Thank you, NetGalley for the opportunity to read and to review this work.
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Fragments of Isabella: A Memoir of Auschwitz, by Isabella Leitner
It is May 1944, Isabella’s birthday, when she, her mother, brother, and four sisters, along with the remaining Jews in a ghetto in Hungary, are removed and sent to Auschwitz. Immediately following their arrival at the camp, Isabella’s mother is marched to the gas chambers. Meanwhile, Isabella takes her mother’s advice into account. “I must stay on the ‘life’ side.” Then, somehow, the four sisters find one another. For months, they manage to survive, or as Isabella would say: “Together we will endure death. Even life.”
Isabella’s words add depth to the historical story of the Holocaust. Yes, the events she survived were significant, but her telling is poetic—macabre, but poetic. She asks, for example, “Even death is too good for a Jew?” These are the moments in reading Fragments of Isabella that burn into the mind of a reader. Likewise, the following advice she and her sisters received from their brother: “Listen to me. Listen! Eat whatever they give you. Eat. If they give you shit, eat shit. Because we must survive.” It was his dogged determination that allowed for him to survive six concentration camps. And it seems that determination was genetic, as the sisters realize that their staying alive is not just for themselves—it is for one another. “[B]ecause someone else expects you to.” But then, Isabella reasons, “[a]fter all, an hour of life is an hour of life.”
I think it was Isabella’s way of comparing two distinctly opposite ideas that so stuck with me. For example, she tells of how fire was used to warm the earth so that the Jewish slaves could dig in it, although they were not allowed near its heat. She says: “The fire, indeed, was necessary. We couldn’t dig the earth. It was frozen. It had to be heated up first. Keep the earth warm. Not the Jews.” Another example comes from when the sisters leave Auschwitz. Isabella says, “’Bye, Auschwitz. I will never see you again. I will always see you.”
Isabella and her sisters survive incredible brutality at Auschwitz, then another camp Thus it was that in the last days of the war, along their march to almost certain death, that they made a run for safety. Three of them made it—one, did not. Isabella is forever haunted by the fact that the one amongst them who was the strongest, never came home. But eventually—it is with the birth of her firstborn—Isabella sees new power. “Peter,” she says of her son, “has started the birth of the new six million. Mama, you did not die!”
I found this work profoundly insightful and deeply meaningful. Isabella’s words are sure to live on and on through these pages—and through the ages . . .