Posted by: Lisa Hill | January 27, 2022

Take the Child and Disappear (2021), a memoir by Nina Bassat

Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) is commemorated each year on the 27th January, because that is the day of the liberation of the Nazi extermination and concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1945. As it says on the HMD website:

Holocaust Memorial Day is the day for everyone to remember the millions of people murdered in the Holocaust, under Nazi Persecution, and in the genocides which followed in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur.

The theme for Holocaust Memorial Day 2022 is One Day. The HMD website quotes the words of Iby Knill, survivor of the Holocaust

You didn’t think about yesterday, and tomorrow may not happen, it was only today that you had to cope with and you got through it as best you could.

The HMD site suggests that this theme can be the catalyst for thinking about the Holocaust in different ways: for example, we can focus on One Day in history, or a hopeful One Day in the future when things are different, but the book I have just read is very much about One Day when life changed.

Nina Bassat is a child-survivor of the Holocaust and also a well-known member of the Jewish Community here in Melbourne.  It has taken decades for her to feel able to tell her story.

‘When five words uttered by a German soldier determine whether you live or die, you spend your life trying to unravel all the what-ifs. What if I had not been born in Poland in 1939? What if those five words had not been said? What if I had grown up in a safe, happy environment, surrounded by a large family?’

Take the Child and Disappear examines the Shoah (Holocaust) from multiple perspectives – before, during and after. As the author recounts her experiences and those of her family members, she contemplates the many ways being a child survivor has shaped her life, both consciously and unconsciously. ‘I have lived a happy and fulfilling life, surrounded by a large, loving family and enriched by years of community involvement. Yet despite this, there has always been a sense of dislocation and some unresolved questions, most troubling of which were – who am I and where do I belong? I thought a visit to Poland might answer them. It did not.’ The book is also about Hadassa, Nina’s courageous and wise mother.

For Nina Bassat, life changed forever on Friday, 25th July 1941.  That was the day her father Izydor Katz was taken away and killed, though it was many years later that they learned that, with German permission, it was Ukrainian nationalists who carried out the pogrom.

There were many days in this child’s life when things changed irrevocably.  In Autumn 1942 when she was three she survived an Aktion (or deportation) in Lwow because a German soldier spoke the words that title this book.  Her mother Hadassa was doing forced labour in the public gardens, when she was told that her only child and her mother-in-law were about to be taken away.

My mother dropped the shovel she had been using and started to run.  As a Jew, wearing the Star of David, she was prohibited from taking public transport.  She had no idea in which direction she should be going but she just kept running from street to street.  Eventually, she saw a large group of people being herded into a side street and ran towards them.  I was almost at the end of the queue with my grandmother.  I saw my mother, and dropping my grandmother’s hand, I ran towards her, shouting, ‘Mamuszia, Mamuszia.  She scooped me up and held me tightly.

The German soldier guarding the end of the line walked up to her.  ‘Is she yours?’ he asked.

‘Yes,’ she replied.

‘Nimm das Kind und verschwinde,’ (Take the child and disappear) he told her.

My mother knew that she had to do everything in her power to get my grandmother out of that line.  ‘My mother-in-law,’ she said, ‘she is the one who looks after the child while I go to work.  She needs to come with me.’

The soldier looked at her as if she had totally lost her wits.  ‘I will say it a second time; but there will not be a third. Take the child and disappear.’ She did.  With a heavy heart and trembling knees, my mother walked away.  My grandmother, together with everyone else standing in that line, was taken away.

On such a thread a life can hang.  Who was the soldier, this man to whom I owe more than seven decades of my life, sixty years of marriage, a cricket team of grandchildren?  What was he like?  Did he have a thin face, with eyes already haunted by what he was doing or was he more robust, physically and mentally?  Did he expiate his guilt by freeing whomever he could, or was this his only random act of kindness? (p.62)

‘Disappearing’ was not easy to do and there was another fateful day when Hadassa took Bassat from a place of refuge because the presence of a child was increasing the risk of discovery for others, and narrowly escaped capture.  Luck went their way again when a wonderful woman called Marysia Mandzhuk risked her own life and that of her sons and her husband by helping them to hide. Bassat was one of very few children to survive until liberation; one of very few children to make her way to Australia as a displaced person in the postwar era.

As a a teenager in Melbourne, Bassat did not identify as a child survivor:

Once I reached high school, which had a significant number of Jewish students, there were without doubt other child survivors.  But if there were, I was unaware of their status and they of mine.  It was not so much that we were keeping it a secret.  In my case, it was an inability to acknowledge that I was actually a Shoah survivor.  Survivors were the people with tattoos on their arms, the people with nightmares and sad eyes, the people like my mother, who held her experiences and her sorrows privately, even when she spoke openly of the bare facts.  In any event, I did not even hear the words ‘child survivor’ until many decades later, by which time I had processed and accepted that was a significant part of, if not all of, my identity. (p.122)

In the chapter ‘Reflections’ Bassat muses on Elie Wiesel’s haunting question about the brave men and women who intervened to save Jewish lives: ‘Why were there so few?’

