Title: Recurring Dreams
Author: Lenke Arnstein
Publisher: Makor Jewish Community Library
Place of publication: Melbourne
Year of Publication: 2002
Location of Book: Rare Books Collection, Sir Louis Matheson Library, Monash University Clayton Campus
Cities/town/camps: Hungary: Ugla, Lake Balaton, Balaton-Szarso, Koroshegy, Budapest, Hajdusoboloso, Buda, Romania: Rumania, Austria: Vienna, Australia: Melbourne
Note: those cities/towns/camps underlined are those which are most central to the narrative
Lenke Arnstein presents a whole life autobiography. This 107 page memoir devotes the first 30 pages to her family history complete with a genealogical chart and a narrative that traces their lives throughout Eastern Europe. It is within this section of her book that Arnstein describes her first encounter with overt anti-Semitism at the age of twelve. 15 pages deal with her war time experiences in living in Budapest under false papers and a Catholic identity. Arnstein briefly discusses her post war experiences in a refugee camp in Vienna whilst awaiting papers for her immigration to Australia. The final 50 pages deal with her attempt to rebuild a life in Melbourne with her husband and two children, including some 12 years involvement with the Frances Barkman Homes. This memoir is interspersed with short descriptive poems written by Arnstein. It was written late in life, when in her seventies, she attended adult education classes and began to write.
The first secton of the book deals primarily with Arnstein's own family history of the Landau family. It encompasses the story of the generations preceding her birth and their places of residence. Born in 1917 in Koroshegy, a small Hungarian village, Arnstein presents a detailed account of her life before the onset of World War Two. She vividly recalls her first encounter with discrimination at the age of twelve, when she was prevented from participating in a school recital because she was Jewish. This event remains etched in Arnstein's mind as one of the most hurtful that was directed at her as a child. Prior to the onset of World War Two, Arnstein went to live with her sister in Budapest, where she was to remain throughout the war.
The year 1939 saw the Germans invade the neighbouring countries of Poland and Czechoslovakia. By 1944, the Nazis took over direct rule of Hungary, with little resistance. An open ghetto was established and the Nazis began to systematically murder the Jewish population of Budapest. Arnstein sought to rejoin her family in Balaton-Szarso but was discouraged from doing so by her father, whom she believed must have sensed impending tragedy. Arnstein remained in Budapest, and though she does not disclose the method by which she purchased Aryan papers, she attempted to flee the ghetto with a false identity. She was often recognised and had to repeatedly return to the ghetto due to a lack of suitable options. Eventually, the ghetto became increasingly dangerous and she fortuitously was taken in by a rich Hungarian family in Buda, as an unpaid housemaid. Although she does not explain the way in which this occurred, she does tell us that she remained there until the Russians liberated Budapest in 1945. Furthermore informs us that the family who housed her were protected from Russian persecution due to her testimony that they had protected her.
Whilst Arnstein's memoirs are not heavily detailed with dates or historical references, they do reflect the reality of her experiences and what the Holocaust inflicted on her life. Her joy in the reunions with her surviving family members as well as the poems that accompany her accounts, create a sense of actuality and sincerity in the recollection of her experiences. This is reflected in the simple yet forthright manner in which she tells her story. She recalls those who assisted her and those whom she will never forget for denouncing her when she was recognised without a yellow star. Her experiences are best reflected in the title of her book. She refers to her recurring dreams as the nightmare through which she lived. Whilst she was able to save herself from the hands of Hitler's army, the vast majority of her family was not as fortunate.