Transcending Darkness

Written by Estelle Glaser Laughlin
Review by Cecelia Holland

“If you sit in a dark hole in the ground listening to the world crashing around you, you never stop sitting there. Some part of you sits there through all your life.”

We all know this story already. The tramp of heavy boots, the yellow stars, the bodies hanging from gibbets, the raw unending hunger, we have all heard this before. Yet every time it hurts. Estelle Glaser Laughlin’s memoir of her childhood in the Warsaw Ghetto, the concentration camps and, after, the chaos of post-war Europe is wonderful not for its evocation of the details of horror, but its faith in other people. Above all it’s testimony to her mother, who kept her children together, who found hope to feed them when there was no food, who managed somehow to get them across the ruins of war-torn Europe and, finally, to America, and a new life.

In the face of terrible evil, the power of this one woman shines like a star. Transcending Darkness is not about fear and death, but about life and survival, and an indomitable woman at the center of it all. We are all of us, in some ways, still sitting in that hole in the ground. Laughlin’s memoir gives us a portrait of a woman who refused to submit to that even when there seemed no other choice.