••• The International Writers Magazine - Our 20th Year: Reviews
FINDING RELLY by Rosemary Schonfeld
A Review by Rosemary North
'...essential reading for all university students, and for anyone who tries to deny the truth of the Holocaust...'
Finding Relly is a powerful and ultimately uplifting story of how horror can be turned into hope, how the unspeakable atrocities of the Holocaust and its far-reaching legacies can become the survival of traumatised individuals and the triumphant continuation of the Jewish race despite all attempts at annihilation. It is a lesson for everyone who reads it to learn and understand how quickly extremist right-wing groups can flourish in a complacent atmosphere whilst some of us look away and say “this could never happen here”. It could, and if each one of us is not vigilant, it will.
Not since the years leading up to the Second World War has this been so relevant: now the cancer of right-wing extremism, religious intolerance and hate is spreading all over Europe, the USA and the rest of the world. Whether it is directed at Jews or Muslims or any other group of people, if this continues unchecked by the optimistic liberal left, it is only a matter of time before history repeats itself, and “difference” is used by right wing groups as an excuse for oppression of minorities.
Apart from the obvious political relevance, it is a book very much worth reading for other reasons. It is well written, lucid and honest, and revealing about the way social attitudes and behaviour changed over the last half of the twentieth century. Finding Relly covers a time of progress since the 50s when, for many families, respectability was a carefully contrived facade hiding many secrets, creating a generation of children who often grew up uncertain of their own identity. Finding freedom and moving out to make their own independent lives often involved painful exploration of their inner selves. Sometimes this included experimentation with mind-altering substances, new ways of living and learning to relate to the world. Communes and the hippy doctrine of “make love not war” flourished among a generation who grew up under the shadow of World Wars, hypocrisy and pretence. At the forefront of this questing generation were rock and folk musicians, artists, writers and a new wave of intellectuals unafraid to challenge the status quo.
The first part of Finding Relly chronicles the relatively calm childhood and apparent stability Rosemary enjoyed until the onset of puberty coincided with events which changed her certainty about her identity. She describes feeling as if she has been “hit from behind”. This feeling recurs through her life as the book follows her fascinating and searingly honest journey, both inside herself and across the world. It details how she goes through a period of torment at the same time as she is forging a career as a successful professional rock musician, and comes to terms with her sexuality – at a time when this was “unacceptable” to society – as she tries to understand the origin of the demons that frequently plague her life.
This leads Rosemary into a period of slow and painful self discovery, at the end of which she reaches the realisation that, to uncover what it is in her hidden past that has periodically “hit her from behind”, she needs to find her lost aunt Relly.
Meeting Relly proves to be cathartic and joyful, as she connects with her aunt and extended family, learns more of her own hitherto hidden past, and learns from Relly about survival. Relly enfolds Rosemary with a healing love which enables her to piece together her past and find a peace which has eluded her, and to continue to seek out connections and memories from her past, so that she and her brother Raymond are able to honour those they have lost and to ensure that their names continue to be known.
Relly is charismatic and has touched many people in her life with her ability to rise above the hatred which she herself encountered in the Holocaust years. Relly’s story, and Rosemary’s autobiographical account of her own life and how she has been touched by the stories of so many brave survivors and by the Second Generation who keep their memories alive, are a triumphant illustration of the human will to survive.
Finding Relly should be essential reading for all university students, and for anyone who tries to deny the truth of the Holocaust, or to deny the inescapable connection between the years leading up to the Holocaust with what is happening now. Now is the time to fight Fascism with knowledge.
© Rosemary North May 2019
mullion1 at aol.co.uk
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