February 26, 2024
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Martin Bodek’s ‘Zaidy’s War’ Honors His Grandfather’s Memory

Reviewing: “Zaidy’s War: Four Armies, Three Continents, Two Brothers. One Man’s Impossible Story of Endurance” by Martin Bodek. Amsterdam Publishers. 2022. English. Hardcover. 258 pages. ISBN-13: 978-9493276475.

Published in October of 2022, “Zaidy’s War” is Martin Bodek’s 11th work and perhaps his most significant. Its uniqueness among his previous 10 works is immediately obvious as it is a serious recounting of the heroic survival saga of his grandfather Benzion Malik during the Holocaust. Utilizing a genre totally apart from the humor and quirkiness characteristic of his previous works, Bodek intends this most current book to be a serious memorial to a man whose spiritual and physical strengths got him through one hellish experience following another to emerge as a God-fearing, Orthodox Jew who finished Shas 14 times during his lifetime.

Bodek’s previous 10 works have been covered extensively by Jewish periodicals as they include clever and entertaining updates on the 3,000-year-old Pesach Haggadah. To date, Bodek has compiled “The Emoji Haggadah,” written entirely with emoji images; “The Festivus Haggadah,” which combines the “wisdom of Seinfeld” with the tale of Jewish escape from existential danger; “The Coronavirus Haggadah,” which comforted our community during the bleak and isolated Pesach of 2020; and his most recent “The Shakespeare Haggadah,” which uses phrases from “Richard II” and “As You Like It” to convey the Haggadah text modeling after the Bard’s style.

Bodek’s other works offer clever commentary on theological and political themes. “Conversation on the Way” recreates a dialogue between two friends about their different religious views. “Extracts From Noah’s Diary” presents the biblical character in a humorous account. “54 Runners, 54 Stories” recounts a run from Brooklyn to the Catskills and reflects another passion of Bodek’s, which is reporting for Jrunnersclub.org, a Brooklyn-based organization for athletes.

“Bush II, Book I” is an Old Testament-style account of George W. Bush’s presidency, and “Donald Trump Will You Please Go Now!” is a political satire written in Dr. Seuss format.

With his grandfather’s passing in 2014 at the age of 95, Bodek was determined to honor the life of a valiant survivor and share his story with current and future generations. “I felt a responsibility to make sure that every voice that emerged from the Holocaust was heard, no matter how long after the Shoah it came to the fore,” the author said.

“Zaidy’s War” narrates Benzion Malik’s tortuous war years spanning from 1939 when he was drafted into the Romanian Army from his hometown of Intervishof in Marmures County, to his release from the Russian Army in May of 1945. During these torrential years, he was tossed from army to army, serving in the Hungarian Army to do forced labor, next into the German Army to dig foxholes on the front lines against the Soviet Army, then as a water-bearer and wood-chopper for the Russian troops and eventually undergoing weapons training for the Soviets against the Germans. Even as late as 1945, Zaidy was still in uniform, battling the Germans to the bitter end.

A lean but strong recruit, he survived periodic bouts of starvation, refusing to participate in the inhumane cannibalism taking place around him. He mastered the art of foraging for food in the forests and became a survivalist, narrowly escaping death by poisoning from a tainted mushroom. After liberation, he gathered his surviving friends and marched 2,600 kilometers back to his home in Romania.

In addition to the narrative of his grandfather’s courageous survival, Bodek includes a timeline, documents and pictorial sources for his information, and pictures of beloved objects that were discovered after the war. A particularly meaningful section of this work contains genealogical lists of the family’s illustrious forebears including the Ba’al Shem Tov, Reb Nachaman M’Breslov, the Tosfot Yom Tov, The Maharal of Prague and the Maharsha. Moving tributes to his grandmother, Uncle Eliezer and other family members are also included.

In a heartfelt testimony to his Zaidy’s survival, Bodek writes: “The book that you hold in your hands, dear reader, is the testament which is my sacred duty to usher into the world so that I may bear witness in the name of my grandparents. I am blessed to have the faculties and support to allow me to dispatch this moral obligation. This is my love letter. This is my love song. This is my testimony and my everlasting tribute.

“When I stood beside Zaidy, I stood behind a giant. When I spoke with him, I did so with a colossus of righteousness and wisdom. I walked with him during his living years, and I walk with him still. Let the world learn—and never forget—the name, the life, the legacy of Benzion ben Reb Aharon Malik.”

“Zaidy’s War” by Martin Bodek is published by Amsterdam Publishers, the publishers of the most Holocaust memoirs to date. It can be purchased on Amazon.

By Pearl Markovitz

 

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