Some people talk about Holocaust fatigue—I’ve felt it myself.
And then I found myself in a beautiful apartment, on the 49th floor, with glorious views of Lake Michigan, noshing and celebrating the publication of The House in Prague, by Anna Nessy Perlberg.
The event was sponsored by Lincoln Park Village, and the fantastic space was provided by one of the Village’s generous members. Lincoln Park Village sponsors many of the writing classes Beth leads for older adults. That’s how Beth—and eventually I—met Anna: She is in one of Beth’s classes.
Beth’s posted about Anna before—and she’s heard, in person, Anna’s stories about her family being forced to uproot from a lovely home and a lovely life in Prague during the early days of Nazi occupation. Beth’s retold them to me.
I’m inclined to say, here, “And you know the rest of the story.” I thought I did. And I did in a clinical sense. But hearing Anna read her accounts from The House in Prague—clean prose in the clear voice of Anna recollecting her nine-year-old self, describing what it was like to wake up in a great city that was stolen from its inhabitants. Soldiers outnumbering citizens on the streets. Cafes and other once-bustling hives of culture empty. Anna kissing the family home goodbye. Hair-raising brushes with the Gestapo. A stop in London. Ellis Island.
And a new life in New York City. Her father, a distinguished attorney who’d worked for President Masaryk in Prague, never practiced again. Her mother, an accomplished opera singer, lost her career. And little Anna saved up for a radio that she could tuck under her covers, to listen to the Hit Parade at night, trying to become an American girl just as fast as she could.
She did a helluva good job.
I could tell you more—the house itself is a story—but I recommend you get a copy of the House in Prague. I can’t really do it justice.
Moreover, hearing Anna tell her first-person stories of her idiyllic life in Prague, I was reminded that we’d like to think the forces that drove the Holocaust, modern day atrocities like Rwanda, or even our own history of slavery, are behind us.
But I don’t think anyone or any nation is immune. And so, maybe especially in the middle of some especially volatile election year rhetoric, it’s best that we all heed this passage from The House in Prague, recalling Anna and her mother sailing into the United States in 1939:
We stand together at the railing and watch as the harbor comes closer and closer. Mother lifts me up high to see the Statue of Liberty as clearly as possible. She says with a kind of fierceness, “Don’t ever forget this.”