A Hidden Child's Journey Home by Evi Blaikie
There are as many stories of the Holocaust as there are survivors. In recent years, there has been increasing recognition that such stories need to embrace the wider spectrum of those who emerged alive from that dark period in world history, to include not only those who endured the labor and death camps, but also those who spent the war in hiding.
Evi Blaikie's memoir, Magda's Daughter, is one of those accounts. Spared the devastation of life in the concentration camps, Evi Blaikie's childhood was nonetheless profoundly affected by the dislocations of World War II, disruptions whose echoes lingered long into her adulthood.
Her parents were fairly assimilated Hungarian Jews who had immigrated to Paris. Born as Evelyne Juliette Weisz in Paris barely a year before World War II started, her mother soon sent her to Hungary with an aunt when Evi was a toddler. As Bella Brodzki writes in her introduction to Evi's memoir, " Because she didn't know life before the war, had no conscious understanding of what constituted "normal' existence...she also lacked the capacity for envisioning a different world, another future....Blaiki's memoir makes a strong case for the necessity of bringing to light what has been concealed in the discourse of the Holocaust until a relatively short time ago: the lost perspectives and experiences of those who survived....Evi came of age as a child survivor, a Hidden ChildÑbut she didn't know it."
She writes, "After the war, who had time to care about our confusion, our feelings of abandonment, alienation, fear of the future, the unknown, our nightmares of the horrors remembered? Once we were fed, we were going to be all right." But that wasn't true.
As this memoir makes poignantly clear, there was much that Evi didn't know precisely because of her disrupted and stolen childhood. Depending on where she was, and who was responsible for her (her mother, Hungarian aunts), Evi assumed a wide variety of identities. Sometimes she was her male cousin, Claude. Shuttled between schools in France and England, Evi learned how to adapt. If, in the process, she lost a sense of an integrated self, well, there was no choice. Separated from her mother, who worked as a housekeeper in an effort to gain some financial footing, Evi mostly had to raise herself.
As she writes, "I wanted a mother who was powerful, who inspired respect, someone well educated in the subjects that I thought were important, someone to come to school with me and discuss my future confidently with my teachers®¢in perfect English. Instead, I had an immigrant mother with faltering health, whose English was halting, whose jokes were greeted with either blank stares or polite smiles...My mother, on the other hand, fantasized of a relationship that she once had with her mother. The two of us against the world. Me, the younger and stronger, looking out for her, loving her unconditionally, recognizing the many sacrifices she had made."
Predictably, and sadly, neither really achieved the kind of relationship each craved so desperately.
Evi's lost childhood meant that she struggled to be a good mother to her own children. "I cuddled my children, fed and clothed them, and watched anxiously if the mercury climbed in the thermometer, indicating a fever. But I didn't know how to play with them or how to talk to them. I didn't remember being a child, neither did I know how that felt. I always thought of them as little adults."
There is much here that would add to anyone's understanding of the complexity of the Holocaust, and its ramifications today. Ignore the sloppy copy-editing (a "Jean "becomes "Joan", instead of "leeches", she writes, "leaches"), aggravating though it can be. Focus on the elements of Evi's story, her struggle to make sense of what was so senseless, and the lessons it carries about what children need.#