Reviewed by Tina Cowhick, Circulation Clerk
112 pages Juvenile
As a person who rarely reads juvenile materials these days, I was a little surprised at the depth of this book. However, I felt Rena Finder’s account of her experiences during WWII would be gripping for a young audience. Since I’ve rarely had the chance to read an account of a young (teenage) survivor of Hitler’s attempted “final solution”, I found this book to be disturbing, but also enlightening.
Rena Finder experienced anti-Semitism for the first time as a kindergartener, when stones and insults were thrown at her. As Hitler’s influence and oppression spread throughout Europe, Rena and her family endured more and more hardships. Rena witnessed horrible things that no child should ever have to experience.
Eventually, in 1942, Rena and her family were moved from the Krakow Ghetto to the Plaszow concentration camp. Rena’s father had already been arrested and deported to Auschwitz, never to be seen again. During their year there, Rena and her mother lost a number of their relatives. The one glimmer of hope was that Oskar Schindler’s name started cropping up among the prisoners.
What followed for Rena, her mother, and others, was nothing short of a miracle. Oskar Schindler, using his own money and valuables, was able to save Rena and other Jewish people by taking over a factory and having them live and work there. Schindler walked a fine line with the authorities, treating his Jewish workers with dignity and repect, helping them to feel safer than they had in a long time.
In the summer of 1944 the Nazis began liquidating their smaller camps, murdering and moving prisoners to other camps. Rena (13 years old) and the other women who worked for Schindler were taken to Auschwitz, where they immediately lost more of their group to the crematoria ovens. Rena tells of the women being very thirsty from their train ordeal, and catching snowflakes on their tongues, hoping to abate their thirst, only to find the flakes were human ash.
Oskar Schindler was furious when he found out that the women working in his factory had been sent to Auschwitz. He had moved his whole factory to Czechoslovakia to that he could save his Jewish workers. Due to an error, all of the women were sent to Auschwitz instead of Czechoslovakia. He managed to convince Rudolf Hoess that the women were essential workers in his ammunition factory, and through bribery he was able to secure the release of the remaining women to him after three and half weeks.
In Czechoslovakia the women were reunited with some of their male relatives. Oskar’s wife, Emilie, ran a clinic that she had buildt in the basement of the factory, staffed by doctors who were held as prisoners. Together they were able to save almost 1200 Jewish women and men, while 25000 children, women, and men at Plaszow perished at the hands of the Nazis. Oskar Schindler aslo saved these men and women from the same fate as the near 60000 Auschwitz prisoners who were sent on death marches in the waning days of the war.
As the Russians were closing in, Oskar Schindler, seeing that the Nazis would no longer have control over the prisoners, released them. He gave each worker a pair of shoes, 3 yards of fabric, and a bottle of vodka. The items were intended to be used in the black market to buy food. In return, the workers gave Schindler a gold ring that they had made and an appreciation letter that itemized everything he had done for them. That letter saved the Schindlers from being arrested when they reached the American troops in charge of the area.
Rena and her mother returned to Krakow, but left after about a month. Anti-Semitism was still alive and well, and it wasn’t safe to stay in Krakow, so Rena and her mother travelled to the Displaced Prisoner camp in Linz, Austria, where Rena was reunited with her best friend.
The book closes out with information Rena supplies regarding her and her mother moving on with their lives. Rena marries and she and her husband move to America and raise a family; her mother remarried and cam to America.
Eventually, Rena’s best friend convinced her to become involved in teaching students and teachers about the Holocaust, hoping they could learn from her experience, and to answer any questions they might have.