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Still Alive: A Holocaust Girlhood Remembered by Ruth Kluger. New York: The Feminist Press, 2001, 216 pp., $24.95 hardcover.
Still Alive is about girlhood, about the Holocaust, about remembering. Can each be considered discretely? The Holocaust? Girlhood? Remembering? I don't think so. The Holocaust sticks to everything it meets, recasting significance, thwarting understanding. The very coupling of girlhood and Holocaust is intolerable.
What Ruth Kluger sets out to do is to make us think anew and in detail about an event that is so evil and yet has become so fetishized we cannot comprehend it. Still Alive is not philosophical and ruminative in the way of Primo Levi's The Drowned and the Saved, nor is it fierce and unbearable in the way of Charlotte Delbo's Auschwitz and After. More modestly, its strategy is to recast a few received notions and confront a few tacit assumptions.
One of the most revealing and perplexing parts of the book is about the time Kluger spent in the concentration camp, or as she calls it, the "ghetto," Theresienstadt. Much controversy has circulated about this camp, which the Nazis falsely presented to the world as their model camp, a place where children made pictures and grownups played in orchestras, where learned Jewish scholars lectured, where inmates ate passably …