Interview transcripts offer riveting reading in Holocaust memoir

“Our Father’s Voice: a Holocaust Memoir”

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

“Our Father’s Voice: a Holocaust Memoir” (self-published, $18), a riveting chronicle of Holocaust survivor Andrzej Bialecki, results from the painstaking work of Bialicki’s daughter, Felicia Graber, and his son, Dr. Leon Bialecki, who carefully transcribed and edited over 12 hours of interviews conducted back in 1981 by Kenneth Jacobson. 

Jacobson, author of “Embattled Selves,” a compilation of oral histories of survivors of the Shoah, interviewed Andrzej Bialecki while researching the Jewish identity among Holocaust survivors. He was impressed by “Mr. Bielecki’s remarkable eye for detail, his unfaltering memory, and his extraordinary honesty.”  

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Two years ago, Felicia Bialecki Graber published “Amazing Journey: Metamorphosis of a Hidden Child,” which detailed her own nightmarish journey during the Holocaust, when she was hidden by a non-Jewish family. In the current book, she recounts how she was born in Tarnow, Poland in March 1942, a few months after the German invasion on Sept. 1, 1939. “Our mother and I survived mostly because of our father’s guts, initiative and an unbelievable amount of luck. I am very reluctant to call this survival God’s guidance because it raise the questions, ‘Why us? Why did we survive?” she writes.

Felicia’s brother, Dr. Leon Bialecki, describes his father before the war as “an unlikely hero.”

 “Nothing seemed to have prepared him for the impending onslaught,” he writes. “There were no hints, no indication that he would rise to such levels of heroism and moral grandeur. Circumstance propelled him to unimaginable feats, which he took for granted.”

Leon Bialecki also notes that “when the war ended, Dad slipped back to his former self.”

But of course, Andrzej Bialecki’s life never fully “slipped back to his former self.” Locked up inside the “former self” of a jovial exterior was the full inventory of what he and his family endured during the Shoah—the risks, the judgments that turned out to be uncannily sound and the random good luck which so many Holocaust survivors credit for having helped them make it out alive, needed to be released, to find a repository.

As one reads through the text of this remarkable memoir, it almost feels as if one is sitting across the table with Bielecki himself as his story unfolds with incredibly detailed descriptions of his experiences. One of many examples is his description of “The First Deportation.” Bieleki recounts:

“At first, we were under the illusion that they were taking us to work, which is what we were told, that they were taking us to the Ukraine or somewhere near the Ukraine-Polish border. Instead, everyone was sent to Belzec and that nobody survived: everybody had been gassed. That is what (a railroad employee he had bribed) found out and he came back to me with that information. Later on, I found out that my father received a shot in the neck. He had rheumatism, and the Germans wanted him to jump on a truck. But he could not do that. He was 60 years old, born on May 5, 1882. And so they shot him. This is a comfort to me because he did not have to suffer like my mother. Millions of Jews had to take that road of suffering.”

If the above passage is hard to read, that is totally understandable. The narrative forces the reader to confront the Holocaust through the eyes of a flesh-and-blood eyewitness, and not by scanning antiseptic round numbers like “six million Jews,” or “1.5 million children.”

“Our Father’s Voice: A Holocaust Memoir” is available on barnesandnoble.com and amazon.com — or email [email protected]