Book Review: Bella and Chaim by Sara Rena Vidal

Bella and Chaim: The Story of Beauty and Life…

About the Book:

Encompassing the inspirational true story of Bella and Chaim, the author’s parents, with the intergenerational trauma of being a child of survivors, this memoir of love, loss and gratitude, is a testament to the human spirit as well as a call to rise above: ashes, victimhood, and generalizations.

Bella and Chaim met and fell in love in the Warsaw Ghetto where they witnessed the destruction of a way of life; sole survivors of both their families, they endured entombment for eighteen months before rescue, liberation, and immigration to begin anew in Australia.

A flowing collage embracing and mingling survivor-memory, recorded and analysed historical context, and memory-fragments of Melbourne in the 1950s, with real-time musings on the light, dark, and potential of being alive. Honouring the murdered and the righteous, reminding us that our choices matter, ever present are the dilemma’s and challenges facing us today. Augmented with photos, maps, a chapter on sources, bibliography, endnotes and an index, this book can be read as an inspirational story and/or utilized as a well-researched resource for in-depth study.

My Thoughts:

This is probably one of the most unique books that I have ever read and also one of the most important in terms of the gravitas of the subject matter. But in all honesty, I don’t feel as though I am equipped enough to review this book in the manner in which it deserves. So instead of analysing it and digging in to pull out the threads of meaning, I am simply going to praise it and share a few thoughts.

This is not a linear memoir, it’s presented in a very different type of structure, hence the comment above about the uniqueness of this book. It’s an amalgamation of the author’s memory fragments, Basia and Heniek’s story, historical context, sections that ask the reader to ‘Imagine Being in their Shoes’, and affirmations. It’s also accompanied by an extensive resource section at the back, making this the ideal book for an in-depth study and/or a platform for further research. Books such as this, which contain primary accounts of the Holocaust, are so important, not just from an historical study point of view, but also as a means of preserving the horror in a present sense. When we are less horrified by history, I feel this is when we are most at risk of repeating elements of it.

“For a short time, Karol hides them behind some steps, an ingenious space his fits under a higher floor level with sitting space only. Afraid of possible denouncement by neighbours, in his workroom (which is in the backyard away from prying eyes) Karol constructs a bunker; this he digs out under a large heavy machine that is used to saw timber. Food brought to them once a day is invariably potato soup and occasional scraps of meat. A can, which had once contained tinned cucumbers, now serves as their toilet; Lodzia takes this away daily. Once a week she brings a bowl of water for them to wash their face and hands. The bunker is so small: one-metre-wide by one-metre-high by two metres long. Unable to stand, they sit, or lie, in the dark, separated from the dirt floor by a thin matting, with just a threadbare blanket, thus enduring the long days and nights.”

The appeal with this book lies in the way it not only looks at the experiences of the author’s parents, but it also examines the many different shapes that survival can take. While it’s incredible that two people would survive, hidden in such a small space for eighteen months (they are not the only ones who survived in such a way, there are countless WWII stories on Jewish people being hidden), this book looks at the cost of that. Now, it in no way negates the survival, but it does give a realistic picture on what surviving really involved. The trauma of confinement, with that ever present terror of discovery burning within, and then, what comes after, when everyone else is gone and you are left without them; when your home is gone, your neighbourhood, everything that was ever familiar; when you have been persecuted for your faith to the point of extermination; and the displacement, shuffling from one place to another until you settle in an unfamiliar location that is to be your new home. In sharing her experiences as the child of Holocaust survivors, the author is able to shed a light on these many aspects that are often not considered. We celebrate the survival (as we should), but not always do we examine the aftermath, the trauma that is left over and the ripple effect. In this, Bella and Chaim is a brave book, an incredible reckoning, and I expect it was not easy for the author to bring forth.

“Longing for an end to her suffering, she expressed it to me with her own special logic: ‘In my misery and loneliness I longed to die. But how could I take my own life, when I had been spared, and so many had perished?’”

A worthy read and one that I highly recommend.


Thanks is extended to the author for providing me with a copy of Bella and Chaim for review.

About the Author:

Sara Vidal is an Australian writer, graduate of Melbourne University, Architect, ex-Victorian Public Service Manager. Born in a refugee camp in Italy in 1945. In 1992, aware that her parents’ generation were beginning to die, and at a time of holocaust denial, she began writing on several fronts: childhood memories of growing up in Melbourne in the 1950s – The Making of Plans (unpublished), a journal, extensive researching and writing of her parent’s story, these writings mingle in Bella and Chaim and two more works on the way. She has two children and four grandchildren.

Bella and Chaim: The Story of Beauty and Life
Published by Hybrid Publishers
Released on 1st September 2017

4 thoughts on “Book Review: Bella and Chaim by Sara Rena Vidal

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