Barbara Barac

Title: Escape from destiny
Author: Barbara Barac
Publisher: Jewish Holocaust Centre
Place of publication: Melbourne
Year of Publication: 1990
Location of Book: Makor Jewish Community Library, Melbourne
Cities/town/camps: Ukraine/Poland: Ananiev, Dubno, Golta, Kirovograd, Kotovsk, Lvov, Novy Bug, Pervomaisk, Pomoshnaya, Rovno, Sdolbunov, Tiraspol
Note: those cities/towns/camps underlined are those which are most central to the narrative

Escape From Destiny tells of the experiences of Barbara Barac, a Jew from Rovno, Poland, during World War II. At just 102 pages, the book is relatively short. It does not contain any information about life before the war, but rather commences on June 28th, 1941, with the arrival of German troops into Rovno. Pages 1-41of the book are centred around Rovno. This part of the book tells of the German invasion and the increasingly difficult conditions for Jews, ending with the liquidation of the Jews of the ghetto and its destruction in July 1942. The remaining 61 pages of the book tell of the itinerant life of Barac and her daughter,Miri, as they travelled from place to place in the Ukraine in order to stay alive. The book ends with the reunification of Barac and her daughter with Barac's husband and son, who had been separated from them early in the war and found themselves living under Russian occupation. Barac originally wrote of her experiences immediately after the war. Her memoirs were translated and edited by her daughter years later, and published by the Jewish Holocaust Museum in Melbourne.

The opening pages of the book tell of Barac's and her daughter's life under German occupation. Their house was destroyed in a bombing raid, leaving them destitute and reliant upon the help of others earlier during the war than other people from her town. Soon a Judenrat was established in the town, and made responsible for organising the passing of possessions, money, and ultimately, people over to the Germans. Barac's daughter, Miri, was able to obtain work in the offices of the Judenrat, as she was fluent in four languages. Although she was paid little, she was able to bring home enough food for her and her mother to subsist. Crucially, Miri's job also allowed her to obtain a work certificate so that when the Jews of Rovno were liquidated, she and her mother were able to stay in the ghetto. Only after the liquidation did Barac realise that the Jews of her town had not been taken to a labour camp, but rather were all shot and buried in the nearby Sosenski woods.

Following the mass murder of the Jews of Rovno, the remaining Jews were made o move into a ghetto. Whilst in the Rovno ghetto, Barac learned of the deaths of her parents. With the arrival of reports and rumours that the ghetto was to be finally liquidated by the SS in July 1942, Barac accepted an offer of accommodation with her friend and rescuer, Yasha Sukhenko, a Ukrainian engineer. Sukhenko organised 'Aryan' papers for Barac and Mira. The journey of secrecy and deception that began with the concealing of their identities and hiding in Sukhenko's flat was to continue until the end of the war.

The journey of Barac and her daughter took them to more then ten towns within the Ukraine. In order to avoid detection, they stayed only a short time in each town. The conditions in which they lived which varied from place to place are described in some detail. Although they were pretending to be non-Jews, the people in the towns often suspected their true origins and some threatened to report them to the German authorities. Throughout their ordeal, Barac and Mira took on many different false roles. Mira used her knowledge of numerous languages to her advantage; sometimes she pretended to Russian, other times Polish. In front of Germans she feigned total ignorance of the German language, as many Germans assumed that most Jews could speak German or at least understand it. It was their trip to Tiraspol, in search of Mira's friend, Riva, that proved to be the most dangerous of their journeys. Upon arrival, Barac and Mira discovered that Riva had been killed and that they were wanted by the German authorities. They hastily left Tiraspol undetected. Liberation found Barac and her daughter in Ananiev at the end of March, 1944. After liberation, they made efforts to contact Barac's husband and son, who had been living underRussian rule for the years of the war. The book ends with their emotional reunion after years of separation.

This relatively short, unassuming book, makes for gripping, though tragic reading.The fact that the author started writing down her memories soon after the war is evident; there is great attention to details, the order of events seems to be recalled well, and the book flows chronologically. Though the book is short, it is by no means terse. No doubt, this is because the book only tells of Barac's experiences during the war years. Compelling yet heart-wrenching, this book is a well written account of the experiences of one of the few Jewish families that did make it through World War II intact.