Recommended Reading: A Polish Doctor in the Nazi Camps

Jadzia Lenartowicz

A Polish Doctor in the Nazi Camps

Jadzia Lenartowicz was a 33-year-old physician working in Łódź during World War II in Nazi-occupied Poland. Her life changed forever on January 13, 1944, when the Gestapo arrested her. She survived a series of horrendous ordeals, including imprisonment in a Nazi concentration camp and a 42-day death march. After the war she immigrated to America with her husband and infant daughter, where they struggled to create a new life. That daughter, Barbara Rylko-Bauer, has written an extraordinary memoir that not only tells her mother’s story but places it in a well researched historical context. A Polish Doctor in the Nazi Camps: My Mother’s Memories of Imprisonment, Immigration, and a Life Remade is a rare and wonderful achievement, easily the best book I have ever read about a gentile Holocaust survivor.

Jadzia lived to be 100 years old, as the traditional Polish birthday song “Sto Lat” would have it. Like most children of Polish immigrants, Rylko-Bauer was caught up in her American life and did not get down to the serious business of interviews and tapings until her mother was 89 years old. Weaving the pieces together into a coherent story was clearly a labor of love. Quoted memories are intensified by detailed research into the murder of civilians engineered by the Nazis. World events are best understand not by reading about them in textbooks but by understanding how ordinary people with families and careers and dreams are torn apart by war and racial hatred.

Rylko-Bauer’s skill as a scholar is matched by her skill as a writer and her sensitivity as a daughter. She knows how to end each chapter leaving you eager to read on. She adds just the right amount of interpretation and context to her mother’s words, at the same time documenting her captivity and movement with verifiable details. Her understated handling of horrifying details takes your breath away.

Unlike most accounts of Nazi atrocities, fully a third of A Polish Doctor in the Nazi Camps is given over to life after the war and the heartless way displaced persons (or DPs, as they were called contemptuously) were treated by the victorious Allies. Poles were expected to repatriate but those with political ties to the Polish government in exile were killed or deported to Siberia if they dared return. America represented an opportunity to resume normal life and pursue a profession in medicine.

Beautifully edited and published by the University of Oklahoma Press, this is the extraordinary chronicle of one woman’s struggle to remake her life in America after enduring unspeakable hardship in Europe. It is also a daughter’s loving and enduring tribute to her mother.

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