How to Hunt a Bear
Not every European Jew who lived and died during World War II was sent to a concentration camp. Some were able to survive within their home countries, scraping out a living as best they could or forming resistance movements to fight the Nazis at every step. Others fled, making their way out of Germany and Poland to countries as yet untouched by the Nazi regime. How to Hunt a Bear is the true story of one family who did just that, escaping occupied Poland for Russia. Their trials were not over when they crossed the border, however. Russia is and always has been a forbidding place, especially when winter sets in.
How to Hunt a Bear did what the best of historical books can do and opened a new part of history to me. I, like many, know the basics of the story of the Holocaust, and some stray details gleaned from moments of more specific research. I knew nothing of a flight east, and I soon found myself caught up in Itzhak’s story. It’s a harrowing tale, softened only because it is told through the eyes of a child, remembered by an old man. Itzhak was made aware only of the true horrors faced by Jews in Poland and Germany only later. During his travels, he knew only what was before him and what the adults in his life chose to tell him. Death and antisemitism were inescapable, but he was shielded at least from some of the wider horrors. At times, the story seems almost like an adventure. Perhaps, at the time, it was.
The framing of the book features an Israeli woman recording Itzhak’s story. As she says toward the end, in the narration, “I listened to my recording… thinking how crucial documenting their stories was, along with the stories of all survivors. Within a decade, or two at most, there would be no survivors left, and these recordings a precious relic.” While there are plenty of novels about the Holocaust – one might say it’s its own market – there is only so much they can tell. True stories will always be more powerful, by virtue of their truth. If anything, I would say that stories like this, which shed light on parts of history few people are aware of, are the most precious relics. If it weren’t for people like Shiri-Horowitz and her family, this story might all too easily have been lost.
In short, I would recommend this book to just about everyone. It’s one of the most important I’ve come across this year.
|Revital Shiri Horowitz
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