"Rebecca Frankel's Into the Forest is a gripping story of love, escape, and survival, from wartime Poland to a wedding in Connecticut. In the summer of 1942, the Rabinowitz family narrowly escaped the Nazi ghetto in their Polish town by fleeing to the forbidding Bialowieza Forest. They miraculously survived two years in the woods-through brutal winters, Typhus outbreaks, and merciless Nazi raids-until they were liberated by the Red Army in 1944. After the war they trekked across the Alps into Italy where they settled as refugees before eventually immigrating to the United States. During the first ghetto massacre, Miriam Rabinowitz rescued a young boy named Philip by pretending he was her son. Nearly a decade later, a chance encounter at a wedding in Brooklyn would lead Philip to find the woman who saved him. And to discover her daughter Ruth was the love of his life. From a little-known chapter of Holocaust history, one family's inspiring true story of love, escape, and survival"--
How can a shiksa boomer born in Milwaukee possibly appreciate the trials, tribulations, and journeys of the people in this
But this book celebrates the triumphs and positives of people who went through incredibly severe trials and came out on top. And it is a labor of love and incredible research and cooperation from people who find it all indescribably painful to talk about. I am totally impressed with everyone associated with this story and agree NEVER AGAIN.
I requested and received a free temporary ebook copy from St. Martin's Press via NetGalley. Thank you!
It has been described as a great love story, but that does not do the book justice. It is so much more. It is the quintessential book about the Holocaust. To read about the it takes courage and fortitude because the details are mind bending. No matter how many books
The story of this family from Belarus, and those they came in contact with, during and after the war, is often heart rending as well has uplifting, as one learns of the enormous strength of character and courage that the survivors maintained in the face of the most barbaric of situations, in the face of such brutality and hate that it seemed the stuff of horror novels. The survivors were so few in number when considering the total greater number that were murdered, that it tortures the reader’s sensibilities. Families were torn asunder, friendships were tested as was the desire to live and/or resist. Should they seek retribution, vengeance, or justice? Should they simply hope for an end to the violence so that life could return to normal? Would normal ever be possible again? Hitler turned family members against each other, turned neighbor against neighbor, made fear an everyday experience. Soon, no one knew whom to trust. First they hoped for the Germans to be defeated, but then the Russians came and many were also barbaric, and many hated the Jews. The Jews were the wretched of the lands they lived in, and those that preyed upon them were the spawn of the devil. Even after the war ended, the Jews were accosted by barbarians who were still filled with their bigotry and greed. There was so much opposition to those of the Jewish faith that even after the horrors they experienced were discovered, they found it hard to find a safe haven. Often they could not return to their own homes, homes that were stolen from them, because those that looted or occupied them would not comply and leave. So often they were brutalized again. Most survivors sought safer places to live in other countries, like Israel, which was not easy because of The White Paper and British control of the immigration numbers, or America, which required sponsors. The still pervasive anti-Semitism hindered their efforts in many countries, but they persisted. These were the survivors.
As one reads, it becomes apparent that Jews were even cruel to other Jews, in the fight to survive. They were often duped into turning fellow Jews in, as they believed they would be resettled and not systematically tortured and murdered. Sometimes they did it believing they could save themselves. Some Jews thought they were better than others. Some thought that what they had heard could not be true, so atrocious were the stories of humiliation and abuse. When finally they resisted, they were outnumbered, outmaneuvered, and less well equipped. Still they fought and resisted, as best they could, once they learned about the horrors that awaited them. Hiding places, sabotage and escapes became more and more prevalent. The forest became a place of refuge for many. They built underground bunkers; they moved often so as not to be caught; they helped each other, but also hindered the efforts of some who needed help, in order to survive. Children and elderly were suffocated to prevent them from crying out and revealing those who were hidden. Desperate times called for the most desperate of measures. Those that brought such circumstances about have a special place in Hell.
The Nazis enlisted help from the lowest elements of society, criminals, dysfunctionals, sadists, psychopaths and other mentally ill individuals without a conscience. What they perpetrated on society was so evil and yet today it is not on everyone’s radar. When I hear of groups wanting reparations for injustice, I wonder if they understand that others have also faced a most awful kind of injustice for centuries. Rather than reparations, we should seek to prevent a recurrence of the same kind of hatred and violence in our society. We should seek to accept our differences and not let them divide us.
There were places in which my life converged with that of the survivors. My father came from Belarus and were it not for chance, he could have been there and not in America at the time of the war. I also went to the Borscht Belt in the Catskills, as we became more financially stable. It was a place of refuge where Jews felt they belonged, where they were accepted, catered to and respected. I also attended Brooklyn College, which at one time was filled with upwardly mobile Jewish students. It was hard to get into the school without academic success, but it provided an opportunity for higher education for those who could not afford the more esteemed places of learning like Harvard or Yale or other schools with big price tags. They were not even part of my opportunity zone. For the price of a bursar’s fee and the purchase of used books, a future could be had at city schools. There were no programs that provided for students to go to any school they wanted to, or met requirements for, because one had to be responsible for the cost of their education.
So the book is hard to read, but also hard to put down. The loyalty and devotion of family members to each other, sibling to sibling, parent to child, child to parent and grandparent, and spouse to spouse is writ large on each page of this book. It would be easy to say that their love kept these survivors alive, but it would not be true. Courage, the kindness of others, perhaps a bit of fate or happenstance, and a good deal of nothing more than luck and chance, also played a major role. Let us remember this history so we do not repeat it.
Once the Nazi regime
Liberated by the Red Army, the family eventually crossed into Italy and lived for a time as refugees before making their way into the United States, where they were reacquainted with a young man who survived the same ghetto, thanks to Mrs. Rabinowitz.
I found their journey after being liberated just as interesting as their time in the forest, though not as harrowing. History lovers and those who enjoy inspiring stories will not want to miss this book.
Many thanks to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for allowing me to read an advance copy. I am happy to give my honest review.