A Polish Doctor in the Nazi Camps
My Mother's Memories of Imprisonment, Immigration, and a Life Remade
Published by: University of Oklahoma Press
Imprint: University of Oklahoma Press
416 Pages | 6 x 9 | 28 b&w illus., 4 maps
Jadzia’s daughter, anthropologist Barbara Rylko-Bauer, constructs an intimate ethnography that weaves a personal family narrative against a twentieth-century historical backdrop. As Rylko-Bauer travels back in time with her mother, we learn of the particular hardships that female concentration camp prisoners faced. The struggle continued after the war as Jadzia attempted to rebuild her life, first as a refugee doctor in Germany and later as an immigrant to the United States. Like many postwar immigrants, Jadzia had high hopes of making new connections and continuing her career. Unable to surmount personal, economic, and social obstacles to medical licensure, however, she had to settle for work as a nurse’s aide.
As a contribution to accounts of wartime experiences, Jadzia’s story stands out for its sensitivity to the complexities of the Polish memory of war. Built upon both historical research and conversations between mother and daughter, the story combines Jadzia’s voice and Rylko-Bauer’s own journey of rediscovering her family’s past. The result is a powerful narrative about struggle, survival, displacement, and memory, augmenting our understanding of a horrific period in human history and the struggle of Polish immigrants in its aftermath.
“Compelling. Riveting. Exquisite. Barbara Rylko-Bauer brings an anthropologist’s mind, eye, heart, and ear to the untold story of a young Polish physician ensnared as subject and accessory to the Nazi project of slave labor and mass murder. In no uncertain terms, A Polish Doctor in the Nazi Camps reaffirms the dignity of survival, resilience, and solidarity in the face of human suffering. The book sets a high bar for the new genre of intimate ethnography.”—Gelya Frank, author of Venus on Wheels: Two Decades of Dialogue on Disability, Biography, and Being Female in America
“Barbara Rylko-Bauer is a patient and painstaking documentarian and a superb writer with a knack for revealing how forces and events beyond the control or the ready understanding of her protagonists came to affect even their most intimate thoughts and daily lives, and to shape their recollections. Through a mother and daughter’s incandescent collaboration, the rough stone of memory is tumbled and polished, emerging as a fiery gem.”—Paul Farmer, author of Haiti after the Earthquake and To Repair the World: Paul Farmer Speaks to the Next Generation
“A necessary and important book about a time period already well described but not from this point of view. Rylko-Bauer adds a poignant and often moving annex to Holocaust literature without centering her narrative on that cataclysm. Her mother’s story, while only a sliver of it, encompasses enough horror to give meaning to the much more pervasive devastation of the Jewish community.”—Gretchen Schafft, author of From Racism to Genocide: Anthropology in the Third Reich