“THE WORLD THAT WE KNEW,” BY ALICE HOFFMAN

I have read many books about the Holocaust, fictional and non-fictional, and I have known a few Holocaust survivors, but while reading Ms. Hoffman’s fascinating, haunting, brilliantly crafted novel about the Germans’ genocide of the Jewish people two experiences and recollections kept running through my mind: First, while reading a biography on the great Alexander Hamilton the writer recalled an episode in Mr. Hamilton’s life when he defended a Jewish client in court who was literally on trial for being Jewish. Mr Hamilton, turned to the jury that was made up of Christians and asked, “Don’t you find it ironic that you are judging the guilt and innocence of my client for being Jewish while at the same time you worship your God (Jesus Christ) who was a rabbi and also Jewish? Do you dare judge the innocence of Jesus Christ?” Mr. Hamilton’s client was found not guilty.

Secondly, many a year ago at a Christmas Eve party I was sitting at a table with a number of men and women, all devout Christians, quoting this passage and that passage from the Bible, and at the same time expressing their disdain for Jews and how they wished that the school that their darling children attended had not hired a couple of Jewish teachers “because God only knows what disgusting things they were teaching them.” After listening to this bunch of hypocrites I could not take it anymore and more or less told them the same thing Mr. Hamilton had said. They argued and told me what I said was not true. Yes, he might have been a Jew once but it was he who showed the Jews the errors in their beliefs and tried to convert them. I simply replied, “He died a Jew, and the Christian religion did not come about for another three centuries after Christ’s death.” I then got up and left and went to seedy bar where I felt more comfortable.

Ms. Hoffman’s “The World that We Knew,” is a tapestry that weaves together similarities between Judaism and Christianity and delinerates between science and the supernatural that creates a world of wonder, love and sacrifice, cruelty and evil.

Hanni Koln sacrifices her life for her twelve year old daughter, Lea, and sends her away from her home in Berlin to save her from the Nazi regime. In desperation, Hanni turns to Ettie, the daughter of a rabbi, who has been eavesdropping on her father and learns the secret to creating a rare and unusual golem that she names Ava, who is sworn to protect her daughter, Lea.

This takes Lea and Ava on travels through France, to mountain villages, convents, a home of a doctor, a home of family relatives where they are thought to be safe in Paris, until the French puppets of the Nazis’ follow their orders and start rounding up all Jews and sending them either to labor camps or concentration camps. Ava, who is a thousand times stronger than any humans, protects Lea but it is on their journey to find safety that they meet fellow Jews also on the run from the Nazis and are simply trying to survive and to fight back against the evil, soulless Germans.

Strong relationships form among this group and even though they travel different paths they always seem to be connected through love and caring and the hope to be free from the German menace.

Ms. Hoffman has brilliantly crafted a novel, with amazing characters, a myriad of stories and mysteries, that literally leaves the reader glued to the book and the idea that love is never-ending.

I truly magnificent work of literature.

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