The Postcard by Anne Berest

A gripping search for the enigmatic meaning of a postcard bearing the names of relatives killed in the Nazi camps becomes a quest for personal identification and the finding of an appropriate place in the world. Absolutely intriguing.

The Postcard by Anne Berest, translated by Tina Cover
Europa Editions
Hardcover | $28
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We have all, most likely, read a number of books relating to the Holocaust. Each time, it seems to this reader, our hearts are broken. Here the story is so personal, so intimate that it truly rends the emotions and harvests all our sympathy. Based on actual events in the author’s life this account of Russian Jewish refugees seeking peace and freedom but finding little of either wherever they go is bound to resonate with anyone empathetic to the cause of the oppressed anywhere, any time. It transcends the usual. It renders the tragedy poignantly and with impact that can be felt in the gut.


The Rabinowitz family has fled repeatedly to a number of European countries and Israel to escape what is a ubiquitous prejudice against people of their faith. Each time, it seems, they have found a safe and secure home. But cracks appear in the tolerance of their neighbors and a pernicious, mean-spirited bias emerges from the swamps of personal grievance and jealousy to continually drive them before the dogs of hatred. Finally, it seems, in Paris they have found a place to become their own. But Hitler and his minions put an end to that. Most of the family are arrested and sent to the camps and their horrible demise.


Many years later, Anne Berest, granddaughter of the surviving member of the family is at home when a postcard appears bearing the names of her progenitors, those who disappeared into the maw of Nazi terror and death. It has, simply, four names: Ephraim, Emma, Noemie and Jacques. On the face of the card is a photo of the Opera Garnier, a classical edifice coopted by the Nazis into a headquarters for their nefarious activities in France. No signature is appended, the postmark leads nowhere and the writing is strangely awkward. The mystery arouses some interest initially but is soon forgotten, the event having occurred many years, even decades before. But as time goes on Anne becomes obsessed with finding out who sent it and why. She begins doing research, aided by her mother, a detective agency and a handwriting expert. The search becomes by turns sinister and redemptive.


To know one’s heritage but know little of how it came to be, to be sure of oneself but unsure of one’s place in the world, to belong to a culture but be perpetually and subtly excluded from it is an exquisite kind of psychological torture known to few of us who have not experienced deep social prejudice. It is this dynamic which propels this compelling work and draws the reader into an experience that is more than a mere historical account. This prize-winning book is one not to be missed by anyone who cares about justice and human dignity.