Debut biographer Geise (The Eighth Sea, 2012) tells the remarkable story of Joe Rubinstein, a survivor of the Holocaust.
The author writes that Rubinstein was born Icek Jakub Rubinsztejn, in Radom, Poland, in the 1920s, “when the world paused from its madness—between the great and terrible war and the one yet to come.” Along with three brothers, he was raised in a devoutly Jewish home. His family was poor, and barely scraped by after the early death of Rubinstein’s father. At the age of 12, Rubinstein was hired at a lumberyard, where he worked to supplement the family income. Later, he learned shoemaking, and in that job, he first became aware of the Nazi movement and growing anti-Semitism. Then, in September 1939, his world changed, as the Germans invaded Poland. Joe and his brother Abe are forced to dig trenches around the city for fortification, and he experienced the cruelty of Nazi commanders who randomly shot and killed people in the work camp. When the Nazis sequestered the Jews of Radom, Rubinstein was taken prisoner––barefoot and in the middle of the night––and shipped to a prison camp at Auschwitz, where he was stripped, shaved and tattooed with the number 34207. He remembered thinking, “You mark me like an item to be sold! Who are you to do this to me?” The harrowing details of his next several years are mind-numbing and nauseating; indeed, Geise’s account of the horrid prison conditions, beatings and mental abuse almost defies human understanding. The disturbing black-and-white archive photographs accompanying the text will nearly overwhelm readers, who may need to take frequent breaks from the material. Fortunately, in the final section, Geise recounts Rubinstein’s inspiring climb out of darkness, as he finds true love, starts a new life in America and, in an ironic twist, becomes one of New York’s most renowned shoe designers. With its thorough chapter endnotes, helpful timeline, extensive research citations and suggested discussion questions, this biography may serve as an ideal teaching tool for students of the Holocaust.
A riveting, well-documented account of survival that’s harrowing, inspiring and unforgettable.