Book Review: “999: The Extraordinary Young Women of the First Official Jewish Transport to Auschwitz” by Heather Dune Macadam

Hello!

For the past three years, I’ve always ended my reading challenges with a book about the Holocaust. Of course, they were mostly fictionized, but they echo the stories of fellow inmates and survivors of the most infamous camp, Auschwitz. This time I managed to find a book that was on my Goodreads TBR (to be read) and it was free with Kindle Unlimited.

I knew what was getting myself into before I did the one click thingy, but I am never prepared to what would be in front of me with every page. I am always drawn to read about these awful years towards the end of each of my reading challenges. I doubt I’ll ever understand it, but here we are anyways.

WARNING: There are spoilers down below, so you might want to ignore this review today!


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A PEN America Literary Award Finalist
A Goodreads Choice Awards Nominee
An Amazon Best of the Year Selection

The untold story of some of WW2’s most hidden figures and the heartbreaking tragedy that unites them all. Readers of Born Survivors and A Train Near Magdeburg will devour the tragic tale of the first 999 women in Auschwitz concentration camp. This is the hauntingly resonant true story that everyone should know.


On March 25, 1942, nearly a thousand young, unmarried Jewish women, many of them teenagers, boarded a train in Poprad, Slovakia. Believing they were going to work in a factory for a few months, they were eager to report for government service and left their parents’ homes wearing their best clothes and confidently waving good-bye. Instead, the young women were sent to Auschwitz. Only a few would survive. Now acclaimed author Heather Dune Macadam reveals their stories, drawing on extensive interviews with survivors, and consulting with historians, witnesses, and relatives of those first deportees to create an important addition to Holocaust literature and women’s history.

taken from Goodreads.


Despite the evil of it all, this book was really interesting!

“We were nice girls from good families trying to learn how to steal from other nice girls from good families. This was not human. They dehumanized us.”

The author Heather Dune Macadam focuses on the original girls who were taken to Auschwitz in 1942. There are a lot of names and numbers to remember throughout the entire book, but I find it important that you mostly hear these heartbreaking stories from these lovely ladies. These were innocent girls expecting to work for the government (even though it was them who took practically their jobs and everything else before whole families were rounded up!) and end up in hell on Earth in a form of a new camp for anyone and everybody who was an enemy to the Nazis.

The conditions at the camps were downright awful! Each girl and woman was forced to strip their Sunday best, shave their heads, and get tattoos on their arms of their numbers the officers gave them. However, as you go on and learn about the jobs the prisoners vied for on a daily basis, and it wasn’t just the Nazi officers giving orders, it was fellow inmates too. They were offered a series of jobs in Auschwitz, none of them were ideal, some were downright dangerous like dig ditches and lakes in all seasons and temperatures! The women were being fed little unkosher meals, like soup made out of horsemeat and a piece of beard no bigger than a fist. And if that wasn’t enough, they also had to deal with diseases like typhus and sleep in places that were covered in fleas and lice!

And yet, we have survivors….

“Genocide does not simply go away. Just as it can continue to haunt the survivors, it shapes the lives of those who live with and love those survivors.”

As I see what is going on with the world nowadays, seeing Israel and what they are doing to their Palestine communities is another example of the Holocaust, as the Jewish were also kicked out of their homes and made to live in a one room with other families in the ghettos. Israel is an unique country with three main religions: Christians, Judaism and Islam. I used to think this was amazing until I saw what they don’t put on the mainstream news. I wonder how many Jewish people who were in these cocreation camps would support this violence. I think it would be a very low number. And then, we have what is going on with Russia and Ukraine, and you have the same exact story. History is just going to continue to repeat itself over and over again until we find out how to respect each other in our differences, and as much as I’d like to see that happen someday, I doubt it’ll happen in my lifetime and that’s the sad truth to it.

Have you read Heather’s “999: The Extraordinary Young Women in the First Official Jewish Transport to Auschwitz” yet? Do you find yourself interested in books like this one? How do you deal with the sadness they tend to bring us readers?

snowflake

Book Review: “The German Midwife” by Mandy Robotham

Well, here we are!

