G1148 No Past Tense; Love and survival in the shadow of the Holocaust

Title of the book: No past tense; love and survival in the shadow of the Holocaust

Author: D.Z. Stone

Publisher: Vallentine Mitchell

Publishing Date: 2019

ISBN: 978-1912676-11-8


No Past Tense is the biography of Katarina (Kati) Kellner and William (Willi) Salcer, two Czech Jews who as teenagers were swept up by the Holocaust in Hungary and survived Auschwitz and Mauthausen, respectively.

Covering their entire lives, weaving in first person ‘real time’ voices as if watching a documentary about themselves, the unique structure of No Past Tense provides a distinctive ‘whole life’ view of the Holocaust.

The book begins with their childhoods, education in Budapest, and 16-year-old Kati meeting 19-year-old Willi in the Jewish ghetto in Plesivec, a Slovak village annexed by Hungary in 1938. After liberation from the camps they returned to discover most Jews were gone, and the villagers did not want them back. In defiance, Kati took up residence in a shed on her family’s property, and in reclaiming what was hers, won Willi’s heart.

They lived as smugglers in post-war Europe until immigrating illegally to Palestine in 1946. Describing Palestine, they talk frankly about rarely addressed issues such as prejudice against ‘newcomers’ from other Jews.

Willi built tanks for the Haganah, the underground Jewish army, and supported the War of Independence but refused to move into homes abandoned by Palestinian Arabs. After discharge from the Israeli Air Force, Willi founded the country’s first rubber factory and headed the association of Israeli manufacturers at only 28.

In 1958, saying he did not want the children to know war, Willi convinced Kati to move to America. He did not tell her that punitive tax fines, imposed when the government needed money due to the crisis in the Sinai, shook his faith in Israel. Once in America, after a few bad investments, Willi lost all their money and for the first time Kati suffered panic attacks. But Willi rebuilt his fortune, while Kati rediscovered her courage, and started living again.

Author Info:
(From back of the book)

D.Z. Stone is a journalist with academic training in cultural anthropology. Her work has appeared in The New York Times and Newsday. A graduate of the College of William and Mary, she holds a Masters from Columbia University. She resides outside of New York City.

Personal Opinion:

As anti-Judaism and Holocaust denial resurges through the world, it's more vital than ever to present Holocaust survivors, and that is what D.Z. Stone does in this unique tale of a couple who met while in ghetto but then reunited and married and had a long and amazing life together. I found myself admiring and being in awe of Willi and Kati Salcer, especially their determination to thrive in the world that  dared to obliterate their families. In a way they remind me of my own grandparents, Gd rest their souls who have died weeks within of each other. The tale is non fiction, but is presented in a very engaging manner, with both sides giving thoughts and opinions about one another, a documentary being narrated by two people. I feel privileged to have read and gotten to know Willi and Kati Salcer.

This was given for a review

5 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)


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