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Dorothy Kraus Memoir
My Mother Was the Most Beautiful -- A Memoir of Visoka Litovsk
My Mother Was The Most Beautiful is a memoir of a young girl, Dorothy Rogin Kraus, and her life until shortly after WWI in the Russian town of Wysokie Litewskie.
Dorothy gives us plentiful and unique details of daily life in her small Jewish town up to and including WWI. What they ate. How a chicken was prepared. The problems of surviving the cold. Variations in Jewish belief and levels of observance. Details of a difficult and surprisingly complex shtetl life. She describes her family.
The Memoir Narrative
Dorothy tells of the return of her father from America. How her grandmother decided to emigrate to America, and her departure. The subsequent return of her father to America, and the new lodging of her now-diminished family.
Dorothy's mother attempted emigrate to America with her two children via Antwerp, but their ship's voyage was cancelled. The family returned to Wysokie via Kobryn, where they visited Dorothy's paternal Grandmother. When they finally returned to Wysokie, they found Dorothy's grandfather was very sick. Not long after, he died. The three returned to the same lodging.
World War I started in 1914, an event of great, direct concern to the Jews of Wysokie. The generally, quietly pro-German town was soon occupied by the Russians. Jewish families stayed in their houses. They struggled to get accurate news of the war. They benefited from an unusually rich 1914 Fall harvest. The town was bombed from the air.
Dorothy describes wartime life in Wysokie Litewskie: sharing a home with a refuge family, and the interesting visitors who subsequently arrived. The townspeople found the strength to create a Yiddish school for girls, which Dorothy attended while it lasted. Then she was tutored by her mother. More financial difficulties caused the family to move to yet another place in the outskirts of Wysokie, where Dorothy got to know their Polish neighbors. Another lodger in the same house had a very sick child, who died shortly after. The family strugged to stay warm in the severe winter. They received visitors from the local intelligentsia. They made friends with a family named Feinberg.
Eventually, the tide of war went against the Russians and they retreated from Wysokie. The Germans arrived. Dorothy describes relations between the townspeople and the Germans, and her encounters with a German officer, a baron. The Germans enforced sanitary measures.
During this time, for economic reasons, Dorothy was sent on an extended visit in nearby Pruzhany with her family there. She describes her aunt and uncle there, and family life. Dorothy was homesick. She resented, but accepted the difficult household duties she was assigned. She saw her first motion pictures in Pruzhany.
For a brief time a window for the family to emigrate to America opened -- and then quickly shut again, when America entered the war in 1917. Dorothy fell ill with the Spanish Influenza.
Eventually, near the war's end, Dorothy returned to Wysokie, where, as a maturing young woman, she reconnected with her friends. But life was difficult for the family and her mother was emotionally and physically defeated. Occasionally, the family feasted on chicken and freshly-harvested fruits and vegetables. Dorothy tells about her best friend in Wysokie and her Zionist affiliation. The family suffered a scary encounter with a German soldier. Now the Germans were suffering defeats, and instituted forced labor in Wysokie. More childhood illnesses in the family. A rare letter --and money-- from her father enables the family to feast. A village scandal.
Ultimately World War I came to an end. Newly-independent Poland was in charge of the new peace, and the villagers wondered how they would fare under the Poles. The initial signs were good.
In 1920, the family finally emigrated to the U.S. to join Dorothy's father, and here the Memoir narrative ends
Information found about Dorothy from other sources indicate that she entered high school in Cleveland, Ohio, shortly after her family arrived in the U.S. It appears that during high school, she made notes about her childhood life. Later, perhaps in 1923, she revisited the notes and produced the manuscript upon which this presentation is based.
As far as can be determined, besides writing My Mother Was The Most Beautiful as a young adult, Dorothy never expressed interest in or commitment to her Eastern European Jewish heritage. According to several people who knew her, she never talked about or demonstrated that heritage.