Everyone knows that surviving the Holocaust as a Jew required ingenuity, creativity and miracles. Many familiar stories focus on the ghettos and concentration camps. In Christian by Disguise: A Story of Survival, Erna Kamerman Perry shares her story of survival. While in many ways they lived removed from the worst horrors, they were no less affected by the regime of Hitler upon the masses.
In her introduction, Erna says that she was unable to share her story for nearly 60 years after the Holocaust. The memories associated with that terrible time carried too much pain for her to dig them up. Nonetheless, in this memoir of her life as a young girl, she tells yet another story that offers perspective in how people survived and moved on with their lives.
Erna was an only child. As conditions in Poland deteriorated for Jews, Erna’s parents did their best to hide and avoid authorities conscripting men into work camps. Additionally, her father insisted she learn Catholic prayers so that if by some chance she was ever captured, she could deny being Jewish and could quote the prayers to prove it. It turns out, her father’s foresight and planning would save her and her mother. At some point, her father never came home, and no one really knows why. But, it created a crisis where she and her mother had to run. Her mother decided to remove all traces of her Jewish ancestry and pose as a Russian refugee with no papers. As they were preparing to board a train, they were stopped. With no papers to speak of, the soldier asked Erna to say her prayers. When she spoke her Catholic prayers, he accepted that as proof that she was not a Jew. Acting under these false pretenses, her mother was able to secure a work detail and was placed working in at the Catholic Diocese of Kattowitz.
Erna and her mother lived at the Catholic Diocese for about three years until the war ended. During that time Erna found herself conflicted over her Jewish beliefs and the Catholic teachings taught by the nuns and priests. After the war ended, she shares how they managed to get by and turn their life around after so much chaos. She never found out what happened to her father which obviously affected her well after the war had ended.
I personally found her story very inspiring. Her parents were clearly ordinary people but also resourceful and creative in securing her safety. Despite the less than ideal conditions, Erna and her mother weathered the later part of the war in relative comfort and safety compared to many other Jews. Stories like Erna’s are not well known, but they are a strong reminder of the resilience of the human spirit and a reminder to be thankful for living in times of relative peace.
Sarah McCubbin is a homeschooling and foster mom in NE Ohio where she resides with her husband and 7 children. In addition to reading great books, she enjoys gardening, traveling and blogging at Living Unboxed.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Erna Kamerman Perry. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.