[Review] The Teacher of Warsaw by Mario Escobar

Publisher and Publication Date: Harper Muse/HarperCollins Publisher. June 7, 2022.
Genre: Historical fiction.
Pages: 368.
Format: NetGalley e-book.
Source: I received a complimentary e-book copy from Harper Muse and NetGalley. I am not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Readers of historical fiction and Holocaust stories.
Rating: Excellent.

Link for the book at Christian Book.

Link at Amazon.

To read more information about The Teacher of Warsaw at Harper Muse. At this link is an author bio and an excerpt.

Further links to read about Janusz Korczak.

  1. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
  2. Holocaust Matters.
  3. YadVashem.org
  4. Jewish Virtual Library.
  5. This is a link to read an account from a person who knew Janusz Korczak. It is twenty pages in length write-up.
His birth name was Henryk Goldszmit. In 1899, he changed his name to Janusz Korczak. He was born 1878 and died 1942.

Summary:

Janusz Korczak was a pediatric physician, pioneer of social work with children, teacher, writer, civic leader, radio speaker, war veteran, and director of the orphanage in Warsaw, Poland named, Dom Sierot from 1911 to 1942. Later he took charge of another orphanage in Warsaw.

The Teacher of Warsaw starts at the time when the Germans invaded Poland, September 1, 1939. The story stops in the late summer of 1942 when the Warsaw ghetto had mass deportations of Jews to Treblinka.

Janusz Korczak had a staff of courageous people who dedicated their lives to the welfare of the children. Janusz took care of the children’s basic needs, but he also took care of their educational needs. He strived to teach them how to become healthy functioning and productive citizens. The children had chores, they had a newspaper, and they held a court of their peers.

Stefania “Stefa” Wilczynska was Janusz partner in the orphanage. She was the Deputy Director and House Mother.

The Teacher of Warsaw shares life inside the orphanage among the children and teachers, it shares Janusz story, and it shares the worsening conditions for the Jews that eventually lead to the emptying of the Warsaw ghetto.

My Thoughts:

The first line of the story made an impression on me: “I have heard that when you say the names of the dead, you bring them back to life again.” It is words and phrases like this that held me and impacted me throughout the book.

Several reasons why I love this book-and-why it is so memorable!

1. I believe The Teacher of Warsaw captures the main character, Janusz Korczak. I read the above links for further information about him. The twenty-page memoir written by a person who knew Janusz gave me a solid grasp of his personality. He was socially conscious, especially of children when he was only a young boy. Further personality traits: emotional but in control, intelligent, intellectual, a brilliant and quick mind, astute judge of character, compassionate, dedicated, a communicator, defiant, brave, committed, willing to do labor, and a deep thinker.

2. In The Teacher of Warsaw, I am able to know Janusz’s thoughts because he is the narrator. He is an intellectual and philosophical person, and this came across as an important feature of the book. I’ve read some reviewers remark they don’t like the philosophical thoughts of Janusz. However, this is a strong part of the sharing of his personality and of bringing him to life in the story. It is also those philosophical words that create my favorite quotes in the book.

3. The story shares the spread of anti-Semitism in Europe during Janusz’s lifetime.

4. Janusz is not the norm for a male hero in a book. The book is also not the norm for a love story. I love this! I love Janusz as an older man with health problems. He is honest. Vulnerable and frail. He wrestles with the suffering that he witnesses. His great love is not a romantic interest. His great love is the children that he is willing to lay down his life for. For Janusz, there is no other choice but to remain with his children.

5. The story shares the fears, anxiety, worsening conditions, and panic in the ghetto. The Jews talk of what they hear about the extermination of Jews. Some don’t believe it. Others do believe it. There are several scenes in the book when I just cried. For example, the frozen dead child on the street. Janusz had seen this child begging and now he is dead. When Janusz finds him. He rocks him and recites Kaddish.

