Born Survivors: Three Young Mothers and Their Extraordinary Story of Courage, Defiance, and Hope (Harper, 2015)
By Wendy Holden
Reviewed by LFHS Library/Media Assistant Denise Mortensen
|Born Survivors is a graphic and harrowing, yet inspiring true story about three unrelated young women who fought against all odds to survive Nazi death camps and bring new life into the world.
Priska, Anka and Rachel were young, happily married women with bright futures, living in three different cities when WWII broke out. Their stories begin to overlap in 1944, when the terrified women arrive, naked, freezing, and newly shorn of all bodily hair, on the parade ground of the Auschwitz II-Birkenau concentration camp. Under the leering eyes of SS Officer and physician Dr. Joseph Mengele, the “Angel of Death,” the three women (who were in the early stages of pregnancy) were inspected and sorted into two lines: one for children, elderly, sick or pregnant women, and one for healthy, strong women. When Mengele asked,“Good morning, my pretty lady, are you pregnant?” each one answered, “Nein”; they didn’t know if telling the truth would mean they’d be condemned to the gas chamber.
Though Priska, Anka and Rachel knew nothing of each other during their captivity, they suffered the same deprivations: starvation, thirst, disease, forced labor, horrific living conditions and the constant fear that their “secret” pregnancy would be discovered by the Nazis. Yet miraculously, through their despair and suffering, they gave birth to three babies just days before their camp was liberated. After the war ended, the women counted their losses: their homes, their beloved family heirlooms and photos, their jobs and family businesses. Saddest of all, the women lost their adoring husbands, most of their relatives, and precious years of their lives.
Holocaust books are never easy to read, and this book is no exception. But in the end, Born Survivors is deeply inspiring, as the author recounts how each woman struggles to regain her health, happiness, and hope after the war, while raising their young children as single mothers.
It was not until many years later, when the “babies” were in their sixties, that they learned of each other through the website of their liberators, The 11th Armored Division (The Thunderbolts). The three were tearfully reunited in 2005 at the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Mauthausen concentration camp. There, they personally thanked the men who helped liberate them.
Holden leaves you in profound wonder at the courage and indomitable spirit of these three young women. This is a book you won’t put down–and it’s a book about a subject we should never forget.