Sarah Saaroni

Title: Life goes on regardless
Author: Sarah Saaroni
Publisher: Hudson Publishing
Place of publication: Hawthorn
Year of Publication: 1989
Location of Book: Rare Books Collection, Sir Louis Matheson Library, Monash University Clayton Campus
Cities/town/camps: Poland: Lodz, Lublin, Zakrzowek, Warsaw, Germany: Hamburg, Neumunster, Gotha, Grossrohrsdorf, Arnsdorf, Dresden, Gorlitz, Czechoslovakia: Prague, Italy: Rome, Grotta-Feratta, Santa Maria, Milan, Israel: Haifa, Australia
Note: those cities/towns/camps underlined are those which are most central to the narrative

Saaroni presents a whole life autobiography. Seven pages deal with Jewish life in Poland and life in Lublin prior to the Nazi invasion in September 1939. Sixty-three pages deal with her experiences during the war in Germany, primarily in Hamburg and Grossrohrsdorf and the balance of the book – thirty-three pages – describe her experiences in the immediate post-war years, her migration to Palestine and ultimately to Australia. Saaroni wrote the book when she was in her early sixties. It was first published by a small commercial publisher in 1989 and was reprinted in 1995.

The first part of the book cogently and succinctly presents her own account of the history of the Jewish community in Poland. The first chapter begins Saaroni’s personal story in June 1939 noting that she celebrated her examinations for entry into High School. She passed her examinations but was refused entry into High School because she was Jewish. Saaroni describes her childhood and notes that her siblings were active in youth organisations and that her elder brother, Gidal, was a Zionist and migrated to Palestine in 1937. This Zionist background influenced Saaroni as she migrated to Palestine after the war. She also describes the anti-Semitism that existed in pre-war Poland.

Though not heavily reliant on exact dates, Saaroni describes the bombing of Lublin, the entry of German soldiers into the town, conditions under the occupation and the efforts that her family made to escape to a non-German occupied area. Under pressure from the Nazi’s, the family moved from Lublin to Zakrzowek, a village in the countryside. They lived there until the summer of 1942 before being forced to flee after the Gestapo came to Zakrzowek and murdered twelve Jewish men and ordered the surviving Jews to leave the village. The family walked back to Lublin. On this journey Saaroni spent a few weeks hiding with a Christian family. On her return to Lublin conditions for Jews had deteriorated dramatically. Rather than enter the ghetto, Majdan Tatarski (next to Majdanek extermination camp), Saaroni’s parents arranged for her to travel to Germany under false, non-Jewish papers.

The rest of the book primarily comprises her experiences as an illegal labourer in a Heinz and Hasse tomato sauce factory in Hamburg, her work on a farm near Hamburg, her arrest by, interrogation and escape from the Gestapo and how she found another farm to work on until the end of the war.

At the end of the war, she worked briefly as a nurse before returning to Poland and eventually, via Czechoslovakia and Italy, migrated to Palestine. In a short epilogue, Saaroni notes that in Israel she joined the Haganah and fought in the war in 1948. She married in Israel and had two children before migrating to Australia. In Australia she became a noted sculptor.

This is a concise book written with great clarity, energy and precision. As a memoir, Saaroni tells her story simply and well. It is a narrative which details her experiences. Her personality and courage shine through the book although she always attempts to understate her personal strengths. This is an important book, there are few other published accounts of life as a Jewish illegal labourer in Germany during the war.