Review: Born Survivors by Wendy Holden

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The Mothers

Priska, Rachel and Anka were all 20-something young women from successful families, happy and in love with wonderful young men when the Nazi’s changed their lives forever. While each was a Jew, none were that “religious” in any real way. They had dinner with their familes on Friday, observed the customs for death and marriage, maybe even ate Kosher meat, but none gave being Jewish much thought. It was just who they were–they didn’t set out to make a statement. They considered themselves assimilated in their various hometowns. They identified more as citizens of their country than as a member of a religion.They were like many, many Americans today who say “Yes” to the questions “Do you believe in God” or “Do you consider yourself a Christian?” Each believed in her own way. In fact, one was even taken with Christianity.

Inspiration to Keep Going

She is the only one who cited God as a source of inspiration in any way:

“Belief in God is the most important thing in the world. When someone has faith they must be a decent person and know how to behave. Every night I greet my God before I fall asleep.”  (p. 64).

But this sentiment followed after her first inspiration:

“I liked my life so much.” (p. 63).

Her husband gave her another source of inspiration:

“Think only of beautiful things,” he told her (p. 66).

 

Another of the three looked to modern fiction for her inspiration. Margaret Mitchell’s heroine, Scarlett O’Hara’s maxim:

“Tomorrow is another day,” kept her going–one day at a time (p. 160).

A Child Conceived to be Born in Hell

When the Nazi’s finally got the three in their grips, each young woman decided to survive. What’s more, at a later time, each decided to bring a child into their hellish world. Insane? Yes, all three mothers agreed with that verdict. But all three went ahead. All three babies were the products of happy marriages torn apart by the Nazi’s. What their mothers did to bring them into the world was either heroic or insane or both. But each woman found the will to go on for the child.

But how could you willingly conceive a child when enmeshed in the innermost circle of hell? To keep going? To not let the captors win? To not have had your family and friends die in vain? To prove you are a human being worthy of the dignity of love and family?

As Priska, Rachel, and Anka endured their separate journeys thru hell, each managed to conceal their pregnancies even from the notorious Dr. Mengele. The conditions they existed in during their pregnancies are impossible to truly take in. Aside from a few small acts of kindness they were on their own–even their friends or sisters (depending on the mother) did not know of the pregnancies. If you’ve ever told a horror story of your labor or listened to a friend do so, imagine giving birth in winter, in an open coal car on a train while lying in flith? As you probably guessed, the babies and their mothers all live–they make it out alive or this book wouldn’t exist.

My Thoughts

The courage and mental strength it took to withstand the horrors of the death camps cannot be imagined by those who did not endure it. But from its horror emerged three new lives all of whom went on to make a difference in the world. Priska, Rachel and Anya, understandably, were very, very close to their children. None of the three wanted or had more children. The one miracle was enough.

I was amazed and uplifted by the way these women endured–persisted in today’s language.

I highly recommend this book.

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