This Child Died Tomorrow - The Holocaust Diary Of A Greek Boy
by Willard Manus
For safekeeping, Nestor, his brother Artemios and elder sister Julia were sent to stay with a Gentile family friend, who could provide housing but not much else, if only because food and clothing were scarce in wartime Athens. To survive, the Matsases sold most of their possessions, then turned to the black market. Nestor and his 14-year old brother took to the streets, selling cigarettes. Among their best customers were the girls in a downtown brothel, one of whom, Glykeria, took a fancy to the scrawny but studious and likable Nestor.
The recounting of this innocent but warm relationship is only one of many touching moments in the book, which is not only a remarkable piece of literature but an invaluable historical document, one which provides an insider's view of wartime Athens. Although the Matsas children lived in constant fear of being arrested by the Germans or betrayed by their neighbors, they still managed to enjoy moments of pleasure and happiness, especially when they could borrow a book from the library or listen to Julia, a budding actress, declaim speeches from Shakespeare.
Through all the danger, starvation and illness of those horrific months (March-Oct. 1944), Nestor wrote in his diary, not every day but whenever he could, jumping back and forth in time, crossing out and rewriting, sometimes sounding like a child, other times an adult, but always bearing witness, telling the truth. The diary sat in a chest for 36 years before Julia found it and turned it over to the adult Nestor (now a distinguished Athenian writer and film director).
"I didn't remember it," Nestor admitted, "but the notebook was there at the bottom of the chest. A large hundred-sheet notebook with writing from cover to cover. It had sloppy children's penmanship and many corrections. It came along with other notebooks with essays, math, history and geography.
"For a while I didn't want to touch it. That time had died inside me...maybe I was just afraid; afraid of my childhood years...But that old notebook had a voice that yearned to be heard."
The voice reminded him why he had written the journal--so that he could read from it when the war ended and his father returned from the camps. "He will know what happened to us all these months that he wasn't with us," the youthful Nestor had inscribed. "Even if it saddens him, all that we went through, he'll also realize that we've grown up."
Matsas lost 41 close relatives in the Holocaust, including his beloved father. Now, in his place, stands the book, an unforgettable and remarkable memorial. What's almost as remarkable is that the book was translated by a 12-year-old Greek-American lad, Jason Rigas.
"The language Matsas used in his diary was identical to the Greek I was fluent in," Jason explains in a foreword. "Another thing I noticed was that Nestor wrote the diary when he was at the exact age that I was when reading it. The translation came naturally. Here it is."
Here it is, indeed--a collaboration across sixty years by two astonishingly precocious teenagers.
(USA price, $15. ppbk, plus $3. for handling & shipping. Pella Publishing Co. Inc, 337 West 36th St, New York, NY 10018-6401. Tel. (212) 279-9586, fax (212) 594-3602)