Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Testimony – Halina Wagowska (Hardie Grant Books)

With The Testimony 81 year old Holocaust survivor and humanitarian Halina has put a human face, a personal touch to one of the world’s greatest shames taking us in to her world, a world shattered by war and ignorance and hate.
Halina claims early in the book that she is not a ‘writer’ but let me tell you, she is one hell of a story teller as harrowing as those stories may be. With a simple straightforward style Halina brings you into her world, a world that as a child turned horrendous when her family was interned first into the Polish ghettos and then the concentration camps of Stutthof and Birkenhau, a world where her parents did not survive but she did. It’s that personal touch, the ‘colloquial style’ that make the stories resonate even more and though at times the stories are harrowing, making you wonder at the validity of the word humanity when it comes to our own species these are stories that need to be told, that we need to remember.

This is not simply a book about the holocaust though, yes it is a book about what people can do to each other, in the name of ignorance and fear but it is also a book about hope, about freedom and survival. The second half of the book consists of snapshots and stories of new friends, like the Reads, who helped her settle here in Australia and who, four generations later, still consider her family, of her battles here confronting a different world, a different way of living and sadly, a different sort of prejudice, not perhaps as evil but still all intrusive. Being a ‘refo’, an outsider, Halina found more battles to fight but instead of shrinking away she has spent her life educating, tackling ignorance, raising issues and making waves. She will not go quietly and nor should she. Hers is a story that can’t be forgotten, that shouldn’t be forgotten but with the headline grabs, the sound bites, the celebrity endorsements, the gossip, I fear it’s a story that may well get lost. Our esteemed political leaders should be reading this book instead of scoring points with human lives because ignorance, well that is no longer an excuse.



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