Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Review: Irena's Children

Irena's Children book review

About the Book:

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Widow Clicquot comes an extraordinary and gripping true account of Irena Sendler—the “female Oskar Schindler”—who took staggering risks to save 2,500 children from death and deportation in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II.

In 1942, one young social worker, Irena Sendler, was granted access to the Warsaw ghetto as a public health specialist. While she was there, she began to understand the fate that awaited the Jewish families who were unable to leave. Soon she reached out to the trapped families, going from door to door and asking them to trust her with their young children. She started smuggling children out of the walled district, convincing her friends and neighbors to hide them. Driven to extreme measures and with the help of a network of local tradesmen, ghetto residents, and her star-crossed lover in the Jewish resistance, Irena ultimately smuggled thousands of children past the Nazis. She made dangerous trips through the city’s sewers, hid children in coffins, snuck them under overcoats at checkpoints, and slipped them through secret passages in abandoned buildings.

But Irena did something even more astonishing at immense personal risk: she kept a secret list buried in bottles under an old apple tree in a friend’s back garden. On it were the names and true identities of these Jewish children, recorded so their families could find them after the war. She could not know that more than ninety percent of their families would perish. 

In Irena’s Children, Tilar Mazzeo shares the incredible story of this courageous and brave woman who risked her life to save innocent children from the Holocaust—a truly heroic tale of survival, resilience, and redemption.

My Comments:

It is so hard for me to wrap my head around the idea of killing six million people just because of their ethnicity.  The Jews in lands occupied by the Nazis weren't gunned down because they were in the way.  They weren't just  left with dregs so that they starved (though that happened too in the Warsaw ghetto), they were loaded on trains, moved long distances and then either executed on arrival or worked to death when they got there.  How did they do this?  Most of us have seen the quote about how they came for this group or that group and I said nothing because I wasn't part of that group and finally that they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.  Well, Irenea Sendler didn't speak for the Jews but she stood up for them and helped get over 2,000 children out of the ghetto and to safe homes.  

The book is a captivating read about a remarkable and yet very human woman.  So often heroes and heroines are portrayed as not having any of the human foibles that affect us poor mortals, but Irenea was guilty of poor judgment, adultry, pride, and other sins.  Still, she was a woman who knew good from evil and chose good despite the risks to herself and her family.  

While at times I felt the book got bogged down in description, and I had a hard time following all the Polish and Jewish names, the book itself was a reminder that we do not have to be perfect to do great things and that one person can make a difference.  

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley. Grade: B. 

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