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From Deaf History International (DHI) Newsletter
Surviving in Silence is one of the few published memoirs of a Deaf Jewish Holocaust survivor, and perhaps the first by a major press in any language. As such, it makes a significant contribution to Deaf History and Holocaust History. Even the youngest of the survivors of the terrible events of Europe's mid-century are now approaching the last stage of their lives. It is therefore of crucial importance that the neglected stories of Deaf people in the Holocaust be documented, a project now being undertaken by Donna Ryan and John Schuchman of Gallaudet University. Schuchman provides the introduction for Surviving in Silence, and in fairness to the readers of this review I should say at the outset that not only are Ryan and Schuchman my colleagues, but I also know Harry Dunai himself. I first met him at the conference on the Deaf experience in the Holocaust sponsored by Gallaudet and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1998. I subsequently participated in a three-week tour of Holocaust sites in 2000, with Dunai, other survivors, and a group of faculty and students, during which we visited many of the sites mentioned in his memoir. Nevertheless, the importance of this memoir cannot be contested.
Surviving in Silence was written by Dunai’s daughter Eleanor from the perspective of Harry himself. Beginning with his birth as Israel Deutsch in 1934, the ninth of ten children in a hearing Jewish family on their farm in what was then Czechoslovakia (given to Hungary by the Nazis, it later became part of Russia, and is today part of the Ukraine), Harry lived through many of the major events in twentieth-century Europe. For Deaf History, the most important parts of his story concern his early life. Harry’s family owned a farm and small general store in the tiny town then called Velky Komjata, in the Ruthenian area of the Carpathian Mountains in extreme eastern Czechoslovakia. It was a happy but simple life of hard work: they had no indoor plumbing; they worked the fields and slaughtered their own animals. They were a religious family, and Harry’s father had studied to be a rabbinical judge, though he did not function as one. The area in which they lived was a complex mix of ethnic and linguistic groups, including Slovaks, Romanians, Ruthenians, and Hungarians, and Harry’s family spoke Magyar, the Hungarian language. After Harry was deafened at about age one, the family devised a rudimentary system of home signs and gestures to communicate with him. Bur rather than send him to the government-run school for the Deaf about sixty miles away, which the other deaf boy in the town attended, at age six Harry was sent to the privately-funded Israelite [Jewish] Deaf and Mute National Institute, a boarding school in Budapest, Hungary, about 350 miles away. Along with the three other Jewish boarding schools for the Deaf in Berlin, London and Vienna, it was one of the great private schools for the Jewish Deaf in Europe founded in the nineteenth century. I believe that the choice of the Israelite Institute, with its excellent reputation, reflects the importance of Jewish identity for the family, as well as their concern for getting him the best possible education.
Eleanor C. Dunai is a special subjects teacher at a private school in Newport Beach, CA.
ISBN 978-1-56368-119-6, 6 x 9 hardcover, 192 pages, photographs
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