Captured Time

I received a delightful postcard from Europe yesterday. One of my primary sources is a woman who, like my mother, was also in Westerbork as a child. She had previously written and thanked me for sending her a copy of Tutti’s Promise. This time she was writing to tell me what she thought of it.

She wrote, in part,

“I want to let you know how much I enjoyed reading your book. As I am almost the same age as your mother, it brought vividly back many memories of that time, not only in what happened, but also in the general atmosphere. How did you catch that atmosphere? Only by what your mother told you about it?”

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Painting of the Strafbarracks in Westerbork by Leo Kok

This made me think. How had I captured the mood of that long-ago and far-off place that I didn’t experience for myself. I had my mother’s recollections, of the grayness and damp, the stacked bunks, the barbed wire. I had the accounts of others, such as the woman I mention earlier. I read multiple books and even attended a one-woman play by Joanna Caplan. I consulted the historical weather records. I visited Westerbork. I knew my grandparents, and, as a psychologist, I know people. So while I was guessing at how they may have reacted, I feel it is a well-educated guess.

My depiction is by no means perfect. One thing my mom has shared since the book was published was how loud it was in the camps, with the Jews arguing constantly about every little thing. I wish I had incorporated that detail. But memory itself is fluid and fleeting, and if my story, however imperfect, captures a vestige of the experiences of those at Westerbork and Theresienstadt, then I have succeeded and the lessons of Tutti’s Promise will ring true and deep for the reader.

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Barbed wire and base of guard tower at Westerbork (2014)

 

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