The Nazis Knew My Name: A Remarkable Story of Survival and Courage in Auschwitz Book Review

To the Nazis, most of their victims were nameless sub-human creatures who were marked for death. They had no identity and were without the distinct characteristics that made them unique.

But there was one name that was known: Magda Hellinger. Her story is told in the 2022 memoir, The Nazis Knew My Name: A Remarkable Story of Survival and Courage in Auschwitz. The book was co-written with Magda’s daughter, Maya Lee, and edited by David Brewster.

Before the war, Magda was a kindergarten teacher. After she was transported to Auschwitz, she made the bold (or stupid, depending on your pov) to speak up for her fellow prisoners. Instead of sending her to the gas chambers, she was put in charge of the camp’s female “inhabitants”. Magda was forced to walk the daily line of keeping as many alive as she could while making sure that their captors looked the other way. By honing her intelligence and survival skills, she was able to save her life and the lives of many others.

This book is amazing. It speaks to the inner strength that allows us to live with situations that would otherwise kill us. The images from the Holocaust often show my co-religionists meekly going to their deaths. It is stories like Magda’s that prove that there was still a fight to be fought, even under the most difficult of circumstances.

It also proves once more that women can do anything.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

The Nazis Knew My Name: A Remarkable Story of Survival and Courage in Auschwitz is available where books are sold.

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Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day

The Holocaust ended 78 years ago. Though it may seem like ancient history, the truth is that it happened in the lifetimes of our parents and grandparents.

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day and specifically, the liberation of the survivors of the Auschwitz death camp.

When I think of what has been happening in the past few years, I see scary signs of what could happen again. I think it goes without saying that we don’t want to make the alarm bells ring all of the time. But, given recent events (Kanye, for one), I can’t help but make connections to the recent past.

One of the things that I wish was more well-known was the persecution of the LGBTQ community. Before the war, Berlin was known for its openness to those who were not heteronormative. The ended in 1933. Thousands were murdered and many more were persecuted.

The problem is that many continue to turn a blind eye to this hatred, even those of my faith. Ben Shapiro (whom I dislike with every bone in my body), has been open about his association with the right and their hatred of everyone who is not them. What he conveniently forgets is that at the day, he is still Jewish. The antisemites would still slap a yellow star on his chest and send him to his death.

It has been said that we die twice. The first time is when shuffle off this mortal coil. The second is when we are forgotten. Many of those who were killed have died twice.

May the memories of the millions who were murdered always be a blessing. Z”l.

The Escape Artist: The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz to Warn the World Book Review

Millions walked into Auschwitz. Only a few walked out.

Rudolph Vrba (nee Walter Rosenberg) was within the minority that lived to tell the tale. His story is told in the new book The Escape Artist: The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz to Warn the World. Written by Jonathan Freedland, it was published in October.

Until Vrba and Alfred Wetzler escaped the notorious concentration camp, no one outside of Nazi Germany knew that it existed. The information they shared with the world would later be known as the Vrba Wetzler report. At a mere 19 years ago age, Vrba helped to save 200,000 lives while wishing he could have saved more.

This is an amazing book. It is a heart-pounding thriller that kept my heart in my throat. For anyone who denies that the Holocaust happened, the details provided will (hopefully) wash away those doubts. The information provided is so granular that it’s as if the reader was there.

What I really liked about it was that it represented Vrba as a full human being, warts and all. For all of his heroism during the war, his life in the post-war years was complicated and far from easy.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

The Escape Artist: The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz to Warn the World is available wherever books are sold.

The Daughter of Auschwitz: My Story of Resilience Survival and Hope Book Review

As the years pass, the number of Holocaust survivors who lived to tell their first-hand stories dwindles. At this point, it is only the child survivors who are still alive to speak their truth.

Tova Friedman is one of these child survivors. Her new memoir, The Daughter of Auschwitz: My Story of Resilience, Survival and Hope, co-written with Malcolm Brabant and with a foreword by Ben Kingsley, was published earlier this month. Born in 1938, her earliest years were defined by antisemitism, poverty, violence, and destruction. She saw things that no child should ever see.

