Chasing Shadows

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9780140286618: Chasing Shadows

Hugo Gryn made a huge impression on the general public with his Radio 4's "The Moral Maze": his wisdom, humour and compassion shone through the programme so that his sudden death in 1996 was greeted with great sadness. Few people knew though of his extraordinary life. This book consists of two separate memoirs written 40 years apart, which tell of his idyllic childhood in Berehovo in the Carpathian mountains and the increasing shadows thrown by the Nazis - until Hugo and his family were deported to Auschwitz. He describes the horrors but also the small acts of human courage and kindness.

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Review:

Rabbi Hugo Gryn "came clean" in January 1978 by speaking publicly for the first time about his experience of the Holocaust and subsequently spent a year publicly speaking on the subject as though he were a witness on a stand. He was prompted to do so by the whisperings of revisionists who denied the Holocaust--regrettably as prescient a reason still to read this affecting account and those of its ilk. Where the first section is charmingly self-conscious at times, reading as a fascinating insight into pre-war life in Berehovo, a Carpathian town, towards its close the shadow of war has started to fall relentlessly, preparing us for the middle movement of this unfinished symphony. The trainee rabbi's 1951 descriptions of life at the old brick factory, Auschwitz and Lieberose display the scrupulous matter-of-factness of one compelled by catharsis to write but unable to engage: shock, in other words. This is reminiscent of Primo Levi's If This Is A Man, and the recently republished The Pianist by Wladyslaw Szpilman and the effect is all the greater for the literalism. There are moments of dark humour, such as the new arrivals at Auschwitz (including the Gryns) laughing at the "lunatics" they find with shaven heads and grotesquely mismatched clothes, only to realise that these broken people had arrived only a week earlier. And in a moment that chills the reader's blood, who guesses what the unwitting Gryn doesn't, he walks into an extermination chamber building thinking it's a bakery and only survives a mass gassing because a guard points out that he is too old for a "shower". These are survivalist anecdotes, for that quickly became the main activity of those who returned from the camps, who grappled with awful, and often mortal, guilt over their fateful existence. That as a life Chasing Shadows is incomplete matters little; rather, the specific focus of testimonies such as Gryn's retains a relevance and imperative that brooks no indulgence or sentimentality, and thus renders the unbearable readable. This is a moving and worthy testament to an extraordinary man who taught and spoke of beauty and civilisation even after staring hard in the face of evil. -- David Vincent

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Naomi Gryn, Hugo Gryn
Published by Penguin Books Ltd (2001)
ISBN 10: 0140286616 ISBN 13: 9780140286618
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Naomi Gryn, Hugo Gryn
Published by Penguin Books Ltd (2001)
ISBN 10: 0140286616 ISBN 13: 9780140286618
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