When the author and journalist Hadley Freeman was five, her father brought her to France from the USA to meet her European relations. These were the uncles, aunts, cousins and a grandmother, all of them Jewish, who had fled Poland in the wake of the First World War as anti-Semitism spread across eastern Europe and for the most part made Paris their home. Her grandmother, in particular, struck Freeman as deeply, uncomfortably sad. Something lodged in her mind.
Clearing out her grandmother’s cupboards after her death some two decades later, she found tucked at the back of one of them a shoebox filled with photographs, notes, drawings, telegrams and newspaper clippings. The discovery sent her rummaging through the past in an attempt to trace the history of a family whose odyssey was never discussed or alluded to. But this is more than the tale of one family. For, alongside her relations’ often painful stories, Freeman explores the rise and spread of anti-Semitism and xenophobia across modern Europe.
The Glahs family – who renamed themselves Glass and took on French first names – came from the market town of Chrzanów, in what before 1914 was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The three brothers, Jakob, Jehuda and Sender, and their sister, Sala, were thirteen, twelve, eight and four