Every time I tell myself that I cannot read another Holocaust story because they are just too painful, another one comes along and lures me into its grasp. This one was another such story…
Lale, from Slovakia, volunteered in 1942 to work for the Germans in order to save his family from being deported (or so he was told). He, along with a cavalry of other young, fit men, were loaded onto cattle cars, given no food or water for days, and then unloaded onto the grounds of Auschwitz-Birkenau. On that very first day, he vowed to himself that he would survive, so that he could bear witness to the unimaginable cruelty that he and his fellow Jews (and others) were experiencing at the hands of the Germans. Lucky for him, he was picked out by the tattooist to be an apprentice and he became the main tattooist in the camp, making himself useful to the Germans. And in this hellhole of hate, Lale manages to not only inspire hope in others, but he manages to find love as well. His story is nothing short of miraculous.
I believe that the important message to take away from these stories of history is two-fold. I do believe that it reminds us to keep our eyes open – this can, indeed happen again. Not only has anti-semitism risen, but hatred for anyone who is “other” is so obviously rising (just look at the daily tweets from our so-called president). So we have to be vigilant, speak out, and vote for those who will be inclusive and bring people together.
But the other message I think this story highlights is that kindness wins. Lale shared the food he managed to procure with so many — and he was loved – and actually rewarded, in turn, for his thoughtfulness. He risked his life for others and when he could, he saved lives. He befriended everyone, no matter who they were. He became particularly friendly with the Romany – the Gypsies – who lived next to him for a time. Because he was curious and not judgmental, he became close to them and benefitted from their friendship as well. Through so many close calls and suspenseful moments, it was acts of kindness that enabled him to survive – his kindness and kindness from others. Kindness wins.
This is a remarkable story. Worth the read!
When Hedy Kiesler receives her first ostentatiously presented, dozen bouquets of hothouse roses from an admirer after a performance at the theater, she has no idea that it is from the well-known, millionaire, munitions manufacturer, Fritz Mandl. While she can’t imagine that she’d really be attracted to this older man, she finds she is actually taken in by his charm and charisma. In actuality, she has little choice, as her father pointedly insists that Hitler’s advances in Germany in 1933 foreboded danger for Jews in Austria as well, and their family needed the protection Mandl might provide. As Hedy acquiesced, she gradually became trapped in a marriage which was more like a cage. As she plots her escape, she incurs a stain of guilt that she subsequently spends years of her life trying to repair.
This is in fact, the story of Hedy Lamarr, actress, scientist, and inventor. After she comes to America, she spends her days behind the camera and her evenings combing physics textbooks in order to master an ideal system to direct torpedoes without being able to be intercepted by an enemy, for use during WWII. She is not only beautiful and talented, but also brilliant and creative; much to the disbelief of the men around her. But knowing her secretive backstory gives her inventions context and helps the reader understand her motivations and connections to the war effort.
While this book is based in fact, it is written as fiction, and therefore so easy to read. Right from Page 1, it draws the reader in and it is difficult to put down until the end. There is humor and warmth and even a bit of suspense, and certainly anger on Hedy’s behalf. But overall, there is a great deal of respect for the person she was and the accomplishments she achieved. It also showed how strongly she had to fight to be respected for her internal beauty and intelligence when she had such striking external beauty.
“Ike” Goldah seems to be finding his way to adjusting to life after the concentration camps of World War II. He has come straight from the DP camp to live with his cousins in Savannah, Georgia. His cousin has set him up with a room in their house, a job in his shoe store, and he is even looking into doing some writing on the side, which was his previous career before the war. That is, until he has a surprise visitor who is like a ghost from his past – and seems to turn his world upside down.
I really like this book for its many plot threads and themes. You can look at the Jewish Holocaust themes, but there are also comparisons between the Jew/non-Jew and Black/White race relations that are laid out so starkly here. In addition, Goldah’s cousin is involved in illegal dealings with his shoe business that are a bit murky but that give the story another dimension. Goldah’s love interests also create another side story, giving his “visitor” addition a real shock value.
I actually think the book could have been expanded upon. It felt like it ended much too soon. The characters were great and there was so much happening in it that it could have been broadened further. I was left wanting much more.
I think this book was a good read, but probably edited down a bit too much.
In this installment of the adventures of Maisey Dobbs, psychologist and detective, we find Maisey back in London in 1938, still reeling from the loss of her husband but trying to get back into her life. Feeling like she needs to do something to help someone else – and possibly that she has nothing to lose – she accepts an assignment to go undercover as the daughter of a British businessman held prisoner by the Germans and now being released to her only. To complicate her mission, she is also asked to bring back from Germany the one young woman Maisie holds most responsible for her husband’s death. How will she accomplish both of these feats, especially under the careful watch of the Nazi government?
This book series is part detective novel/part historical fiction, with lots of human sensibility to warm up the mix. Especially in this book, the kindness and forgiveness that Maisie shows, whether toward the man she is asked to bring home or toward the young woman who she is asked to find, shines so particularly bright compared to the darkness of the Nazi regime. It is interesting that the timing of the story is actually just prior to the German invasion of Austria – really at the beginning of everything – but still she describes the feeling of foreboding, the pall of darkness that pervades the otherwise lively city. The hope that Maisie clings to is in stark contrast to the evil that is lurking, that has been set into motion.
This is really not a “Holocaust” book per se, and while it is set in the time and place of the Holocaust it does not take the same emotional toll as those books do. So if you’re planning your reading based on this, don’t worry that you’ll be taken through the same emotional rigors of that. There is suspense and sadness, but not to the same extent as you would with other books from this period.
I do recommend this book heartily! Happy reading!
I was really not sure I was going to make it through this one, but a dear friend encouraged me to complete it and I’m glad I did. This true story is at once disturbing and inspiring, hard to believe and hard to endure. It is the story of Louie Zamporini, who was an Olympic track hopeful who was drafted into the Air Force, based in Hawaii during World War II. From a downed plane, to weeks on a raft in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, to being captured as a POW by the Japanese, his journey took him through years of torment and torture. Survival was a mixed blessing and his journey afterwards through PTSD brought him eventually to a place where he was able to confront his past and come to terms with it.
The story has parts that are relentlessly heart-wrenching and depressing for the reader. I nearly gave up because I felt I couldn’t bear to read it anymore. In fact, I downloaded another, mindless book to read to distract myself and lighten my heart a bit. I did return to it, though, and I am happy that I did.
What is so inspiring about this story is not only the bravery and the tenacity with which the POW’s lived through their experience, but also the ability to ultimately forgive and relinquish the hatred of the enemy. I only read about their experiences and I have trouble forgiving the individuals responsible.
This is a painful, torturous book but it does inspire and give hope of healing. Not advised if you have a weak stomach, though!
P.S. The movie, directed by Angelina Jolie, comes out in December!