By age four, Tova and her mother were sent to Auschwitz II-Birkenau. Her father was sent to Dachau. What she experienced in the camp was imminently worse than anything she had seen previously. Though she and both of her parents could have been murdered any number of times, all three of them were liberated and found one another.

Now in her early 80’s, Tova is a wife, mother, grandmother, and lecturer. Her mission is to educate about the Holocaust, to make sure that it never happens again.

What makes this book so powerful is her memories. Though the events are nearly a century old, the images are as potent and brutal as if it were yesterday. It is a reminder that this happened in many people’s lifetimes.

Included in the book are pictures. Among them is an image of one of her aunts. Her aunt was liberated from the camps only to be murdered in a pogrom a year later. It is hard to see, but an important reminder of what prejudice can do to us.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

The Daughter of Auschwitz: My Story of Resilience, Survival and Hope is available wherever books are sold.

The Last Checkmate: A Novel Book Review

When we talk about the Holocaust, we sometimes forget The Righteous Among the Nations. These are non-Jews who put their lives and safety aside to save their Jewish neighbors.

The Last Checkmate: A Novel, by Gabriella Saab, was published last year. Maria Florkowska, a Polish-Catholic teenage girl, has been forced to grow up quickly. The only connection to her life before World War II is her love of chess. A member of the Polish underground, Maria, along with the rest of her family, is caught by the Gestapo and sent to Auschwitz.

After her parents and siblings are murdered, Maria is initially stuck in an emotional cycle of grief and anger. When one of the camp’s commanders notices that she plays chess well, he decides to use her skill to entertain the guards. This opens the door to doing everything she can to get him transferred to another camp. When they met again at the war’s end, Maria challenges him to one more game, not knowing the outcome.

I truly enjoyed this book. If nothing, Maria is proof that there are good people in this world. It also shows that when it seems darkest, there is always some spark to keep us going. I love Maria’s sass, I love her intelligence, and I love her fight to stay alive.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely?

The Last Checkmate: A Novel is available wherever books are sold.

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The Redhead of Auschwitz: A True Story Book Review

To be the descendent of a Holocaust survivor is to grow up with a trauma that stretches well beyond the first generation. They have a unique responsibility to tell the stories of their loved ones that sometimes feel more pressing than those of us whose direct families were out of harm’s way during the war.

The Redhead of Auschwitz: A True Story, by Nechama Birnbaum, was published at the end of last year. The book tells the story of her late grandmother, Rosie Greenstein. Though Rosie was often told that her red hair was undesirable, she believed that it was an asset. Though her family was poor, Rosie’s childhood was idyllic. Raised by her widowed mother, she dreamed of her wedding day and future husband.

That dream came crashing down in 1944. The Jews of Hungary were forced out of their homes and sent directly to Auschwitz. The only thing that is keeping her alive is her fierce spirit and the will to survive in the face of all-encompassing death.

This biography is written in such a way that every gruesome and horrific detail is hard to ignore or forget. The narrative flashes between two different time periods until the story converges: Rosie’s life before the war and her time in the death camp. What I got from the book was more than a granddaughter’s love for her grandmother. It was pride in the strength that was passed down through the generations and families that come into the world since the end of the war.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely. P.S. I also recommend following the corresponding Instagram account.

The Redhead of Auschwitz: A True Story is available wherever books are sold.

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I Was A Doctor In Auschwitz Book Review

As we get farther away from 1945, those who lived through and can speak to the first-hand events of World War II and the Holocaust are leaving us in greater numbers. It is, therefore (in my humble opinion), incumbent on the living generation to tell share the stories of those who lived through this horrific time.

I Was A Doctor In Auschwitz, by Gisela Perl, was published in 1948. It was one of the first memoirs from a survivor of the Final Solution, Perl was a gynecologist whose entire family was deported from Hungary to Auschwitz. Cruelly forced to “practice” medicine, she did her best to save as many lives as possible when death was ever-present. She leaves no gruesome and violent detail unturned. The bloodlust and sadism of her captors were endless, they took immense pleasure in torturing the prisoners and depriving them of every aspect of humanity.

