Sunday, October 17, 2010

Book Review : I Shall Live - Surviving The Holocaust Against All Odds

Title : I Shall Live - Surviving the Holocaust Against All Odds
Author : Henry Orenstein
Publisher : Beaufort Books
ISBN : 979-0-8253-0597-9

'I Shall Live' is a first hand account of a Holocaust survivor, Henry Orenstein, who had been through the times before, during and after World War II and what all these dreadful years brought for a Jew. Through this book, the author narrates the chronological happenings of the events - the rise of seemingly mighty Third Reich, its march ahead as if it was indomitable, the intoxicating peak for the Nazis when maximum amount of meanest atrocities were meted out to Jews and the inevitable downfall of this large empire. While reading this book, I could not help wondering how a single fanatic person could instigate so many others to let their inner animal come out and how abysmally can a human fall, even animal world looks less cruel and more compassionate compared to what happened during that time.

The author, Henry first introduces us to the life of a regular Jew in Poland - less avenues for education, target of ridicule at almost all places and being denied the basic rights of a citizen of a country. Jews were leading their lives in this hateful environment inspired by anti-Semitic feeling among fellow countrymen. The situation was getting worse with each passing year and the educated Jews were aware of the deteriorating situation of their community in Poland. As Henry mentions in the book, 'Almost every Jew was living life with a dream - 'Next year in Jerusalem', but it was more of a greeting for the older generation who had their roots in Poland and could not think of settling in any other place than their own home - Poland.

But the dreadful period began when in 1939, German army attacked Poland. Sensing more danger for male Jews, Henry accompanied by his father and two brothers - Felek and Sam fled their hometown -Hrubieszow, Poland, leaving his mother and sister Hanka behind. But soon all places became equally insecure and they returned back, spent some months in hiding, soon to be captured by the Nazis in 1942.

Then began the savagery and the brutality of the concentration camps of Budzyn, Majdanek, Plaszow, Ravensbruck, Sachsenhausen and finally the death march which became the march to their
freedom. But they lost their parents very early on and got the news of the barbaric way they were killed and thousands and thousands of other Jews in mass killings. Orenstein questioned himself many times 'what was the use of fighting, of struggling so hard against all odds to survive? And if by some miracle we succeeded, was it worth it, to go on living in such an evil world? ' What made him continue to hold on was the undying urge to live and to see the destruction of Hitler. He mentions that he was aware that he was being a witness to a unique event in the history. 'Here we were in the twentieth century, and a supposedly civilized nation was doing this.' Surviving on minimal nutrition, witnessing beatings, death and disease everywhere, constantly fearing whether they would be able to see the next morning while all this time waiting for some miracle to happen - had become constants in their lives in the camps.

In a strange turn of events, special groups of scientists, mathematicians and chemists were formed in the concentration camps and the objective of these groups was to use the intelligence of Jews in inventing a unique gas for the Germans which could help them in the war. Henry and his brothers falsely joined these groups and were spared of the extreme treatment for some time, being part of these special groups.

Orenstein does mention about some God sent people like Mrs. Lipinska who displayed immense courage and went out of their way to save them. Such people justify being human and become a source of inspiration for many. 'She was truly sent by Him to inspire courage in us, to counterbalance the evil that seemed universal'.

Overall, 'I Shall Live - Surviving the Holocaust Against All Odds' is a brilliant journal of events describing the harsh realities of Holocaust and the events leading to it, which would remain as a black mark on the forehead of humanity for all times to come. A must read for those who want to know more about history, World War II and Holocaust.


  1. Wonderful review, Vibha. Reminds me of the movie- Jakob the Liar, starring Robin Williams, who keeps hope alive in his co-prisoners in the concentration camps, so that the odds of surviving are higher. And they live to see the liberation of the Jews and the fall of Hitler.
    Will certainly look out for this book.
    BTW, see if you can find 'The Book Thief.' I have read it a long time back, but haven't yet reviewed it. Maybe I will soon.

  2. Thanks Sandhya. Will certainly look for 'The Book Thief'.


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