“The Strength of Hope” by Abram Goldberg and Fiona Harris

 

 

A review by MHM volunteer Caren Silver.

Abram Goldberg’s stirring memoir brings the reader into his life from his active childhood and teenaged years in Lodz (1930s), through to the Nazi invasion of Poland (1939) and his entrapment in the Lodz ghetto, to his imprisonment in Auschwitz (1944), the death camp where he would lose his mother, and to his liberation (1945).  Out of the darkness of the Holocaust, Goldberg then journeys to Belgium, where he meets the love of his life, Cesia, marries in 1947 and, ultimately, migrates to Australia with Cesia in 1951.

Throughout the years of persecution, deprivation, and loss, what stands out is Goldberg’s relentless optimism and dedication to telling the world what had happened, what horrors he and his fellow Jews had endured and witnessed, a promise made to his late mother as they were separated in the selection lines at Auschwitz.  Before her death, he and his mother had come to the “heart-breaking revelation” that of the “forty or so Goldbergs who had been in the Lodz Ghetto”, his mother and he “were the only ones left.”

The stories Goldberg recounts are presented with sensitivity and detail by his co-writer, Fiona Harris, the memoir written in the first person and reflective of Goldberg’s strength, his belief in the power of hope and in his own survival.  Horrific images from the Ghetto and from the camps still haunt him, yet have not dimmed the strength of his optimism nor his commitment to the Jewish community, begun all those years ago in Lodz as a teenager active in Skif, the youth organisation associated with the Jewish Labour Bund.

Goldberg details the horrors of Auschwitz, arriving in August 1944, where “[w]e could always smell burning flesh”.  He pays tribute to the strong friendships there that had helped him survive.  Human connections allow Goldberg to “feel that [he] wasn’t alone”, to keep alive the hope of a future in the midst of “misery, pain and despair.”  The anguish of losing his beloved mother continues to haunt him as he is moved from Auschwitz to other camps (Braunschweig, Watenstedt,  Ravensbruck, and Wobbelin) and is finally liberated by the Americans.  Goldberg reflects that he “wanted revenge but not by becoming a murderer… {He} wanted to see the people who had committed these heinous crimes against humanity on trial in a courtroom, where people could bear witness to what they had done.”

The second half of the book projects the rebuilding of Goldberg’s life, particularly in Australia and, most moving, his intense love for Cesia over the 75+ years of their marriage.  What is most inspiring is his ever-strengthening commitment to the Jewish Community and, ultimately, his involvement as a founding member in the 1984 establishment of the Jewish Holocaust Centre (now Melbourne Holocaust Museum), where he additionally became the museum’s board member and a museum guide, two roles Goldberg continues to this day. Speaking to school groups about his experience in the Holocaust, Goldberg continues to honour the promise, ensuring that he bears witness to the genocide that had annihilated six million Jews throughout Europe.

Abram and Cesia Goldberg

Inspiring others, Goldberg chooses to “live each day to the fullest and to try and spread joy and hope to everyone [he] meet[s]”.  After eighty-three years since the Nazi invasion of Poland, when his nightmare began, he maintains that “this is [his] greatest [act of] resistance.”

“The Strength of Hope” is available now.