A debut historical novel follows the dangerous exploits of the Jewish Resistance during the Nazi occupation of Poland.
In 1937, everyone in Poland anxiously discusses the possibility of a Nazi invasion, especially Jewish citizens all too aware of Hitler’s savage anti-Semitism. The Biebersteins are a prominent family—affluent and influential—but that fails to spare them from the increasingly open hostility toward Jews. Only a young boy, Cass Bieberstein fears for the future, a concern only exacerbated by his Uncle Bernie’s decision to immigrate to the United States in advance of what he thinks is an inevitable act of aggression by Germany. Eventually, the Nazis arrive, and the Biebersteins are exiled from their own home. Cass’ father, Sigmund, is persuaded to flee Poland because it’s well-known that he helped Jews escape Germany and will be executed by the Nazis if found. Cass falls madly in love with his friend Zofia Wagner, but her father collaborates with the Nazis and becomes infatuated with their hateful ideology, sending his daughter to a youth camp for indoctrination. Repulsed by Hitler’s grotesque theories of racial superiority, she runs away from home to be with Cass but is kidnapped and murdered by Nazi soldiers, a horrid act chillingly described by Duke. Inconsolably distraught, Cass vows to avenge her death and becomes a freedom fighter, ultimately joining the Jewish Resistance group Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa. The author also follows the plight of two sisters, Sarah and Rachel Goldstein, friends of the Biebersteins, who are arrested and sent to the Treblinka concentration camp. In Duke’s tale (written with Biebers), the prose is plain and undecorated by poetical embellishment but powerful as a result of its straightforwardness. For example, the descriptions of the conditions of Treblinka are unflinchingly vivid but absent any cloying dramatization. While a novel, the plot is based on the real-life experiences of Casimir Bieberstein, whom Duke was able to interview at great length; Biebers is Casimir’s son. The extraordinary wealth of narrative details and their historical authenticity are both luminous testaments to the rigor of Duke’s research.
A stirring story of survival against a beastly adversary.