I don’t remember how or where I first learned about BORN SURVIVORS, but I knew I had to read it. Though I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, the Holocaust is something that draws me. Perhaps because of my Jewish heritage, perhaps because I have Jewish great-uncles who fought in WWII, perhaps it’s because I’ve been to Oskar Schindler’s enamel factory in Krakow, Poland, and toured the Holocaust memorial now housed on that site, and more recently toured the Holocaust Memorial in Miami Beach, Florida. Perhaps it’s simply because – despite my cynicism – I’m a compassionate human being, who, like so many others, is horrifically fascinated by the evil things humans can do to one another out of fear and ignorance. Perhaps it’s to learn the lessons of the past and do what I can to be sure they’re not repeated in my own lifetime.
Whatever the reason, I was happy to see several ARCs being offered in a Goodreads Giveaway, and gratified to read the email a few weeks later notifying me that I was one of the winners. The moment the ARC arrived in my mailbox, I devoured it. It took me only 3 days to read this book. And it touched me deeply.
The grace and compassion with which Wendy Holden tells the individual stories of these three young, expectant mothers, strangers to one another, interweaving them when they – unknowingly – come to be held in the same camp – is heart-wrenching and emotional. From their lives prior to the war, through the early days of their marriages, to discovering their pregnancies at almost the same time they’re taken from their respective Ghettos to Auschwitz II-Birkenau in 1944, and forced to suffer the terrifying scrutiny of Dr. Josef Mengele – each praying he won’t discover her pregnancy – then being sent to the same German slave-labor camp where they struggle to conceal their condition while being almost worked to death and half-starved. Their hellish journey culminating in a 17-day train ride with thousands of other prisoners to the Mauthausen death camp in Austria.
Reading about the endurance of these women, all who lived with the hope they would see their beloved husbands again, and give birth to the longed-for children who nestled secretly in their wombs – one marvels anew at the strength of the human will, and the courage and kindness of strangers, which helped save these women and their children.
Sixty-five years after their rescue along with their mothers, the three children – Mark, Hana, and Eva – born from the debris of their mothers’ broken bodies and shattered lives, met at Mauthausen for the anniversary of the American liberation. In BORN SURVIVORS, Wendy Holden brings these three stories together for the first time to mark their seventieth birthdays and the seventieth anniversary of the end of the war. Forever will Rachel, Priska and Anka be memorialized within the pages of this book.