What Are The Blind Men Dreaming?

BOOK REVIEW by Willard Manus

WHAT ARE THE BLIND MEN DREAMING? is really three books in one. The first contains a diary written by Lili Jaffe (nee Stern) during and after WW II. Lili grew up in a Serbian town and began keeping a diary in 1944 (at the age of sixteen) when the Nazis rounded up the Jewish colony and shipped it to Auschwitz, where she and her three cousins were assigned to kitchen duty. Later, after learning that her mother had been murdered in Auschwitz, Lili was transferred to Belsen, where the Nazis, who were now terrified of the advancing Russian army, emptied the camp and sent the starving inmates to a town in Germany, where they worked briefly in a war factory, only to be transferred to another camp near Hamburg.

After Germany capitulated, Lili found herself in the care of the Danish Red Cross, who put her on a train to Sweden, where she and her cousins were treated like “brave soldiers who came back from the front, victorious.” Sent to yet another camp where she could recuperate, Lili slowly felt herself becoming a woman–-to such an extent that she could fall in love with a fellow-Serbian, a non-Jewish Holocaust survivor.

The second part of BLIND MEN was written by Lili’s daughter, Noemi Jaffe, who grew up in Brazil (Lili’s last home) and decided, in 2009, after reading Lili’s diary, to visit Auschwitz and relive some of her mother’s experiences. Her reflections on the meaning of the Holocaust--and the history that caused it-- are complex, deeply felt, and profoundly moving.

Book Three is a short one written by Noemi’s daughter, Leda Cartum, who accompanied her mother to Auschwitz and has her own, quite different thoughts about the visit.
The linked writings of these three women are, as the book’s publisher has said, a testimony to “the power of literature as a means to bear witness.”