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Friday, February 24, 2017

#Audiobook #Review: 4 out of 5 stars for Born Survivors by Wendy Holden @wendholden @TantorAudio

AUTHOR: Wendy Holden
NARRATOR: Elizabeth Wiley
PUBLISHER: Tantor Audio
PUBLICATION DATE: January 31, 2017 (first published May 5, 2015)
FORMAT: Unabridged audiobook
LENGTH: 13 hrs and 8 mins 
GENRE: Nonfiction, History, Biography
ISBN: 9781515917618
Eastern Europe, 1944: Three women believe they are pregnant, but are torn from their husbands before they can be certain. Rachel is sent to Auschwitz, unaware that her husband has been shot. Priska and her husband travel there together, but are immediately separated. Also at Auschwitz, Anka hopes in vain to be reunited with her husband. With the rest of their families gassed, these young wives are determined to hold on to all they have left-their lives, and those of their unborn babies. Having concealed their condition from infamous Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, they are forced to work and almost starved to death, living in daily fear of their pregnancies being detected by the SS.

In April 1945, Priska gives birth. She and her baby, along with Anka, Rachel, and the remaining inmates, are sent to Mauthausen concentration camp on a hellish train journey. Rachel gives birth on the train; Anka at the camp gates. All believe they will die-then a miracle occurs. The gas chamber runs out of Zyklon-B, and as the Allied troops near, the SS flee. Against all odds, the three mothers and their newborns survive their treacherous journey to freedom.

I received a complimentary copy of this audiobook for voluntary review consideration.

This remarkable story of how three women not only survived the atrocities of Auschwitz but had babies who also survived will break your heart and leave you in awe!

We first meet Piroska or “Priska” Löwenbeinová, a 28-year-old teacher from Slovakia. Her parents ran a café, and she is the fourth born of six children (the youngest of whom died in infancy). Priska and her husband, Tibor, are expecting their first child. She is approximately two months pregnant, and this baby is a bit of a miracle considering that she had three previous miscarriages.

Next, we meet Rachel Friedman, a 25-year-old woman from Poland. As the eldest of nine children, she was responsible for helping to take care of her younger siblings. She is married to Monik, a wealthy businessman.

Finally, we meet Anka Nathan, a 27-year-old law student from Czechoslovakia studying in Prague. She is the baby of the family, and her parents own a tannery and leather factory. She is married to Bernd, an architect.

All three ladies came from nice, respectable families and were hardworking. They were young and in love, and in what should have been the happiest time of their lives with babies on the way. Their only crime was that they were Jewish! Under Hitler’s Nazi rule, their lives were forever changed. They eventually were rounded up and brought to Auschwitz II-Birkenau, Poland in 1944. Those that were deemed fit enough to work were not executed. The ladies hid their pregnancies from Dr. Josef Mengele, also known as “The Angel of Death,” and they eventually ended up being sent to a munitions factory for slave labour in Freiberg, Saxony. They remained there until Spring 1945, when the prisoners that had managed to cling to life were to be sent by train to their final stop at Mauthausen concentration camp where they were to be gassed to death.

I had never heard of Dr. Josef Mengele before, and I was absolutely horrified to learn of his medical experiments on children. These ladies were subjected to intolerable living conditions, humiliated, degraded, and starved. It is tough enough on someone’s psyche to survive under those circumstances, never mind to grow a baby! It must have been sheer determination and will power that they survived. They were severely malnourished, weighing less than 70 pounds and close to death at the time each of their babies were born, and it is just a miracle that both mothers and babies all survived. It is a shame that the ladies were unaware of each other’s existence at the time, but it is so heartwarming that the babies all were able to meet and share their stories and forge an unbreakable bond.

This is such a tough story to hear. It is very difficult for me to fathom what these ladies went through, and my heart ached for them. I was very touched by the compassion that was shown by some of the fellow prisoners (like Edita Kelamanová) and even some of the Germans, putting their own lives at risk to show them acts of kindness. Most memorable was what the residents of Horní Bříza did for the survivors who were on their way to be put to death at Mauthausen. By some miracle, the train had to stop in that town because the railroad up ahead was blocked. When the station master realized that there were people on-board the train and seeing the state that they were in, he rallied the town’s residents to bring food for them. He also urged the Germans to leave the prisoners there in Horní Bříza so that they could care for them, but unfortunately his pleas fell on deaf ears.

Were it not for someone like Wendy Holden, survival stories like this would be lost in future generations. I am impressed with the detailed information that the author was able to piece together, and I learned not only about the lives of these amazing women but what transpired historically in the various European regions mentioned in the book. This book is a poignant tribute to these families, and it is one that I will not forget.

Elizabeth Wiley brought this story to life, with her various European accents. It actually made me shudder when she gave German commands, such as “Raus!” (get out) or “Schnell!” (quick). Her narration was very moving and expressive, and I thought she did a wonderful job. Here is a sample of the narration:

It is my understanding that the bound copy of the book includes photographs, and I would have loved it if the publisher would have included a digital file with these photographs so that listeners don’t miss out on it! I have requested the book from my local library. 

4 stars!! It was really good, and you should put it on your TBR list if you enjoy survival stories. Thanks again to Tantor Audio for the opportunity to review this audiobook!

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  1. This sounds good and yes I imagine it would be hard hearing what they went through.

    1. It was, Kimberly. It's so hard to even believe that something as terrible as the Holocaust occurred.


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