By: Book Reviewers
Book reviews of THE LIFE AND THOUGHTS OF LOUIS LOWY: SOCIAL WORK THROUGH THE HOLOCAUST, and RAISING ABEL.
The Life and Thought of Louis Lowy: Social Work Through the Holocaust, by Lorrie Greenhouse Gardella, Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, NY, 2011, 213 pages, $24.95 hardcover.
Louis Lowy (1920-1991) was a survivor of the Holocaust and a professor for 28 years. This biography of his life was based heavily on more than 16 hours of oral narratives he recorded in the last year of his life. Structured chronologically, these narratives end in the early 1950s, so we have only the briefest of sketches about his professional life in America after that time. Accordingly, this biography might be best categorized as a Holocaust memoir rather than a complete life story.
Born into a Jewish family in Munich, Germany, Lowy was sent to school in England at 13 years of age after it became clear that the Nazis were rising to power in Germany. When his father passed away two years later, he returned to Munich to help his family relocate to Prague, Czechoslovakia, which was considered a safer place than Germany for a Jewish family. Less than three years later, Lowy—who was now a college student—was arrested by Nazi stormtroopers in Prague. Two years later, he and his family were in Theresienstadt, a transit concentration camp that served briefly as a Potemkin-like “model” camp for propaganda purposes.
Gardella makes much of Lowy’s experiences in Theresienstadt, where he worked as a residence hall leader for thirty or so adolescents. Education was prohibited, and no educational materials were available. Despite these obstacles, however, Lowy organized educational programs. He viewed “education as the source of personal and social fulfillment and as the means of instilling hope for a future” (p. 33).
He nearly lost hope himself after his deportation to the Auschwitz death camp, but through an amazing series of events, he managed to survive Auschwitz and ended up leading the Deggendorf Displaced Persons Camp after the war. Jewish survivors were less than 5% of the displaced persons returning home in the summer of 1945, but unlike the rest, Jewish survivors had nowhere to go. They were dispossessed, stripped of their national citizenship, and largely unwanted by the rest of the world.
At Deggendorf, Lowy addressed the challenges of returning—“to create conditions for people that allow them to fulfill themselves optimally, find their place in tomorrow’s world, and participate constructively and actively in the society as part of a larger world order” (p. 91). He was elected twice to chair the Deggendorf Jewish Committee and worked tirelessly in that role, but he also emigrated to the United States at the first opportunity, arriving in New York in May 1946. He was 26 years old.
There are only 35 pages about Lowy’s life in the United States, during which he completed his education, practiced as a social worker, and joined the faculty of the School of Social Work at Boston University. His academic work focused on gerontology, adult education, international social work, and intergenerational relationships.
Gardella augments Lowy’s narratives with personal interviews with his wife and closest friends who were also Holocaust survivors, and she makes extensive use of quotations from the narrative, interviews, and Lowy’s written material. It has been said that “if social work did not exist, it would have to be created” (pp. 152-153). Lowy’s life story gives shape to the adage in a way that is both powerful and persuasive. I believe that Lowy’s life story may be an effective antidote to incipient professionalism in today’s students. I recommend it highly as an example and reminder that social work is more than a career. Social work is a calling to change the world.
Reviewed by Peter A. Kindle, Ph.D., CPA, LMSW, assistant professor at the University of South Dakota. He can be contacted by e-mail at Peter.Kindle@usd.edu.
Raising Abel, by Carolyn Nash, CreateSpace, 2011, 332 pages, $15.99 paperback, $3.99 digital.
Reading the back cover of Raising Abel by Carolyn Nash, one might expect the memoir to be the classic tale of how becoming a foster and then adoptive parent changed a woman’s life. It doesn’t take long before the reader discovers that this book is anything but typical. This is the story of a woman who proves that being someone’s mother doesn’t require giving birth to him. This is the story of just how much childhood trauma can alter someone’s life. This is a story of how important mental health professionals can be for people in need. This is the story of low self-esteem, of high expectations, of unconditional love, and of torture that lives on far after the physical aspects end, of one mother’s shortcomings and another’s drive to be the perfect parent. In short, this is a chronicle that touches at least one aspect of most of us, giving us the gift of both another’s very human experience and the parallels we may find between hers and our own.
Nash, describing her mother to her therapist, says, “I think my mom loved all of us the best she could, but she was so wrapped up in her own pain that that's all she could focus on. I don’t think she even realized that she always came first and we came second. All my life, she has depended on me to make her happy. She truly thinks she wants the best for me, but at the same time, she wants me to make sure she’s not lonely and that her problems and cares come first, mine a distant second” (p. 168).
Set over the course of the past eighteen years, Ms. Nash describes in incredible detail the rollercoaster ride that is the life of an abused child and a woman who became his mother. Initially, it seemed an odd choice for a review by The New Social Worker magazine, but the interactions with Nash’s therapist pepper the content and provide a wonderful example of how to guide a client through her best and worst moments in ways that engage her, encourage her to do the work, and that uphold professional boundaries.
I hesitate to be more specific, because providing more details will potentially impede the experiences of living Carolyn Nash’s life alongside her within these pages. The unexpected moments make it easy for the reader to become affected, to feel anger with the author, or to shed a tear in her joyous moments. Expect to set the book down several times because of the need for an emotional break and to find one’s self further relating to the family who never had the option of pausing their story. There are many autobiographies and personal stories on the market, but none share the unedited truth the way Raising Abel does, leaving you at the end wanting to hug your children and Nash’s.
Reviewed by Kristen Marie (Kryss) Shane, MSW, LMSW.
These book reviews appeared in THE NEW SOCIAL WORKER, Spring 2012, Vol. 19, No. 2. All rights reserved. Please contact the publisher/editor for permission to reprint or reproduce.