Driving to Treblinka

Book Author Diana Wichtel
Rights Available World excl. NZ, AU, USA, Canada, Italy

Diana Wichtel was born in Vancouver. Her mother was a New Zealander, her father a Polish Jew from Warsaw who had jumped off a train to the Treblinka death camp and avoided capture by the Nazis until the end of the war. When Diana was 13 she moved to New Zealand with her mother, sister and brother. Her father was to follow. Diana never saw him again.

Many years later she sets out to discover what happened to him. The search becomes an obsession as she painstakingly uncovers information about his large Warsaw family and their fate at the hands of the Nazis, scours archives across the world for clues to her father’s disappearance, and visits the places he lived.

This unforgettable narrative is also a deep reflection on the meaning of family, the trauma of loss, and the insistence of memory. It asks the question: Is it better to know, or more bearable not to?

Royal Society Te Aparangi Award for General Non-fiction
EH Cormick Best First Book

About the Author
Diana Wichtel
is an award-winning journalist, a columnist for The New Zealand Herald and formerly a feature writer and television critic for New Zealand Listener. After gaining a Master of Arts at the University of Auckland, she tutored English before launching into a career in journalism. She lives in Auckland and is the recipient of a Grimshaw Sargeson Fellowship.


Awa Press



Non Fiction

Memoir & Biography

Publication Date

Rights Available:
World excl. NZ,AU, USA, Canada, Italy

Rights Agents:


Mary Varnham, Awa Press

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‘A heartbreaking work of genius … This is a story that reminds readers of the atrocities that ordinary people did to each other, the effect on those who survived, and the reverberations felt through following generations. It breaks your heart, but the side effect of reading this remarkably compassionate approach to an extremely painful history is that it also encourages you to open your own heart, or at least think about doing so. “A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us,” said Franz Kafka. This book is that.

Margo White, The Spinoff

Wichtel’s prose is exquisite; her wit elegant. She imprints the scale of her longing into the marrow of your bones and I couldn’t help but wish to remind her of Siward’s epitaph of loss and memory from Macbeth: “Your cause of sorrow must not be measured by his worth, for then it hath no end.” Some of that worth has already been measured by the tears spilled in unearthing this story, and will be measured again by the tears of the book’s readers. Such is the earnestness, the vivacity, and ultimately, the profoundness of its conclusions.

James Robins, Weekend Herald

A searing investigation into family secrets and historic horrors. Several chapters are genuinely distressing to read: not just the descriptions of Holocaust atrocities but also the intimate accounts of how those traumas resonated through the lives of survivors like Ben Wichtel, and then into subsequent generations. … Yet there’s plenty to enjoy. Descriptions of Wichtel’s childhood are frequently hilarious … Wichtel has told the Hitler story again, beautifully, and it is very ugly.

Adam Dudding, The Sunday Star-Times

A stunning memoir … Wichtel weaves a … complex, braided narrative that moves forward and backward in time and place … the book has a gripping detective thread, though what interested me equally, if not more, was the emotional suspense that builds as she confronts family skeletons.

Marion McLeod, Metro

Diana Wichtel isn’t one to weigh the story down with a lot of unnecessary sentiment. She doesn’t need to. Rather than focus on the gloom of her family’s history, Driving to Treblinka is a brave tribute to the man whose descendants are here because of his actions. It is a story that had me in pieces.

Diane McCarthy, Eastern Bay Life

I began to read this book and found the first page so sad I had to put it away until I felt strong enough to face what I was certain—especially given the title—would be a tale of unremitting suffering and sorrow … Suffering and sorrow there are in abundance in these pages, but the book is not “just” another Holocaust memoir. That said, it may well become—should it find the international readership it deserves—a classic among those books which touch on that atrocity. … That first page demonstrates the brilliance brought to bear throughout. … Driving to Treblinka, which deals with some of the great themes of 20th-century history, and of one family’s history, manages to be both monumental and intimate, and is a remarkable achievement.

Paul Little, North & South

I admired the fact Wichtel was willing to share intimate personal details … This is not a book you “enjoy” in the usual sense of that word [but] a salutary reminder of the immense and lasting impact of Nazism. We tend to think mainly of the millions of Jews and others who died in the Holocaust but many of those who survived were, like Ben Wichtel, scarred for life.

Judith Morrell Nathan, Scoop Review of Books