her release. There are other, equally compelling tales. One is of Sister Weronika, a nun who hides Jewish orphans during the war, fervently training them to accept a new Catholic identity. Another concerns Wladyslaw Gruszecki (formerly Arturek Hirschfeld), one of Sister Weronika's charges, who becomes more anti-Semitic than even the Poles. Still another concerns Henryczek Fichtelbaum, killed in the Jewish ghetto, and his friend Pawelek Kyrnski, a Catholic teenager who finds it miraculous simply that he survived the war. An exceptional storyteller, Szczypiorski passionately re-creates the tumultuous war years for us, also providing insight into the current resurgence of Polish nationalism and Solidarity. (Jan.)

Grove. Jan. 1990. c.240p. tr. from Polish by Klara Glowczewska. ISBN 0-8021-1140-8. $18.95. f Szczypiorski here links case histories from Nazi-occupied Warsaw to show the world of those not sent to the camps--both Polish gentiles and Jews who changed identities and ``passed.'' These survivors lived with the horror of what was happening to their friends and families and with the constant anxiety of being at risk themselves. While theirs was not the most immediate horror of the Holocaust, they experienced an insidious deadening of the soul more closely linked to Polish history. The narrative zigzags through this history at will, a distancing device that accentuates the isolation of the characters. Though individual lives connect, some are literally, and absurdly, dead ends. In this novel without a hero, the Jewish widow Mrs. Seidenman is a recurring motif. While she survives Nazi capture and Communist purge, her heart is lost before she even enters these pages. A sad book, translated into graceful English.--Rob Schmieder, Boston

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