6. There are substories of the various secondary characters. For example, Irena Sendler.

Further Thoughts:

I have no idea if Janusz and Stefa were in a physically intimate relationship. I don’t know how they felt about one another in the romantic aspect. What is fact, is they both were very dedicated to the children. They complimented one another in their roles. Where one of them was weak, the other picked up the slack. They were true partners in their love for the children. This point is beautifully depicted.

Janusz was Jewish but not a practicing Jew. In The Teacher of Warsaw, Janusz knew some Bible verses. The verses are sprinkled in a couple of places in the book. But he does not state his belief in Jesus as the Son of God. I do not consider this book to be Christian historical fiction. I don’t believe it is a turn-off for a reader who does not want to read a Christian book.

Historical fiction is heavy with World War II/Holocaust stories. The focus on children in these stories is rarer because it usually features the lead role as a woman who falls in love. The Teacher of Warsaw stands proudly with a few other books featuring love and dedication to children. This is a big reason why this book is a gem!

[Review] We Shall Not Shatter: A World War II Story of Friendship, Family, and Hope Against All Odds by Elaine Stock

Publisher and Publication Date: Amsterdam Publishers. May 15, 2022.
Genre: Historical fiction. World War II literature.
Pages: 398.
Format: E-book.
Source: I received a complimentary e-book from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours, Elaine Shatter, and Amsterdam Publishers. I am not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Readers of historical fiction who want to read World War II literature.
Rating: Very good.

Page for the Book Tour which runs May 15-31 @ Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.

AMAZON | BARNES & NOBLE

LOOK FOR THE AUDIO BOOK OF ALL 3 BOOKS OF THE RESILIENT WOMEN OF WWII TRILOGY TO BE RELEASED BY TANTOR MEDIA, PART OF RECORDED BOOKS. THEY WILL BE SOLD IN BOTH DOWNLOADABLE DIGITAL FORMATS, AS WELL AS CD AUDIOBOOKS AND WILL BE SOLD ON AMAZON, BARNES AND NOBLE, INDEPENDENT BOOKSTORES, AND MOST ANY OTHER OF YOUR FAVORITE VENUES.

Praise:

“For anyone who loved ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ by Anthony Doerr, this is another beautiful journey of not just one woman’s story through the turbulent times of Nazi Germany, but two. A story which will touch your heart, and perhaps bring a few tears to wipe away, showing how love does indeed break barriers and sees beyond human labels and disabilities. You will absolutely fall in love with Zofia and Aanya, and how strong friendships were forged in the heat of oppression from Hitler’s Germany despite their different faiths.”
— Historical Fiction Company

“Drawing from her own family’s history, author Elaine Stock has created a compelling story of enduring friendship, heart wrenching sacrifice, and resilient strength. While set during one of the darkest moments on history’s stage, We Shall Not Shatter’s themes—conveyed through characters who will inhabit your heart—have much to say to readers in today’s world, too.”
— Carrie Schmidt, ReadingIsMySuperPower.org

“Elaine Stock’s novel, We Shall Not Shatter, the first of a promised trilogy, Resilient Women of WWII, is a poignant and heartfelt tale of perseverance, of friendship across boundaries, of making families in different ways, of horror and of healing. In the characters of Zofia and Aanya, and the families they make and lose in their native Poland, the barbarities of war, the added peril of Aanya’s deafness, and their harrowing escape, the story is offset by the plot strands of Christians helping Jews, Germans helping Poles, hearing people cherishing the strength of the deaf, and the deaf healing others. This is a story not only of resilience, but of the victory of love and friendship over pain and suffering.”
— Barbara Stark-Nemon, author of the award-winning novels, Even in Darkness and Hard Cider, Speech-language therapist and Teacher Consultant for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

