Ably translated, this is an extraordinary Holocaust memoir wherein a young Czech woman undergoes a dizzying variety of hellish experiences.
Published in association with the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, this volume is a clinic on the varieties of torture that one could undergo as a Jew during the Nazi period. Young Ruth was steeled for loss early in life as a child of divorced parents. This girl who enjoyed music and skiing soon found herself in a long line of Jews delivering all valuables (especially money, jewelry, musical instruments, and radios) to the new Gestapo authorities. The family managed to hide out on a farm with gentiles for many months, but their resources ran out and the Gestapo closed in, forcing the family to the camp Theresienstadt, where conditions were occasionally livable thanks to periodic visits by the Red Cross. But inmates suffered all the more when their meager calorie allotment dropped back to starvation level. To her credit, young Ruth volunteered as a nurse, even though her duties required more removal of corpses than relieving anyone’s suffering. While bedridden herself with fever, she married her ghetto policeman boyfriend. Elias, soon pregnant, was then transferred to Auschwitz, where pregnancy was a certain death sentence. Her attending physician turned out to be none other than the notorious Dr. Josef Mengele, who spared her life because he wanted to see how long an unfed baby could live. The most pathetic lines in this moving memoir are a soliloquy by this young mother who must kill her newborn for a chance of survival: “My child...you can’t even whimper anymore.” Elias is ultimately tapped for forced labor, allowing her to survive to see the Third Reich crumble and eventually begin a family in Palestine.
Because of the variety of the author’s experiences and the power of their expression here, if you could only read one Holocaust memoir—this should be the one.