Lost Bread

Edith Bruck; Gabriel­la Romani and David Yanoff, trans.

  • Review
By – November 20, 2023

In 1944, when Nazis forced twelve-year old Ditke and her fam­i­ly out of their home in a Hun­gar­i­an vil­lage, her moth­er cried out about the dough she had left ris­ing in big wood­en bowls. In this intense 112-page nov­el based on Edith Bruck’s own life, that bread comes to sym­bol­ize the trau­ma of a child­hood lost and the strug­gles of a young refugee to cre­ate a new life for her­self after the war. Fierce and rest­less, Ditke deter­mines to live inde­pen­dent­ly, and to ded­i­cate her­self to bear­ing wit­ness through words. Bruck, now nine­ty-two, laces this sto­ry with frank details and the emo­tion­al clar­i­ty of her own memories.

Where is Ditke to go at age four­teen once she is freed from Dachau, the fourth con­cen­tra­tion camp in which she and her beloved sis­ter Judit were placed? Their par­ents and one of their broth­ers are dead. On their own, Ditke and Judit return to Hun­gary, which no longer feels like home. Two of their old­er sis­ters, who sur­vived the war in the Budapest ghet­to, don’t under­stand the hor­rors they have gone through and are not par­tic­u­lar­ly wel­com­ing. Ditke makes her way to Israel, where she reunites with Judit, works in cafes, and writes. She mar­ries to avoid army ser­vice and hav­ing to car­ry a gun, and then she gets divorced, join­ing one dance troupe after anoth­er and trav­el­ing with them to Athens, Istan­bul, Zurich, and Naples. Ditke begins to feel that Italy is a coun­try she might call home. She learns to speak and write in Ital­ian, tak­ing odd jobs, mar­ry­ing an Ital­ian poet, pub­lish­ing nov­els and win­ning Ital­ian lit­er­ary awards, and lat­er speak­ing about the Holo­caust to school groups.

In her intro­duc­tion, Gabriel­la Romani explains that Bruck chose to write in Ital­ian as a way to relate events that were too painful to revis­it in her moth­er tongue. Romani also notes that Bruck sent a Let­ter to God” to Pope Fran­cis, who came to vis­it her in 2021. The let­ter — which is append­ed to the nov­el — asks how God could remain silent and not save her moth­er or stop Mengele’s fin­ger from point­ing peo­ple to the left, which was fire, or right, which was agony at work-camps, exper­i­ments and death from hunger and cold.” Bruck ends this let­ter by say­ing that she can­not for­give the evil, but she also can’t bring her­self to feel hatred. She won­ders if it’s pos­si­ble to make sense of her own sur­vival. This riv­et­ing book, and Bruck’s years spent edu­cat­ing oth­ers, tell us that it’s not only pos­si­ble, but vital.

Sharon Elswit, author of The Jew­ish Sto­ry Find­er, now resides in San Fran­cis­co, where she shares tales aloud in a local JCC preschool and vol­un­teers with 826 Valen­cia to help stu­dents write their own sto­ries and poems.

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