Day After Night – Book Review

Previously on Stewover, I reviewed The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant.  I just read another book by Ms. Diamant entitled Day after Night, and it was a fascinating read.  The book is centered around the detainee camp Atlit.  After World War II ended, thousands of European Jews were detained at Atlit as they made their way to Israel.  Some detainees stayed at Atlit as long as 23 months.

Day After Night is centered around four women, all under the age of 21, and all of them orphans.  They are the only survivors of their families, and they don’t know of any family in Israel to vouch for them.  They are detained together until they are permitted to enter Israel.  Each girl is from a different European country, and each one has a different story of survival.

Many people study World War II, the Nazi occupation, and the Holocaust.  The lives of the survivors are studied now, but I have never read a book that concentrated on the immediate aftermath of World War II.  What people did to survive and the sacrifices they made  is all very interesting.  Each girl in the book keeps part of her past to herself, too ashamed to reveal it to her friends.  They are concerned that revealing too much about themselves will somehow prevent them from entering the promised land.

You experience all aspects of the camp through these four girls.  Each girl finds a place to fit in, and they each start rebuilding their lives.  But throughout all of this is the unmistakable feeling of loss.  Each of them is trying to cope with the fact that they survived when their families did not.  They struggle to understand why they survived and to understand the horrors they lived through.

Atlit was a cruel place to detainee Holocaust survivors.  It was surrounded by barbed wire fences, and upon arrival many people panicked at not only the resemblance to the Nazi concentration camps, but to the similar process of admitting the detainees.  They were separated by gender, sprayed with DDT, told to undress and enter the showers.  Can you imagine traveling so far to Israel and to be ushered into this environment again?  Although these really were showers, the fear running through these survivors was very real.  The book describes one young girl refusing to cross through the gate because of her fear of the barbwire fences.

The goal of each of these four detained girls is to live in a kibbutz, which is a collective community in Israel that was traditionally centered around agriculture.  Detainees who had family or who knew someone in Israel were allowed to enter quickly.  If you knew no one, you could be detained for up to two years.

The hardest aspect of this book, what I had to constantly keep reminding myself, is that these girls were under 21 years old.  Often, they were under 18.  But they had no one left:  no families, no friends, no neighbors to go home to after the war.  Their only hope was to start anew in a new land.  They bonded together not only because of what they had survived, but because of what they dreamed of achieving.  I highly recommend this book to anyone.  Let me know what you think after you read it.  I hope you are as moved as I was at the end.

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