Don’t judge a book by its cover.
When Polish Holocaust survivor Jafa Wallach penned an account about her life-and-death ordeal for her daughter in 1959, she little realized that the abandoned manuscript would be published 47 years later, and become a remarkable testament to her indomitable spirit at her own 100th birthday celebration — more than 4,000 miles away in Brooklyn.
Proudly clutching her celebrated book, “Bitter Freedom: Memoirs of a Holocaust Survivor” [Hermitage Press], the birthday belle flashed a million dollar smile and proved that age is merely relative as she held court during a party for her at Scharf’s Ateret Avot Senior Residence, 1410 East 10th Street, attemded by multi-generations of loved ones.
A huge iced cake, presents, and hugs galore capped the revel for Jafa, whose book was summarized by Emmy Award-winning writer and director Nelson E. Breen as being “the most compelling first-person account by a Holocaust survivor that I have ever encountered.”
“Bitter Freedom” chronicles how the authoress, her husband and two of her brothers spent nearly two years entombed in a six-foot-by-five-foot ground hole they dug themselves to escape Hitler’s Nazis, sharing with rats the new home they had constructed beneath the shop floor of gentile mechanic Josef Zwornaz in the summer of 1944.
Jafa’s daughter, Rena Bernstein — herself, a Holocaust survivor and the sole surviving Jewish child from the Sanok/Lesko region of Galicia, in Southeastern Poland — found the manuscript and published it in 2006, instantly turning her mother into a celebrity writer in her golden years.
“Bitter Freedom” provides a forum, continues Breen, “…for not only those interested in the Holocaust, but for everyone seeking illumination into the complexities and mysteries of what it means to be human.”
Happy Birthday, Jafa, and many more!