Friday, April 13, 2012

True Life: A Girl Called Judith Strick

A Girl Called Judith Strick
(Judith Strick Dribben, Pyramid, 1970)

The book is an amazing and enthralling read, a real page turner, and though without a doubt true the tales Judith Strick Dribben tells often verge on unbelievable — were it fiction, you might think the author has too much imagination.
She was a young woman when the Nazis invaded her homeland of Ukraine, something she did not take well to. The book opens with her strolling down a city street like a 17-year-old strumpet, trawling for Germans on leave and with time and money to spend; within seven pages the SS Scharführer (SS Sergeant) who fell to her charms is buried in a cellar, the freshly refilled hole covered by bags of potatoes. He is not the first to go, nor the last, but her activities in the underground go far beyond simply using her feminine charms to entrap future fertilizer.
The hate she feels for the invaders and her sense of righteousness for what she does for her land is palpable, and she does a lot and does it well. Cool, controlled and linguistically talented, she is equally capable — fuck the Geneva Convention — of machine-gunning dead a large group of injured Germans (the result of an ambush she is part of) as she is of going through the briefcase of an important German as he lies in a drunken sleep on New Year’s night.
As is often the case, over-confidence results in a small mistake which leads to her finally getting caught in Poland (where she is living under an assumed name). Off to prison it is, and her fabricated story to buy time there serves only to show that there were a lot of stupid Germans involved in the anti-spy activities. Though they try, they can't break her and she ends up in the camps — and even there, unknown as a Jew, she witnesses anti-Semitism amongst her fellow prisoners. She gets sick and almost dies, but manages to survive and eventually escape. The Russians arrive and she attempts to find her footing under them, but is confronted by sexism and anti-Semitism. She slides away to the West and to Israel, where she once again joins the underground, this time against the powers that be that stand in the way of a free Homeland. She overcomes the sexism to once again become an important player where she is, but gives it up when she finds love and realizes she suddenly has the urge to be a woman...
A Girl Called Judith Strick tells of an adventurous and often terrible life of a survivor and fighter that luckily few of us have ever had to experience; the life of a young woman that overcomes all the obstacles thrown in her path — including the extermination of her entire immediate family. Not one for great introspection or existential questions, towards the end she occasionally comes across as someone who is incapable of not fighting, of someone that needs to fight simply to live, but such a judgment is easy when reading her book in the comfort of an easy chair in a heated apartment in an age that has not seen or experienced the horrors of war that she saw.
A better-written take on the book than mine can be found here.

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