In this heartfelt memoir, Sylvia Ruth Gutmann confronts her losses as a hidden child of the Holocaust to find her voice as an adult.
Three-year-old “Sylvie” doesn’t consciously remember why her mother left her behind as she was pushed onto a cattle car in Vichy France. Sylvia and her older sisters were then spirited away by various rescue organizations, arriving in America in 1946. Sylvia and her older sister Rita—the only one who helps Sylvie remember her past—were taken in by their Uncle Sam and his wife Gerdy.
Gerdy doesn’t like the little girl and abuses her, perhaps because she and Sam have two young boys of their own. (Interestingly, one becomes famous in A Chorus Line and figures prominently in Sylvia’s life.) To blend in, Gutmann writes, “I went through life beginning every sentence with “I’m sorry,” and minimizing my own feelings…” When Rita dies in 1993, Sylvia loses her lifeline. She suffers a breakdown, but with a therapist’s help, she begins to understand her losses and move forward in her journey to unite past and present.
Rather than offering an in-depth account of the Holocaust, Gutmann’s memoir focuses more on how one recovers from personal trauma. Her story is easy to read and highly relatable for anyone who suffered terrible shock when young. As she seeks love in a series of relationships that ultimately fail, she is unsparingly candid, lending the story authenticity. Discussing an affair she had at 62 with a 22-year-old man, she writes: “Jannek and I are alone and grabbing at each other’s clothes.” Unlike her “Botticelli” body of yesteryear, “I am a nude with varicose veins, flabby thighs, a loose potbelly…”
Gutmann has become a well-known speaker on the effects of the Holocaust. For those with only passing familiarity of that dark time, her story offers insight into its impact on even the youngest survivors. But those recovering from other early traumas should appreciate the memoir as well.
Also available in hardcover.