TOVA simply means “good” in Hebrew, but, in some contexts, it also has connotations of happiness or even luck. “Shana Tova” is the Hebrew equivalent of “Happy New Year”, and of course “Mazel Tov!” — good fortune — is a universal cry of celebration, congratulation, and much more besides.
Originally called Tola, Tova Friedman notes in passing in this memoir that she changed her name when she moved to Israel as an adult because it sounded more Israeli. Yet it is hard not to feel that the choice was another act of courage and defiance in a life that could scarcely be termed fortunate.
The Daughter of Auschwitz tells her extraordinary story of survival. She was just one of five Jewish children from her community of 13,000 to escape the Holocaust and one of a vanishingly small number to emerge alive from the death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. This owed something to luck, but still more to her parents, who were determined to protect her as best they could. Friedman is frank about the choices that they were forced to make — including the decision to abandon her small cousins to their fate — and her text captures well the painful after-effects of their suffering.
Skilfully written by a first-rate journalist, the former BBC correspondent Malcolm Brabant, the book does a brilliant job in capturing Tova Friedman’s life. It also uses serious research to flesh out the memories of a woman who was only six when liberated from Auschwitz.
But Friedman did not go into print simply to garner praise; nor should the craftsmanship of the prose distract from the horror depicted. Friedman is unflinching in choosing to reveal the trauma of her childhood and enlist the reader in her struggle to ensure that it can never be forgotten, and in the hope that it will never happen again.
The Revd Dr William Whyte is Fellow and Tutor of St John’s College, Oxford, and Professor of Social and Architectural History in the University of Oxford.
The Daughter of Auschwitz
Tova Friedman and Malcolm Brabant
Church Times Bookshop £18