Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Girl in the Green Sweater: A Life in Holocaust’s Shadow

Krystyna Chiger
St. Martin's Press
Reviewed by: Nancy
4 out of 5 stars

Plot Summary

In 1943, with Lvov's 150,000 Jews having been exiled, killed, or forced into ghettos and facing extermination, a group of Polish Jews daringly sought refuge in the city's sewer system. The last surviving member this group, Krystyna Chiger, shares one of the most intimate, harrowing and ultimately triumphant tales of survival to emerge from the Holocaust. The Girl in the Green Sweater is Chiger's harrowing first-person account of the fourteen months she spent with her family in the fetid, underground sewers of Lvov.

The Girl in the Green Sweater is also the story of Leopold Socha, the group's unlikely savior. A Polish Catholic and former thief, Socha risked his life to help Chiger's underground family survive, bringing them food, medicine, and supplies. A moving memoir of a desperate escape and life under unimaginable circumstances, The Girl in the Green Sweater is ultimately a tale of intimate survival, friendship, and redemption.

My Review

After watching Agnieszka Holland’s powerful film, In Darkness, I was delighted to find this story in the library.  After finishing it, I learned that the film was not actually based on Krystyna Chiger’s story, but on an earlier story by Robert Marshall, In the Sewers of Lvov, which covers the same events. 

The Girl in the Green Sweater is told from the perspective of Krystyna, who was only 8 years old when the Lvov ghetto in Poland was liquidated and the remaining Jews sent to their deaths.  The Chiger family had to resort to desperate measures in order to save their lives and spent the next 14 months underground, living in a sewer amid rats, worms, filth, and bacteria.  Many panicked people who descended into the sewers died from drowning or from the grenades thrown through the manhole openings by the occupying forces.  

The family’s savior was Leopold Socha, a Polish sewer worker and a former thief.  He brought them food, clothing, and other supplies they would need to survive their time in the sewer.  Though he was paid very well for his efforts, the work was not without any risk.  In Nazi-occupied Poland, anyone who gets caught helping Jews was punished by death, along with their family.  After the family’s money ran out, it then became obvious that Socha’s intentions were not solely mercenary.

While this story was very grim and showed the darkest side of humanity, there were also moments of humor, bravery, devotion, and sacrifice.  

This story works well as a memoir and survival adventure, but as a Holocaust story, I felt it was lacking historical background.  Though the story was told from a child’s viewpoint, Krystyna was much too young to recall all the events that took place and had to rely on her parents’ memories.  Her father kept a journal and I really would have liked to see some excerpts from it to show a different perspective.  

I can’t help but think that the Chiger family was fortunate to be so wealthy, or they surely would have not survived the war. 

Also posted at Goodreads

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