A daughter relates her mother’s story of survival in Nazi concentration camps in this debut book.
Ruth Goldschmiedova, born in Czechoslovakia in 1928, enjoyed a happy childhood. But she started to notice a change in her environs around the age of 10—her non-Jewish friends would no longer play with her. In 1939, family members heard a radio announcement that Czechoslovakia was soon to be invaded by the Nazis, and ran to the factory where Ruth’s father, Oskar, worked. But the director, donning a swastika on his coat, turned them away. They were allowed to stay in their home, but compelled to wear stars that identified them as Jews, living in constant danger under a hostile occupation. In 1941, they were told to pack small suitcases and were transported to a train that took them to Theresienstadt. The conditions were inhumanly squalid, and they all but starved. Ruth remained with her mother, but her father was shipped to Auschwitz. Later, after being sent to Auschwitz, Ruth was examined on six occasions by the notoriously brutal Dr. Josef Mengele and then transferred to Oederan, where she made bullets in a factory. Ruth and her mother eventually landed in Terezin, marching for two weeks on foot to get there, a withering ordeal. Oskar managed to escape from a Nazi work camp, and they were all finally reunited in 1945. Scheller, Ruth’s daughter, movingly tells her mother’s story of survival, often describing their conversations in affectionate detail. The eclectically structured volume includes brief homages to Ruth’s father and paternal grandmother, an explanation of how her father was once helped by psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, and an account of her family’s new life in America. The author’s prose is simple and direct, and she wisely allows the enormity of the events to speak for themselves without literary embellishment. But she does provide a seething account of a former boss that seems incongruent with the rest of the book, detailed in hyperbolic language: “I faced one of these situations with my former boss who, I believe, was Adolf Hitler in a past life.” This narrative anomaly aside, Scheller is an effective medium for her mother’s extraordinary life.
A haunting work about human depravity during World War II and the triumph over it.