The Crooked Mirror: A Memoir of Polish-Jewish Reconciliation
By Louise Steinman
Beacon Press, 2013, 240 pp.
Sometimes, meaning emerges from analysis; other times, from searing, soul-shaking experience. Steinman is a secular, second-generation American Jew whose ancestors immigrated to the United States from Poland. Like many others who share her heritage, she grew up alternately dismissing and despising Poles and Poland for their assumed indifference to or, worse, complicity in the Holocaust. But beginning with a visit to Auschwitz in 2000, she undertook a series of pilgrimages to Poland that ultimately brought her to Radomsko, her family’s ancestral hometown. There, she walked through the cemetery where some of her relatives, bullets to the backs of their heads, had fallen into trenches they had been forced to dig; and viewed the railway station from which other family members had departed for the concentration camp in Treblinka. Steinman describes these visits as feeling like a “brick to the stomach,” and the reader can feel it, too. No broad-based reconciliation takes place during her time in Poland, because she knows too well the role of anti-Semitism in the country’s past and witnesses its lingering hold. But she achieves something close to peace with those struggling intensely to understand and rectify Poland’s Jewish past.