Forced into a ghetto, the Rabinowitz family did the best they could to survive. When the mass executions and deportations began in 1942, they escaped into the Bialowieza Forest. Living there for two years, they faced starvation, illness, and constant awareness that they would be found at any minute. Before they broke out, Miriam saved the life of a young boy by pretending that he was her son.
Almost ten years later, that boy was now a man. While attending a friend’s wedding, he struck up a conversation with another guest. Telling his story of survival, the woman he was talking to revealed that she knew the mother who had saved his life. Little did he know that this disclosure would lead him to the woman who he would marry and spend many happy years together.
I loved this book. I was on tinder hooks the entire time. Even though the reader is aware that the family survived, the question of how they did so is a thriller of the best kind. The aspect that kept me reading was the post-war life of the book’s subjects. While other books of this nature may end with a small postscript, the author extends the story to their life in America and the generations that come into existence since the end of the war.
This book adds a new layer to the information we have about the Holocaust. I loved that each woman is given her time to shine. We are told that women are weak and emotional. We are incapable of being bold, brave, and courageous. The subjects of this book are the opposite. They know that death is waiting for them at every turn. But they cannot sit back and do nothing. Instead these young women used every tool at their disposal to save as many lives as they can.
I appreciated the epilogue in which the author sketches the lives of the survivors after the war is over. While some settled down into of normal life, others are haunted by those years and what they experienced. They lived with what we now know to be PTSD, creating a shadow that stayed with them years after peace was declared.
Though it is not the heart pounding thriller I thought it would be, it is still a good and a very important read.
A woman’s brain is a fearsome thing to behold. Especially when she is not afraid to use it.
Beyond the Ghetto Gates: A Novel, by Michelle Cameron, was published last spring. The books tell the story of two different women. Though they are separated by religion, they are brought together by fate and the French invasion of their home city of Ancona, Italy.
Mirelle is Jewish and like all Jewish residents of the city, she lives in the ghetto. Though she has a mind for numbers, it is inconceivable that she could join her father in the family business. Her only goal, as she is told over and over again, is marriage. She could agree to say “I do” to the older and wealthy businessman that everyone is telling her to marry. Mirelle could also run away and elope with her French Catholic lover, but the consequences of such a union would be disastrous.
Francesca is Catholic and lives in the Christian part of Ancona with her husband and children. To say that he is not Prince Charming is an understatement. When he gets involved with the wrong crowd and helps to steal a miracle portrait of the Madonna, Francesca has a hard choice to make. She could do her wifely duty and support her husband, even when she knows what he did was wrong. Or, she could speak up and create trouble for herself.
I have mixed feelings about this book. I was drawn in by the premise of the novel, the well drawn characters, and the detailed description of the world late 18th century Italy. I also loved the ending, which is atypical for the genre. But if there is one major flaw in the narrative, is that the romance. It is supposed to be the high point of the story, but it falls flat.