Escape from the Nazis: The Incredible and Inspiring Saga of Two Young Jews on the Run in World War II Poland by Benjamin Mandelkern
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|Escape from the Nazis: The Incredible and Inspiring Saga of Two Young Jews on the Run in World War II Poland by Benjamin Mandelkern|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A remarkable life in WW2-time Warsaw, but this testimony from the Holocaust does not shine as others can.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 211||Date: January 2011|
Do we all have it in us? Would you as a Pole in 1940s Poland, who like as not had been 'educated' in the horrendous evil of Jews by your church - would you ignore Nazi death threats and countless opportunities for the wrong thing to be said, for the truth to be let out, for betrayal - would you help a Jewish life survive?
Benjamin Mandelkern had the fortune of meeting many such. Growing up in a medium-sized town friends of his family conspired to change the ownership of the family firm favourably, and in name only, before the Nazis took it for Aryan owners. In Warsaw he and his young wife, who could pass as German with her blondness and blue eyes, both needed a host of providers, hiders, and others willing to boost their chances to live. There was still the need for Lady Luck too - one train ride in particular had Mandelkern quite inexplicably passed over for an ID check.
As such this book is quite extraordinary - contrasted with six million dead, any such tale of survival, hope and ending happily in actually being able to be told, is one of remarkable content that can easily beggar belief. The world even now clearly cannot have too much testimony from ethnic cleansing and race war survivors.
But in the telling, this volume can suffer. As a book purely, as opposed to a life story, it seems to be average, and will appear to have none of the standout literary qualities the big sellers of the genre have. The narrative crunches into the beginning and it's pages before we're even assured of what year it is. That and many other instances struck me, and I'm sure Mandelkern's ghost writer in 2011 would have had a very different approach to his 1988 counterpart - when this was first printed.
That said, the artless qualities to the reportage let a lot of incidental detail through. With a fine recall and no attention paid to poesy or craft our author can include a lot of tiny pieces of colour - what was eaten when, what attitudes he lived with inside himself and from others. Being passed from pillar to post as he was, his story shows us both anti-Semitism and its inverse on a national and city level, right down to the two contrasting ideals together in one person a surprising number of times.
If you've read much Holocaust literature, this may well still be different. He gets put on a train to a death camp, only to escape cleverly, and lives the war instead hidden in Warsaw from then on - often in plain view. His experiences after the Nazis start to lose are markedly differently from Szpilman's The Pianist.
And even if you've not encountered such a story, this serves as a rough but salient lesson in history and humanity. Hope for his fellow sufferers, hope for all in fact - and hope my opening question can be answered in the positive.
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
To read up on what caused Mandelkern's problems, we suggest The Master Plan: Himmler's Scholars and the Holocaust by Heather Pringle.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Escape from the Nazis: The Incredible and Inspiring Saga of Two Young Jews on the Run in World War II Poland by Benjamin Mandelkern at Amazon.com.
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