Go, My Son
by Chaim Shapiro
Reviewed by Andrea Kahn
Am Echad Resources
January 15, 2001
Most Holocaust memoirs are painful and difficult to read. While "Go, My Son," by Chaim Shapiro, certainly has its heavy parts, the book is ultimately inspiring and uplifting; a page-turner from beginning to end.
In his newly republished book, Shapiro, who survived to raise a family in Baltimore before passing away just this fall, chronicles his flee from the Nazis and Russians as a young rabbinical student in Poland. His harrowing, five-year journey takes him across Europe, from Vilna to the isolated desert village of KuzarPash in Asiatic Russia.
The book begins with Shapiro’s description of his close-knit family – his parents and three brothers – in the small eastern-Polish town of Lomza. The start of the Second World War brings the Russian’s occupying arm into Lomza, disbanding Jewish institutions. Shapiro’s parents insist that the 17-year-old rabbinical student "Go, my son," to join his Yeshiva in Lithuania. As much as Shapiro fights the idea of deserting his family and his town, he nevertheless honors his parents’ wishes, and leaves – never again to see his family.
As Shapiro travels from occupied Europe across the vast stretches of Asiatic Russia, he suffers hunger, fear, desperation and solitude – but he never loses his belief in God, his devotion to Judaism or his determination to survive. Indeed, the countless examples of "luck" and quick thinking that save Shapiro time and again from close calls of capture and certain death are simply mind-boggling.
The book is written with vivid detail, describing the young yeshiva student’s many and varied experiences. He lives on a Soviet commune, where he is befriended by Russian farmers – and goes from a yeshiva boy who had never before seen a tractor to a skilled agricultural machinist. He is accepted by primitive Kazakh tribesmen and sits alongside them at their campfires, sharing their food and enjoying their camaraderie. In the Siberian Urals he joins a Soviet work battalion and works on a railroad construction gang. And, finally, Shapiro achieves his goal of joining the Red Army to fight the Nazi scourge.
Throughout his ordeals, Shapiro shows true heroism, a sharp mind and daring. Indeed, in these dramatic, moving, sometimes humorous encounters, Shapiro not only learns to strengthen his own faith, he discovers that, despite their vast differences, all people – Polish soldiers, Russian peasants, Oriental nomads – yearn for a life of honor and respect. For Shapiro, this means upholding his faith and commitment to Judaism, even in the most difficult conditions, and avenging the deaths of his beloved family and fellow Jews. The book’s climax, in which Chaim escapes to the West, is more exciting than any Spielberg spectacular.
May Chaim Shapiro’s memory be an inspiration to us all.
AM ECHAD RESOURCES
[Andrea Kahn is a former reporter for the Los Angeles Times. She currently lives in New York, where she freelances for a variety of publications.]
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