Elli: Coming of Age in the Holocaust

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Memoir by Livia E. Bitton-Jackson, 1980

Elli: Coming of Age in the Holocaust is the graphic memoir of Livia E. Bitton-Jackson, born Elli L. Friedman in Somorja at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains in what had been Czechoslovakia but was at the time occupied by Hungarian forces. She describes her journey from the bucolic village to the horrors of the concentration camps. In the spring of 1944 the 13-year-old budding poet, her mother and father, and her 16-year-old brother, Bubi, suffered the Nazi invasion and were deported to several ghettos, first to Nagymagyar. As the second ghetto at Dunaszerdahely was liquidated, the able men, including her father, were summoned for transport to labor camps. Elli, her brother, mother, and Aunt Szeren were then sent on a hellish three-day train ride to Auschwitz.

Separated from both Bubi and her aunt, Elli and her mother, because of their goldene Haar, were sent not to the gas chambers but to labor in Auschwitz and then to Plaszow to shovel dirt and move stones. But seven weeks later they were returned to Auschwitz, where they met Bubi, who had fared well as an interpreter for the Germans. In Auschwitz, however, the mother was paralyzed when a bunk collapsed on her. Aided by Elli and other inmates, she survived, and she and Elli were then shipped to yet another labor camp, at Augsburg, where the officers could not believe that they are women because of their "porcupine" hair and stick bodies. Their brief confinement in Augsburg working at an airplane factory revived them since the food and conditions there were relatively good. But they were soon shipped to Mühldorf, once again encountering Bubi, by this time a skeleton covered with dreadfully numerous lice. He was alive, however, despite the many dead around him.

Even when liberation was near, the deaths continued. The Nazis shot inmates in cornfields and in cattle cars, and even the Americans strafed the train the Friedmans were riding in, killing yet more of the pitiful number of survivors. On 28 April 1945, Elli, her mother, and her brother were liberated. Elli was then 14, fatherless, a displaced person, emaciated, mistaken for a 60-year-old. She and her remaining family returned to their home but still felt like refugees. In 1951 Elli and her family emigrated to the United States.

As in many coming-of-age texts, the protagonist in Elli experiences painful and, surprisingly, joyful lessons as she matures. This first-person account, written in 1980 at the prodding of her husband, is remarkable not only for its shocking descriptions of human depravity and brutality but also for its amazing descriptions of the kindnesses Elli experienced even in the hell of the camps. Her determination to support her mother and brother in their efforts to stay alive is especially noteworthy. Her recounting of these years, culminating in her triumphant survival as well as the survival of her mother and brother, is inspiring for all ages.

Elli, published in 1980, won the Christopher Award, the Eleanor Roosevelt Humanitarian Award, and the Jewish Heritage Award. In1997 Bitton-Jackson adapted Elli for a teenage audience, retitling the memoir I Have Lived a Thousand Years: Growing Up in the Holocaust.

—Maryann McLoughlin

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Elli: Coming of Age in the Holocaust

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