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The Matryoshka Memoirs

A Story of Ukrainian Forced Labour, the Leica Camera Factory, and Nazi Resistance

248 pages
Ecw Press

“[Colby] breathes new life into well-trodden WWII tropes, building a vivid, novelistic narrative focused on memory and family.” — Publishers Weekly

“The writing is vivid and lyrical, the narratives are arresting, and the women are unforgettable.” — Craig Howes, Director, Center for Biographical Research, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa

A remarkable story of strength and resilience in the crucible of Nazi Germany

Irina Nikifortchuk was 19 years old and a Ukrainian schoolteacher when she was abducted to be a forced laborer in the Leica camera factory in Nazi Germany. Eventually pulled from the camp hospital to work as a domestic in the Leica owners’ household, Irina survived the war and eventually found her way to Canada.

Decades later Sasha Colby, Irina’s granddaughter, seeks out her grandmother’s story over a series of summer visits and gradually begins to interweave the as-told-to story with historical research. As she delves deeper into the history of the Leica factory and World War II forced labor, she discovers the parallel story of Elsie Kühn-Leitz, Irina’s rescuer and the factory heiress, later imprisoned and interrogated by the Gestapo on charges of “excessive humanity.”

This is creative nonfiction at its best as the mystery of Irina’s life unspools skillfully and arrestingly. Despite the horrors that the story must tell, it is full of life, humor, food, and the joy of ordinary safety in Canada. The Matryoshka Memoirs takes us into a forgotten corner of history, weaving a rich and satisfying tapestry of survival and family ties and asking what we owe those who aid us.

Author Bio

Sasha Colby is a writer, literary historian, performance artist, and director of Simon Fraser University’s Graduate Liberal Studies program. She lives in Vancouver, BC.