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Cahn, T. (1988). Through the Eyes Of A Twelve-Year-Old Girl (Oczyma Dwunastoletniej Dziewczyny). Janina Herscheles. Krakow: Wojewodzka Zydowska Komisja Historyczna, 1946.. Psychoanal. Rev., 75(4):658-660.

(1988). Psychoanalytic Review, 75(4):658-660

Through the Eyes Of A Twelve-Year-Old Girl (Oczyma Dwunastoletniej Dziewczyny). Janina Herscheles. Krakow: Wojewodzka Zydowska Komisja Historyczna, 1946.

Review by:
Theresa Cahn

On stifling, flea infested nights in Poland's Janowska death camp, a group of young women would occasionally sneak out of the barracks. In the glow of burning corpses, they would arrange “evening entertainment” to help pass the sleepless hours. Popular among them was 11-year-old Janka Herscheles, who composed and recited her own “poems without rhyme.” The little poetess attracted the attention of a writer, whose later efforts resulted in her rescue.

Whisked away from the camp in September 1943, Janka received a gray notebook in which to record her memoirs. Right after the war, at age 15, she presided over their publication.

The memoirs are vivid, engrossing, and surprisingly unchildlike. They focus with startling detail and clarity on external events, largely omitting the young author's internal reactions. Developmental issues typical of the pre-adolescent stage are absent.

The matter-of-factness with which the author portrays a child's journey through hell heightens the emotional impact on the reader. How, one wonders, can a youngster survive such ordeals sufficiently intact to produce such a powerful document?

The answer to this elusive question of “invulnerability” may lie partly in the girl's exceptional intellectual and creative endowment. In addition, her memories of her parents suggest that they raised her with love and empathy. These qualities promoted secure attachment not only to them, but to other adults after the parents were gone.

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