To Our Children: Memoirs of Displacement. A Jewish Journey of Hope and Survival in Twentieth-Century Poland and Beyond

To Our Children: Memoirs of Displacement. A Jewish Journey of Hope and Survival in Twentieth-Century Poland and Beyond


Włodzimierz Szer
Translated by Bronisława Karst

Series: Jews of Poland
ISBN:  9781618114785 (hardcover)
Pages: 234 pp.; 20 illus.
Publication Date: March 2016

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This book takes the reader through Dr. Włodzimierz Szer’s childhood in Yiddish prewar Warsaw, adolescence and imprisonment in wartime Russia, to the brutal reality of immediate postwar Poland, and the years of the socialist regime. Although largely autobiographical, the book provides a historically and intellectually compelling analysis of the social and political situation in Poland and Soviet Russia from the early 1930s to 1967.

Włodzimierz Szer was a Professor of Biochemistry at NYU, who authored 170 papers, educated generations of students, and raised a family. He spoke several languages fluently and flawlessly, including Polish, English, Yiddish, and Russian. He loved chess, travel, good company, food, and a drink. He was politically astute, deeply well-informed, and a wonderful storyteller.

Bronisława Karst grew up in Warsaw, Poland. She left Poland for the United States in 1969 after the government’s anti-Semitic campaign. She obtained a Master’s degree in French and a PhD in Comparative Literature. Retired from teaching, she lives in Buffalo, NY.


The memoirs of Włodzimierz Szer (1924–2013), To Our Children, were originally written and published in Polish in 2013, appearing three months after Szer passed away in the United States at the age of eighty-nine. This fact alone—that he composed his memoirs in Polish—is an important indicator of Szer’s deep connection to Polish culture and identity. … These memoirs document the trials and tribulations of a man steeped in both Jewish and Polish cultures, a relic of a past that is no more.
— Joshua D. Zimmerman, Yeshiva University, The Polish Review Vol. 63 No. 4
Szer’s memoir is remarkable for its elevated social and historical register, and it is fortunate to have received the attention of a careful publisher. It brings a markedly different tone from accounts of Jews caught in the daily struggle for survival in the General Government...the memoir is an homage to the powerful legacy of the Bund...
— Tomasz Frydel, University of Toronto, Canadian Slavonic Papers
I read the book with great attention, and I am spellbound...this multitude of things, people and details from the past (that the author) was able to hold in his memory... those accurate descriptions of prewar Warsaw, of his house, wartime experiences, atmosphere after the war... And everything written with such verve and energy...I was astonished by his recollection of details and the precise description of his childhood in prewar Warsaw – a world annihilated by war and which only exists today in people’s memories.
— Wanda Jelonkiewicz, journalist, Polish Press Agency PAP, Foreign Markets, The Warsaw Voice
While Włodzimierz Szer, exiled with his father to Siberia, had been able to lead a relatively ordinary and mostly safe existence and be spared the horrors of the Holocaust, nevertheless his is a tale of loss, sorrow and wartime ordeals. At the same time it is a story of friendships, love and family, lively and filled with optimism. An important and significant document.
— Bożena Keff, PhD, writer and poet, lecturer, University of Warsaw & University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Warsaw
An eminent biochemist, humanist and music lover, a wise, cordial and kind man. A Polish Jew, and heir to Bund’s traditions, offers a testimony of dignity and of commitment to his beliefs in most turbulent times of WWII in Poland and the Soviet Union. The author describes his fascinating scientific career of international dimensions during the post-war era. His compelling story is told with erudition and honesty commanding the utmost respect.
— Ryszard Burek, Chief Editor, Jewish Historical Institute, Warsaw
This epic of hope covers three continents, a world war, immense suffering and the murder of hundreds of relatives and friends. Against this backdrop, Włodzimierz Szer, a Renaissance Man, chronicles the loss of his family and his childhood, the search for his father, the meeting of Felusia, his future bride, and the birth of his children. He presents the horrors of war and the Holocaust as the monstrosities they were. Yet it is also the journey of a loving son, husband and father, a journey filled with obstacles most of us could not or would not endure. He finds humanity and compassion amidst the atrocities and overcomes them with determination and grace. His hope for, in his words, Homo Sapiens (wise person) is shaken, but remains firm at the end.
— Brian E. Forschner, PhD, author, Cold Serial

Table of Contents


Part 1
Before the War
Part 2
The War
Part 3
After the War