The Freedom Circus: a book review by Geoffrey Zygier

December 3, 2020 by Geoffrey Zygier
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As the years pass by and the number of survivors dwindles, the stream of Holocaust-themed books continues to gush.

The urge to remember and to rage against this horrific crime remains as intense as ever, perhaps even more so due to the continuing flow of hatred directed against the Jewish People.

What motivates the vitriol that emanates from the Corbyns, Khomeinis, Nasrallahs and Latuffs of this world? As time goes on, I become more convinced that it is the Eternal People’s unquenchable life force that so enrages and confounds their haters. Look for example at the achievements of the Jewish State this past year. While as badly beset by Covid19 as many other nations, Israel’s security, economic and diplomatic successes continue to astound the world.

This ‘never say die’ attitude permeates a newly released book, The Freedom Circus. While its title may conjure up the oohs and aahs, cheers and laughs of the ‘Big Top’, this is the true story of a Polish Jewish family whose pluck, ingenuity and perseverance brought them through the hell of war-torn Europe to the safety of Australia.

As the world edged ever closer to World War Two, young Mindla Levin informed her penurious family of her love for one Kubush Horowitz. While it sometimes has been stated by Jewish parents that no one is good enough for their daughter (and said daughters also regularly complain about their husbands’ foolish antics), Mindla’s father was extremely concerned that Mr Horowitz made his living as a circus clown. According to Mr Levin, “A clown is not a husband … nothing good comes from a clown….’’

Why was Mindla’s father so cynical?  After all, what makes someone a successful clown? The abilities to play a role, to make people laugh, to deal with ridicule, to be bold and the capacity to win people over. These talents certainly helped Mindla and Kubush to survive both Hitler and Stalin and to prove her sceptical father wrong.

Like so many survivors of this era, the Horowitz family also had its share of luck, but the reader will also identify grit and courage as characteristics that saved their lives and that of their young son. After many ‘adventures’, travels through the USSR, the Middle East and Africa and some hair-raising encounters (quite literally, as Kubush used an energetic toupee as part of his bag of tricks), this tenacious trio finally arrived on Australia’s welcoming shores where they raised a happy family. And also, for those of you with long memories, where Kubush was to become Sloppo the Clown on the Tarax Show (alongside a myriad of other superstars, including King Corky, Ron Blaskett and Gerry Gee, Joffa Boy, Professor Ratbaggy and Bernard the Magician).

Award-winning author and journalist Sue Smethurst, married to one of the Horowitz’s grandchildren, has written a straightforward, readable and engaging book that will strike a chord with many of Melbourne’s Jewish families, others from refugee backgrounds and anyone (including young adults) interested in a fast-moving and involving read.

As Smethurst writes in her prologue: “This is not a historical text and does not profess to be an academic document of the Holocaust; it is simply… one family’s account, told through their eyes. … Hitler did his best to erase the existence, history and spirit of an entire people…. Ultimately Hitler failed. Why? Because these people have not been forgotten.… Those souls may have been lost, but they are still loved, still treasured, still talked about. We will honour their past, and their stories fuel our future. We will never forget.”

The Freedom Circus by Sue Smethurst, Ebury Press (2020)

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