To survive the Holocaust, Relli becomes Lala with a grace that would seem to speak of a mature person. Except this little girl is not quite four years old. Her life will be a puzzle for the rest of her days. Only a child with an innate strength and maturity could have survived and become the woman. I am honored to have been able to read the woman’s story about the little girl, the teen girl and the woman as she and family were “Raking Light from Ashes.”
The Child Didn’t Know The Risk
Relli Robinson begins telling us her Holocaust experience at her perception of the beginning. A tender age of 3 years and 10 months. Yet, she is already an ‘old soul.’ She doesn’t recall much of her life before that beginning, all through the book, yet has to acknowledge the strength that her parents built in her. Strength that they knew she and the new people in her life would need if they were all to survive.
The ashes that make up the days of Relli’s life have multiple sources. The greatest and foremost ashes are those of her parents and much of her extended family at the hands of Nazi murderers.
Ash flakes of confusion about why and how continue throughout her story. She was a fearless child who could adapt and obey, yet behave with a natural verve which hid her better than any disguise. No one suspected the precocious, friendly little blonde girl!
Holocaust Can’t Kill Great, Sacrificial Love
In an effort to provide survival from the certain fate of the Warsaw ghetto, Relli’s birth parents, Franka and Michal, make arrangements for a Gentile Polish family to ‘adopt’ her. They smuggle her out of the ghetto and from that day forward, she has a new daddy and mommy. Her name and personal identity for the years of the war become Lala (Polish for ‘doll’). Her blonde curls and blue eyes bely her Jewish heritage.
Back to that ‘old soul.’ Janina and Jozef, her new parents, truly come to love her as their child. With amazingly little protest, she accepts their guidance that she will be known as Lala and that they will be her mommy and daddy without exception. Their intent is to reconnect with her birth parents after the war, however long that will be. Lala pulls that off with a delightful style and integrity. She goes so deeply into the “Lala” story that when the war is over and her Jewish family wants her, she has some serious identity challenges.
Challenges that this beautiful soul meets with that same grace I wrote about before.
In the midst of the horrendous Holocaust in Poland, Lala/Relli is fortunate to have had birth and adoptive parents who keep her on a level of life that seeks to learn and make the most of the life offered her. Their solid parenting built the basis for the grace which strenthened Relli through the times of terror.
Adoptive Love, Real and Lasting, Makes The Plan Work
After November, 1943, Janina and Jozef know the awful truth about Franka and Michal’s fate. They have been murdered in a ‘camp’. The details are not hidden; friends and family know gory details that Relli doesn’t have to absorb until she is actually more mature.
However, when Janina and Relli must leave the ghetto and hide on a friend’s farm, there is no way that Relli can be sheltered from atrocities committed by German military fleeing ahead of the Russian liberators. Unnecessary, vicious and scarring to the soul of a small child as well as the rest of the people on the farm.
There will be more adjustments for Relli and Janina as they join the Russian troops moving toward Germany.
Relli’s adoptive parents bring extended family into her life. Even though she eventually is returned, the adoptive family resisted and longed to keep her. The death of Janina in a tragic accident was the catalyst for Relli’s return to her Jewish family.
From Ashes there will be Light
It was impossible for me to keep reading and not fall for this quirky little girl who proved her independent nature, yet have the strength to be flexible and thrive. At the time, she loved school and family without seeking herself as a Holocaust survivor.
As a grown-up, educated woman and mother, Relli Robinson is an extremely admirable person through every stage of her life. She was orphaned twice, she was shifted from pillar to post. People who loved her were not in a position to take care of her in Poland. When her Jewish family (siblings of her father) was able to bring her to their Israel home, the educational opportunities that opened for her as well as sufficient everyday care were a major boost.
The ashes were indeed raked and light was revealed.
I’ve read many Holocaust survivor testimonial books over the past year. All of them are moving and believable. Raking Light from Ashes is going to be one of the best. I highly recommend it to other readers.