About the Book
An intimate memoir recounting a woman’s quest to solve the mystery of her Holocaust survivor father’s death.
As a child growing up in Vancouver in the 1950s and early ’60s, Diana Wichtel knew there was something different about her family. Her parents were far from forthcoming about the harrowing details of her Jewish father’s journey from Poland to Canada during the Second World War, often leaving young Diana with more questions than answers.
She was told that during the War, Benjamin Wichtel and several members of his family were herded onto a train headed for the Treblinka extermination camp. Along the way, Benjamin seized the opportunity to jump off the train, leaving his loved ones behind. Evading the Nazis for the remainder of the War, Benjamin made his way to Canada and new life with a family of his own. But the past haunted him, and the pain of what he had gone through infiltrated his home life. When Diana was thirteen, her mother took her three children back to her native New Zealand, with the plan that Benjamin would follow them. However, the family never saw him again.
After decades of unanswered questions, Diana (now a journalist), set out on her own to uncover what happened to her father. The search became an obsession as she uncovered information about his Warsaw family and their fate at the hands of the Nazis, scoured archives for clues to her father’s disappearance, and visited the places he lived. This unforgettable memoir is a reflection on the meaning of family, the trauma of loss, and the insistence of memory.
Ben Wichtel, a Holocaust survivor, rebuilt his life in Vancouver, Canada. His struggles with mental illness, an outcome of what we know today as post-traumatic stress disorder, were largely misunderstood by his family, his community and a state unprepared to address the needs of victims of torture. He died young and alone. Driving to Treblinka is a heart-wrenching exploration of Ben’s retraumatization by healthcare professionals and the vicarious traumatization ensued by the next generations of Wichtels. It is a testimony to the dangers of erasing history. —Zelda Abramson, co-author of The Montreal Shtetl: Making Home after the Holocaust
“Driving to Treblinka is much more than a daughter’s quest for her missing and misunderstood father. It’s a searing exploration of the burden carried by all Holocaust survivors through generations and across continents. In lighting a memorial candle for her father, Diana Wichtel pays tribute to them all. A powerful and confronting read.” — Helena Wiśniewska Brow, author of Give Us This Day: A Memoir of Family and Exile
“Driving to Treblinka is both a loving tribute . . . and a redolently powerful meditation on the great weight carried by descendants of survivors.” — James Robbins, New Zealand Herald
“A poignant and gripping story that is full of tension as the truth about what Diana Wichtel’s father and others in her family endured slowly unfolds.” — Ann Beaglehole, author of A Small Price to Pay: Refugees from Hitler in New Zealand, 1936–46
“This is a story that reminds readers of the atrocities that ordinary people did to each other, the effect on those who survived and the reverberations felt through following generations.” — Margo White, The Spinoff
“Intimate, moving and eloquent.” — Catherine Chidgey, author of The Wish Child