seven: the tattooed flower: a memoir by suzy zail
The Tattooed Flower: A Memoir by Suzy Zail
Scribe Publications, Carlton North, Vic, 2006
review published in VATE Newsletter, no. 4, September 2007
Suzy Zail has managed what many of us wish we had done, but find it is too late. She asked her father about his life. They were like most fathers and daughters¾ too lazy to ask questions, too busy to listen. Emil then found he was dying. Motor Neurone Disease shocked Suzy and her brothers out of their detachment. Suzy knew her father was born in a small town in Czechoslovakia but couldn’t remember its name. She could see the modest flower tattooed on his forearm, but not what lay beneath.
In 1944, thirteen year old Emil Braun, his family, and hundreds of other Czechoslovakian Jews were loaded onto cattle trains for the chilling ride to Birkenau. Emil tells his story. The chapters of his past are interwoven with Zail’s revealing account of her father’s final five years. Zail’s lovingly produced memoir portrays her father as a good man, able to leave his tragic Holocaust childhood behind to thrive as an adult in Australia. The Holocaust had been an aberration¾a dark, bleak time in history. It didn’t define humanity and it wouldn’t define me.
The Tattooed Flower is a compelling personal account of the Holocaust for History students, to be read alongside others published decades ago. An early Birkenau incident provides a revealing anecdote about Dr Josef Mengele. Concentration camp cruelty on a daily level is exposed. Indiscriminate slaughter, miserable provisions, isolation of family members – how did the oppressors think these acts made them the better people? Students of Religion will find that bigotry tainted Emil’s earliest school days. Those studying immigration issues will find that Emil left his childhood behind when he docked at Port Melbourne in 1950. People looked happy, he said. The first Australian he met was a freckle-faced boy raised on beaches and pineapple juice. I’ve found my future. Dave, a sympathetic Australian tattooist, covered Emil’s camp number with a simple floral design.
In the 1960s the Brauns were a family of five and Emil Braun Jewellers the biggest diamond-ring-mount manufacturer in Australia. Emil was founder and chairman of the second largest Jewish social club in Australia, and served as Mayor of the City of Caulfield from 1988. Flower is also a creditable introductory biography of a significant Australian. Although the Australian years are not fleshed out, perhaps because Emil chose to remain silent about his achievements, Zail has the scrapbooks to show what kind of man her father was. You wanted to know who I am, Mr Braun said. I’ve talked for nine nights but I can tell you who I am in less than a minute: I’m a man, loved by a beautiful woman, graced with incredible kids. A lucky man.
An insightful memoir.