Never Tell Anyone You’re Jewish
My Family, the Holocaust and the Aftermath
With a scientific mind and a profound personal dedication, Maria Chamberlain takes her reader on a journey into the family history. The book combines research and reflection, history and memory, and provides rare insights into Jewish life in Poland after the Holocaust and the beginnings of a new life in Britain.
Joachim Schloer, Southampton University
This is a story of two assimilated Jewish families in Nazi-occupied Poland in the eye of the Holocaust. The two families were joined by marriage after the war and Maria was born soon after. Not surprisingly her mother initially urged her to hide her Jewishness. Later, in old age, she relented, recognising that testimonies make history, and that the lives of those who perished deserve to be celebrated. The material in the book is compiled from recounted memories of the survivors, unfinished memoirs, letters, photographs, and historical archives.
The book tells of Maria’s paternal grandfather, whose appointment to the impossibly compromised post of President of the Kraków Judenrat ultimately led to his downfall, of her aunt Lula, who was denounced and shot, of her maternal grandmother, who died in the gas chambers of Belzec, and of Kuba, the gifted pianist, who was told to dig his own grave. There are uplifting stories too: her great uncle’s survival on Schindler’s List, and her charismatic, heel-clicking maternal grandfather’s survival hiding in plain sight in a quasi-Nazi organisation.
Maria documents the kindness of strangers, miraculous escapes, courage, guile, strength, and resilience. Her parents adopted different strategies for survival, and afterwards responded very differently to the traumas they had suffered.
The last part of the book covers Maria’s early life in Stalinist Poland and her family’s emigration to Edinburgh, where she and her parents led fulfilled lives as scientists. Despite this, the traumas continue to ripple through her life and following generations.
Paperback 264 pages, 73 black and white illustrations