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When Memory Comes
Cover of When Memory Comes
When Memory Comes
The Classic Memoir
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A classic of Holocaust literature, the eloquent, acclaimed memoir of childhood by a Pulitzer-winning historian, now reissued with a new introduction by Claire Messud

Four months before Hitler came to power, Saul Friedländer was born in Prague to a middle-class Jewish family. In 1939, seven-year-old Saul and his family were forced to flee to France, where they lived through the German Occupation, until his parents' ill-fated attempt to flee to Switzerland. They were able to hide their son in a Roman Catholic seminary before being sent to Auschwitz where they were killed. After an imposed religious conversion, young Saul began training for priesthood. The birth of Israel prompted his discovery of his Jewish past and his true identity.

Friedländer brings his story movingly to life, shifting between his Israeli present and his European past with grace and restraint. His keen eye spares nothing, not even himself, as he explores the ways in which the loss of his parents, his conversion to Catholicism, and his deep-seated Jewish roots combined to shape him into the man he is today. Friedländer's retrospective view of his journey of grief and self-discovery provides readers with a rare experience: a memoir of feeling with intellectual backbone, in equal measure tender and insightful.
A classic of Holocaust literature, the eloquent, acclaimed memoir of childhood by a Pulitzer-winning historian, now reissued with a new introduction by Claire Messud

Four months before Hitler came to power, Saul Friedländer was born in Prague to a middle-class Jewish family. In 1939, seven-year-old Saul and his family were forced to flee to France, where they lived through the German Occupation, until his parents' ill-fated attempt to flee to Switzerland. They were able to hide their son in a Roman Catholic seminary before being sent to Auschwitz where they were killed. After an imposed religious conversion, young Saul began training for priesthood. The birth of Israel prompted his discovery of his Jewish past and his true identity.

Friedländer brings his story movingly to life, shifting between his Israeli present and his European past with grace and restraint. His keen eye spares nothing, not even himself, as he explores the ways in which the loss of his parents, his conversion to Catholicism, and his deep-seated Jewish roots combined to shape him into the man he is today. Friedländer's retrospective view of his journey of grief and self-discovery provides readers with a rare experience: a memoir of feeling with intellectual backbone, in equal measure tender and insightful.
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  • From the book Part One

    1


    I was born in Prague at the worst possible moment, four months before Hitler came to power. My father was also born in Prague, while my mother came from the Sudetenland, from Rochlitz, a little textile town near Gablonz celebrated for its glassware. My maternal grandfather, Gustav Glaser, had set up a factory in Rochlitz that soon became unusually successful, thanks to a simple idea. He had behind him a career as a schoolteacher — a very rare attainment for a Jew from the Sudetenland — that was to lead indirectly to his making a fortune. He had witnessed the miserable lot of sewing teachers in Austro-Hungarian elementary schools, who were obliged to furnish all the cloth needed in their classes themselves. Once his factory had been set up, my grandfather went to see some of them, in Rochlitz, Gablonz, and other neighboring towns, with a proposal: in exchange for remnants that would be useful in their sewing classes, they would act as unofficial representatives of the new firm. Success soon followed. In a few years' time, most sewing teachers in the Austro-Hungarian Empire had become representatives of Gustav Glaser textiles: tablecloths and napkins with the initials GG woven into the cloth could be found from the Carpathians to the Adige. This story serves to illustrate a certain Jewish ingenuity that, as everyone knows, aroused formidable hatred. Some Jews, it is true, were less honest, and others less ingenious than my grandfather, yet he is fairly representative of a certain type of minor Jewish industrialist at the beginning of the century. One may well wonder, however, whether it might not have been for his good and that of all his people if they had had less imagination. Jewish ingenuity did nothing to change the fact that everyone in our house felt German. Shall I cite an example of this "Germanness"? Like all the children of our class, I was unable to escape piano lessons, though they were given to me by members of the family. The first song I was taught to play — and the only one I remember — was "Ich hatt' einen Kameraden": a funeral march, the one most often played in the German army and one performed at great ceremonial occasions during the Third Reich. I have often thought about this recently, and perhaps understand the attachment of my family to things German. Both my father and my maternal uncle had served during the First World War as artillery officers in the Austro-Hungarian army; that was how they met each other and how my father came to know Elli Glaser, my mother. It may well be that for my father, as for my uncle and for tens of thousands of other Jewish veterans of the German and Austrian armies, "Ich hatt' einen Kameraden" expressed first and foremost the feeling of a certain brotherhood in arms that they had (as yet) been unable to overcome. And also — strange as it may seem — the marvelous kitsch of German military melodies has an almost spellbinding quality; the product of a nation's love for music, they have an effect on behavior that has yet to be studied in depth. For these first years of my life, my mother remains less vivid in my memory than my father, who from the beginning appeared to me to be an extraordinary person, doubtless because I saw him through a child's eyes, but also because he kept his distance from all of us. The total upheaval that was soon to come did not change my original image of him at all, and when I think of him I quite naturally see in my mind's eye the reserved figure of this early period in my life. Although he was born in Prague, my father spent several years with an uncle in Lemberg, in Galicia; it was there that he completed his...
About the Author-
  • Saul Friedländer is an award-winning Israeli-American historian and currently a professor of history (emeritus) at UCLA. He was born in Prague to a family of German-speaking Jews, grew up in France, and lived in hiding during the German occupation of 1940–1944. His historical works have received great praise and recognition, including the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction for his book The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939–1945.
    Helen R. Lane was a renowned translator of Spanish, Portuguese, French and Italian literary works into English. She translated works by numerous important authors, including Jorge Amado, Marguerite Duras, Mario Vargas Llosa, Juan Carlos Onetti, and Octavio Paz. She received the PEN Translation Prize in 1975 and 1985. Alternating Current, Lane's translation of Octavio Paz, shared the 1974 U.S. National Book Award in the Translation category.
Reviews-
  • New York Review of Books "The most remarkable feature of When Memory Comes is its composure, an elegance that is unnerving. Friedländer describes his experiences in lean, graceful sentences; his language seems armored against the dissolution it describes."
  • Wall Street Journal "When Memory Comes retains the very texture of recollection in a literary style characterized by tact and elegance."
  • The Nation "When Memory Comes is a quiet and deeply affecting masterpiece."
  • Tablet Magazine "When Memory Comes is a small masterpiece in the literature of the Holocaust."
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