Silent Let­ter

Yitzchak May­er
  • Review
By – June 22, 2017

Yitzchak May­er, born in Antwerp in 1934, tells an amaz­ing sto­ry in this auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal nov­el. Mayer’s fam­i­ly fled from Bel­gium to France when World War II broke out. After being cap­tured, they man­aged to escape and live in hid­ing until his father was caught and deport­ed to Auschwitz. They nev­er saw him again. 

May­er uses this frame­work to cre­ate a fas­ci­nat­ing sto­ry in the form of a let­ter from his moth­er, Rosie, to his father, Moritz. Rosie is rais­ing two young sons while preg­nant with a third. Unable to speak French, she pre­tends to be mute and depends on her son Erwin (Yitzchak) to com­mu­ni­cate. Erwin’s younger broth­er, Jack­ie, must also con­quer his fears to sur­vive. The fam­i­ly vis­its the police to search for Moritz, and under­takes a har­row­ing jour­ney from France to Switzer­land using forged documents.

The nar­ra­tive merges facts, dreams, and mem­o­ries into a sus­pense­ful tale that is beau­ti­ful despite the hor­rors that the fam­i­ly encounter. The fam­i­ly trudges through snow in the dead of win­ter to arrive in a small Swiss vil­lage. Since they have crossed the bor­der ille­gal­ly, they are pris­on­ers and the broth­ers are sep­a­rat­ed from their moth­er. May­er cap­tures the fear and anguish of a woman des­per­ate to save her chil­dren, yet strong enough to sur­vive in dif­fi­cult circumstances. 

There are many Holo­caust mem­oirs in print today, but this one stands out because of its pre­sen­ta­tion. The author man­ages to cap­ture his mother’s voice and tell his family’s sto­ry vivid­ly. He also cap­tures the anx­i­ety of young chil­dren sep­a­rat­ed from their par­ents. The com­bi­na­tion of fear, defi­ance, and courage rings true. 

This is an excel­lent choice for all libraries col­lect­ing Holo­caust lit­er­a­ture, and book clubs will have much to dis­cuss as they con­sid­er the plight of this family.

Bar­bara M. Bibel is a librar­i­an at the Oak­land Pub­lic Library in Oak­land, CA; and at Con­gre­ga­tion Netiv­ot Shalom, Berke­ley, CA.

Discussion Questions