Until the age of fourteen, Zev Birgerenjoyed an idyllic childhood growing upin Kaunas, a flourishing city of mostlyprogressive Jews in Lithuania. His father held asecure job as an engineer, his mother was warmand loving, and he remembers many blissfulafternoons spent playing in the family’s gardenafter Hebrew school.
Inspired by Zionist writers, young Zev and hisfriends firmly believed in the need to establish ahomeland for Jews. They could not have knownat the time how urgent that need would become intheir own lives. In 1940, the Russian army, then ayear later the German Nazi machine, invadedLithuania. The Birgers, along with all the otherJews in the area, were forced into the ghetto innearby Slobidka.
In simple but powerful prose, Zev describes hisfamily’s efforts to survive in this ghetto,including being discovered by the SS in a cellarhideaway as gunfire sounded from theapproaching front. In 1944, the Birgers weredeported to the Dachau/Kaufering concentrationcamp, where Zev was forced into heavy labor inan underground arms factory. He was the onlymember of his family to survive.
In this brief but moving story, many ofthe atrocities of ghetto and camp life as they wereexperienced by a teenaged boy come to light: thelast moment he saw his mother’s face as she wastaken away; the Children’s Atkion in 1944, duringwhich more than two thousand children wererounded up and murdered; the rampant starvationand disease around him. But there were alsomoments of light: a compassionate doctor whospared the boy when he was sick, and numerousbrushes with death that left him, astonishingly,alive.
Zev credits his stubborn nature, sheer will, andgood luck for allowing him to outwit his oppressorson so many occasions and survive untilliberation in 1945. The physical and mentalstrength that saw him through the terrible yearswould serve him years later when he becameinvolved in the establishment of the State of Israeland a driving force behind the publishing andprinting industry in his young country. As a manof books, of language and literature, of cinemaand theater, Zev Birger has always supporteddiversity in Israel’s cultural life. His gift ofbringing people together is a source of inspirationfor young and old everywhere. His story is atestament to hope, survival, and accomplishment.