“We Shall Not Shatter is a compelling novel, inspired by real-life events in Brzeziny, Poland that so dramatically changed the fortunes of both a close-knit Jewish family and a Catholic family during the Hitler years. Elaine Stock’s poignant narrative charts the despair, confusion and sheer will to survive during this terrible period in modern European history. This is a story that oozes tragedy, hope, love and courage in the face of adversity.”
— Ron Vincent, author of The House on Thrömerstrasse: A Story of Rebirth and Renewal in the Wake of the Holocaust

“The story and its characters will linger in the reader’s heart for days… perhaps forever.”
— Patricia Bradley, Author of the Logan Point Series, Memphis Cold Case Novels, Natchez Trace Park Ranger Series

“We Shall Not Shatter takes readers on a rare journey of life-tested relationships and uncompromising courage. Stock brilliantly creates a time and place that is terrible and heartbreaking only to reveal the beauty that awaits on the other side of devastation. This story will stay with you long after the last page is turned.”
— London Clarke, #1 Amazon bestselling author of Wildfell and The Meadows

About the Author:

Elaine Stock writes Historical Fiction, exploring home, family and friendships throughout time. She enjoys creating stories showing how all faiths, races, and belief systems are interconnected and need each other.

Elaine’s grandparents, on both sides of her family, narrowly escaped World War II by immigrating from Poland and Austria to the US. Fascinated by the strong will of people to overcome the horrors from this era, she wrote We Shall Not Shatter, book 1 of the Resilient Women of WWII Trilogy inspired by her deaf great aunt who was left behind as a teenager in Poland and perished in the Holocaust, while her other deaf siblings were permitted to enter the US when their young ages helped them to circumvent medically revealing exams. Other extended family members also remained in Poland to lose their lives in the Holocaust.

Although multi-published in award-winning Inspirational Fiction, and a past blogger and online magazine contributor, Elaine now pens novels for the General reading audience. She is a member of Women’s Fiction Writers Association and The Historical Novel Society. Born in Brooklyn, New York, she has now been living in upstate, rural New York with her husband for more years than her stint as a city gal. She enjoys long walks down country roads, visiting New England towns, and of course, a good book.

WEBSITE | FACEBOOK | TWITTER | GOODREADS | 

BOOKBUB | AMAZON

Summary:

An unforgettable story of friendship, family and hope as two courageous young women face one of history’s most horrific tragedies.

Brzeziny, Poland, 1939 Zofia’s comfortable-lifestyle overturns when her husband, Jabez, who monitors Nazi activity, has gone missing. Rather than fleeing the country with her young son, as she had promised Jabez who is fearing retaliation, she decides to stay. She cannot possibly leave her friend, Aanya. Since their childhood they have amazed fellow Brzeziners that it does not matter that Aanya is Jewish and deaf, and that Zofia is Catholic and hearing. Now, more than ever with war looming, Zofia will do whatever is necessary to protect her family and Aanya.

As both love and war approach their Polish town, Zofia and Aanya must make choices that will change the meaning of family, home, and their precious friendship. The journey, decisions and the no-going-back consequences the women face will either help them to survive—or not—as Hitler’s Third Reich revs up its control of the world.

Inspired by the author’s paternal heritage from Brzeziny, this is a heartbreaking yet beautiful story of two women who are determined to remain united in friendship and to live freely despite the odds.

My Thoughts:

World War II literature is the most widely read books I read. It does not matter whether it is fiction or nonfiction. I first began reading books in this realm because my dad was an American soldier during World War II and overseas in Europe. He was a D-Day Veteran. A Veteran of the Battle of the Bulge. He shared many stories of what he witnessed and experienced. As I grew older, Dad told the stories he did not tell me when I was young. Some of these stories are what he witnessed during the liberation of a concentration camp in Czechoslovakia. It was through dad’s stories that piqued my interest in reading more stories of this history.

