A Survivor's Odyssey Through War-Torn Europe

by Henry Lilienheim,
ISBN: 0919688446

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Brief Reviews - Non-Fiction
by Alexander Craig

HENRY LILIENHEIM'S The Aftermath: A Survivor's Odyssey through War-Torn Europe (DC Books, 181 pages, $15.95 paper) is a quietly lyrical personal essay on the author's life, and survival, in Nazi concentration camps and his subsequent search for his wife, who had been separated from him during the war.

Lilienheim speaks various languages, but chose to write this book in English, for his children, because he knew their life would be in North America. It was thanks to the persistence of his daughter, Irene Angelico, a Montreal filmmaker, that it has now been published, almost 50 years after it was written. (She made an award-winning NFB documentary, Dark Lullabies, inspired by her father's tale.)

Lilienheim and his wife, Lydia, married in Warsaw in November 1939. After the Nazis invaded Poland, the couple fled east to Vilno, Lithuania, but were captured soon after the Jewish ghetto there was liquidated in September 1943. They were separated in the Vilna camp, and weren't reunited until 1946.

Lilienheim alternates chapters on his life in various camps with accounts of his quest for his wife in the chaos and uncertainty of post-war Europe. This can be a tricky form of narrative, but it works well here.

He conveys well, and succinctly, the incredible misery of the camps: "our daily enemies -- hunger, cold, lice and fatigue -- are joined by one more: monotony." Prisoners are from all over Europe, and there are interesting glimpses of how distinctive national characteristics are manifested -- he pays particular tribute to Russian resilience and toughness.

The Aftermath is a first-rate, first-hand account of willing one's way to survival and reunion, stepping out of hell into normal, everyday life.


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