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21 June, 2007

Book Review: Through the Eyes of a Survivor by Colette Waddell

Reviewed for Frontstreet Reviews

Once in a while, a person with an amazing story is quite literally stumbled upon. This is what happened when author Colette Waddell heard Nina Grütz- Morecki speak about her experiences during World War II as it raged through Poland. It was because of Nina’s talk, that the author discovered an interest in helping Nina tell her story to a wider audience.

Nina Grütz was born during the winter of 1920. Her parents were a well to do Jewish couple who owned a soap factory in L’vow Poland. She grew up knowing prosperity, and led a life sheltered from the anti-Semitic outlook held by many of the Polish Catholics. All that changed the year Nina was getting ready to leave home to attend University. Nina’s family faced the Russian invasion of Poland, followed by the German invasion of Russian-occupied Poland. With the Russian occupation, the Grütz family faced socialism and being separated. With the German occupation, Nina watched her family members disappear, and finally faced internment in a work camp herself.

Expanding on the story that Nina tells to high school students as a guest speaker, Through the Eyes of a Stranger, follows Nina as she escapes death at the work camp. She was rescued from death of starvation in the forest by a kind Polish couple, and afterwards she joined the Polish resistance movement. As a member of the resistance Nina infiltrated a German occupied town, and worked in a position that allowed her to learn of the German’s plans and send the information and vital papers needed to move around Poland to her underground contacts. However when the Russians retook the area, Nina once again found her life in upheaval. It was during this time that Nina met Josef, her future husband. When the war finally ended, they joined up with a group of displaced Jews all trying to leave the country. Nina and her husband eventually made it to America, and the book follows their lives as they make a new home and family for themselves in a new country.

It took me a little while getting used to the writing style of the book. The alternating styles between an oral history and a study of the effects of the war seemed to be a little at odds to each other. This book is an attempt to educate the public on the effect of the war on Poland’s Jews. It is an extraordinary example of the resiliency of the human spirit, and our ability to live through unthinkable horrors and to emerge from them stronger, even though we will be changed forever.

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