Author: Ann Charney
Published By: Open Road Integrated Media
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
With the recent passing of Holocaust Remembrance Day, I felt the need to read something about the time period and explore a bit of my heritage. That was when I found Dobryd. Originally published in 1996, the book became available to me through one of my reviewing contacts and, after reading an excerpt, I couldn't wait to check out the whole book.
Dobryd is Ann Charney's account of her survival of the Holocaust and the time period afterwards. She begins her tale in her fifth year of life, spent hiding in the loft of a barn in the country. She remembers being barely able to move as the war grew closer and closer to their hiding place. She remembers the adults becoming excited, though suffering the same undernourished state as Ann, perhaps believing that the war would finally end in their favor. She remembers being rescued by the Russian Army who was slowly pushing the Germans out of Poland and how her first view of sunlight had frightened her so much she began screaming uncontrollably.
That's how the book begins - with this tale of a five year old struggling to understand the world she lives in. But it doesn't end there. We follow Ann as she and her family attempt to find some sense of normality in all of the chaos surrounding the Germans retreat. Tragic news still awaits them - the death of Ann's father, an uncle and still other family members she doesn't even remember. Their home is gone.
In the bombed out homes and buildings of Dobryd, Ann's family attempts a new start while still attempting to teach Ann about her past. It is during this period of rebuilding that Ann learns about what life was like before the Germans came, about how her family was made up of Jews who had worked hard to become wealthy landowners. Unfortunately, though they were charitable to the peasants that lived in Dobryd, it would be this wealth that would become their downfall as jealous landowners and others would help to betray them to the German patrols.
We eventually learn about the further betrayals caused by those pretending to be saviors. The woman who hid them in the barn was actually a recipient of Ann's grandfather's kindness. It was this kindness that inspired the woman to approach him about the hiding place. But she wasn't hiding Jews out of the kindness of her heart - she was approaching the wealthiest of families with this opportunity, knowing they would pay well to be hidden. When their funds ran out, so would their food supplies, Ann's mother having to barter with her own wedding ring to obtain milk for her starving daughter.
And then their were the partisans working to liberate the country from the Germans. Ann's cousin joined them as soon as they were rescued from the barn. When one of the partisans were captured by the Germans, the partisans handed him over as a trade and he was killed on the spot.
Dobryd is a reminder of the evils of humanity. For every good person, like the Russian soldier who adopted their family and helped find them better housing and food, there was an evil person such as the woman draining them of their resources so they could hide from the Germans in a loft. As I read Dobryd, I could understand why Ann's mother would have conflicting emotions about leaving Poland. She loved the country she grew up in, but couldn't abide by all of the betrayals her family endured within its boundaries. I could also understand why, years later, Ann's mother and aunt would shun possessions over necessities. Having lost everything that tied them to their family, their country and the people that they loved, frivolous possessions no longer held any sway over them. It was also interesting to realize that, not really understanding the psychological and emotional trauma her family had suffered, the younger Ann was unable to comprehend such ideas.
After reading Dobryd, I did a little research on the book. I soon discovered that Ann Charney requested her book be placed in the fiction genre. She didn't trust that the memories of a five year old would be accurate enough to be labeled as non-fiction. I found this to be incredibly admirable as, despite being warned by her publisher that she would have greater sales if the book was listed as nonfiction, she stuck to her guns, unwilling to sway on her belief that childhood memories may not be perfectly true.
Dobryd is an incredible read. Short and well-written, it is a stirring account of a broken family's attempt at living a normal life after surviving dangerous circumstances. One slip up and the family might have been found by German patrols and ended up in concentration camps or worse. Even their protectors and liberators couldn't be trusted. I quickly absorbed this book, finishing it in just a couple of days. Ann Charney is an excellent storyteller and I would love to read more from this author.