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The International School for Holocaust Studies

Mothers, Sisters, Resisters: Oral Histories of Women Who Survived the Holocaust

Featured Book

Reviewed by Kathryn Berman

Mothers, Sisters, Resisters

Edited by Brana Gurewitsch
University of Alabama Press, 1998
396 pages

Brana Gurewitsch has skillfully interviewed twenty-five women, Jewish and non-Jewish, who found themselves in the most difficult of roles during the Shoah. The book covers three of these roles – mothers, sisters, and resisters.

Being a mother during the Shoah meant instinctively trying to keep your child or children alive, finding food, providing shelter and clothing, and trying to maintain a sense of calm when life as you had known it no longer existed. In other words, to watch over, nourish, and protect maternally.

Being a sister might have meant being left without parents and being responsible for the well being of younger siblings. Some women who no longer had biological sisters left alive, “adopted” friends in ghettos or camps to replace the void. This also helped them retain their humanity and give them the will to survive.

It seems a little unfair to single out one or two testimonies from the book, as each and every one is an example of the courage somehow found by these women under circumstances that we will never be able to fully comprehend.

However, in the section devoted to Resisters, and through the testimonies of Anna Heilman (p. 295) and Rose Meth (p. 299), who were eye witnesses and participants in the event, we learn the details of four brave women who lost their lives by smuggling gunpowder to the Sonderkommando in Birkenau, who planned to blow up crematoria IV and escape from the camp.

The Gestapo investigation of the destroyed crematoria subsequently led to the arrest of the four women who were cruelly tortured. Rosa Robota managed to scribble a note on a piece of paper smuggled from her cell on which she had written Hazak V’Amatz: Be strong and brave. She, Alla Gaernter, Esther Wajcblum and Regina Saperstein, were hanged in front of their friends.

Their last word before they were hanged was “Nekama!” [“Revenge!”] This is surely the ultimate sacrifice made by women who took the chance, and were prepared to die trying to save others.

It is worth noting that people interviewed were able to make new lives for themselves at the end of the Second World War.

How to retain humanity in the face of evil, and spiritual resistance, are some of the lessons we can learn from the testimonies of these women, and which educators can impart to their students.