“The Ghetto Within” by Santiago Amiogorena
I will always remember when I read Santiago Amigorena’s moving debut, “The Ghetto Within”: the day Putin decided to fully invade Ukraine. The parallels are many, especially the human tragedy. Much has changed since the horrors of the Holocaust, but the world is still threatened by autocrats bent on terrifying, invading, and occupying peaceful, democratic countries.
“The Ghetto Within” is a tapestry weaving in historical elements of Hitler’s reign of terror by sharing painful elements of the author’s own family history. The protagonist chose to leave his mother and two siblings behind in Poland in order to relocate to Argentina in the build-up to WWII. As communication with his mother becomes ever more sporadic and disturbing, the relocated son/brother becomes ever more despondent and dysfunctional.
The most difficult and resonant aspects of this tragic story concerned the protagonist’s conflicted issues of identity. He does not initially recognize his Jewish heritage as fundamental. Rather he chooses to identify as Polish, Argentinian, even longingly German, before he is forced to acknowledge that it is Jewishness that is key to understanding the horrors that are befalling his family. The guilt, regret, remorse, and shame threaten to overcome his ability to function as son, husband, father, friend. Amigorena reminds us that the victims were not solely the 6 million plus Jews who were exterminated by the “Final Solution” or those few who stayed and survived. It was also those who left and forever questioned their decisions, having to live with survivor’s guilt in the deepest way. Life goes on, but scars forever remain.
Thanks to HarperVia and NetGalley for the eARC.