These memoirs cover the life of the author from his youth in pre-World War II Vienna, his escape from the Germans, a coming-of-age period in Sacramento California to his return to Europe, first in the American army and later as an internationallyMoreThese memoirs cover the life of the author from his youth in pre-World War II Vienna, his escape from the Germans, a coming-of-age period in Sacramento California to his return to Europe, first in the American army and later as an internationally known scientist. After the German take-over of Austria, life for Viennese Jews deteriorated rapidly.
Personal betrayals, arrest of his father by the Gestapo, the pogrom of Kristallnacht and repeated beatings by young Nazi hoodlums was the progression of events that led the boy to leave Vienna for Holland on what has become known as a Kindertransport.
There he spent almost a year in a camp for refugee children. Just after the beginning of WWII an almost unbelievable bureaucratic fluke allowed the author and his immediate family to emigrate to the United States. They settled in Sacramento, California, then a small, provincial town with a tightly knit society concerned almost exclusively with its immediate environment. The author, an outsider, became a juvenile delinquent who rebelled against all authority, father, school, police.
After a brush with the local Mafia, followed by employment as a crane operator in the local railroad yards, he entered the US Army. A short stint as an infantry replacement in Italy was followed by training as a paratrooper and transfer to the Counter Intelligence Corps, where he became involved in the arrest and interrogation of SS and Gestapo personnel.
He returned to America where he became a biophysicist. Shortly after his appointment to the Stanford faculty, he was invited to spend a summer at a Dutch scientific laboratory. He found the camp where he had spent a year as a child. There he was told that probably all the other children, those who had been his friends and those who were only acquaintances, were killed by the Germans.
Why is it that he survived? What made him special? The author tries to deal with this conundrum that occupies every survivor of cataclysms such as war or genocide.