Keep it Safe

29th October 2004 at 01:00
KEEP IT SAFE. By Iren Acs with Julia Levendel. Boulevard pound;15.95. Order from: Gazelle Book Services, tel: 0152 468765; or email:

For us in the UK, photographs taken in the late 1930s, perhaps even in that beautiful summer of 1939, have a lost-world feel - happy innocence by the sea, open-necked shirts and sports jackets, Ford Tens and picnics. But if the mood is elegiac for us, how much more so must it be for families - and Jewish ones at that - whose pictures of happy and proud gatherings were taken in towns and villages in central and eastern Europe?

This book has a collection of just such photographs, collected by the author, a photographer in her own right, from her birthplace of Szecseny in Hungary, and supplemented by her childhood memories.

It's an understatement to say it's a moving document. The many apparently ordinary happy family photographs take on an extra layer of foreboding as we learn from the text of whole families wiped out. Here's little Magda Klein, for example, in her school uniform, a year before she and her family were shipped off to Auschwitz, where her parents, and younger brother and sister were murdered. "And then the picture also became crowded with the deportation and murder of my own parents, of my grandparents, of our neighbours," writes the author.

She kept the story safe, according to her father's instruction, and her book is a memorial and a valuable historical record. It's used in schools in Hungary, and there's a place for it in our own classrooms and libraries.

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