…I pose a different question: ‘How is it that there were so many?’ We all think that we would do the right thing, the ethical thing, the noble thing.  But in the face of losing your life and risking the lives of the people you love, would you have the courage to save a stranger? Would I? In the depths of the night, when truth is not easily avoided, my answer is: ‘I don’t know.’ (p.137)

When President of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, Nina Bassat was part of a delegation at the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust in 2000, the major outcome of which was Article 1 of the Declaration which states:

‘The Holocaust (Shoah) fundamentally challenged the foundations of civilisation.  The unprecedented character of the Holocaust will always hold universal meaning.’ The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, of which Australia is a member, has committed to ‘strengthen, advance and promote Holocaust education, remembrance and research worldwide’. (p.160)

My commitment to reviewing books that educate about the Holocaust annually on Holocaust Memorial Day is a gesture of support for the aims of that Declaration.

Nina Bassat, 2021 (photo credit: Hybrid Publishers)

About the author: Nina Bassat was born in Lwów, Poland in 1939. The time and place has influenced much of her life and provides the background to her book. Her life has been divided between her profession as a lawyer, her leadership positions in the Jewish community at the state, federal and international levels and her family, which has been her centre of gravity. From childhood, books have been both a joy and escape and words have been her professional tools.

Please note that some errors in this review have been edited (post publication) at the request of the author.

Author: Nina Bassat
Title: Take the Child and Disappear, a memoir
Publisher: Hybrid Publishers, 2021
ISBN: 9781925736724, pbk., 175 pages
Review copy courtesy of Hybrid Publishers

Available direct from Hybrid Publishers where there are also links to where you can buy it as an eBook and read a sample.


  1. There’s also a good article about Nina Bassat in ‘The Age’ today.


    • She’s amazing, I think. To have achieved so much and at such a high level, I really do admire her.


  2. PM Morrison said yesterday that each new Australian adds his/her story to Australia’s. The Holocaust is an important part of the Australian story, not least for the lessons we learn about German behaviour pre and post WWII, not that we seem willing to apply those lessons to ourselves.


    • Collectively, we could do better in lots of areas, but if hearing Holocaust stories makes individuals better people, then that’s something.


  3. Hi Lisa,
    Hope all is well?
    I wrote a comment at 8.0am and have no idea why it doesn’t appear. It was in response to the review on email in my Inbox and I am disappointed. I commented about Nina, Hybrid and you and as I haven’t got a copy I don’t know if I’ll get round to doing it again. Took me time to do as well. Frustrating. Where do these things go????


    • Hi Ros, I’ve replied to you privately via email xo


  4. What an amazing lady.

    Did you see the doc on SBS about the liberation of the Belsen camp by the British the other night? Just horrifying footage. My good friend’s grandfather (Richard Dimbleby) was the first journalist to report on it (he accompanied the liberators) and his well-modulated BBC voice is in stark contrast to the scenes he’s conveying. Apparently he never talked about it afterwards. I’m not surprised.


    • I meant to watch it, but I forgot to put the TV on. I’ll see if it’s on iView.
      If you can get your hands on it, The Dead Still Cry Out is about a cinematographer who was at the liberation of Bergen-Belsen. Written by his daughter, Helen Lewis, it’s about the courage of the people who, utterly unprepared for what they saw, had to try to help as many as they could.


      • I will look that up. It does sound vaguely familiar.

        One of my contributors on the last mag I worked on in the UK was one of the liberators at Bergen-Belsen (he was ancient). I did not know this until he wrote about it in one of his very last columns before he died. It was about a love affair he had with a woman he rescued and how he stole a Nazi gun, and I remember being totally stunned when I read it (his column was about old time conservation / nature writing and somehow he just weaved in this extraordinary story in something about crop management or some such ) … it was almost like he knew it was the end of his life and wanted to get it off his chest. It made me realise the Holocaust was closer in time than I thought given he was a living link to it.


        • It’s a shock when you encounter that living connection to it. When I was a teenager living at home, most of our neighbours were survivors, but of course it was never spoken about, not to me, except when once my mother pointed out to me that our neighbours didn’t have any family photos on their walls and she explained why.

          But when I was older, at a Melbourne Writers Festival (when it was at the Malthouse) I got chatting with an author called Elfie Rosenberg who turned out to be have been on a Kindertransport, and she had written a book about it. She asked me if I’d been to the Holocaust Museum in Elsternwick and I admitted that I knew about it but felt anxious about going there. The upshot was that we met beforehand for coffee, and then she was my friend and guide as we went around the museum, where all the guides were survivors, and still are, because there were children. like Nina Bassat, who are now only in their 80s.

          Liked by 1 person

          • PS I did watch TV last, but I watched the doco on the ABC with Jonathan Dimbleby. I’ll look for the SBS one tonight.


            • Hmmm… the SBS one was by Jonathan Dimbleby too… maybe I got the channel wrong and it was ABC? It was called “Return to Belsen”


              • Oh, yes that was it. It was very good. Thank you for reminding me about it.

