I am lying in bed, watching the slowly moving shadows on the ceiling made by the gently blowing curtains, and the lights of an occasional car moving by. I’m trying hard not to fall asleep. Being awake is so sweet that I want to delay the loss of consciousness . . . It is Cracow, 1949. I’m four years old, and I don’t know that this happiness is taking place in a country recently destroyed by war, a place where my father has to hustle to get us a bit more than our meagre ration of meat and sugar. I only know that I’m in my room, which to me is an everywhere . . . Occasionally, a few blocks away, I hear the hum of the tramway, and I’m filled by a sense of utter contentment . . . I repeat to myself that I’m in Cracow, Cracow, which to me is both home and the universe . . .
Eva Hoffman was born in 1945, the child of secular Jewish parents who had survived the Holocaust by hiding in a bunker deep in the Ukrainian forest. Clever and musical, she grew up in postwar Communist Poland: the era of Stalin; of collectivization; of Radio Free Europe listened to behind locked doors. She lived in ‘a lumpen apartment . . . squeezed into three rudimentary rooms’ with her parents, her little sister Alinka and the maid, surrounded by squabbles, dark political rumblings, memories of wartime suffering and the daily struggle for existence. ‘And yet, when it came time to leave, I felt I was being pushed out of the happy, safe enclosures of Eden.’
In 1957, the ban on emigration from Poland was lifted for Jews. Two years later the family set sail, not for Israel, where many of their friends chose to go, including the family of Eva’s childhood sweetheart Marek, but for Vancouver. From here an old friend of her father’s wrote to say he would sponsor them as immigrants to ‘the land of opportunity, the place where you can grow rich and be happy. For my father, this is an irresistibly alluring vision – to become a man of means in the America
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