A Brief Stop on the Road to Auschwitz

Miracle made in Sweden


By Göran Rosenberg

Granta, £16.99

David Rosenberg's brief stop on his road from Auschwitz was the small seaside town of Södertälje, 30 kilometres south of Stockholm, where he pitched up in 1947. He had arrived in Sweden in 1945, in his early twenties, one of 10,000 refugees taken in by the Swedish government immediately after the war.

Polish Jews, he and his sweetheart, Hala, had endured the horrors of the ghetto in their home city of Łódz before being sent to Auschwitz in August 1944, where they were separated on the ramp. As a fit young man, he was spared the gas chamber and despatched to work in a truck factory in Braunschweig.

When that was forced to close through Allied bombing, David and his fellow Jews were sent to Ravensbrück and then on to the Wöbbelin death camp for extermination. They were saved by the arrival of the US Army.

Miraculously, Hala survived too and, after many agonising bureaucratic delays, joined David in Södertälje. They were married in the Gothenberg synagogue and soon had two children, the eldest of whom grew up to become a leading Swedish journalist and writer.

He has now attempted to reconstruct his father's life, retracing his wartime footsteps and mingling his story with his own memoir of growing up in Södertälje. The contrast between their lives could not be more different and nags at him throughout this moving and thoughtful book.

At first, life in Södertälje seemed good for David and Hala. They both found well-paid factory work, he as a pipe fitter in the big Skandia truck plant, she as a seamstress. They moved into their own rented apartment, enjoyed outings to the beach and countryside, and eventually bought (of all things) a Volkswagen Beetle.

But an inner restlessness haunts David's life: he travels to Israel to be reunited with other family members who survived the war and perhaps to consider the prospect of emigrating, but the country is in an economic crisis. He goes back to Łódz but finds no comfort there and is glad to leave again for good. He tries his hand at a couple of business ventures but fails.

It emerges that he has long been treated for depression. He is turned down for a reparation payment by the West Germans, a heartless act which may have been the last straw. But his popular and talented son thrives, unaware of David's growing inner torment, which eventually overpowers him.

This brilliant, touching and heart-wrenching story has rightly been compared to the work of Primo Levi in its treatment of the never-ending suffering of so many Holocaust survivors.

It is my book of the year by some

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