"During the long nights in the attic, Jan and I told each other about our lives, what we'd done and what we expected to do. We excluded present time, the war, its ferocity, its irrationality; the hours spent in the attic seemed borrowed, not real, because they were unbidden." " What an unlikely pair we made; a Ukrainian shoemaker and a Jewish high school girl! We had begun to think of ourselves as a couple, each one finding in the other someone to confide in, a person with whom to share an impermissible yearning or a strange dream." "I told him uncensored stories in the belief that if I didn't offer them now, no one might ever hear them." "Strange and Unexpected Love" is a dramatic and intensely detailed account of one family's survival during the four-year Nazi occupation of the Ukraine. It is a moving and lyrical account of a young woman's emotional and physical awakening and her first experience with love. Fanya Heller was raised in a traditionally observant middle-class Jewish family in the town of Skala in Eastern Poland. Despite starvation, disease, restrictive and squalid hiding places, and constant danger of arrest by the Nazis, Fanya and her family lived through the war thanks to the courage of two Christian rescuers. One was Sidor, a Polish peasant who hid them on his farm. The other was Jan, a young, handsome Ukrainian shoemaker turned militiaman. Fanya had not known Jan before the war, but he had loved her from afar. When the Nazis occupied Skala, he came to the rescue, protecting her and her family by finding them secure hiding places and providing them with food and other supplies. In time, touched by his devotion and self-sacrifice, Fanya reciprocated Jan's love. With life totally dismantled, their love created an island of sanity and safety in an otherwise chaotic existence. Heller has an exceptional eye for detail and does a dexterous job of giving the reader an intimate sense of the day-to-day lives of her family under siege. As Rabbi Irving Greenberg describes in the Foreword, "Scene after scene lacerates our souls and hearts, Who can ever forget the description of the murderous aktsia, the frantic race to hide, fetid air, choking, being unable to breathe..., as the dogs came closer?... Read this account and you will experience its integrity and truth and understated power."
by Fanya Gottesfeld Heller
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