There are countless books, fiction and non-fiction, that recount the horrors of the Holocaust and the struggle to survive the Nazi destruction. Yet, each recounting is unique and important as a piece of history and a plea to never forget. Holocaust stories or studies are most often frustrating, heart wrenching and the actions contained in them incomprehensible. Memoirs of survivors are all of these things, yet they are tinged with the bittersweet as well. While the details of each survival story are different, much is similar --- the fear, the violence and the hope.
Felicia Berland Hyatt was raised in Chelm, Poland, the town immortalized in Jewish folklore. World War II brought Nazi occupation, bombs, ghettoes and concentration camps to Poland, tore Hyatt's family apart and, to understate things, changed her life forever. She survived the war, like others, through patience, intelligence, cunning, sheer luck and good timing. Her memoir, CLOSE CALLS, recounts her survival, lovingly remembers her friends and family and vividly portrays the confusion and terror of the war and its victims. Hyatt survived via several tactics, which included fleeing the Nazis, posing as an Aryan and escaping a concentration camp. However, it was mostly her strong determination to stay alive that ensured her survival. CLOSE CALLS, as the reader will discover, is aptly named.
CLOSE CALLS is written simply, but in its simplicity, is a beauty and honesty not found in all memoirs. Hyatt's memoir was a catharsis for her and is an inspiration for her readers. It is intense but very readable. Felicia Berland Hyatt is a very likeable narrator and is admirable as an understated heroine. She does not write to shock or scare her readers but simply to tell her amazing story. While the tale is honest and emotionally brutal, it is appropriate for readers of all ages. Hyatt does assume the reader knows the necessary background information on the Holocaust, which is essential for understanding, but she steers clear of analysis or theories.
As a survivor, Felicia Berland Hyatt believes she has an obligation to share her life story with the world, so that such devastation will never be repeated and that those who lost their lives will always be remembered. As time passes and the survivors age, it is becoming more imperative that as much of their experience as possible is recorded in a variety of forms. What will soon remain are the stories, poems, paintings, songs and films, as well as the collective memory and inspiration they foster. The world will be, and indeed already is, a richer place for Felicia Berland Hyatt having shared her painful but important story.
CLOSE CALLS, as with all Holocaust literature, is immensely important. But it is also a hopeful, thoughtfully written and recommendable memoir.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on July 1, 1991