Rasia Kliot, a Lithuanian Jew, was a teenager during the summer of 1941 when the Germans invaded her town, shot her father, and forced the rest of the family into a ghetto. Rasia’s Aryan looks enabled her to pass in and out of the ghetto, where she sought refuge wherever she could find it while trying to alleviate the suffering of her ghetto-trapped family.
After the war, Rasia married a Greek and raised their daughter, Helen, as a Christian. It wasn’t until Helen was twelve years old that her mother finally admitted that she was Jewish and began to share, little by little, the details of her wartime experiences. But the ramifications of what officially ended in 1945 went on for years, and that is the crux of this dual biography. Rasia—subconsciously or not—taught her daughter the survival skills that Rasia had been forced to learn on the spot during the Holocaust. Only there was no Holocaust in post-war Phoenix, AZ, where Helen grew up.
Waltzing With the Enemy—named for a terrifying incident wherein Rasia is temporarily forced to dance with a German officer who doesn’t realize that she is Jewish—is unique among Holocaust memoirs for a couple of reasons. Most obviously, it illuminates the generational ramifications of the Holocaust. But unique as well is Rasia’s account, the book’s first half. Instead of being confined to one location, such as a ghetto or a concentration camp, Rasia was constantly on the move, traveling from place to place, seeking shelter, avoiding the constant threat of discovery by the Germans (and rape by a large percentage of Lithuanian men she encounters), all the while constantly burdened with desperate concern for her family back in the ghetto. This gives the reader a fascinating if terrifying look at occupied Lithuania through the eyes of a young Jewish woman who found a way to move in and outside the walls that imprisoned her fellow Jews. And the amount of detail Rasia includes—exhibiting an impressive amount of recall on her part—brings into sharp focus the sheer exhaustion of survival.
The second half of the book chronicling Helen’s attempts to work out her own related issues gets a little bogged down towards the end, but all in all, Waltzing With the Enemy is valuable original source material on the long-term affects of the Holocaust.