Waarheen moet ik gaan is an outstanding book about the recent history of a Jewish family, written by John Dunkelgrün. It starts in the 2nd half of the 19th century and leads us through 2 World Wars, lots of joy of life and loads of antisemitism. It is an exciting book, showing the power of optimism and entrepreneurship, but also a story of loss and the reality of evil. Many familymembers described in this book did not survive the holocaust. Waarheen moet ik gaan makes very clear what happened; it can not answer the question why… Nevertheless, because of the special skills of the writer, Waarheen moet ik gaan grabs your attention in every chapter.
John Dunkelgrün follows his family lines from father’s and mother’s side. He is a master storyteller with a good sense of humor. Personally, I found especially the international aspect of this book very intriguing – it left me as a reader full of admiration about the way his family members were open to new cultures and experiences. Also it gives lots of indepth information about Jewish life in different countries. Three characteristics are always there: trade and entrepreneurship – being Jewish and a minority that is constantly met with prejudices – openness to others, whoever they are in background, wealth, etnicity and the like.
In the line of his father the adventure goes through Poland, Germany, Palestine, Belgium, the Netherlands. In the line of his mother, the story starts in Roumania, Russia, Hungaria and Austria passes via Hamburg to the United States, continues in the Netherlands, Persia and London. All these travellings are described in detail in the first two parts of the book; the author makes you look around and really see all those places.
Waarheen moet ik gaan is a very special chronicle of a family history in a turbulent century. Sometimes, the writer intervenes, explaining what he knows or what he could not find in his research. Rather then disturb the reader, it gives this book an extra dimension – the reader is aware that Waarheen moet ik gaan is not ‘just a book’ but that there is an author behind who wants to show some things and is willing to be accountable for what one reads.
Waarheen moet ik gaan is also the story of starting over and over again. The writers’ grandfather is unsafe in Poland and leaves a good business behind, to start another one in Germany. Some years later, he is unsafe again and moves with his family to the Netherlands, where he starts a new business again. But then, in WW2, he is unsafe again and this time he and his family have to run without a sure place to go. His other grandfather grows up in extreme poverty and runs away from home at the age of 13 or 14. What follows, looks like a story of a fairy tale. You will not be bored for a minute when reading this adventure, as an amazing, almost incredible story is told by a master storyteller.
In the 3rd part of the book, it is war time WW2. Slowly by slowly the situation deteriorates and both families have to run, almost too late. Borders have closed, administrations disencourage refugees especially the Jewish ones, many try to profit financially from the situation of refugees. This part of Waarheen moet ik gaan is deeply oppressive and dramatic. The loneliness in the continuous threat, the need to survive in an environment that is probably hostile… the family makes it into France but they do not know who can be trusted. Betrayal is everywhere, as well as greed. Eventually part of the family arrives in Switzerland where the writer is born.
Life is described in detail including life in camps full of hardship in France and Switzerland. The end of WW2 does not just mean to ‘start again’, it means also dealing with what happened during the holocaust in a context that is not welcoming or facilitating, on the contrary. The scars of the survivors are enormous and lasting. However, immediately there is life again, full of business and humorous anecdotes. So much energy and resilience.
Is there nothing that could be done better in this book? Well yeah, there are so many names that a register to explain who is who would help the reader. There is an existing register explaining many words, Jiddisch, Hebrew, German, Hungarian that I found very helpful. Waarheen moet ik gaan is in Dutch but deserves a much larger, international public.