Few survived the Holocaust. Very few survived Auschwitz. Almost no one survived Auschwitz from the first transport. But Rena did. She is one of only 20 women who were on the first transport to survive. Her story is nothing short of miraculous.
Rena grew up in Poland, but with German forces encroaching on her homeland, she moved to Slovakia for safety. When she grew tired of hiding, she decided to turn herself in and join the work detail she had been assigned, believing it truly would be work. That is how she found herself in Slovakia, the origin of the first cattle car of 999 women bound for Auschwitz. She became #1716. Nobody could imagine the horrors and inhumane treatment that awaited them. If not immediately sent to the gas chambers, very few survived the camp or the Death March, if they managed to make it that long. That’s why it is incredible that Rena survived 3 years and 41 days in Auschwitz.
Her story is one of hope and familial love. Rena’s younger sister arrived at Auschwitz only a few days later and surviving together gave her the will and determination to live. It is also the values instilled by Rena’s family that seems to have kept her human throughout it all. It is why she spares food and clothing for others when she didn’t really have any to spare. Similar tiny acts of kindness were offered to her throughout her ordeal. A piece of sausage thrown over the fence. A kapo who only lightly beat the prisoners in her work group. Some salve to cure a cut. Without these very small gestures, Rena and her sister Danka likely would not have survived. Like the stories of other Holocaust victims, Rena’s story must be shared. So we never forget and never doom ourselves to repeating history.
Note: I finished this book on the exact same day Kazimierz Albin died. He was the last living survivor of the first transport of Poles to Auschwitz (#118). May his memory be a blessing.
4.5 out of 5 stars.