If I were to generate a list of books that we should all read, this one would be near the top of the list. It is in your face and heartbreaking. If the only way to prevent another Holocaust is to share the narratives of those who lived through it, then this memoir should be on everyone’s TBR list.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

I Was A Doctor In Auschwitz is available wherever books are sold.

Death and Love in the Holocaust: The Story of Sonja and Kurt Messerschmidt Book Review

Love can get us through the toughest of times. It gives us hope like few things can.

Death and Love in the Holocaust: The Story of Sonja and Kurt Messerschmidt, by Steve Hochstadt was published last month. The book tells the story of Sonja and Kurt Messerschmidt, a married couple who survived the Holocaust.

They were born in Berlin and were among the last Jews deported out of the country. Married in Theresienstadt, Sonja and Kurt were in Auschwitz and among the lucky ones to walk out alive. Finding each other after the war, they emigrated to the United States and rebuilt their lives.

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What I liked about this book was the dual narrative. The historical facts are interspersed with interviews with the book’s subjects. What I find amazing is not just one of them survived, but they both were among the few to return to the land of the living. What I got from the story was that love can get us through the darkest of times, even when hope seems lost.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Death and Love in the Holocaust: The Story of Sonja and Kurt Messerschmidt is available wherever books are sold.


Flashback Friday: The Grey Zone (2001)

When we think of Holocaust movies, they are rarely light and sunny, for a good reason,

The Grey Zone hit theaters in 2001. It told the story of the Sonderkommandos (along with other prisoners) who led a revolt against their captors in Auschwitz. In an effort to stay alive a little longer, they have led their fellow Jews to their deaths. The moral quandary comes when the men discover that a young girl has survived the gas chambers. They do everything in their power to keep her alive and out of view of the Nazis. Starring Mira Sorvino, David Arquette, Steve Buscemi, and Natasha Lyonne, it is a story of fighting for your life and your people in a world in which death is just a hairsbreadth behind you.

This movie is powerful, heartbreaking, and a ride that is a reminder of how inhumane we can be to our fellow human beings. The filmmakers do not shy away from how violent and brutal “life” in the concentration camp was. In doing so, they speak for both the victims and survivors, whose numbers are dwindling fast.

The only thing that throws me off is that many of the actors speak in their own accents instead of the voices that would have been natural for the characters they are playing.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

The Sisters of Auschwitz: The True Story of Two Jewish Sisters’ Resistance in the Heart of Nazi Territory Book Review

When one nation or people invades another, the decision to join the resistance is not one to be taken lightly. Knowing that you are constantly at death’s door, it requires a certain kind of bravery that could also be deemed as foolishness.

The Sisters of Auschwitz: The True Story of Two Jewish Sisters’ Resistance in the Heart of Nazi Territory, by Rox­ane van Iperen, was published in August. The book tells the story of two Dutch Jewish sisters, Janny Brilleslijper and Lien Brilleslijper. Less than a year after the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, the lives of the sisters, their family, and every other Jew in the country begins to change for the worst. They have two options. They can either stay where they are and wait for the other shoe to drop. The other choice is to go into hiding and hope that they will all be alive at the end of the war.

The solution is to go into hiding in the woods. Known as “The High Nest“, the property is a safe house for the family, artists, and other resistance fighters. Just as it seems that the Allies are on the verge of taking back Europe, they are betrayed and sent to Auschwitz. Forced onto the train with them is Anne Frank and her family. As the two sets of siblings try to survive, Janny and Lien connect with Anne and her older sister, Margot. Waiting for liberation will test the sisters in every way possible, forcing them to rely on each other and an inner strength that may be the only thing keeping them alive.

When we talk about resistance, the conversation frequently revolves around men. Women are not given their due or an opportunity to tell the story. Having never heard of Janny and Lien Brilleslijper, it was another reminder of how badass Jewish women are. My problem with the book is that I was not feeling the danger and the tension of the narrative. I should have felt the stress and anxiety of what the characters were going through. Ultimately, I didn’t, which is highly dissapointing.

Do I recommend it? Not really.

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