The Invisible Wall by Harry Bernstein

The author of this memoir was 93 when he began to write it which was after the death of his wife Ruby. He was born in 1910. The memoir has a sequel titled The Dream. The setting is an English mill town in Lancashire: a small town and a street with an “invisible wall” dividing Jewish families on one side from Christian families on the other. “Actually,” Harry writes, what we had here was a miniature ghetto…and though the distance from one side to the other…was only a few yards…the distance socially could have been miles and miles.” (Prologue)As a memoir, this is particularly powerful and genuine. The working conditions/climate in the tailoring shops where Harry’s father worked and also his sister Lily,the social restrictions and barriers, the parents’ struggle to raise a family and keep a home,are very clearly presented and the reader easily enters into these various aspects of Harry’s family life. He inspires strong empathy.Invisible Wall

The love story involves Harry’s sister Lily who falls in love with a Christian boy. Harry is drawn into their story when he discovers the romance.
The war changes things on the street. Harry describes the changes: “The war, it seemed, had almost completely destroyed the invisible wall that had separated us, bringing the two sides together. Many young man on the street are called up including Lily’s young man Arthur. After the war, things revert back to old patterns. Arthur and Lily see each other secretly and Harry knows this. Eventually the mother finds out and the parents follow Jewish customs and consider their daughter to be dead. As Harry describes it: “And this time too the Christians may have been just as shocked and as fearful for their own daughters and sons.”
Harry and the family left England in 1922 although as he says “I never really left the street. It was always there in my mind through the years that followed.” Forty years later he did return just in time to see the old buildings before they were demolished and he finds one of the people he knew when he lived there.
A memoir that is well worth a read: told with patience, humility and the uncluttered viewpoint of one who remembers with the clarity and non-judgmental vision of a child which is what Harry was during his time there.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *