Crossing the River
April 17, 2009
Shalom Eilati

All of us, at one time or another, have reminisced about our youth, and traced the path to our current station. While we all have individual stories to tell, thankfully few of us have the harrowing memories of Shalom Eilati.

In “Crossing the River,” Shalom takes us back to when he was 9, at the beginning of Lithuania’s occupation, first by the Red Army, next by the Germans, and then again by the Russians. His story begins in the occupied Kovno ghetto, where he, and his family, live in fear. The noose is tightening around the necks of the Jewish population as they are confined to a smaller, and smaller, portion of the city.

Shalom, and his little sister, lived with their mother, who was a nurse, and father, who was a well respected teacher, and author. Within a relatively short space of time, one-by-one family members disappear from the home. Shalom, and his kid sister, are handed over to neighbours to ensure their survival. Their mother, sensing the doom ahead, agrees to pay substantial sums, to different Christian families, who agree to look after her children until the nightmare ends. In the disorder that follows, Shalom is left primarily to his own devices, and neither his sister, or mother, are ever heard from again.

Where one might expect a boy, of such tender years, to become frightened, and confused; Shalom appears to have an inherent store of energy, optimism, and determination. In search of his mother, Shalom encounters many different people, families, homes, and shelters. Ultimately he finds his father, travels to Palestine, where he serves in the IDF, and establishes his life in the new homeland.

Years later, as an adult, he returns to Kovno, and tries to reassemble the fragments of those horrifying early years. He revisits some of the people from his youth, and discovers the answers to some of the questions that have plagued him for so long.

Although Shalom tells his story as a successful adult, he has the rare ability to relive his adventures through the eyes, and mind, of the child he was at the time. This makes the entire book come to life in a simple, uncomplicated, and totally heartfelt, innocent manner. He conveys his story with an optimism, and belief in a better tomorrow, that only a child can retain during such a traumatic, and tragic period.

The book is translated from the original Hebrew, by Vern Lenz, who is able to bring the true emotions, and feelings of the author into a form that enables so many millions of people to learn about this extraordinary young man, and his tumultuous, and harrowing trip into adulthood, through one of the worst, and inhumane, episodes of history.

  From Issue:10.04
Reviewed by: Michael Hanna-Fein
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