Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Living among the Dead: My Grandmother’s Holocaust Survival Story of Love and Strength by Adena Bernstein Astrowsky. My thanks to Anne at Random Things Tours for inviting me to participate in the tour and to Amsterdam Publishers for my digital review copy.
About the Book
This is the story of one remarkable young woman’s unimaginable journey through the rise of the Nazi regime, the Second World War, and the aftermath. Mania Lichtenstein’s dramatic story of survival is narrated by her granddaughter and her memories are interwoven with beautiful passages of poetry and personal reflection. Holocaust survivor Mania Lichtenstein used writing as a medium to deal with the traumatic effects of the war.
Many Jews did not die in concentration camps, but were murdered in their lifelong communities, slaughtered by mass killing units, and then buried in pits. As a young girl, Mania witnessed the horrors while doing everything within her power to subsist. She lived in Włodzimierz, north of Lvov (Ukraine), was interned for three years in the labor camp nearby, managed to escape and hid in the forests until the end of the war.
Although she was the sole survivor of her family, Mania went on to rebuild a new life in the United States, with a new language and new customs, always carrying with her the losses of her family and her memories.
Seventy-five years after liberation, we are still witnessing acts of cruelty born out of hatred and discrimination. Living Among The Dead reminds us of the beautiful communities that existed before WWII, the lives lost and those that lived on, and the importance to never forget these stories so that history does not repeat itself.
Format: ebook (181 pages) Publisher: Amsterdam Publishers
Publication date: 3rd March 2020 Genre: Non-fiction, History, Memoir
The author creates a vivid picture of her grandmother, Mania Lichtenstein (or ‘Bubbie’ as she was known in the family). Amongst her ‘warm and wonderful’ memories of her grandmother are Mania’s love of books, classical music and opera, her fondness for dancing and the solace she found from writing prose and poetry.
Mania’s wartime experiences, as told to the author by her grandmother, are augmented by what is obviously the product of extensive research by the author if the detailed references at the end of the book are anything to go by. These sections of narrative contain a wealth of factual detail as well as some stark and sombre statistics. For example, that between the 1st and 3rd of September 1942, 25,000 Jews were shot and buried in mass graves they had earlier been ordered to dig. I found it particularly chilling that the Nazis set a ‘quota’ for each pogrom they carried out. The author recalls her grandmother describing the Nazis as precise and organized, keeping meticulous records of numbers. ‘Once the quota was met…not one more person would be killed.’
The narrative is interspersed with extracts from Mania’s own writings and poems recalling the experiences she endured. These are not always arranged chronologically which confused me slightly at times. There is also some repetition of events. For example, the circumstances of the death of Mania’s sister, Nechamka, and an episode in which Mania and others are forced to hide in an attic are mentioned a number of times. I can only imagine this is deliberate on the author’s part, perhaps out of a desire that Mania’s memories should be unexpurgated or to reflect the recurring nature of her recollections about this traumatic period of her life, even many years later.
Through a combination of chance, and the courage and generosity of others, Mania escaped two pogroms and survived the horrific conditions in the ghettos. She always saw this as fate taking a hand. “I and the other survivors were meant to survive so we could remind the world of the atrocities committed and also tell the world that there once existed in Europe a rich Jewish life and culture, which due to one man’s madness, was extinguished.”
The book describes the importance to the Jewish community of, where possible, continuing to adhere to religious practices and of marking significant dates in the Jewish calendar even in the squalor and overcrowding of the ghetto. In a sense, it was an act of resistance against the repression and persecution they were suffering just as potent as the acts of sabotage we commonly associate with the Resistance movement. And as Mania notes, it was a mark of Hitler’s failure “to wipe all Jews off the planet”.
Living among the Dead is a remarkable story of endurance and courage told without any literary flourishes. Because of the subject matter, it is not an easy read but it is an important one. As the author observes, “Her [Mania’s] story is now history. But, because she somehow miraculously survived horrific events and unimaginable degradation, her family, her faith, and her hope – they survive too.” Or in the words of the author’s son, Mania’s great-grandson, “I breathe and walk among others because of her.”
In three words: Harrowing, inspiring, powerful
Try something similar: The Good Doctor of Warsaw by Elisabeth Gifford (historical fiction)
About the Author
Adena Bernstein Astrowsky has dedicated her career to helping the most vulnerable of our society. She did this by prosecuting child sexual abuse cases and domestic violence cases within the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office. She became the local expert concerning the prosecution of domestic violence related strangulation cases and taught extensively on that subject. Currently, she handles post-conviction cases on appeal and foreign extradition cases.
Adena taught Sunday School at her temple for eight years, and in her last two years she co-taught “Character Development Through the Studies of the Holocaust.” Adena contributes articles to MASK (Mothers Awareness on School-age Kids) Magazine, often writing about children’s safety, drugs, law and order, etc. Once a month Adena volunteers at a local Scottsdale library with her therapy dog, Charlie, as part of the Tail Waggin’ Tales Program. Adena has also chaired events to raise money for the Emily Center of Phoenix Children’s Hospital.
Recently, Adena was recognized for her professional and philanthropic work with an Amazing Woman Award from the Phoenix Suns and National Bank of Arizona. Adena’s greatest role, however, is as the mother of three very active children. She, and her husband, Brad, are kept very busy with their respective dance, theater, music, and athletic activities.