Picks and Pans Review: Anton the Dove Fancier

updated 09/03/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/03/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Bernard Gotfryd

Of all the 21 tales pressed like flowers into this little book on the Holocaust, the one that lingers like a remembered fragrance is the title story.

Before World War II, when Gotfryd was a youth, he lived in Radom, Poland. Across the street, Anton, a loutish man with a brutal indifference to his wife and neighbors, displayed an unusual tenderness for pigeons. Anton fell afoul of the Nazis when they overran Poland and ended up in a concentration camp with the author. In spite of his captivity, Anton managed well and slipped Gotfryd warm clothing and food.

After the war Gotfryd returned to Radom, and Anton's wife showed him a letter her husband sent from the camp before he was killed. Anton wrote, "Do you remember that skinny Jewish kid next door?... Well, he is here with me now. You know how much I always disliked these people, God forgive me, but when I saw him running out of the showers, naked, in the middle of winter, something told me that I should help him."

Gotfryd is a longtime photographer for Newsweek, and when he returned to Poland on assignment in 1983, he began to set down the stories that read like a sob.

These are not always sad or tragic tales, but they are always haunting. There is, for instance, "The Wedding Picture."

Gotfryd grew up with a picture of his Uncle Hershel and his Aunt Annette in his parents' home. While he never met them, Gotfryd felt that Uncle Hershel was "suave" and that Aunt Annette liked children. They lived in Paris, and he imagined their life in grand, vivid detail. After the war he visited their Paris home, an old third-floor walk-up. Uncle Hershel was unshaven and wore soiled slacks. He and Aunt Annette had divorced, but both met Gotfryd for dinner. When they smiled, he could see flashes of that old style and affection. Later, in America, Gotfryd got a letter. Hershel and Annette had remarried—and there was a new picture.

Such stories, so rich and laden with meaning, are hard to leave. Bernard Gotfryd has never made better pictures. (Washington Square, paper, $7.95)

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