This is my last book review to be included in my “20 Books In 2020” reading challenge. I saw this one day while I was scrolling through KU and something about the cover just made me click it and read the blurb, and once I did that I was instantly intrigued with the concept. What if Evan Braun had had a child? This question would play with me while I was reading and after I had finished it.

If you are interested in historical fiction, especially if it is set in the depths of World War II with all of its ugly history dealing with an evil dictator like Adolf Hitler and of course with the aftermath of the Holocaust and its survivors. There are very few times that a book itself would read like if you were sitting in a movie theater watching it on the biggest screen and the volume blasted as loud as it can to pull you into it ever more.


51X-kIIkghLAn enthralling new tale of courage, betrayal and survival in the hardest of circumstances that readers of The Tattooist of Auschwitz, The Secret Orphan and My Name is Eva will love.

Germany, 1944. A prisoner in the camps, Anke Hoff is doing what she can to keep her pregnant campmates and their newborns alive.

But when Anke’s work is noticed, she is chosen for a task more dangerous than she could ever have imagined. Eva Braun is pregnant with the Führer’s child, and Anke is assigned as her midwife.

Before long, Anke is faced with an impossible choice. Does she serve the Reich she loathes and keep the baby alive? Or does she sacrifice an innocent child for the good of a broken world?


When I first started reading it on July 20th, my only note I put on the status update on Goodreads was “On chapter 6 and it’s already a doozy!” I am familiar with the hardships that the Jews dealt with during their time either hiding from the SS soldiers and being starved and worked to death in various camps all over Europe. While I was in high school, I took a course called “Novels” and we read Elie Weisel’s Night. This was the first time I ever read a book about a survivor’s time in the concertation camps and I literally thought I would never read a book from that time period ever again.

After reading about Enjeela and Malala’s stories escaping their war-torn homelands earlier this year, I figured I couldn’t necessarily talk myself out of not reading a book set in this time frame.

Our main character Anke Hoff, is the everyday woman in the mid-1940’s, she was young but trapped in the gray area of being a German but not supporting Adolf Hitler and The Reich. She was also helping all women–including Jewish–give birth to their children. The story is given to you in two different parts, so you begin with the character about Irena, a Jewish woman giving birth in a crowded and nasty hut full of other women, including Anke and her helper Rosa. You learn about the ins and outs of bringing a baby into the world and how Jewish babies were stripped away from their mothers and put to death for all to hear in the camp.

The second part of the story are these diary-like entries, they include dates and estimated locations. These tell the story of Anke’s life before ending up in the camps. You get to see everything that happens within a hospital before the war erupted and how she is captured by the Gestapo and eventually sent to a camp. At first, this section was my least favorite because I thought it would be too much information for the reader, including myself to separate while reading about her current living situation. However, it was in this part that talked about how the Nazi doctors and officials treated babies with physical disabilities. This is the reason why in my first note I said “it was a doozy” because I wasn’t necessarily expecting it, but while I was sad to learn what would happen to this innocent babies, it really gave me a sense of who Anke was as not only a midwife but a human being at this time.

In a way to luminate that Anke is a regular woman, the author set up a love interest, and I will be honest, I wasn’t much of a fan for it in the beginning, but when we learn more about Dieter Stenz, the quicker I was willing to overlook my initial reaction to him. As the story was ending and we learn what happens to him, my emotions were all over the place! It also didn’t help that this was the final book in my Goodreads challenge for the year. If you didn’t know by now, I finished 20 books in eight months!

The final thing I enjoyed about this story was that the author Mandy Robotham, is actually a real midwife. This made me really happy to learn this in the beginning because I knew she would include anything she has learned throughout her medical schooling and career as a midwife too. It also made me realize that everything that was discussed about childbirth inside the camps and domestic life in the 1930’s and 40’s could be true in some form despite the fact that the story is fictionalized. So, if you are interested in learning about midwifery, enjoy reading historical fiction and/or a good ‘what if’ kind of story, then you will love this book; if you decide to read it, please let me know your thoughts about it.

