5.5 x 8.25 | 256 pp
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“[Dr. Reicher] lived through the Second World War in Poland, dodging bullets, uprisings and deportations—not to mention betrayal, starvation and airless hideouts—in a manner more reminiscent of a talented outlaw than a mild-mannered dermatologist . . . It is the impressive simplicity of the good doctor’s writing that makes [t]his book resemble [Victor] Klemperer’s, and the detailed observations of its report that makes it emotionally memorable. . . . William Carlos Williams once said that people who prize information are perishing daily for want of the information that can be found only in poetry. By the same token, there will never be a time when we will not need the information that an important, evocative book like Country of Ash provides.”
Moment magazine( link)
“It’s the rough texture of Reicher’s tale—like grainy celluloid from a bygone era—that gives such a powerful, deeply disturbing immediacy to the ghetto inhabitants he remembers. Reicher tells us they’re no more, but he is wrong. Their ghosts still walk in books like this one—haunting the reader, forever.”
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel( link)
“Edward Reicher recorded his Holocaust nightmares from the ghettos of Lodz and Warsaw to the chilling attempts for his family to live as Aryans in a world of blackmail, informants and circumcision checks. . . . ‘This book has no literary pretensions,’ he writes. ‘It is the description of the life of a Jewish doctor who survived the worst years.’ Yet it’s far more than that . . . Country of Ash is worth reading because the riveting survival drama is framed by larger questions.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune( link)
“A riveting account of the will to survive.”
Midwest Book Review( link)
“Country of Ash is not only a tribute to strength, determination, and fortitude, but a tribute to all of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. It is a tribute to those who were not Jewish, yet did strive to offer a place to hide and offer food to Reicher and/or his family. It is a memoir that honors Reicher’s daughter, Elisabeth Bizouard-Reicher’s determination to see her father’s memoir in print for all the world to read . . . [It is] a brilliantly written account.”
“A riveting first-hand account of the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto. Edward Reicher presents events from the perspective of a Jew, a physician, a survivor, a chronicler, a husband but mainly a humanitarian caught in the flux of horrific events that, but for memoirs such as this, would fade with the absolution of time. Reicher’s astonishing book insures that will not happen.”
Arthur L. Caplan, Ph.D., Drs. William F. and Virginia Connolly Mitty Chair Director, Division of Medical Ethics, NYU Langone Medical Center and author of When Medicine Went Mad: Bioethics and the Holocaust
“Dr. Reicher’s memoir tells a gripping, tragic, unforgettable tale that, like Wladyslaw Szpilman’s The Pianist, recounts the horrors of being a Jew in Poland during World War II. This important historical document distinguishes itself from other Holocaust narratives in many ways, but perhaps in none more so than this: its perseverant hero not only saved his wife and daughter but helped bring one of the most notorious Nazis of all to justice.”
Austin Ratner, Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature-winning author of The Jump Artist and In the Land of the Living
Country of Ash is the gripping chronicle of a Jewish doctor who miraculously survived near-certain death, first inside the Lodz and Warsaw ghettoes, where he was forced to treat the Gestapo, then on the Aryan side of Warsaw, where he hid under numerous disguises. He clandestinely recorded the terrible events he witnessed, but his manuscript disappeared during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. After the war, reunited with his wife and young daughter, he rewrote his story.
Peopled with historical figures from the controversial Chaim Rumkowski, who fancied himself a king of the Jews, to infamous Nazi commanders, to dozens of Jews and non-Jews who played cat and mouse with death throughout the war, Reicher’s memoir is about a community faced with extinction and the chance decisions and strokes of luck that kept a few stunned souls alive.
Excerpt from Country of Ash
A few days after the events in Falencia, I woke up at five o’clock in the morning with a strong sense of foreboding. The pressure in my chest warned of impending danger. At six o’clock there was a knock at the door.
“Police! Open up!” Two men came in: a Polish policeman and a streetcar driver. Pola was sleeping with Elzunia. The two men surveyed the room. The streetcar driver had made sure to close the door behind him.
“You’re Jews!” the policeman shouted in a menacing voice.
I was in such shock that I didn’t know what to say. I was speechless with fear.
“Get up! Get dressed! We’re taking you to headquarters. We have proof you’re Jewish.”
“But we’ve done nothing wrong. Leave us alone.”
“What you’ve done or not done is no concern of ours. You’re Jewish, and that’s enough for the Gestapo.”
Meanwhile, they were ransacking the room in search of valuables. They found nothing of interest.
My wife begged for mercy, and five-year-old Elzunia fell to her knees before a holy image lit by a small red lamp and was praying aloud. Kaczynski, who had taken her to church a few times, had taught her some Catholic prayers, and she firmly believed she had been baptized. Now she knew that she and her parents were in grave danger. With tear-filled eyes uplifted to the image of the Virgin Mary, and hands folded, she was pleading for salvation. The policeman looked at the child and ordered a halt to the search. The child’s fervent prayers had moved him, and he let Pola speak.
It turned out they were informers and wanted a ransom of 10,000 zlotys. Pola bargained them down to 4,000. We handed over all the money we had in the apartment, and gave our word of honor that we would pay them the rest within the week.
“I will sell a few things and give you what I get for them,” I assured them.
The policeman looked tenderly at Elzunia.
“I swear on that sacred picture and on the Holy Cross, and on the head of my son, who is the same age as your daughter, whose prayer went straight to my heart, that you may continue to live here in peace. No one shall find out about you.”
I took the informers to a nearby bar. When they were suitably drunk, they told me who had given them our address; Zygmunt, the forger. He had probably not done it intentionally; because he was an alcoholic, cheap booze had probably loosened his tongue.
When I returned home, we discussed our situation.
We had no other hideout, and we had no choice but to stay there and take the informers at their word. That was an unforgivable mistake. We should never have stayed in a compromised hideout. But Gniewkowski could no longer help us; after the tragedy of the Ziembinskis he was suffering from anxiety. We should have gone back to Bronia’s, but we didn’t.
We knew how vulnerable we were, though, so we resolved to place Elzunia in safety. If we were to die, then at least the child would live. But first I had to come up with the rest of the ransom.