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Little Bird of Auschwitz: How My Mother Escaped Death and Found Our Family by Alina and Jacques Peretti

Title: Little Bird of Auschwitz: How My Mother Escaped Death and Found Our Family

A black and white photo of a young woman under blue stripes. Title is Little Bird of Auschwitz: How My Mother Escaped Death and Found our Family by Alina and Jacques Peretti.

Author: Alina and Jacques Peretti

Genre: Biography, History

Publisher: Hachette/Hodder and Stoughton

Published: 25th January 2022

Format: Paperback

Pages: 300

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: The remarkable story of a woman’s journey out of Auschwitz to find her family, told to her son for the very first time.

‘My son Jacques is telling my story. I always wanted to tell it myself but never could. Maybe my English wasn’t good enough. I never had the courage. I never imagined for a second it would be written down.’

As a reporter, Jacques Peretti has spent his life investigating important stories. But there was one story, heard in scattered fragments throughout his childhood, that he never thought to investigate. The story of how his mother survived Auschwitz.

In the few last months of the War, thirteen-year-old Alina Peretti, along with her mother and sister, was one of thirteen thousand non-Jewish Poles sent to Auschwitz, in the wake of the Warsaw Uprising. Her experiences there, which she rarely discussed, cast a shadow over the rest of her life.

Now ninety, Alina has been diagnosed with dementia. Together, mother and son begin a race against time to record her memories and preserve her family’s story. For the first time, Alina recalls her experiences as a child during the Second World War, the horrors that she witnessed in Auschwitz and the miraculous story of how she survived a firing squad.

Along the way, Jacques learns long-hidden secrets about his mother’s family; his mysterious grandfather who lived a double-life, his grandmother who read tarot cards in a Soviet labour camp, and his aunt and uncles, whose fate he never knew. He also gains an understanding of his mother through retracing her past, learning more about the woman who would never let him call her ‘Mum’.

~*~

Jacques Peretti’s mother, Alina, survived World War Two in Poland, Siberia, and towards the end, Auschwitz – she was one of 1300 non-Jewish Poles sent there as the Nazi regime started to collapse in the last few years of the war. Jacques decided to record his mother’s story as dementia started to affect her, so the book is told in two different ways – the events of the 1930s and 1940s are interspersed with italicised sections of the conversations between mother and son, moving from a pre-pandemic world and recounting how they managed to connect and get the story down through the pandemic. What resulted was this book – Little Bird of Auschwitz – and how it has impacted Alina and her family.

As we head back into Alina’s past, we learn that her family dynamics were less than ideal for her. Her adopted brother, Pavel, and biological siblings Juta and Kazhik conspired against Alina, as did her mother. As a young girl, Alina was made to feel like an outsider until her siblings drove her and her mother away, and the war separated them, until they were finally reunited in a devastated and blacked Poland. It would be a few years until they were separated again – the brothers off fighting, and the sisters and mother sent to Auschwitz as the Nazi’s tried to eradicate all those in Poland, Jewish or not, as we are told through Alina’s recollections of what happened, and research that Jacques would have done to give background to the family story.

Family and everything that it entails – love, support, or lack of these things, is at the heart of this story that takes place in the larger context of World War Two, the Nazis and the Holocaust, but gives a non-Jewish perspective – the people who were on the sidelines, who were valued because they were not Jewish – at least at first, but nonetheless, were not quite what the Nazis wanted for their empire. It highlights that in a place like Poland, nobody was safe during the war, or after – as once the Nazis were defeated, the Soviets took over and an era of Communism and state surveillance began. So we get a full picture of Alina’s life and experiences, and what she saw – in her words and how she felt seeing it. It highlights all the atrocities witnessed, and the sense of hopelessness that some felt, the lengths they were driven to and what they had to do to survive those years. It’s just a small, individual slice and experience of the war, and shows that as meticulous as the Nazis were at keeping records about the camp, Alina witnessed them being just as meticulous trying to erase any evidence of the camps and anyone who had been subjected to them.

It is not an easy story to read – it’s painful and raw, opening up memories and wounds but another important story to highlight these atrocities and how ordinary people were treated for simply being where they were at times, like Alina and Olga were, and what they endured whilst the rest of the family appeared to covert towards the Nazi ideology until that too was shattered. It shows that nobody in the occupied territories was immune or safe from the horrors that the Nazis inflicted on Europe and was another eye opening read about an individual experience that shows parallels with the COVID-19 pandemic, especially at the start – and how people have endured that and war – and come out the other end alive.

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