Tuesday, May 21st, 2013
Bury the Hot is the true story of a boy who hid from Hitler, but could never escape the memories. His friend, writer Deb Levy, completed his book for him. Below, she describes what it was like writing about a child in such a desperate situation while trying to raise three young sons of her own.
“One evening last summer, I strolled with my children toward an outdoor concert in our local park. The path was forested, and I found myself doing what I’d been doing for years already: imagining myself in a different set of woods, clutching my sons’ hands, running, fearful of letting go and losing them in the pitch black. I summoned the cold, the hunger, and Nazis.
While writing a book about the Holocaust, I spent hours on the phone with Sal (pronounced Sol; formerly Szulim), a close family friend who’d hired me to write his memoir. For months, I probed his memory, shook dust off painful recollections, and wakened the dead. In doing so, I found myself constantly comparing and contrasting the sheer normalcy of my life—buying chicken, running a bath—with the details of a time that was anything but.
My children became the perfect frame of reference as I delved into the world of another little boy. I’d stare at my youngest, age 3 at the time, and think, “That’s how old Szulim was when German warplanes first darkened the sky above his house.” I tried to picture my then 6-year-old stumbling over cobblestones—like Szulim at 6, fleeing a Gestapo roundup. I trembled at the thought of kissing my own 10-year-old goodbye before sending him on an orphan train across Europe.
I wrote my sons’ sensory quirks and self-soothing habits into Szulim’s story. When I sought to capture the dismantling of Szulim’s world through the eyes of a child, I stared into the faces of my own. On the playground, at the dentist, everywhere I turned, a little Yiddish boy became the doppelganger to my three. Even worse, I found myself getting angry—quickly, and all too often—at the boys seated around my own kitchen table. Their incessant requests, their refusal to eat a home-cooked meal, their inability to sit still for two minutes—it was driving me mad. Dzietzy i ribi glosi nie mayem! “Children and fish do not have a voice,” I wanted to yell, an old Polish trope about childrearing. But wait a minute. We’re not living in a mid-century shtetl. Besides, what kind of mother doesn’t want to hear her son’s voice?
As it turns out, a scared one. Every day, I sat at the computer and immersed myself in a world where bullies did more than exclude a child from a coveted seat in the cafeteria, where threats weren’t online, but on the street where Szulim, hungry, wearing his yellow star, rolled his hoop in the ghetto’s dirt. If my children can’t sit still during dinner, how will they survive when they have to cower in an attic without moving, while Nazi soldiers patrol the sidewalks below? For 18 days, Szulim and his little brother sat trembling in silence, waiting. There were no iPhones. No snacks. Nothing but fear that each moment might be their last. Could my sons survive this? I knew the answer and it terrified me.Add a Comment