The moment of one’s birth should be a special time remembered with an element of fanfare that celebrates the arrival of a new life with all its possibilities. But not every child arrives with a swell of baby showers, hand knit blankets and birth announcements. Some arrive quite humbly in the starkest of circumstances and begin their lives as overcomers. In her book, Born Survivors, Wendy Holden shares the stories of three young women who gave birth to their babies in the direst of times.
By 1944, World War II was nearing its end by all accounts. But the end was still a year away, plenty of time for more human suffering. In 1944, among the many people to pass through Auschwitz were three young women named Priska, Rachel and Anka. Separated from husbands and family, they were alone and afraid. Along with all the other women, they were forced to undergo inspection by the infamous Dr. Mengele. He would walk down the long rows of shivering women, periodically pausing to ask a question or poke and prod some woman. When he inquired about whether or not these three women were pregnant, they managed to pass off a plausible “No” even while knowing that they were very early in their pregnancies.
Over the next many months, they lived in dire concentration camp conditions with starvation rations, filthy living quarters and constant lice infestations. Death was a constant companion as many were lost and they struggled to survive in a slave-labor camp and give birth in unimaginable conditions. Eventually all the women were transported to Mauthausen, another concentration camp where prisoners were moved after the gas chambers were dismantled at Auschwitz. Providentially, the gas chambers stopped working right after their arrival sparing their lives and the lives of their children.
The story of these three women captures much of the heartache endured by millions. As I read the story of the liberators arriving, I thought that Holden captured much of the emotion of what it was probably like to be there both as a prisoner and soldier arriving to rescue. She captured the desperation and the acts of kindness and generosity as people both inside and outside the camp tried to help in ways they could. Also interesting to me was her account of the village near Mauthausen that prospered financially due to the concentration camp industry. People living in fear were captives on the outside of the barbed wire fence and that fear prevented them from taking action. I highly recommend this book to anyone who appreciates history and the lessons we learn from it.
Sarah McCubbin is a homeschooling and foster mom in NE Ohio where she resides with her husband and 7 children. In addition to reading great books, she enjoys gardening, traveling and blogging at Living Unboxed.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Harper. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.