A Bril­liant Life: My Moth­er’s Inspir­ing True Sto­ry of Sur­viv­ing the Holocaust

  • Review
By – January 15, 2024

In this mem­oir, Rachelle Unre­ich tells the remark­able sto­ry of her mother’s sur­vival in Auschwitz and oth­er con­cen­tra­tion camps. What sets this tale apart from many Holo­caust books is how Rachelle, through a series of inter­views, unspools her mother’s long life, pro­cess­ing and react­ing along­side the read­er. Hav­ing an inter­locu­tor is com­fort­ing, giv­en that much of the mate­r­i­al is heavy. 

The book begins with Miri­am (Mira) Blumenstock’s child­hood in the Czecho­slo­va­kian shtetl of Spišská Stará Ves — today, Slo­va­kia — in the 1930s, and cul­mi­nates with Mira rais­ing a fam­i­ly, first in Paris in the 1950s and then in Aus­tralia. The youngest of four chil­dren in an enlight­ened, work­ing-class, Ger­man-speak­ing fam­i­ly, Mira attend­ed school and worked in her family’s fab­ric busi­ness. Here, an old­er Mira col­ors in what lat­er gen­er­a­tions often pic­ture as a sepia-toned Cen­tral Europe with sto­ries of her par­ents’ ear­ly love, Shab­bat meals, and oth­er quo­tid­i­an child­hood mem­o­ries. Even as Mira begins to describe anti­semitism creep­ing into this lit­tle shtetl, forc­ing her father to sell” his store, she con­tin­ues to shine a light on the kind­ness and gen­eros­i­ty that kept her fam­i­ly safe in the first few years of the Nazi occupation.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, her inno­cent child­hood was shat­tered on Sep­tem­ber 3, 1944 when SS offi­cers round­ed up the last Jew­ish fam­i­lies in her shtetl, mur­der­ing some and send­ing the rest to con­cen­tra­tion camps. For the next year and half, Mira was impris­oned by the Nazis, sub­ject to both hor­ri­ble abuse and the tor­ture of not know­ing most of her family’s sta­tus. How she sur­vived is a mir­a­cle, and in Unreich’s telling, there’s an ele­ment of the supernatural. 

The author describes how Mira, a charis­mat­ic teenag­er with pro­nounced dim­ples, sur­vived Plas­zow, Auschwitz, Ravens­brück, and Neustadt-Glewe. She endured star­va­tion, sadis­tic Nazis, and immoral Sovi­et sol­diers, and she wit­nessed the mur­der of her father. She attrib­ut­es her sur­vival sole­ly to the good­ness of oth­ers. Even in the dark­est times, peo­ple want­ed to cre­ate some light.

A Bril­liant Life is an inspir­ing record of Mira’s sur­vival and her vibrant, joy-filled, post-Holo­caust life. While it is painful to read about the trau­mas faced by an inno­cent teenage girl, it’s com­fort­ing to be on this jour­ney with Unre­ich, who depicts her mother’s per­spec­tive and empathy.

Avery Robin­son is a Jew­ish non­prof­it pro­fes­sion­al liv­ing in Brook­lyn. In his spare time, he free­lances as an edi­tor, culi­nary his­to­ri­an, cofounder of the cli­mate change non­prof­it Rye Revival, and man­ag­er of Black Roost­er Foods. His writ­ings have appeared in Mar­gin­a­lia Review of BooksJerusalem PostTablet­Mag, and The For­ward.

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