Barbara Levine

Title: Surviving
Author: Barbara Levine
Publisher: Makor Jewish Community Library
Place of publication: Melbourne
Year of Publication: 2004
Location of Book: Rare Books Collection, Sir Louis Matheson Library, Monash University Clayton Campus
Cities/town/camps: Czechoslovakia: Veliky, Bykov, Bratislava, Poland: Kolomyia, Hungary: Budapest
Note: those cities/towns/camps underlined are those which are most central to the narrative

Written in poetry, Surviving is a unique Holocaust text which falls somewhere between biography and autobiography. It tells the story of Blanka Wise, who told her story to Barbara Kamler Levine. The methodology behind the book is explained by Barbara.

“I interviewed Blanka for over two years and brought her the transcripts of her telling to see if we could recover other memories. …I have used the interview transcripts to retell Blanka’s story from the inside out – in her voice – using her words. …I have sought to capture the rhythms of Blanka’s speaking, but I have ordered, shaped and smoothed the pieces to create a coherent tale, with many gaps”

The first 16 pages depict Blanka’s family background in the town of Veliky Bykov. Pages 17-33 tell of her time wandering between towns in Poland, including Kolomyia, while pages 34-54 describe her time in Budapest. Pages 55-68 portray her life following liberation, including her time in Bratislava and her journey to Australia, while the remainder of the book, pages 69-79, tells of Blanka’s new life in Australia. The book was published by the Makor Library in 2004.

Blanka Wise grew up in a religious family in Veliky Bykov, Czechoslovakia. One day Blanka and her family were herded into cattle trains and taken to Poland. In Poland the family walked between cities, narrowly avoiding death, before reaching the city of Kolomyia. In Kolomyia the family stayed in the homes of local Jews for a few months, until the establishment of a ghetto. Sixteen years old at the time, Blanka managed to escape the ghetto, and with the help of a guide whom her brother in Austria had paid, she reached Budapest. In Budapest Blanka met up with her brother who provided her with Aryan papers. She was fortunate enough to find accommodation and work as a seamstress. Her landlord, who was originally reluctant to accept Blanka, grew to like her and eventually arranged for Blanka to live with her daughter on the other side of town, in order that Blanka should not need to travel so far to work. The landlord’s daughter was married to a Jew who ended up being taken away during the period of Blanka’s residence.

Blanka describes the deteriorating situation in Budapest. She relates how people were taken away, or shot on the street and left to hang in trees. All the while Blanka scrupulously hid her Jewish identity. Finally, as the end of the war drew near, Budapest was liberated by Russian troops. After liberation Blanka travelled to Bratislava, where she was married in 1946. Blanka no longer wanted stay in Europe, especially after coming to the sad realisation that anti-Semitism persisted even after the war. Her and her husband’s plans to move to Israel were aborted, despite the fact that they had already sent most of their possessions there, and in 1948 they left for Australia. In Australia they were able to build a new life, and Blanka expresses her appreciation for her new country and its abundant freedoms.

Surviving provides an engaging and unusual window into the mind of a young Jew trying to survive the chaos around her. The layout and the casual language of the text make the reader feel at times as though they are reading over a stream of consciousness.