Otto Grunfeld, 'The Survivor's Path'

IssueDecember 2004 - February 2005
Review by Isabel de Bertodano

Otto Grunfeld was a teenager when he was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration for the crime of being a Jew. He spent two years living in a Jewish ghetto in Czechoslovakia before being transported to Auschwitz and later to Kaufering. During that time all other members of his immediate family were killed.


It took him fifty years to find the strength and the distance to be able to write about his war experience and the result is a slip of a book - just 100 pages. The weight of its contents, though, packs the emotional punch of a volume twenty times the size.

Much of the book is addressed directly to Grunfeld's elder brother Paul, and it occasionally feels as though one is reading an intimate, private correspondence. Grunfeld writes as though Paul will one day read the book, but the dreadful yearning and regret in his words make one gradually realise that Paul did not survive and finally we learn that the brothers were separated in Auschwitz and never saw each other again.

Defying its subject matter, The Survivor's Path manages to be beautifully written, making the story all the more heart-breaking. However, a thread of optimism runs through the account. Grunfeld was one of the lucky ones; he miraculously, and to his initial remorse, survived, and today lives in northern Britain, where he has built himself a life and a family.

Primo Levi wrote the ultimate holocaust accounts, but the subject is one that never loses its impact and one that merits re-telling. Books like The Survivor's Path are never easy to read, but they are important, nudging at the conscience of a world that in spite of everything is forgetting or losing interest, caught up in more immediate, but no less sinister, conflicts with victims just as innocent.

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