                Liked by 1 person

          • Oh, that’s a lovely thing for Elfie to do. It made me remember the customer I had at Myer back in the day who noticed that I had seen the number tattooed on the inside of her arm and who then explained what it was and where she got it. I can’t remember which camp but she was very frank about it all and said she refused to hide it away. She wanted people to see it so she could use it as a conversation starter.


            • I guess the thing is, whether it’s hidden or even surgically removed, she would always know that it was there.
              But still, it would take courage, because you’d never know whether the timing of such a conversation would occur when you felt strong enough to deal with it.

              Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve known and admired Nina Basset for many years and am glad she’s written her memoir. I’ve known and admired Hybrid Publishers too and applaud them for their integrity. I’ve known and admired you, Lisa for a long time and commend you for the commitment to review Holocaust literature.

    The research by Deakin University reported in today’s ‘Age’ and commented on by Anna Blay is very revealing. A disturbing number of Australians are unaware of what happened and that’s why it’s so important for young people in particular to be informed. That brings me to the significance of museums and libraries. ABC television ran a piece this morning which included an excellent interview from the Jewish Museum in Sydney and some visual shots of the Holocaust Museum in Elsternwick, Victoria. There’s no doubt that school visits have an enormous impact and these, combined with a study of the Holocaust as part of the curriculum have the great added advantage of increasing empathy with and understanding for other minority groups as well as for the Australian-Jewish community – which BTW – began with 8 members of the First Fleet who probably were transported for stealing bread.

    Unlike Nina, I’m a ‘ten-pound Pom’ and my war included the Blitz not Lvov ghetto. However, when I came to write our family history I was shocked to discover four great-uncles who were murdered in Auschwitz. They have no graves and as far as I’m aware the little text box that I inserted on the family tree is the only written record of the four brothers who perished in the gas chambers.

    Which brings me to questions about the significance of words, libraries and the complex issues of records and memories. This is not the place to explore such huge ideas but I would like to mention ‘The Library Book’ by Susan Orlean which I am currently reading. Given the space, I’d probably quote every word she wrote, but here is just a short extract:

    ‘Books are a sort of cultural DNA, the code for who, as a society, we are, and what we know. All the wonders and failures, all the champions and villains, all the legends and ideas and revelations of a culture last forever in its books. Destroying those books [which is what the Nazis did] is a way of saying that the culture itself no longer exists; its history has disappeared; the continuity between its past and its future is ruptured.’

    We have more than museums; we have libraries. In particular, in Melbourne we have the Lamm Library and Kadimah both of which have comprehensive collections on the Holocaust that are freely available to the public. Check out their catalogues online.

    So there we have just a few thoughts of mine and put together they make a bundle of ideas to mull: there’s Nina’s book – one of many such memoirs; Hybrid’s selection of manuscripts; ANZLitlovers who make us aware; museums and libraries that record, preserve and share; teachers who inform the young and old. The Word – such a gift.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Ros, I’m glad your comment made it through this time:)
      What you say about the need for education is very true, and I’m very pleased that our current state government has made study of the Holocaust compulsory in secondary schools.
      But where did I see, just yesterday, some concern about the use of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and others of that ilk? Nobody wants young people to be swamped by horror but sanitising the Holocaust and deflecting responsibility from where it belongs is not how it should be taught either.


  6. Appreciated reading this: thanks, Lisa.


    • Thank you Marcie. Did many survivors come to Canada after the war?


  7. Thank you Lisa – what a powerful woman and a powerful story.


  8. Nina Bassat was on ABC TV’s 7.30 last night.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. This sounds so powerful. I’ve been especially struck this year about how the Holocaust is almost out of living memory. These stories are so important.


    • I follow @AuschwitzMuseum on Twitter, and every day they post a photo and the name and what is known of the people who died that day. Every death, old or young, is hard to witness in this way, but the photos of the babies and toddlers — and there are so many of them, eyes shining in the photos their families cherished — sheet home that these dear little children would most probably still be alive today, cherishing their own descendants who have never been born.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. These stories are so important and Hybrid is doing a great job at publishing them so that they are captured and preserved (presumably in the National Library). I’ve read a few over the years, but not this one.

    Good on you for commemorating the day this way too. You are very organised to do it.


  11. I “enjoyed” reading your review and particularly appreciated some of Nina Bassat’s very thought-provoking points. I’m referring in particular to the “why so few vs. why so many” issue.
    I’ve also found the discussion in the comments very interesting. I’ve taken note of several books/documentaries that I’ll look up, including on the topic of the liberators. It’s a side of the story of the camps that I haven’t come across that much. In particular, I’d be interested to know how much was written by members of the Soviet army, especially considering how politically sensitive WW2 history was after the war in the USSR.
    Do you mind if I include your review in my roundup on “lectures communes autour de l’Holocauste”? I think it would be an interesting reminder that such a faraway (for us) country as Australia also has its Holocaust history.


  12. […] Nina Bassat: Take the child and disappear […]


  13. […] Bassat: Take the child and disappear (un témoignage d’une survivante établie en […]


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