Today I am joining the blog tour for Holocaust memoir, Living Among the Dead, by Adena Bernstein Astrowsky. Many thanks to Adena for providing me with a copy of the book, and to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours, for inviting me to take part in the tour.
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.
My interest in the Holocaust stems from my school days, and a visit to Yad Vashem when I was 18. Fast forward 20 years, and a recent visit to Krakow, plus the reading of many books on the subject, and I thought I was prepared for this book. I was wrong. When a book has you sobbing before the end of the first chapter, you know you are in for a bumpy ride. Even as I sit here now typing my review, I have tears in my eyes.
The book opens with an introduction to Mania Lichtenstein in her later life as a great-grandmother. Adena talks of her grandmother, her Bubbie, with such warmth and affection, and the strength of her spirit shines through in Adena’s words. The inclusion of some of Mania’s own writing on her experiences during the Holocaust only add to the depth of emotion in this book.
I think when reading fictionalised accounts of life as a Jew in Nazi occupied territories, it is easy to get caught up in the characters and their story, and while this doesn’t remove the horror of what happened, it does blur the edges a little. With this memoir, written in a factual manner, and also maybe because you know from the beginning how Mania’s story ends, there is none of the distraction of fiction, and at times it made me feel physically sick that people could behave in the way they did. Despite what I already knew of the Holocaust, I was shocked by the brutality of the genocide in Wlodzimierz and what Mania had to go through in order to survive. Her story is completely heartbreaking and will stay with me for a long time.
Living Amongst the Dead is not a book that you can sit down and read in one sitting. It is hard to read about the suffering that Mania, and countless other Jews, endured, and I found I could only cope with reading a little at a time. Despite this though, I would urge everyone to read this book. We must never forget this truly terrible period of history.
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.
Don’t forget to have a look at the other blogs taking part in this tour for more information on this book.