Imagine saying goodbye to your father in Canada, expecting him to soon follow your family to New Zealand, and never seeing him again. That is what happened to Diana Wichtel and it’s something that had a profound effect on her life.
Wichtel grew up in Vancouver, Canada, with her brother and sister. Her mother was a Catholic New Zealander, her father a Polish Jew who survived the Holocaust. When Wichtel is 13, her mother returns to New Zealand and she is told her father will follow them later.
Her father never arrives and the family eventually moves on without him, but Wichtel often thinks of him. The years pass and finally she decides she has to know what happened to him.
Driving to Treblinka is the story of her search for her father, but it is so much more than that. It is a story of courage, hope and survival in the face of cruelty and terror. It is the story of a family torn apart by war and the actions of the Nazis, and what survivors had to do to stay alive.
Part historical memoir, part search for anything that could shed light on her much-loved father, Driving to Treblinka is one of the most moving books I’ve ever read. Most of us take life for granted, but those who lived through the Holocaust had to fight for everything, expecting it to be snatched from them at any moment.
This book will make you smile as you read the stories about family life that are so familiar and heart-warming, but it will also make you cry – and possibly make you angry – reading about the millions who needlessly lost their lives during the Holocaust.
Wichtel’s father may have been seen as lucky because he survived, but often surviving is harder because it means living with the past every day of your life.
The search for her father is all consuming for Wichtel, but with the support of her extended family she learns more about his life and what happened to him after the family moved away from Canada.
I have always enjoyed Wichtel’s writing and this book is all the better for her sensitive handling of it. It is funny and sad, and it’s hard to accept what Benjamin Wichtel had to endure and what his daughter went through in order to find him and tell the story of his life.
Driving to Treblinka is an excellent book that deserves to be read and talked about. In the weeks since I finished it, I have often found myself stopping and thinking about Benjamin and his family and the love that bound them all together.
Reviewed by Faye Lougher
Driving to Treblinka: A long search for a lost father
by Diana Wichtel
Published by Awa Press