If you have read Mandy Robotham’s first novel “The German Midwife” or “A Woman Of War” as it was titled in the United Kingdom? What were your thoughts about Anke Hoff’s story? 

snowflake

 

#FWF – The Beginning Of The End

Hello and Happy Good Friday! I actually got to sleep in this morning and so if you start to see some sentences not making any sense, just bear with me. As soon as I saw today’s Free Write Friday prompt I thought I was going to jump for joy. I don’t know why but destruction prompts are somewhat fun and can be easy sometimes to write about too. Even if you don’t like these kinds of prompts, you can still change it up a bit. This image is copyrighted so you’re going to have to click here, if you want to see the image.  I hope you all enjoy!

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It all sounded like a really bad storm. Like a tornado had whipped through our little city and tore it to pieces. The power was gone, the wind was gone, but the sun was still out as bright as it could be. When we started hearing screams, cries, and heavy knocks at different doors, we ran for our shelter house door and peaked a look at what was going on. My uncle had tried to see what all the fuss was about by actually going outside, we tried to get him to stay inside but he was too drunk already to stay inside. Once my dad and grandpa opens those doors, he stumbled up those narrow stairs and as soon as he was in the clear of the way of the doors, they closed him again. We all stood there in silence, wondering how everything was going to play out. At first it was quiet, you could hear little talk from the outside, but not very much. Next minute we started to hear every voice on our block stop talking within five minutes of themselves like a Gen. Sargeant had went and commanded them to shut up. Even Uncle Boris’ voice was gone. We knew that wouldn’t be an easy thing considering when he’s drunk, he’s the life of the party. Next thing we heard was a sworn of bees flying over us, high up in the air. We were all scared down in the shelter of what that noise could be, but we stayed quietly in our places until it stopped completely.

When the time was right and Uncle Boris never returned back, my dad and grandfather, grabbed their hunting gear and rifle guns and told us all to as far back into the shelter house as possible. Which means, they wanted us to use the tunnels. Our family has been here for centuries and according to legend, at the end of these tunnels sources say that there are others making their way to other states. We would be a long journey, but we’ve been told by stories that it was well worth it. When my dad gave these orders, my mom and Aunt Sally, gathered all of the kids including me, which I thought I could be a bigger help by staying with them, but they forbid it because they needed somebody old enough to protect everybody else. “Come on, Olivia! Let’s go!” Aunt Sally yelled as my mother and my brothers and cousins were already heading down the tunnels. I was such a daddy’s girl that I didn’t want to leave him and grandpa behind to fend for themselves but I didn’t want to disobey them either so I gave them both a hug and ran over to the tunnel door and climbed in. Lucky for me, I am such a tomboy that I could hear my cousins complaining about the dirt and roots getting into their hair and clothes. It didn’t mind me, but as soon as Aunt Sally was in, the doors from the outside world were gone and the lights entering the tunnels came on. One by one we crawled into the underground in search of our next hideout. We knew that they would follow us but we didn’t know how it would take them to explore what happened to our neighbors.

We entered our first rest stop, All of us were exhausted, we had been crawling on our knees for about two hours. In every storm, mama goes and put out bottled water in the hideaway pockets of the tunnels just in case. They get changed out every three months in case the water was to spill overtime or get bad from being around the dirt, bugs, and roots. We had less than amount of water for all of us, but we made do because we only needed a little bit before we reached our destination. After our nice little break, we tuckered onward and I hadn’t even taken a few steps before the ground started to shake violently. Dirt was falling over head and we were all praying that the tunnels didn’t collapse on us as we scooted over them. After it was over, we just stood in our places for five to ten seconds and moved on. A little bit of an hour later, we had each the other end of the tunnel into another old family home. Once we were inside the basement, we locked the tunnel door and went silently up the stairs. We all kept our guards up in case there were any strangers inside the house, but our grandfather keeps the house very clean and comfortable in case we’d have to use it like right now. All around the house were blankets, pillows, and clothes by the dozen like he was about to go on a big camping trip. Aunt Sally and my mother went into the kitchen and collected as much food and water as they could, I kept walking around the big slightly empty house, it didn’t have windows he had them dark to make it look like the house was abandoned and unusable. Every room in that house was dark except for the first room by the living room. He kept that room covered in blinds and drapes. I decided to look inside and saw the stuff everything on the floor, big books of maps and drawings of different things. Grandpa was a thinker and thought about everything, he was a news story junkie. As I was going through his stuff, I kept hearing noises from outside.

