In the footsteps of a brave, bruised father

Nachman Libeskind was a remarkable man, and this book, written by his daughter Annette, sister of eminent architect Daniel Libeskind, is a loving testament to Nachmans strength, courage, humanity and optimism.


His life was very challenging, and he suffered much hardship, but his indomitable spirit saw him through. In his youth, Libeskind was wrongly imprisoned in a pre-war Polish prison, where he was malnourished and beaten. He narrowly escaped the Nazis during their invasion of Lodz in 1939, and fled to the Soviet Union, only to be incarcerated in a brutal Gulag.

Here, he helped his fellow inmates survive before regaining his own freedom. He trekked to the foothills of the Himalayas where he found his future wife, who narrowly escaped death herself.

The crushing post war Communist regime in Poland forced Nachman and his young family to move to Israel. Even there, life was difficult because, as he spoke mainly Yiddish, he couldn’t find work.

With very little money he took his family to New York, where he achieved a happy and settled life. He found work with a Yiddish-language printer — and discovered a talent for painting. Late in life, he enjoyed success as a Modernist painter.

Some of Libeskind’s semi-abstract canvases were exhibited at the Bronx Museum of the Arts. For Libeskind, New York was the true “Golden Country” — the Goldene Medina.

Annette Libeskind Berkovits gives her book an intriguing format and defies categorisation. Moving back and forward in time, it is part biography and part memoir.

It also switches perspective, moving from the author’s father’s point of view to her own and, sometimes awkwardly, from third- to first-person.

Berkovits painstakingly transcribed many hours of tape that her father had recorded about his life for several years, and which she found only after his death.

The resulting book is a combination of transcription and recollection, of conversations she had with him throughout her life, and journeys that she and Nachman took together, notably to Poland in 1984 and 1992.

Sipora Levy is a freelance reviewer

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