Catherine Gluck

Catherine GluckTitle: The Girl with Long Hair
Author: Catherine Gluck
Publisher: Self Published
Place of publication: Sydney
Year of Publication: 1992
Location of Book: Rare Books Collection, Sir Louis Matheson Library, Monash University Clayton Campus
Cities/town/camps: Hungary: Budapest
Note: those cities/towns/camps underlined are those which are most central to the narrative

The Girl With the Long Hair is the adventure-filled life story of Catherine Gluck. The first 35 pages detail her family background and life in Budapest before the war. Pages 35-46 describe her survival of Nazi occupation, while pages 47-76 outline the rebuilding of Catherine’s life in Europe after liberation. The remainder of the book, pages 77-140, portray Catherine’s new life in Australia, her numerous travel experiences, as well as some philosophical reflections on life. It is worth noting that the book features an additional 36 pages of historical photographs and documents.

Catherine Gluck was born in Hungary in 1906 to middle-class Jewish parents. Born into a long line of Hungarian patriots, as a ten year old Catherine offered to donate her long hair to a war victims fund during World War I. Her offer, ultimately rejected, was publicised on the front page of the newspaper and the incident provided the inspiration for the title of her book. After finishing school Catherine began work in an elevator company before marrying in 1930. After learning English, Catherine began a successful domestic agency which provided workers for England. Having heard of the introduction of anti-Jewish legislation in other places, Catherine and her husband planned to leave for London on September 3, 1939.

Unfortunately, when the war began on September 1, they were trapped in continental Europe. Catherine’s husband was called into forced labour by the Hungarian government. At this point in the book there is a break in the clear sequence of the narrative, which restarts with the German occupation of Hungary in 1944. Catherine recalls how a 90 year old man was forced to move in with her, before eventually all Jews were forced to move into the ghetto. When Jewish women were being evacuated from the city, Catherine escaped the marching column and disguised herself as a non-Jew. She hid out in coal cellar for three days without food. Bleeding dangerously, Catherine made her way to a Jewish ‘hospital.’ When the bombing of Budapest intensified, death and destruction wreaked havoc on the hospital. Of 288 people on her floor, Catherine was one of only three to survive.

After the hospital was liberated by the Russians, Catherine was operated on using only a pocket knife. The operation was successful yet Catherine was soon diagnosed with acute chilblains. After recovering from her illness she began working as a stamp dealer. In 1946 Catherine left Hungary for Austria. She was able to bluff her way into obtaining a passport and travel pass from the authorities, before arriving in France and being reunited with her brother. She subsequently left France to begin a new life in Australia.

Gluck’s book is broken up into short chapters and reads almost like a diary. The story contains numerous memorable anecdotes and philosophical reflections which add texture and humour to the narrative. The positive attitude Gluck demonstrated as a young girl was not destroyed by her traumatic wartime experiences and indeed permeates the text throughout.