The noises weren’t normal, as it’s generally a quiet neighborhood but this was strange noises like crowds of people on both ends of the block directing people from that entire area to be inspected. I gently put my hands up against the blinds to help see out and everybody had red faces and tears streaming down their cheeks. My oldest cousin Jan came in and went to the other window next to me and got a glimpse of the chaos outside. “Liv, what’s going on out there?” Jan said as he just stared out and watched his friends and their families walking in a line to the top of the line. They watched Jan’s best friend Sean and his family get to the front of the line and they went up the men in gas masks and heavy skin gear, either this was a government cleanse or it was for something much worse. When Sean got examined by the “doctor” he looked scared and worried because the kid had asthma, when he man asked him to take a deep breath he had to take out his inhaler in case he’d go into an attack and when he reached for his pocket, the guards behind me got antsy and saw it as a threat and shot him in the back of the head. “NO!” Jan shouted out the window. I grabbed him and pulled him down and away from the windows. He was crying and wanting to scream for his friend. I covered his mouth and shushed him but the guards had heard him yell and I could hear gun click outside and we both stood up quickly and the windows and walls started to explode ad bullets came from different directions. Jan’s little sisters started screaming and my brothers grabbed them and directed them back into the basement for safety. Aunt Sally and my mother was just trying to get money out of the safe in back room so they didn’t hear us screaming and the guns firing at us. When they both came out of the kitchen, the bullets were still coming out of the front of the house and then all I saw was blood and their bodies collapsed onto the floor. I knew I had to get my family back into the tunnels.

Olivia didn’t want to tell her brothers and cousins that their mothers were dead, because they wouldn’t stay by her side and then get killed like them. She assigned everyone to a different gear that they needed to get through the next part of their journey, because this one would be longer than the first. She pulled Jan aside and he was still wiping away his tears with his skinny arm, she hugged him tightly and asked him if he would go behind the younger ones. Jan looked at her and nodded, not even asking about his mom or aunt. “Maybe we’ll get lucky and our dads and grandpa are already there at the compound.” Olivia said trying to brighten his spirits a little bit. After seeing Sean get shot and then our mothers, seeing how all three males come meet us at the compound would have to be a big miracle. When I heard the people talking upstairs I knew it was time to get the hell out of there. I switched roles with Jan and he led the younger ones in first and I climbed in and shut the door behind. It was completely dark for five seconds and then the lights switched on to help guide us into the long journey.

Two hours and three breaks later, we had reached our next spot. Another relative of ours that knew about the tunnels had his family in their underground house, which it didn’t matter what you called it, it was still a cave nevertheless. Dennis, another uncle of ours and a big number of our family members helped getting us out of the tunnel. Jan and the kids enjoyed seeing some familiar faces after such a long and hard journey. When I managed to get out of the tunnel Uncle Dennis looked at me with a worried look on his face. “Where’s your guys parents and grandpa?” he asked his oldest niece, but she took him aside and told him what had happen. He started to break down inside but forbid himself to show his emotions to his nieces and nephews. “The world has been taken over. There’s nothing much left except for the ones that were appointed by the government to inspect its people.” Uncle Dennis said to Olivia. “I don’t think it’s anything to do with the government.” Olivia said to me, as everybody around them started to surround them. “They were killing people in cold blood. I’m starting to think it’s World War II all over again.” Olivia said back to him. Which made everybody nervous inside the core of the cave.