I Will Protect You: A True Story of Twins Who Survived Auschwitz Book Review

Among the many horrors of the Holocaust (and there are many) is the use of prisoners in Auschwitz as lab rats. Done by “Dr.” Josef Mengele, his specialty was the tests that were done on identical twins.

The late Eva Mozes Kor and her sister Miriam were one of many pairs of twins who were used as guinea pigs. Her memoir, I Will Protect You: A True Story of Twins Who Survived Auschwitz, co-written by Danica Davidson was published last year.

Until the age of ten, Eva and Miriam had an ordinary childhood. In 1943, they were deported to Auschwitz. Separated from their parents and siblings, the girls survived twice over. Not only were their parents and sisters murdered, but they were among the minority of twins who did not die from being experimented on.

Though the book is meant for a younger audience, adult readers will not be bored. The details are so precise and cinematic that it is hard to ignore what can only be described as hades on Earth.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

I Will Protect You: A True Story of Twins Who Survived Auschwitz is available wherever books are sold.

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Some Things Never Change: How Saba Kept Singing Review & Justice for Joey Borgen

As much as things change, they stay the same.

In honor of Yom HaShoah earlier this week, PBS aired the documentary How Saba Kept Singing. The film followed David Wisnia, the late Cantor and Holocaust survivor.

Originally from Poland, David was the only member of his immediate family to see the end of the war. The only reason he walked out of Auschwitz was his singing. The audience travels with David and his grandson Avi as he talks about his past and visits the place in which he nearly died.

I loved it. I was in tears by the end. This was a man who had every reason to be angry and bitter. But he found the light and a reason to live. It is a message that anyone can relate to.

Back in 2021, Joey Borgen was attacked in broad daylight in New York City. His crime was being visibly Jewish and attending a pro-Israel rally.

His attacker (who shall remain nameless on this blog) was given a slap on the wrist: six months in jail and five years probation. Alvin Bragg‘s office claims that they did a thorough investigation. If they did, these men would have been charged with a hate crime and given a significant jail sentence.

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The message is loud and clear: anyone who verbally or physically assaults a Jewish person in NYC will not be treated as the criminal they are. They will be told they were naughty and nothing more.

That is not the city I know and love. Shame on you, Alvin Bragg. You know better. You could have done better, but you chose not to.

Code Name Sapphire Book Review

When one nation forces occupation on the other, there are two choices: stay silent and hope that you live to see freedom. The other is to fight against the occupier, knowing full well what the consequences could be.

Pam Jenoff‘s new novel, Code Name Sapphire, was published last month. Hannah Martel is on the run from Nazi Germany. After losing her fiance during a pogrom, she hopes that the ship she is on will take her to America and freedom. But it is sent back to Europe ( a la SS St. Louis). With nowhere else to go, she lands in Brussels and moves in with her cousin Lily and Lily’s family.

Instead of laying low, she returns to her previous resistance work, hoping that this will be her ticket out. Joining the group known as Code Name Sapphire, she meets its leader, Micheline, and Micheline’s brother, Matteo. When a mistake causes Lily’s family to be arrested and put on the list for deportation to Auschwitz, Hannah has to choose. She can continue with her resistance work or find a way to undo the damage of her error.

Jenoff does it again. Her narratives are powerful, human, and compelling, and speak to the complications that war creates. One of the things that spoke to me was the perceived comfort that Lily believed was hers. Knowing what we know now, it was merely a smoke screen that temporarily delayed the inevitable.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Code Name Sapphire is available wherever books are sold.

P.S. It is beyond disgusting that once more, the Republican Party appropriates history to fit their needs.

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.

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.

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