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by Cathy Gohlke
What is worse than being a Pole during World War II? Being a Jew.
And what is worse than either? Being a Polish Jew, a target for abuse, humiliation, torture and destruction.
The Medallion by Cathy Gohlke tells the story of two families whose lives and deaths become joined through the horrors and hardships of life in Poland in World War II. Janet is a Polish fighter pilot married to Sophia, an English citizen, alone in Poland, but with a heart for Jewish children. Rosa has to make the most difficult decision possible to save her beloved daughter’s life. Her husband Itzhak, an electrician, endures the most horrific task assigned to any person by the Nazis, digging up mass graves with his bare hands. Can anything good possibly emerge from the desperation of this story?
Many of the characters in The Medallion are fictional, but are inspired by interviews and textual research. Some are found in history, including Irena Sandler who rescued 2,500 children and Dr. Janusz Korczak who ran an orphanage.
The tales of these two families are difficult to read but also inspiring. Towards the end of the book, when the war is over and all should be well, it isn’t. Sophia finds herself in a moral and personal crisis of faith that intimately affects the lives and futures of herself and those she loves most.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Tyndale House Publishers for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Christian, Historical Fiction
Notes: The end of this book also includes discussion questions, notes to the reader about the writing of this book, and historical notes.
Publication: June 4, 2019—Tyndale House Publishers
“Adonai makes a way when there appears no way. It is His specialty. Remember the Red Sea.” The words of her old friend came back to her, just as they did so often when Sophie felt at her wits’ end.
The Germans wanted to make certain that Poles were equipped only to follow orders, mostly for menial labor. They espoused the belief that a thinking Pole was a dangerous Pole. Hence, Polish schools were closed and thousands upon thousands of children did not learn to read or write—unless they were taught in secret.
“We’re not meant to handle life alone, Sophie. It’s too hard, too unpredictable, too messy and big. There is One who is willing and ready to help, to travel with us, if we let Him.”
We Were the Lucky Ones
by Georgia Hunter
We Were the Lucky Ones tells the story of a family of Polish Jews during what was arguably the most difficult time for Jews in European history. This work of historical fiction is written by Georgia Hunter, a descendant who spent years researching, traveling, and interviewing family members to uncover this amazing story of rare survivors. As the author notes, “By the end of the Holocaust, 90 percent of Poland’s three million Jews were annihilated; of the more than thirty thousand Jews who lived in Radom, fewer than three hundred survived.” Although it is fiction, it has been closely based on facts. The author also intersperses short paragraphs summarizing the historical events of World War II as they relate to this family and notes at the beginning of each chapter the date and location of the events in that section. We Were the Lucky Ones begins in March 1939 and concludes in 1947.
The novel moves through history by telling the story of each family member at various times through an excruciating eight year period. Some experience prison and the torture of interrogation; others endure Siberian work camps, life in a Polish ghetto, extermination by pogrom. The family members are subjected to various extremeties: death, disease, starvation, persecution, betrayal. Through all of these trials, one of their greatest pains is not knowing the fate of their loved ones. A constant theme is their unending love of family.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to the Penguin Group (Viking) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Historical Fiction, General Fiction (Adult)
Publication: February 14, 2017–Penguin Group (Viking)
But after a few days, they found they had little left to talk about. The chatter ceased and a funerary silence settled upon the train car, like ash over a dying fire. Some wept, but most slept or simply sat quietly, withdrawing deeper into themselves, encumbered by the fear of the unknown, the reality that wherever they were being sent, it was far, far away from home.
And suddenly, the consequences of this war were undeniably real–an understanding that sent Halina spiraling as she wrestled with the knowledge she both feared and loathed: she was powerless.
Nechuma used to reassure herself that they had lived through pogroms before, that in time, the fighting, the bloodshed would pass. But with the news from Lodz she’s come to understand that the situation they are in now is something entirely different. This isn’t just being subjected to profound hunger and poverty. This isn’t persecution. This is extermination.
The period known as the Holocaust is a frequent topic of books for both adults and young adults. The book Dobryd is different in that it does not focus on characters who are arrested or imprisoned. In fact most of the story occurs in the years following the war. Told in the first person, this story details the struggles of a five year old girl as she emerges from over two years of hiding in a space too small for a standing adult. Most of her family is dead, but she still has her mother and an aunt. The reader is soon absorbed by their relationships as they begin to integrate into a Poland that is very different from the one they hid from. Their rescuer is Yuri, a Russian soldier who plays a pivotal role in helping young Ann relate to her new world and provides stability for her. Dobryd shows us the best and the worst of people and how they have a long lasting impact on Ann and her family.
Dobryd is classified as an autobiographical novel as the author was very young when the story begins and much is retold from the memories of others. It reads like fiction, but has the authenticity of history. Dobryd would be an excellent addition to a unit on the Holocaust or World War II. It invites comparisons to books such as The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank that are typically enjoyed by students in learning about this period. Dobryd offers opportunities to feel with Ann the discrimination she experienced based on religion and her family’s former social standing. We get to learn of her rapidly disappearing Polish heritage and of the geographical struggles Poland underwent as a nation being divided by its neighbors as one of the spoils of war.