In “The Matryoshka Memoirs: A Story of Ukrainian Forced Labour, the Leica Camera Factory, and Nazi Resistance”, Sasha Colby, a distinguished Canadian historian and Professor at SFU, unfolds a gripping narrative of her grandmother's resilience in the face of harrowing challenges during a Nazi forced labor camp. In 1942, 19-year-old Irina was forcibly separated from her Ukrainian family by Nazi soldiers and found herself in Germany compelled to work at the Leica camera factory in Wetzlar.
But contrary to expectations, factory owner's, Ernst Leitz II, and his daughter Elsie Kühn-Leitz were no Nazi supporters and covertly assisted numerous Jewish employees in leaving the country. Kühn-Leitz regularly extracted young women like Irina from the camp by hiring them as maids at the family estate.
As Colby masterfully intertwines these women's stories, she sheds light on Kühn-Leitz's courageous acts, leading to her arrest and a three-month imprisonment by the Gestapo. Meanwhile, Irina, who had fallen in love with and married a fellow Ukrainian at the camp, faced her own tribulations, briefly held captive by the invading Russian army. Miraculously, the couple escaped with the aid of a British soldier.
“The Matryoshka Memoirs” delicately weaves together these intersecting lives, providing readers with a poignant and evocative glimpse into a chapter of World War II history. Devotees of historical novels set in this period will find Colby's work not only informative, but deeply resonant with the human spirit's triumph over adversity.