"While there is no comprehensive volume on the escape of 18,000 Jews to Shanghai during the Holocaust, there are about twenty memoirs by refugees who were saved there. What sets this one apart is that the events are seen from the perspectives of two young children. Deborah was three and her brother Ilie twelve..."
Both Deborah and Ilie attended the Jewish school, but painfully, both remember the hunger pains they suffered. Their lunch, brought from home, was one slice of bread which Deborah placed on the radiator to make toast. Ilie was sent to pawn his mother’s wedding ring when they had no money for food. Deborah had but one doll, with no arms. They lived in Shanghai with no family, no uncles or aunts, no cousins or grandparents, surrounded by cholera, typhus, and dysentery. They also remember that this refugee community produced newspapers and opera companies, radio programs, and lectures on Chinese culture. German Jews looked down on Austrian Jews, and both looked down on Eastern European Jews. Both Deborah and Ilie describe the American bombing of July 17, 1945 when the Jewish ghetto was hit. This was their finest hour, as Jews and Chinese worked together to help the injured and put out the fires. The Chinese, to this day, remember with pride how the two communities both struggled and worked together to help each other. Deborah and Ilie both participated in this rescue and remember it well. On a chance visit to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, Deborah suddenly saw her photo on the wall. The result is this book, which is well worth reading.
Reviewed June, 2012
East Hampton Star "An intimate, sometimes poignant, look at a family that kept going, out of affection and loyalty to one another and despite the cruel vagaries of history."
Part of this book’s uniqueness is its format. While the overall story is told chronologically — from childhood in Vienna, which Dorit (Deborah) is too young to remember firsthand, to competent adulthood in the United States — the narration alternates between sections headed “Brother” and those headed “Sister.” They often cover the same material, though from different viewpoints, which adds nuance. Each contributor has a distinctive voice. That those voices are quite different is jarring at first, but, ultimately, it leads to a clear understanding of precisely who each of the authors is.
Reviewed May 24, 2012
Montreal Book Examiner
"…An Uncommon Journey is a poignant tale of courage and human resilience…"
… that left lifetime scars affecting the authors and their parents in different ways, even to the extent that their perceptions of the same events never seem to be the same or as stated in the book's jacket, “The truth becomes a mosaic with many facets, creating a moving portrait of a family uprooted.” As Deborah concludes, “I never wanted to tell this story. My childhood in China, I detested. I spent the entirety of my life avoiding these memories, putting the past behind me, trying to forget, trying to compensate for what was lost.” For Elie, growing up in Shanghai taught him that life is transitory, and as he asserts: “you need to choose very carefully what is important to you. Were there any other lessons to be learned from that suffering? Any other redeeming insight that guided my choices?”
After reading An Uncommon Journey we no doubt will be left with the lingering question -what would have happened if there were more nations in the world that accepted Jews during the time of the Holocaust?
Reviewed May 22, 2012
Publishers Weekly "...Captivating and straightforward, and the humor and honesty with which Strobin and Wacs tell their story is enlightening."
Sister and brother Strobin and Wacs look back across a gulf of over
half a century to tell the story of their emigration from Vienna on the
eve of WWII to the relative safety of China, and finally to America.
Detailing the lesser-known plight of the Jews who sought shelter in the
slums of Shanghai, Strobin and Wacs' youth is rendered with a compelling
mix of innocence and candor, melding globally profound history with
common childhood scenes, as when Strobin explains, "People couldn't
afford to bury the dead…I jumped over the bodies on my way to school."
Alternating between Strobin's and Wacs' accounts of their experiences,
the book covers everything from young Wacs' girl-fueled teenage angst to
the terror of American bomber planes attacking the occupying Japanese
forces. Now living on opposite American coasts--Strobin in San Francisco
and Wacs in New York--the story of survival stretches to the present
day, illuminating how war-torn childhood influenced each author's life. A
fashion designer and painter, Wacs writes, "I'd survived Hitler in
Vienna and the ghetto in Shanghai. I could survive the fashion industry
in New York." Photos. (Oct.)
Reviewed February 20, 2012
The Midwest Book Review "Recommended for any collection strong in Jewish issue... a powerful, evocative story"
AN UNCOMMON JOURNEY: FROM VIENNA TO AMERICA A BROTHER AND SISTER ESCAPE TO FREEDOM DURING WORLD WAR II is a recommendation for any collection strong in Jewish issues, Holocaust studies, and more, providing a powerful story of a family that escaped Nazi Austria to begin new lives in Shanghai. Shanghai had a large population of Jews who had fled from many countries, and this memoir documents the experiences of a brother and sister ten years apart who share different experiences of the event in a powerful, evocative story.
Reviewed February 2012
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