Letter From My Father – Book Review

March 11, 2012 by Alan Gold
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Alan Gold reviews “Letter From My Father” by Dr Dasia Black…

One of the games which children throughout the world play, deals with pretense. Wherever they are in the world, rich or poor, children use their natural sense of adventure to develop their imaginative minds. One of the favourite games is that of pretending that they’re a make-believe character – the Queen or a famous film star
But not all children are so fortunate as to have the freedom of movement or thought to be able to play these games. Shoah survivor Dasia Black was one of the least fortunate, yet through extraordinary resilience, determination and courage, she grew beyond the evils of her childhood and has presented us with a unique and compelling view of growing and living with trauma. Her book Letter From My Father chronicles her loss of childhood identity, and her reclamation of that early character many years later.
For Dasia, the games of pretense she was forced to play, weren’t fun. They were a matter of life and death. She was born in Poland to loving parents Szulman and Chana who named her Esther Hadasa, but when she grew into a four year old, the Nazis swept across the borders to occupy the nation, and her parents knew that her life hung in the balance.

Dasia Black

Szulman realized that the only way to save the child was to capitalize on her Slavic looks, her high cheekbones, light brown hair and green eyes. But most important, her father told her that she had to forget forever about being Ester Hadasa, but instead had to become another person. He told her that terrible things would happen if ever she told people her real name.
Placing the child with a Catholic family to save her from transportation to the Death Camps, she became Stasia, daughter of Sabina, and her games of make belief took on a nightmare reality.
In one of the most poignant moments in Letter from my Father, Dasia Black writes of her understanding of her father’s instructions, “I must hide the real Ester. I absorbed this message…I began a new life in Tarnopol. I was now Stasia, a Catholic girl and Sabina was supposed to be my mother. But she did not behave like my own mother. She never hugged or kissed me so that I forgot what it was like to be held and love.”
But as is so common with many children, Ester adapted to being Stasia. “I knew that Stasia was not my real name and that the name my parents had given me was Jewish. But, strangely, I had forgotten it. The other little girl and I would sit on top of a pile of stones trying out different names to discover which one sounded familiar. Was I Rachel or Ilona or Danka? No, I didn’t recognize any of these. They were not me. I tried so hard to remember, even at night before I fell asleep. But I just could not remember who I really was.”
After the War, through displacement camps in Germany, Dasia was taken by adoptive parents to Australia, where her life as an immigrant, a refugee, a victim of persecution, was of little moment to the Aussie kids with whom she was at school. Arriving with her “Gretchen-style hair”, knee-high socks and an umbrella, she was viewed in amazement by her new school mates, who looked at her as though she were an apparition from outer space.
But it was the letter from her long-dead father, written in November, 1942, which gave Dasia her life-long courage and resilience, her hope and her determination.
Written to relatives of the family in America in the hope that his daughter will survive “until the storm passes”, he writes of his fervent hope for the continuity of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel, “because who as well as we know that we live on the edge of a volcano in all the lands of exile…I hope that my daughter be privileged, in the same way as were my forefathers the grand Rabbi (Yehuda Loewy Maharal) of Prague and his forebears until the time of King David, to survive the evil decrees and be witness to the rising of the lot of Israel.”

Letter From My Father is Dr. Black’s public reclamation of the name and the identity with which she was born and which, by rights, should have been hers throughout her life.
Her survival against such insuperable odds, both physically and with such resilient mental strength, is testimony to the conquest of good over evil.

Letter From My Father
Dr. Dasia Black
212pps published by Brandl & Schlesinger

The book will be launched by Di Armstrong at Gleebooks in Sydney on March 27.

Reviewed for J-Wire by Alan Gold, whose latest book, Bell of the Desert, will be published next month in America

Comments

One Response to “Letter From My Father – Book Review”
  1. Lynne Newington says:

    This story could be a wonderful epitaph of many children, not only Jewish but also Catholic, but not in the same circumstances.
    To claim their true identity by the rights that should have been theirs throughout their lives, the need for phsyical and resiliant strength would also be a testament to the conquest of good over evil.
    It sounds very uplifting and empowering.

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