In Jewish tradition, individuals bear a heavy responsibility to remember, recount, and record experiences for future generations. In Frozen Mud and Red Ribbons, Avital Baruch does more than just fulfil this obligation in her book of the generational experience of the Holocaust and Holocaust memory. She interweaves oral history, memory, and documentary sources to create a compelling account of her family’s journey from Romania to Israel, while at the same time exorcising her own demons and recounting her own journey from confusion to understanding growing up in a household and community of survivors.
The book is part memoir, part history of the experience of a Romanian Jewish family immersed in the traditions and rituals of Romanian Jewish communities, often overlooked in the Holocaust literature, and sharing the experiences of the polyglot Central European Jewish world. In line with many emerging Holocaust narratives, it offers a view of the Holocaust from the perspective of the survivors’ children who, as Baruch demonstrates, might be counted as casualties as well, although of a different sort, haunted by the ghosts of the horrors of the past. In her work that aims to bring ‘cleanliness’ or to clear up the loose ends of the past, Baruch captures a world of Holocaust memory from Mihaileni, Iasi, Botosani, Bucharest and Transnistria that includes the wanderings, deportations, deprivations, persecutions, and genocide of Romania’s Jews. Her book captures the personal aspects and individual experiences of the Romanian Holocaust as Romania followed a path from independent state, to Axis ally, and back to independent state, along the trail of German Nazis and Russian Communists. In stunning detail, she relates the sufferings of the transience of life—in names, places, homes— and the hopes and disappointments associated with alternating periods of tragedy and triumph. Periods of hunger and deprivation are punctuated by stories of celebration and the taste of Romanian delicacies including mamaliga, kigalé and honey cake, which alternates with the bitterness of hunger.
The overlapping voices of family members including Baruch’s mother, grandmother, father, and aunts offer a variety of perspectives on deportation, hiding, and flight, and on those who offered assistance, XIV inflicted pain, resisted the catastrophe, collaborated or acquiesced. The style of the book, written almost as a stream of consciousness, reflects on the richness and variety of Jewish life, and reveals the conflicts, both internal and external, of Jewish communities from ultra‐religious Jews in Romania to radical Zionists in Israel. Baruch succeeds in bringing a sense of order and cleanliness, in recounting moments of great kindness and of unthinkable cruelty and in tracing the footsteps of black muddy feet and the fluttering of red ribbons.