Gabriel Waldman was born Gabor from a Jewish family in Budapest, Hungary, in 1938, exactly two months before Hitler’s army marched into Austria annexing the country and, thereby, making frontier with Hungary. When this was invaded, in 1944, Gabriel was six years old. He survived along with his mother but lost his father and most of his family in the war, most of them murdered in concentration camps. In 1949, after some years of the bleak and hopeless Soviet regime in the country, his mother decided to leave. They fled to Austria, where they spent a couple of years, and then immigrated to Brazil, the only country by then that accepted a woman as the chief of the family. He was 16 years old. In São Paulo, he was enrolled at the international school for foreigners and refugees, where he met Ingrid.
He was always a writer, but having lost his mother language early in life, he didn’t feel proficient in any language he spoke to literarily express his ideas and feelings. In the ‘60s, he wrote a short story half in Hungarian, half in Portuguese, that won first place in a university literary contest and was later published in the prestigious literary supplement of the Brazilian newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo. In the ‘90s, he published two novels independently to a very good return. Now, late in life, retired from his corporative career and finally comfortable with his own language, i.e. Portuguese, he was finally able to dedicate himself to writing the novel of his life. It is THE COMMANDER’S DAUGHTER.
LOVE UNDER THE SHADOW OF THE HOLOCAUST (AMOR À SOMBRA DO HOLOCAUSTO)
Gabriel is a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust and Ingrid, a pretty, intelligent Austrian girl. They are both 16 years old and fled with their parents to Brazil leaving behind war-ridden Europe. They get to know each other at the international school in São Paulo, and first become friends, then go steady, and then discover the enchantment of a first love. He is introduced to the girl’s parents, becomes a frequent guest to their home, and thinks of a future serious commitment with her. He doesn’t know much about her family, but she knows he is Jewish. She shouldn’t be antisemitic, then, he muses, soothing his conscience for dating an Austrian/German girl.
One day, desperate and in tears, Ingrid dispatches Gabriel. As a Brazilian poet wrote, “love is forever while it lasts”, Gabriel meets and dates other girls and encloses her memory in an endearing but half-forgotten corner of his heart. One random morning, though, he opens the newspaper and sees a big first-page photo of his former father-in-law, with the caption saying that he was arrested in São Paulo. Ingrid’s father had been the commander of the concentration camps Treblinka and Sobibor, where most of his family was murdered during the war. A “monster”, as the newspaper called him.
For nearly 60 years, this unique true story was kept hidden deeply in the author’s heart. The horror of having had a close relationship with the monster, the guilt of ignoring the sacrifice of the daughter, and his own perverse innocence left an unhealing wound in his conscience. It took a quotation from Isak Dinesen, “all pains are bearable if you put them into words”, to convince him to write this book. The Commander’s Daughter is a literary novel based on a true story that, at the same time as it mesmerizes the reader from beginning to end, makes us think about the complexity of human relations and the deep layers of trauma left by one of the most horrendous events of Human history.
Publication/Status: To be published by Buzz (Brazil) in March 2024.