One of the first things I love about We Shall Not Shatter is it is exactly what I have been asking for in a story. I have expressed in some reviews how I’d like to read stories showing other types of love, not just romantic love. Some examples of what I’d like to read are the love between friends, and the love between children and their parents. We Shall Not Shatter is the story of two women who have been best friends since they were young children. Despite the differences in religion and culture, they have persevered and strengthened the bond of friendship. They love each other dearly. They would sacrifice for one another.

Other reasons why I love this story:

1. The story has a character who has a disability. It is very rare to read a story that has a person who is disabled. It seems that most book characters are near perfect. This includes the front cover of a person who is beautiful-handsome-an airbrushed model. This is not real life. I prefer characters to reflect reality. I want to read about their story that reflects what and how they are living.

2. I love it that Elaine Stock has based this story on some of her relatives. It is a memorial and testament.

3. I love the organized and interesting book selection for further reading. These are books that the publisher also has on this subject. This section is located in the back of the book.

4. We Shall Not Shatter shows the days before and during the German occupation. In addition, the horrors at Brzeziny, and the tightening of restrictions on the Jews.

5. The story is strong in showing love, compassion, kindness, and charity between the family members and friends.

Some things I have trouble with:

1. There are areas where the story drags and other areas where it feels rushed.

2. Aanya’s husband has a more prominent role in the story. Whereas Zofia’s husband has a more interesting storyline, yet he is in the background (thought of and wondered about.) And this point is related to number 3.

3. Zofia’s husband is involved in resistance work. I’d rather have his story more pronounced because this is important. He represents a group of people resistant to the German invasion and their genocide of the Jews. Until later in the book, I am finally educated about what he has been doing. Whereas before I had limited information.

4. In a sea of World War II type books, I believe it is important to try and tell a story that has not been told. For example, Aanya’s story. She is deaf. I want to know what she is thinking. I want to know what it is like to be her. I want to become lost in her story of living with a disability during the Holocaust. I wish the book had focused the most on Aanya.

Themes: suffering, war, power of love, courage, bravery, kindness, hope, injustice, resistance, survival, romance, sacrifice, and good and evil.

[Review] Survivors Club: The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz by Michael Bornstein and Debbie Bornstein Holinstat

Publisher and Publication Date: Farrar, Straus and Giroux/Square Fish. March 7, 2017.
Genre: Nonfiction. Biography. Memoir.
Pages: 352.
Format: Paperback.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Young adult nonfiction.
Rating: Excellent!

Link @ Amazon.
Link @Audible.
Link @ Barnes and Noble.

There are several YouTube videos with Michael or his daughter Debbie who are co-authors of the book. These are two I’ve shared.

Summary:

On January 27, 1945, the Russians liberated Auschwitz. Of the 2,819 prisoners, 52 were children under the age of eight. Michael Bornstein was one of those children.
Michael, with the help of his daughter, Debbie, has documented this narrative style account. He felt his story needed to be shared about this traumatic event. He did not want to remain silent on what happened to him, his family, and the Jewish people during the Holocaust.

The story begins in October 1939 when the Germans invaded Zarki, Poland. Michael’s family lived in a home in Zarki. Michael’s older brother, Samuel, is age four. Michael will be born in May of 1940.

Michael’s parents are Israel and Sophie Bornstein. There are several family members who live in the Zarki area. For a while, they are able to continue living in their home, later, they will be resettled, and then, transported to Auschwitz.

In this story, the focus is on his family but shares the chronological history of what happened to the Jews in Zarki, and in great detail the hellish life in Auschwitz.

My Thoughts:

I have read a lengthy list of memoirs of the Holocaust. It is rare to read an account through the lens or perspective of a small child. This brings a unique nature to the story. I believe, Survivors Club, is in the top five books I’ve read of Holocaust memoirs because of the unique structure and feel to the story. Michael was born during the Holocaust. He was an innocent babe in peril at his first breath.

Other reasons why this is an excellent book.

1. A detailed chronological timeline of the events happening in Zarki, Poland, starting in October 1939. This is not a sterile type of account, but deeply personal.

