A terrifying, tragic, beautiful, personal and painfully fleeting glimpse into a life.
WARNING: POTENTIAL SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
I have just finished reading this book and can say truthfully that I have not read a book this engaging for a long time.
Worried, when I picked the book up that it would simply be a historical account, my preconceptions were quickly eradicated as I began the long journey that Edward took as a young man caught up in events of the second world war.
It's not about the war itself so much as it is about Edward growing up and experiencing what should have been some of the most exciting years of his life. I am glad that the original log entries were not edited; there is an honesty in the way he writes and the things he says which makes you feel as if you are experiencing this journey with him.
There is very little stability in his life at this time and yet he manages to survive all of it and come out the other side; only to have his life shortened by cancer. It is only when reflecting on this book that you realise the ramifications of what he has described - he deals with everything in such a matter-of-fact and down to earth way that you don't feel it's true impact until you close the book.
Every log entry and letter serves as a window through which it is possible to see the world as it was. I feel privileged to have shared a part of this man's life and I challenge anyone to read this book and not end up and feeling that a world without war has the potential to be a truly amazing place.
This is a significant book which presents a little known aspect of the cataclysmic changes that the Nazis and Soviets unleashed upon Europe and beyond. This is also an intense personal testimony which relates directly to the experiences of numerous people in the world today. As one can imagine the book does not focus on a single event instead it ranges from Edward’s early days in a Poland under Nazi rule and in Russia as a victim of the Gulag system which actually killed more people than the Nazis. These were places designed to first break and then destroy men, but the writer survived and it is hard for the reader at times to know how, which I think leads them to a desire to know more about this sober and stoic man.
The writer skilfully evokes empathy throughout the work by creating a sense of slow movement towards, it is impossible to know, what. The reader is led through lengthy marches from country to country and climate to climate, with temperatures skilfully kindled by the writer, and finds Edward presenting himself as a hopeless wanderer before becoming a disciplined soldier in a newly formed Polish Army, which encompassed for him tours of duty in a range of Middle Eastern and Central European countries. The book’s range is staggering and is cram full of stunning honesty and a kind of beautiful fatalism which enabled, I believe, the writer to find a means to go on beyond the war.
In addition this book has the best description of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder I have ever read. This is made possible by the dogged ‘date’ format which punctuates the prose at regular intervals.This has both an immediacy forcefully driving the reader through to the next event or situation coupled with a sense of the mundane and harrowing day to day, week to week struggle that the writer encountered during World War Two. in this way the subject matter is wonderfully enhanced by the regular reminder to the reader, of the timescale involved. Edward often speaks of his numbness and his desolation concerning life except of course for ‘love’, the one emotion which never left him and drove him it seems to record what happened to him in his diaries and in his art works, expertly presented here.
Edward Edek Herzbaum Hartry 1920-1967. Architect, Artist and Diarist.
Edward was born in Vienna to secular Polish Jewish parents. The family moved back to Poland in the 1930's and after his father's death Edward and his mother settled in Lodz. Edward enrolled to study architecture in Warsaw.
When WWII started in September 1939, Edward volunteered to join the army, was captured by the Germans, managed to escape, and made his way to Lwow in south-eastern Poland to avoid re-arrest. In June 1940 he was arrested by the NKVD, the Soviet secret police, and like more than a million other men, women and children was deported in cattle trucks to remote parts of the Soviet Union where they were put into brutal labour camps.
In June 1941 Germany attacked the Soviet Union with the result that these prisoners were freed and amnestied and became allies against Germany.
Once freed these emaciated and sick people had to make the long harrowing journey south to Central Asia to join the Polish Army forming there.
After recovering their health and strength this Polish army in exile fought with the British Army against the Germans, most notably at the Battle of Monte Cassino.
Extraordinarily Edward managed to keep a diary throughout this journey. His daughter found the journals, together with many paintings and drawings, after her mother's death in 2002, and after translation, published them as 'Lost Between Worlds'.