It’s a fact one cannot even fathom: babies were born in Auschwitz! How many actually survived the brutal, inhumane conditions of a death camp – a place where lives were intended to end, not begin – if they weren’t murdered immediately after birth, is literally a handful! The Child of Auschwitz is a historical novel; a fictionalised account of the life of Vera Bein who gave birth to a baby girl in 1944 while she was interned in the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp; a baby that survived, purely because she was unable to cry due to her underdeveloped lungs, a fact which actually saved her life.
Eva and Sofie leave the relative safety of the Terezin ghetto and find themselves on a cattle truck that is on its way to Auschwitz. Eva has discovered that her husband Michel, who she was only married to for 6 months before he was taken from her, was probably transported there, and she intends to find him. The shock at what they encounter upon their arrival at the death camp threatens to overtake them, but thankfully the strong friendship that Eva and Sofie share in this bleak place keeps them focussed on the reason they are there – to find the people they are looking for. Sofie is also there on a mission. She is looking for her cousin Lotte who took her young son Tomas from her. Sofie is desperate to find out where Lotte sent Tomas.
Eva and Sofie find themselves on the work shift in Kanada (considered to be one of the ‘better’ work assignments – they get to work inside, out of the freezing cold) – the building where all the possessions of new inmates are stored. Their task is to go through every single item to find any valuables that have been hidden in pockets or sewn into the linings of clothing. The Nazi’s obviously intended to collect jewellery, precious stones and items that they deemed ‘valuable’ and indeed, often these were found, but there were other items that meant nothing to the Nazi’s, but were of great value to their previous owners: photographs of loved ones, cherished momentoes of happier times – through sleight of hand, taught by her beloved uncle, Eva managed to stow many of these away and kept them, in the hope that she might reunite them with their owners. It was unimaginable that none of them would return to claim their lost treasures. And readers cannot help but be overcome, thinking of these piles of items, callously cast aside, while their owners all, almost certainly met their deaths upon arrival at Auschwitz. It’s a sobering thought.
But they still need to endure endless hours of ‘lineup’ every day, in every type of weather condition: freezing cold, pelting rain, while they are counted over and over again, seemingly for no reason other than to entertain their Nazi tormentors. The resilience of these two young women through the darkest time in mankind’s history is a beacon of hope and strength that they offer not only to each other, but also to the other women who share their dismal living conditions. Sofie is a born storyteller, and regales her fellow prisoners with stories of her childhood, how she and Michal met, their courtship and marriage. Sharing her own unique sense of spirit and optimism is often difficult but she knows if she stops then she will no longer be able to carry on surviving the hell that she has found herself in.
Ms Graham writes intensely but with sensitivity. Her research is extensive and incredibly well represented, with characters who are well-rounded and will undoubtedly illicit heartfelt responses from all readers. With so many books being written about the Holocaust, this one takes its own unique approach. Although it is poignant and heartbreaking, the author has chosen to focus on strength, faith and hope, rather than on darkness and despair. And ultimately it is also about the power of female friendship, a force that should never be discounted in its ability to help us face the worst evil that life throws at us.
This is a 5-star, highly recommended read.
Lily Graham grew up in South Africa and is a former journalist.
As a child she dreamt of being an author, and had half-finished manuscripts bulging out of her desk drawers, but it wasn’t until she reached her thirties that she finally finished one of them. Her first books were written for children, but when her mother was diagnosed with cancer she wrote a story to deal with the fear and pain she was going through – this became her first women’s fiction novel, which was published by Bookouture (Hachette) in 2016.
Since then she has written six novels, covering many topics, her first four novels were a blend of light hearted women’s fiction and drama, but in recent years she has found her niche in historical fiction, after she wrote The Island Villa – a story about a secret community of Jews, who some believed were living on the island of Formentera during the Inquisition. It is a story about love, betrayal, and courage.
It took getting to her mid-thirties for her to realise that these were the types of stories she truly wanted to write. Since then she has written two other historical fiction novels, including The Paris Secret, a story about a woman, a bookshop and a secret that goes back to the occupation, and most recently, her most daunting book to date – The Child of Auschwitz, which was a story she never meant to write, but found herself compelled to after reading a story about a woman who gave birth to a child after surviving a concentration camp.
Thank you to the wonderful people over at Bookouture for inviting me to ‘tour’ with them! Take a look at what these bloggers are saying about The Child of Auschwitz …