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The Book of the Week is “Sunflower in the Snow, Tales From A Wartime Childhood” by Rachel Patron, published in 2020.
The author was born in January 1936 in Bialystock (in Poland). Her family’s textile-dyeing factory was requisitioned by the Soviets when they occupied their portion of Poland in autumn 1939. The family moved in with extended relatives elsewhere in Poland. In spring 1940, they moved back to Bialystock to their prewar house. But the NKVD requisitioned that, too.
Good news: The family wasn’t sent to a concentration camp. Bad news: The family was sent to Siberia in summer 1941, where they almost froze and starved to death, anyway. Their way of life was turned upside-down, due to all kinds of political, economic, religious and linguistic changes wrought by the War; to name just a few:
- After the Germans broke up with the Soviets, the former sought to arrest all Communists and Socialists. The author’s father and much older brother were taken away by the Commissar’s thugs to serve as slave labor, and in the Red Army, respectively.
- There was bartering in black markets.
- The atheist Soviets canceled Christmas.
- The author’s family spoke Yiddish among themselves because the Soviets did not speak it, but they spoke Russian to local officials.
When she was an adolescent, after various long interruptions of her formal education due to the government’s closing of schools for ideological reasons, the author was told she was a Socialist Zionist. This entailed:
- atheism, which meant the author didn’t have to observe a kosher diet; and
- the Law of Return– automatic citizenship for all Jews around the world after Israel declared its independence in May 1948.
Read the book to learn: more details of the author’s experiences, traumas specific to her family, and what became of them.