2. Most Holocaust stories that share the experiences in Auschwitz do not share thoughts and daily life in great detail. What I mean is Michael shares perspectives and thoughts not usually shared. For example, on pages 126-127, “Men who reached for suitcases that weren’t there.” “Women reached for children who had been pulled from their grip.” My takeaway is the shock of what is happening has not registered yet in their brain that the item or beloved person is no longer there. This is startling, shocking, and a surreal moment. This illustration is one of many that caused me to pause and ponder.

3. Further events in the book: the processing of the prisoners, the work details, the bathhouse, Mengele’s selection of children, the infirmary, the “Death March” out of Auschwitz, liberation, and rebuilding a life afterwards. The story is a solid view Michael’s life and what he has experienced.

4. Thirty-six illustrations. Most are in black and white, a few are in color.

5. A glossary is included

6. Notes on their research is included.

7. In the preface, the authors explain what has been pieced together through research, interviews, and memories (factual), and what they have constructed (conversations and emotions.) I love it when the author lets me know what is factual and what has been pieced together in the story.

Themes: war, survival, grief, intolerance, hope, resistance, suffering, sacrifice, family honor, good and evil, fear, heroism, power of love, courage, and bravery.

Survivors Club is a powerful story. It is an important story. It is a story I will not forget.

And, considering the events happening in the Ukraine, this story is more than just a memory, both remind us that evil exists. We cannot ignore, we cannot take a nap thinking this will all be over when we wake up. This story makes me feel firm in my convictions that freedom is important; and a huge part of that freedom is the ability to have free speech, and to live in a humane, safe, and free society.

[Review] Eternal by Lisa Scottoline

Publisher and Publication Date: G P Putnam’s Sons. March 23, 2021.
Genre: Historical fiction
Pages: 480.
Format: Kindle e-book.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Readers of historical fiction with an interest in the Holocaust, Italian history, Rome, and World War II.
Rating: Excellent.

Link @ Amazon for the Kindle copy.
Link @ Audible.
Link @ Barnes and Noble.

Link @ Penguin Random House.

Lisa Scottoline’s Goodread author page/ Website/ Twitter/ Instagram.

An interactive map for the book, Eternal.

Summary:

Elisabetta, Sandro, and Marco grew up together in Rome, Italy. While growing up as children they were best friends. During the teenage years their feelings changed to romantic love. Two young men in love with the same young woman. Elisabetta loves them both, yet differently.

The story begins in 1937, in Rome, Italy. Benito Mussolini or Duce is in power in Italy. He is a Fascist dictator. The rise in antisemitism is in Italy just as in other European countries. In Germany, the Nazi’s are in power, and they are tightening restrictions and spurring hatred of the Jews. Their power is spreading.

In Italy, the members of the Fascist Party wear black shirts. Marco and his father are Fascists. Sandro and his family are Jews. To make things even more complicated, the two families have been friends for years. And the relationship will remain strained and at a danger to all of them.

My Thoughts:

Eternal is a name of Rome-the Eternal City. Rome is both the setting and a character of the story. Sometimes a home, church, or city can be so descriptive and alive that it too can be compared to a character in a book. Rome-the Eternal City-is to me a character. The setting of Rome is a breathing character-it is alive and vivid. This is the first reason why I love this story. The setting of Rome, Italy is described beautifully (despite the horrors of the evil atrocities of some people) Rome is still itself beautiful and loved by its people. I am also glad to have a World War II historical fiction story in a different place than most of the other books.

The love relationship between three people is not going to end positive for someone. Someone will get hurt, maybe multiple people. At times in the story, I had no idea what to expect in this entanglement. What would be the final outcome? This is both a theme, conflict, and a strong reason to continue turning the pages.

I love the passion of the characters. I am not referring to just romantic passion. For example, the passionate love of Italy. The passionate love of parents.

