In the Unlikeliest of Places
How Nachman Libeskind Survived the Nazis, Gulags, and Soviet Communism
Annette Libeskind Berkovits thought her attempt to have her father record his life's story failed. But in 2004, three years after her father's death, she was going through his things and found a box of tapes—several years' worth—with his spectacular life, triumphs, and tragedies told one last time in his baritone voice.
Nachman Libeskind's remarkable story is an odyssey through crucial events of the twentieth century. With an unshakable will and a few drops of luck, he survives a pre-war Polish prison; witnesses the 1939 Nazi invasion of Lodz and narrowly escapes; is imprisoned in a brutal Soviet gulag where he helps his fellow inmates survive, and upon regaining his freedom treks to the foothills of the Himalayas, where he finds and nearly loses the love of his life. Later, the crushing communist regime and a lingering postwar anti-Semitism in Poland drive Nachman and his young family to Israel, where he faces a new form of discrimination. Then, defiantly, Nachman turns a pocketful of change into a new life in New York City, where a heartbreaking promise leads to his unlikely success as a modernist painter that inspires others to pursue their dreams.
With just a box of tapes, Annette Libeskind Berkovits tells more than her father's story: she builds an uncommon family saga and reimagines a turbulent past. In the process she uncovers a stubborn optimism that flourished in the unlikeliest of places.
"This is a beautifully written saga of a Jewish family before, during and after World War II. The Holocaust must never be forgotten. The historical value of survivor testimonies is important to preserving the collective memory of humanity. "- Hanna Davidson Pankowsky, author of East of the Storm: Outrunning the Holocaust in Russia
"Berkovits, Libeskind's daughter and the author of this cinematically gripping debut biography, does a masterful job weaving together a coherent narrative, culled largely from tape recordings that her father left behind. She has a rare gift for storytelling . .. the prose is lively and direct, and the story is deeply affecting . .. A moving tale that's emotionally powerful and historically edifying. "- Kirkus Reviews
"This is a book that works on so many levels: as the biography of a Polish Jew who narrowly escapes two murderous totalitarian systems, as a personal journey that leads to a new life in the United States marked by optimism and accomplishment—and, above all, as the beautiful, heartfelt tribute of a daughter to her remarkable father. "- Andrew Nagorski, author of Hitlerland: American Eyewitnesses to the Nazi Rise to Power (2012)
"The deeper I went into In the Unlikeliest of Places the more I found my eyes tearing up—not from the suffering of victims of the Holocaust but from the beauty of the extraordinary courage and success of Nachman Libeskind. It is, of course, the success of a whole family, a whole people refusing to accept defeat, but it's especially the defiance and joy in his spirit that is so moving. When he goes to Berlin to see the Jewish Museum, designed by his son, Daniel Libeskind, and when he takes up painting in his eighties, not as an old man's busywork but with craft, power, verve, and a brilliant sense of color and composition—those victories moved me more than any recent book on the Holocaust and survival. That man! You're going to love him and love the people who supported and believed in him, especially his wife Dora and his children—Annette and Daniel—and his grandchildren. "- John J. Clayton, author of Many Seconds into the Future (2014) and Mitzvah Man (2011)
Annette Libeskind Berkovits's In The Unlikeliest of Places is an incandescent biographical tribute to the author's father, Nachman Libeskind, an eternally hopeful survivor. ... Berkovits relates her father's story in elegant and shifting prose. ...Though this is, inescapably, a Holocaust survivor's biography, it is not dominated by those horrors; rather, it celebrates the ingenuity with which one man made his time less about enduring than about living vibrantly.
In the Unlikeliest of Places honors the life of an artist, a father, and a survivor who maintained his sense of identity with gentility, despite the historical challenges he endured.- Michelle Anne Schingler, Foreword Clarion Reviews