Halter, Roman 1927-
Halter, Roman 1927-
Born 1927, in Chodecz, Poland; immigrated to England. Ethnicity: Polish.
Home—North London, England.
Architect, artist, and writer.
Remembering for the Future, Macdonald (London, England), 1988.
(Designer and assembler, with Elisabeth Maxwell) Remembering for the Future: Exhibition of Original Drawings and Reproductions, by Victims of the Holocaust from Concentration Camps and Ghettos, 1940-1945, Royal Institute of British Architects (London, England), 2000.
Roman's Journey (memoir), preface by Sir Martin Gilbert, Chivers (Bath, England), 2007.
In his memoir, Roman's Journey, author Roman Halter provides an account of the evils of Germany's Third Reich and the Holocaust of World War II. "No matter how many memoirs have emerged from the Holocaust, there is always room for more to cast new light on the insane gauntlet of life in the Third Reich," wrote Toby Lichtig in the Guardian of London. Lichtig went on to write in the same article: "Roman's Journey is written with a piercing detachment in the tradition of much of the great literature of the Holocaust."
Halter is a world-famous artist and architect. He is perhaps best known for designing the gates to Yad Vashem, Israel's holocaust memorial. In addition, he was later commissioned to create stained-glass windows a memorial to the victims of the Rwandan genocide in Kigali. Roman's Journey, Halter's memoir, focuses primarily on his own encounter with evil during World War II. The story begins in Chodecz, Poland, where Halter grew up with both Jews and Catholics and even had a German friend named Karol Eschner. Nevertheless, the author writes how he witnesses anti-Semitism from his days as a child and how this anti-Semitism begins to grow as the Nazi movement spreads out from Germany throughout much of Europe in 1933. When the German SS, or Schutzstaffel (German for "protective squadron" and also known as the Nazi's Party "Shield Squadron") arrives in Chodecz after Germany invades Poland, the elite military force, which is totally dedicated to the Nazi racist ideology, begins executing Jews and prominent townsfolk. Although Roman's father survives the wave of executions because of his friendship with a local German, the family, as the author relates, is just beginning its ordeal.
Halter's family, like all the other local Jewish families, loses their home and all of their belongings. The Halters and their Jewish neighbors are then sent to live in hovels outside of town. Roman, just beginning his teenage years, goes to work for an SS officer. In his book, he recounts one story about how he and other Jewish boys were forced to work as "retrievers," swimming out in the local lakes to retrieve birds shot by the SS officers and having to doggy paddle back to shore with the birds in their mouths. Fortunately for Halter, he knew how to swim. Others, who did not know how to swim, were killed. As the story of Halter and his family progresses, the reader learns of the time Halter witnesses his old German friend, Karol Eschner, participate in the massacre of some of Halter's Jewish friends. Furthermore, the SS officer that Halter works for oversees the executions.
As Halter's story unfolds, the remaining Jews of Chodecz are deported to the Lodz ghetto, which is so overcrowded that only 120 of the 340 Chodecz Jews are allowed into the ghetto. The remainder are executed by the Nazis. At Lodz, Halter has what would later prove to be another stroke of luck when he is employed at a local metal factory. However, Halter's father and grandfather die at Lodz from malnutrition and disease, and the author is eventually separated from his mother, half-sister, and her two children as they are chosen for deportation to a concentration camp in Chelmno, where they were eventually killed. Roman's skill working in the metal factory saves him from deportation. He remains in the Ghetto until 1944, when the ghetto is liquidated and the remaining Jews are sent off to the notorious concentration camp in Auschwitz. However, Roman's metalworking skills place him among the few hundred Jews who are transferred to another concentration camp, once again saving him from being sent to the gas chambers.
Working in a munitions factory in Dresden, Germany, Halter is there as the war is coming to a close. He survives the horrific firebombing of Dresden in 1945 but soon finds himself on a death march as he and his fellow Jews are abused by German civilians. Halter, however, escapes from the march and is hidden by a German couple. Eventually, Roman moves on. It is only after the war is over that he discovers that his entire family has been murdered and that he is one of only four Jewish people from the town of Chodecz to survive the Holocaust. Halter then returns to thank the German couple who hid him, only to discover that SS men in civilian clothes came by and shot the man and one of the other Jews that the couple were hiding.
Noting that Roman's Journey "is not a detached record cum ethical reflection," Guardian contributor Carole Angier went on to describe the memoir as "one man's journey, or rather one boy's; and a very telling, and moving, journey it is too." A Kirkus Reviews contributor commented: "Remarkably, a sense of adventure and joy of life are sustained in an account that moves through civilization's worst nightmare." Several reviewers also noted that the author does not present a bitter tale in which the author longs for revenge. "It is an astonishing story, made all the more so by the neutrality of its telling," wrote Ross Leckie on the Times Online. "Halter does not blame, or rail, or demand retribution." A Publishers Weekly contributor noted: "Halter stubbornly conveys both harrowing loss and hunger for renewed life with measured matter-of-factness that allows his ordeals to speak for themselves."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Halter, Roman, Roman's Journey, preface by Sir Martin Gilbert, Chivers (Bath, England), 2007.
Europe Intelligence Wire, January 30, 2007, review of Roman's Journey.
Guardian (London, England), January 14, 2007, Toby Lichtig, "My Life as a Dog," review of Roman's Journey; February 3, 2007, Carole Angier, "Only Survive," review of Roman's Journey.
Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2007, review of Roman's Journey.
Publishers Weekly, August 13, 2007, review of Roman's Journey, p. 60.
Times Literary Supplement, April 6, 2007, Elaine Glaser, "Fighting Fatigue," review of Roman's Journey, p. 29.
BBC News,http://news.bbc.co.uk/ (September 28, 2005), Jackie Storer, "Learning Lessons from History," article about author.
Imperial War Museum London Web site,http://london.iwm.org.uk/ (March 20, 2008), brief profile of author.
Times Online,http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/ (September 15, 2007), Ross Leckie, review of Roman's Journey.