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Landscapes of Memory:  The Life of Ruth Kluger cover photo

Landscapes of Memory: The Life of Ruth Kluger 2011

Highly Recommended

Distributed by Films Media Group, 132 West 31st St., 17th Floor, New York, NY 10001; 800-257-5126
Produced by Films Media Group
Directed by Renata Schmidtkunz
DVD, color, 88 min.

Sr. High - General Adult
Jewish Holocaust

Date Entered: 08/14/2013

Reviewed by Sheila Intner, Professor Emerita, Graduate School of Library & Information Science, Simmons College GSLIS at Mt. Holyoke, South Hadley, MA

Here is a powerful documentary, another among the many Holocaust testimonies that have been released in recent years, which include As a Young Girl of Thirteen: Simone Lagrange Remembers Auschwitz, Teenage Witness: The Fanya Heller Story, Saved by Deportation: An Unknown Odyssey of Polish Jews, and Surviving Hitler: A Love Story. Yet, it is quite different from those films. It doesn’t detail the trauma Ruth Kluger endured in the three years she spent in Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, and Christianstadt, though she was imprisoned in all three camps and mentions them, nor does it dwell on the extent of the damage the Austrian Nazis inflicted on her family and her life. Instead, it paints a picture of the woman herself in her own words: the poet, the Austrian Jewish intellectual, and the memories she carries within her.

The reason she survived the camps, Ms. Kluger repeats several times, is that she was lucky. During the feared “selections” when the Nazis chose prisoners to be sent to their deaths, she managed to avoid notice and during the final death march in the last weeks of the war, she and her mother ran away from their guards. After the war, she immigrated to America. She married and had two sons, with whom she has what seems to be intellectual rather than typical visceral or emotional bonds. Her marriage did not last, but she remained friendly with her ex-husband, also a survivor. Her older son and his family are shown joining her in Vienna when she received the city’s highest honor, recognizing her best selling book Still Alive, but her younger son, although he speaks kindly about his mother, is not there.

After her divorce, Ms. Kluger earned advanced degrees in English and German literature and taught the latter at several universities. She was appointed to the faculty at the University of California at Irvine, where she became a full professor, recruited by a department head who once served in the Wehrmacht. He is more than her mentor; he is her longtime friend, perhaps, because he renounced Nazism, but unlike American-born colleagues, he understands and appreciates their shared origins in German-speaking Europe.

Ms. Kluger says that despite becoming an American, pursuing a successful academic career in the U.S., and mothering two American sons, she feels more at home in Israel or in Vienna than in America. The admission is startling, but reveals the cultural gaps among the different places. She returns to Europe regularly, spending part of every year there. She seems more comfortable speaking German than English, although her English is flawless. Perhaps more than any other person this reviewer has encountered, Ruth Kluger articulates the complex of emotions, impressions, and experiences, good and bad, that Holocaust survivors carry with them. It is a burden they cannot—and might not wish—to shed.

Highly recommended.