Internal and external conflicts are strong. The external conflicts are Italian Fascists, Mussolini, Nazi Germany, antisemitism, the love triangle, and the war. The internal conflicts are the love triangle, duty, loyalty, power of love, revenge, grief, intolerance of race and religion, and other factors.

Further themes in the story: jealousy, compassion, bravery, kindness, survival, sacrifice, honor, suffering, peace, war, and resistance.

Eternal is an emotionally moving and memorable story. It is a story I will not forget.

[Review] The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

Publisher and Publication Date: Harper. September 4, 2018.
Genre: Historical fiction. The Tattooist of Auschwitz is based on a true story.
Pages: 273.
Format: Paperback.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Readers of historical fiction with a subject of the Holocaust.
Rating: Very good.

Link @ Amazon.
Link @ Audible.
Link @ Barnes and Noble.

Heather Morris website.

Heather Morris’s Goodread’s Author Page.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz is book 1 in a series of 3 books. The other two books are Cilka’s Journey, and Three Sisters. I have these books and will be reading and reviewing them in the future.

Heather Morris met and interviewed Lale Sokolov. She has the support of his son in the writing of this book. I don’t know why the book is not nonfiction. I don’t know what the fiction part of this story is or why she chose to make this a fiction instead of nonfiction.

Summary: The account begins in April 1942. The men are in a crowded, stifling, windowless cattle train traveling to a camp. All of them are Jews. The story centers on a young man named Lale. He is 25. Lale’s hometown is Krompachy, Slovakia. After two days of travel, they arrive at Auschwitz. Lale is not at Auschwitz long when he is given a job as a tattooist. It is his job to tattoo the series of numbers on the people who have been brought to Auschwitz. These people are prisoners. They are men and women, boys and girls. They are Jews and Romany. Lale does not want to look at the faces of the people he tattoos. At times he is under stress and nervous, this causes his tattooing to be rough and painful. One particular time he looks up and into the beautiful eyes of a woman. It is at this moment his heart flutters and he is struck with emotion.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz is one man’s harrowing story of a hellish existence at Auschwitz and his love for a woman.

My Thoughts:

I’ve read a long list of Holocaust stories. Most of the stories do not completely take place at a concentration camp. At some point in the story, there will be a memory-reminiscing of that time or there will be a point in the story when the character is a prisoner. The Tattooist of Auschwitz is about 98% at Auschwitz. This means that because of the horrors, murders, sickness, suffering, and depravity of that place (including the anticipation of further horrible things) there will be no pauses in this story. In certain fiction stories, an author places moments of rest so the reader can catch a break (a breather before another stressful event occurs), especially if the story is mysterious, gruesome, and bleak.

Lale is an amazing character. These are the traits I found: charming, intelligent, observant, dressed well before his imprisonment, long-suffering, resilient, an encourager, the ability to adapt to new jobs quickly, and courageous. When Morris interviewed him, Lale was mistrustful and didn’t want just anyone to document his story. I am glad Morris added in the author’s note a brief sketch of their interviews and relationship.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz documents a daily survival in Auschwitz. A descriptive paragraph gives evidence of this: “The months that follow are particularly harsh. Prisoners die in all manner of ways. Many are taken by disease, malnutrition, and exposure to the cold. A few make it to an electrified fence, killing themselves. Others are shot by a tower guard before they can. The gas chambers and crematoria are also working overtime, and Lale and Leon’s tattooing stations teem with people as tens of thousands are transported to Auschwitz and Birkenau.” Page 155.

Romance is a theme in the story. But the romance does not shift away from the mood or tone of the story. This is a story of extreme suffering and stress and sorrow. The romantic element is stolen moments so they can be together. A paying off of people is done so they will have time together. He shares what he can with her including his food rations. Their courtship is extravagant considering their place of forced exile.

Other themes in the story: war, peace, survival, good and evil, courage, bravery, compassion, power of love, injustice, and resistance.