Tag Archives: Holocaust Books

The Woman with the Blue Star: A Novel Book Review

It is easy to judge someone based on a stereotype or a first impression. But when we get to know them, we hopefully will get to see the real person and not who we think they are.

Pam Jenoff‘s new book, The Woman with the Blue Star: A Novel, was published in May. In Krakow, Poland in 1942, 18-year-old Sadie Gault’s life has been turned upside down. Because she is Jewish, she and her parents have been forced to move into the Krakow Ghetto. When the Nazis decide that it is time to liquidate the ghetto, they escape into the sewers beneath the city. Hiding with her pregnant mother and another family, she looks up one day and sees a young woman her age looking back to her.

On the outside, Ella Stepanek is living a comfortable life (relatively speaking). Her Catholic faith has so far kept her alive and safe. But once she gets home, it is another story. Ella is the only one of her siblings still living at home. Both of her parents are deceased. Her stepmother would love nothing more than to have an empty house. She has also opened her doors, literally and figuratively to the new regime.

As the two girls become friends, Ella starts to provide Sadie with as many provisions as possible. But with both the war and the hunt for hidden Jews ramping up, they realize that the decisions that must be made have life-changing consequences.

I have been a fan of Jenoff for the last few years. She perfectly balances the historical record with fictional characters, telling stories that transcend the time and place in which they are set. I also very much appreciate that most, if not all of her protaganists are female. We can talk all we want about representation. But until writers, readers, and publishers step up, male protaganists will still dominate the world of fiction.

Reading this book, I am reminded that the Holocaust is not ancient history. Many who survived are no longer with us. Without their testimony and the recording of their experiences, this dark day in history will be lost to memory. It is, therefore, incumbent upon the younger generations to listen while we can and make sure that what they lived through is preserved, re-told, and never forgotten.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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Flashback Friday: The Last Days (1998)

The only way to learn from our past is to not repeat it. Sometimes, that requires reliving it, as painful as it sounds.

The 1998 documentary, The Last Days, was released on Netflix back in May. The film follows five Hungarian Jewish survivors of the Holocaust. During the last year of World War II, the Jews of Hungary were the last intact Jewish community in Europe. That would quickly change. Within six weeks, hundreds of thousands were deported to Auschwitz. Only a handful would survive. Containing interviews with survivors, a SS doctor, and American soldiers who helped to liberate Dachau, it is powerful and haunting reminder of both the light and the darkness in humanity.

I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. It was riveting, emotional, and a punch to the gut that is absolutely necessary. Hearing about this time in history from the people who lived through this nightmare reminds us all that the Holocaust is not a myth and not strictly relegated to the world of literature. It is an event that happened in the lifetimes of many people who are still alive. While we cannot bring back those who were murdered, we can honor their memory by remembering them, and open our eyes to the negative energy and destruction that hate drags behind it.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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The Ravine: A Family, a Photograph, a Holocaust Massacre Revealed Book Review

It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words.

The Ravine: A Family, a Photograph, a Holocaust Massacre Revealed, by Wendy Lower, was published last month.

Back in 2009, Lower was shown a photograph taken during World War II. It shows the the massacre of Jews in an open pit (known as the Holocaust by Bullets) outside of a town in the Ukraine. The Ukrainian man holding the rifle is aiming for a woman who is holding the hand of a little boy. Taking the picture to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C., she was determined to find out the fate and identities of those in the picture.

I loved this book. It takes a moment within this time period and blows it up in a way that humanizes this very dark period in history. When most people think of the Holocaust, they think of the ghettos and the concentration camps. They don’t think of the millions who were forced to dig their own graves before being murdered.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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I Kiss Your Hand Many Times Book Review

Marianne Szegedy-Maszak has an interesting story to tell.

Her memoir of her parents war time relationship, I Kiss Your Had Many Times: Heart, Souls And Wars in Hungary is one of the most fascinating and different Holocaust stories that has been published.

Her mother’s grandfather, Manfred Weiss, was a Hungarian Jewish industrialist who, in his own time, owned  multiple factories. His family was known as intellectuals and artists who entertained the who’s who of their day. His children and grandchildren were assimilated Jews, several of whom converted to Catholicism. Despite the fact that most of the family were practicing Catholics, they were labeled as Jews by the Nazis. Her father, who survived Dachau, was a diplomat who worked with the Nazis before becoming a vocal Anti-Fascist.

Based up a series of letters written between her parents from 1940 to 1947, this book is a powerful and evocative family memoir in addition to being a unique addition to a very long list of Holocaust related books.

I liked this book. The author is extremely detail oriented, using the first few chapters to introduce the readers to her mother’s very large family. But the book really gets going when the war starts and and the family begins to realize that their recent conversion to Catholicism may not be enough to save them from the concentration camps and the gas chambers.

I recommend this book.

 

 

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A Train To Warsaw Book Review: An Intense And Powerful Look At The Holocaust

The Holocaust is such a powerful and overwhelming subject that sometimes, it seems almost impossible to make it human and real.

Gwen Edelman’s new book, The Train To Warsaw, starts 40 years after the end of World War II. Jascha and Lilka met and fell in love in the Warsaw Ghetto.  Escaping the ghetto separately, they reunite in London. Four decades after the war, Jascha has become a celebrated novelist. He has been invited back to Warsaw to give a reading of his book.  While Lilka is eager to go and wants to relive her childhood, Jascha refuses, for he sees no reason to return.

Lilka wins and they travel in the middle of bitterly cold December back to Warsaw. Intertwined in their intimate conversations are the memories of their lives before and during the war, the family, friends and neighbors whose lives were taken and the Poles who were eager to work with the Nazis in reaching their goals. A secret is revealed towards the end of the novel, causing the characters to wonder if they can still trust each other.

I’ve read many Holocaust books, but this book is different. It is intimate and human. Instead of dealing the very daunting subject of the Holocaust as a whole, Ms. Edelman focuses on her two main characters who have different memories of their lives in Warsaw.  Lilka and Jascha’s relationship feels normal and loving, despite the hardships they have endured.

I recommend this book.

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