So the last two books I read were disappointing for different reasons but, despite its bleak subject matter, Born Survivors lifted me out of my slump.
Born Survivors was a well written, sad but uplifting, story about three women who beat the odds during during the Holocaust. Priska, Rachel, and Anka were pregnant Jewish women who were sent to Auschwitz near the tail end of World War II. Their stories were amazing, they were so full of hope despite their circumstances and overall this is a story about survival and the lengths women will go to protect their children.
Despite strict curfews and separation of the genders in Ghettos each woman found ways to be with her husband. Anka actually planned her pregnancy, following the loss of her infant son, despite the horrors going on around them because it seemed impossible the war would last much longer. Unfortunately, all three women were permanently separated from their husbands and forced to endure months of brutal treatments at the hands of Nazis.
When asked by “The Angel of Death” if they were pregnant all three of them lied, mostly because they weren’t sure if they were or not but also because it didn’t seem safe to say, “Yes.” Warning, this is a pretty graphic book that even I, who has read dozens of Holocaust stories, was shocked to learn some newfound horrors. Namely the dangers of being pregnant in a concentration camp. I mean, obviously nothing suprises me with Nazis and when your end goal is for there to be No Jews having Jewish women giving birth is not going to go over well but these people were just sadistic. One woman was strapped down next to her newborn baby to see how long it took for the baby to die without her milk!
Miraculously our three mothers managed to keep their secret; they kept their secrets so well that they didn’t even know there were other pregnant women at the camp until after the war! All three children were born in a span of two weeks after their mothers endured a seventeen day train ride to Mauthausen in April 1945. Miraculously, the new camp ran out of gas right after the babies arrived which spared them and their mothers’ lives.
“Priska kissed Hana’s head and prayed. ‘I am a believer so I told myself it is all in the hands of God and his power. He knew where I gave birth, so that’s why he helped me.’
While the story doesn’t have any twists or turns, all three women and their children survive, it is still a gripping story that will hook you from the start. Holden weaves these women’s stories together while giving each courageous woman’s story its own focus. As adults the three children, some of the youngest survivors of the Holocaust, met one another and shared their story with Holden and the world. Holden delivers a well researched but engaging biography of three women who were put in an extraordinarily difficult situation but preserved.