Two central characters in my autobiographical novel Jew Be or Not Jew Be; The Story of a Perpetual Alien
are Magda and her daughter Évi.
My aunt Magda - my mother's younger sister - was a petite, pretty woman with an indomitable spirit and a big-big heart. During the war and during the darkest hours, when we were on the run from the Nazi killing machine, she became my replacement mother for almost a year and became my heroin; the person who made my survival possible.
Her escape from a Nazi forced labour camp to join us in Hungary and then our life on the run from the Gestapo and their Hungarian lackeys is the focal point of my story.
Évi was born in Paris just before the Second World War and abruptly separated from her parents when they were caught in a Gestapo dragnet in occupied France. She was eventually smuggled to us in Budapest by another aunt and for about four years and a bit she became known to be as my mother's daughter and consequently my "little sister". We were almost inseparable for those years.
Magda - beaten, starved and half dead - escaped from the camp and found her way to us shortly before all of us had to go on the run to save our lives. For nearly a year - according to the false identity papers we used on the run - Magda become my mother. Évi's father perished in the Holocaust.
Shortly after the war Magda and Évi returned to France where Magda struggled to re-establish a life for herself and Évi. The two of them eventually immigrated to London.
Évi is five years my junior and consequently her recollection of the war years is somewhat hazier than mine
She was barely six years old when war ended; I was over 11 years of age. Her childhood resilience seemingly saved her from the worst effects of the war experiences. Paradoxically, her worst experiences and trauma started after the war, when she became a displaced child living in turn and at various times with her mother, her aunt, in orphanages, and with complete strangers.
Magda Évi and I were briefly reunited after the abortive Hungarian Uprising of 1956, when my wife and I arrived to London as refugees. Évi, having finished her studies in London, then went to various places in Europe for further studies and work. Eventually she first went to Venezuela to stay with an Uncle and finally landed in New York, where she married a US citizen and established her own family.
She just published her "memoirs" under the title of "Magda's Daughter: A Hidden Child's Journey Home."
Where my story ends at the end of the war, her story takes off to complete the family saga from her own point of view.
Undoubtedly she is a very accomplished story teller; her talents of telling the story in many-many ways are far more polished than my humble ability. She has quite a few advantages over me, being proficient in several languages and having had most of her education in England she has a far better command of the English language than I have ever been able to achieve. In addition she also has the talent to condense the story without sacrificing style and content.
Perhaps I ought to be somewhat jealous of her, but I am not. I am - after all these years - still - at heart - her "big brother" and I am immensely proud of her.
I thoroughly and wholeheartedly recommend her book for everyone to read.
And honestly - hand on heart - I am not even biased!....
I enclose below details and editorial review and description of her newly released book.
Please go and buy and read it, you will not be disappointed.
Magda's Daughter : A Hidden Child's Journey Home
by Evie Blaikie (Author)
- Publisher: The Feminist Press at CUNY; (August 2003)
- ISBN: 1558614435
From Publishers Weekly
In this heartbreaking memoir, Blaikie, an advocate and board member of the Hidden Child Foundation of the Anti-Defamation League, details her childhood years in hiding during the Holocaust and her painful struggles as a "perpetual refugee" in the years following. She explains that she began her book not "as a memoir, but as a safety valve," and as her account unfolds, five decades' worth of despair and subjugation floods out of her. She tells of a lifetime of adapting to new countries, languages, schools, religions, names and even genders, beginning when, at two years old, Blaikie was smuggled from Paris to Budapest on a male cousin's passport in 1941, and ending with her continuing search for a sense of home in New York in 1991. Understandably, she proves more adept at conveying grief than joy (which she tends to gloss over when it occasionally surfaces), and while likened to Anne Frank, she lacks the latter's optimistic spirit. Although the book could have benefited from an editor's firmer hand-Blaikie belabors her point about searching for identity, and some clichés blight her otherwise devastatingly lucid, precise writing-she pays a loving tribute to the extended family who raised her and powerfully bears witness to a part of history that cannot be forgotten.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
To survive the long shadow of the Third Reich, many Jewish children were placed in hiding, forced to keep their true identities -- names, religion, places of birth, even gender -- absolutely secret. Although these "hidden children" avoided capture and murder, many of their -family members did not, and their experiences marked them for life. Evi Blaikie's passionate memoir depicts a life lived in the shadow of exile.
Evelyne Juliette was born in Paris to privileged Hungarian immigrants of high intellect and great passion. Scarcely a year following her birth, France would fall to the Nazis, putting Evi's family among hundreds of thousands on the run. Her father, forced to flee Paris and go underground, never again emerged. Her mother, Madga, an indomitable woman, managed to send her young daughter to safety in Hungary before being captured in a dragnet and imprisoned in a forced labor camp. Evi, just barely three, was eventually brought by an aunt to Budapest under her cousin's passport. "Claude Pollak" would be only the first of many identites assumed to protect the shattered remnants of this young child's life.
Eventually reunited with her mother, Evi would survive the war and the chaos of post-World War II Europe, but not without tremendous cost: when life blurs with survival, when one is set adrift in perpetual exile, what does it mean to go on living? In Magda's Daughter, Evi Blaikie, a natural storyteller, deftly explores the many -influences -- cultural, geographic, religious -- with which she had to come to terms in order to finally embrace her own true sense of home and self.
Advocate and board member of the Hidden Child Foundation of the ADL, Evi Blaikie lives and writes in New York City.