Author: Wendy Holden
If you are familiar with my blog, you might already know that I have a deep interest in Second World War books (both fiction and non-fiction), more specifically the Holocaust. I read many books on the subject, most recently ‘Hitler’s Forgotten Children,’ which I also reviewed. I began reading ‘Born Survivors’ only a couple of days ago without intending to review it, however, it is such an exceptional book that I couldn’t not write a review.
This true story follows three young Jewish women, Priska, Rachel and Anka, as they try and survive their early twenties as Hitler comes to power, and the Second World War begins. Each woman is newly married at the start of the war, and have hopes that the war will not last long, and they will be free to start a family and live a long, happy life. However, as we all know, this was not destined to happen, and one way or another, each woman and her family members are deeply effected in various ways by the war. Unfortunately, for these three women in question, they were all in fact pregnant at the time.
Each woman would eventually find herself in the same position, standing naked on the muddy grounds of the concentration camp Auschwitz II-Birkenau, with a freshly-shaved head, in front of Dr Josef Mengele, nicknamed the ‘Angel of Death’ for his horrific experiments on inmates, and his ability to decide the fate of thousands of Jews with a simple flick of his wrist. If he indicated left, the person in question would be sent to death, most usually via means of the gas chambers. If he chose right, they would be slowly worked and starved to death, if they didn’t catch a disease first. When he came across the young women, he would ask them, “Sind Sie schwanger, fesche Fran?” (Are you pregnant, pretty woman?) Unknown to the women at the time, their answer would determine the fate of both themselves and their unborn children.
As previously mentioned, I have read many books on the subject, some better than others, however, Wendy Holden has done a superb job with ‘Born Survivors’. Not only does it follow the story of these three remarkable women, it also details the horrific tortures camp inmates faced on a daily bases in enough detail that some readers many find it difficult to comprehend. It is unbelievable that a pregnant women, would should have been on 500 calories a day more than her usual pre-war 1500 calorie diet, could possibly survive on less than 350 calories, as well as grow and deliver a small but healthy child, particularly in such unimaginable conditions. It definitely proves how amazing the human body is.
It is only now as I look at the black and white pictures scattered throughout the book, I realise I have actually seen a BBC documentary, ‘The Baby Born in a Concentration Camp’ a year or so ago, which features Anka and her beautiful daughter Eva. It is excellent to see the women’s stories brought to life, and I’m sure it is a comfort to their families to know that their remarkable story is never forgotten.
I absolutely recommend this book to anyone with an interest in biographies, or WWII/Holocaust diaries and stories. It is a incredible read and by far the best book I have read on the subject. The effort Wendy Holden has put into piecing together the stories of the three women is evident on every page, and the story is genuinely gripping. A superb read.