Footprints In The Forest by Jeanette Katzir is a historical novel. It is set during the second world war in Poland and in America in 1948. It is written in the first person from the point of view of Chana, a Polish teenager. The reader becomes intimately acquainted with her and knows her hopes and dreams, fears and struggles as she fights to survive the war as a Jew and then adapt to life afterwards.
The novel concerns the Jewish question and the holocaust. It is not always pleasant reading but it is realistic. We owe it to the six million innocents who perished, to tell their story and keep their memory alive.
Jeanette Katzir pulls no punches. She tells it as it was. For the Jewish people, it was a daily battle to survive. The rules in war were different to peacetime. It was kill or be killed. Consequently there is the theme of guilt. Chana feels guilty for her actions during the war but living through that necessitated a different set of rules.
There is naturally the theme of loss. The Polish Jews lost so much… families members, their homes, their businesses. They were a displaced people whom no one wanted. Ghetto conditions were atrocious. People survived as best they could.
The theme of loss links to the theme of searching… searching for family, homes, businesses, searching to belong… a people whom no one wanted.
Fear pervades the novel. This is tied in with the theme of trust. Chana fights with the partisans but no one really trusts anyone else. One was on constant high alert. The question mark always hung over whom could one trust? Alliances when formed, were strong. Alliances when severed were gut wrenching. Fear of being alone ran throughout.
The time was one of hatred and prejudice. The Nazis brain washed the people to cruelty and hate.
The novel is not all doom and gloom. Love continued in times of war. The love of family was strong. Brave mothers waved goodbye to their offspring, hoping this would raise their chances of survival.
Adjusting to life in peacetime was hard. Today we would recognise PTSD in survivors but then it had no name. Chana finds solace in her memories and her painting to keep those memories alive.
As a historian, with a passion for the Jewish question and the second world war, I found Footprints In The Forest to be an accurate portrayal of life at the time. It was a compulsive read but very unpleasant at times. Life was harsh, cruel and unbearable for the Jews at the time. The novel is realistic and it tugged at my heart. Everyone should read this book in memory of the six million. May we never forget them. Thank you Jeanette Katzir for keeping their memory alive.
I received this book for free. A favourable review was not required and all views expressed are my own.