As a boy studying Torah, Isaac Neuman learned to seek the spiritual lessons hidden in everyday life. Likewise, in this narrative of occupation and holocaust, he uncovers a core of human decency and spiritual strength that inhumanity, starvation, and even death failed to extinguish.
Unlike many Holocaust memoirs that focus on physical suffering and endurance, The Narrow Bridge follows a spiritual journey. Neuman describes the world of Polish Jewry before and during the Holocaust, recreating the strong religious and secular personalities of his childhood and early youth in Zdunska Wola, Poland: the outcast butcher, Haskel Traskalawski; the savvy criminal-turned-entrepreneur Nochem Ellia; the trusted Dr. Lemberg, liaison to the German occupation government; and Neuman's beloved teacher, Reb Mendel. Through their stories, Neuman reveals the workings of a community tested to the limits of faith and human dignity.
With his brother Yossel, Neuman was transported to the Poznan area, first to the Yunikowo work camp in May 1941, then on to St. Martin's Cemetery camp, where they removed gold jewelry and fillings from exhumed corpses. A string of concentration camps followed, each more oppressive than the last: Fürstenfelde, Auschwitz, Fünfteichen, Gross Rosen, Mauthausen, Wels, and Ebensee. In the midst of these horrors, the brothers kept their feet on the "narrow bridge" of life by holding to their faith, their memories, and each other. In the end, only Isaac survived.
The Narrow Bridge celebrates symbolic victories of faith over brute force. The execution of Zdunska Wola's Jewish spiritual and intellectual leaders is trumped by an act of breathtaking courage and conviction. A secret Passover Seder is cobbled together from hoarded bits of wax, piecemeal prayers, and matzoh baked in delousing ovens. A dying fellow inmate gives Neuman his warm coat as they both lie freezing on the ground.
Such rituals of faith and acts of kindness, combined with boyhood memories and a sense of spiritual responsibility, sustained Neuman through the Holocaust and helped him to reconstruct his life after the war. His story is a powerful testimony to an unquenchable faith and a spirit tried by fire.