Kluger’s Still Alive is a remarkable book and I thank Dorian of the Eiger Monch Jungfrau blog for bringing it to my attention.
Like most girls of my generation, I read and reread Anne Frank’s Diary (the expurgated version, sadly) in grade six. It led, for years, to more reading about the Holocaust. Until now, however, I’d never come across Kluger’s memoir. It is superb, harsh, and unforgettable. Like Anne, Kluger speaks of a difficult relationship with her mother; unlike Anne, Kluger’s memoir recounts her life at Theresiensenstadt, Auschwitz-Birkenau, and Christianstadt. We don’t know what Anne thought and felt when she was betrayed and brought to Auschwitz: there are accounts, I don’t remember where I read them, that Anne despaired, lost hope (how could one not?), but we are not privy. Her diary remains, as my students would say about any book they enjoy, “relatable”: I’m not damning with faint praise, simply acknowledging the universality of the adolescent experience she recounts, despite her unusual circumstances. Anne is not alien to us, attested by my still calling her by her first name. Kluger’s, on the other hand, is an alien experience, but it is her voice that washes over us and takes over, a dominant, indomitable voice. It is, as Kluger insisted about every Holocaust survivor, unique to her, to her individuality, a singular experience: this was a thread I noticed, an insistence on rejecting any uniformity in writing the Holocaust. She is writing, she would insist, not as a historian, but as an expression of herself. I understand her insistence on not “romanticizing” the Holocaust, not museum-fying it, placing it in “amber,” her way to assert the self. And yet, there are moments where she is weighed down by the history she carries, by her struggle never to be defined and yet, acknowledging she is defined, not so much by a monolithic history, but by time, place, and a monumental absence, of those who did not survive.