No Past Tense
From prewar Czechoslovakia to Auschwitz and Mauthausen, and from pre-State Israel to New York City, the journey of Willi and Kati Salcer is an unforgettable testimony of resiliency and reinvention. Once I began reading, I could not put this book down, and details of the Salcers’ journeys will stay with me for a long time. No Past Tense deserves a place on the bookshelf with classic Holocaust memoirs.
Amy Gottlieb, author, The Beautiful Possible
No Past Tense is the biography of Katarina (Kati) Kellner and William (Willi) Salcer, two Czech Jews who as teenagers were swept up by the Holocaust in Hungary and survived Auschwitz and Mauthausen, respectively.
Covering their entire lives, weaving in first person ‘real time’ voices as if watching a documentary about themselves, the unique structure of No Past Tense provides a distinctive ‘whole life’ view of the Holocaust.
The book begins with their childhoods, education in Budapest, and 16-year-old Kati meeting 19-year-old Willi in the Jewish ghetto in Plesivec, a Slovak village annexed by Hungary in 1938. After liberation from the camps they returned to discover most Jews were gone, and the villagers did not want them back. In defiance, Kati took up residence in a shed on her family’s property, and in reclaiming what was hers, won Willi’s heart.
They lived as smugglers in post-war Europe until immigrating illegally to Palestine in 1946. Describing Palestine, they talk frankly about rarely addressed issues such as prejudice against ‘newcomers’ from other Jews. Willi built tanks for the Haganah, the underground Jewish army, and supported the War of Independence but refused to move into homes abandoned by Palestinian Arabs.
After discharge from the Israeli Air Force, Willi founded the country’s first rubber factory and headed the association of Israeli manufacturers at only 28. In 1958, saying he did not want the children to know war, Willi convinced Kati to move to America. He did not tell her that punitive tax fines, imposed when the government needed money due to the crisis in the Sinai, shook his faith in Israel.
Once in America, after a few bad investments, Willi lost all their money and for the first time Kati suffered panic attacks. But Willi rebuilt his fortune, while Kati rediscovered her courage, and started living again.