A Candle in the Heart: Memoir of a Child Survivor

Wordsmithy  2011

 

Picture the Mannheimers, a Jewish family in Czechoslovakianot wealthy, but comfortable; their mother, Dora, was the ultimate cook, housewife, and mother who also found the time to design matching outfits for her six children, three girls and three boys. Since Judith, an uncommonly beautiful child, was the youngest and I suppose a surprise to her parents, she was treated as a pet, especially by her adoring father. The family lived a modern life, refined and steeped in Jewish practices; chief among them was the appreciation of the Sabbath and the S’hma, a prayer that strengthened and preserved little Judith throughout her ordeals.

All the children were attractive and personable people, and the family had good relations with both Jews and gentiles, although the latter were quick to disown them once the Nazis invaded the Sudetenland and Czechoslovakia separated into two countries. Unfortunately, the Mannheimer family lived in Slovakia, the half that harbored the radical Nazi Hlinka Guard. Despite going into hiding in the home of peasants, her parents and two eldest siblings were seized by the guards and deported. It was the last time their younger children saw them. A peasant woman was paid to take Judith and her oldest brother to their maternal aunt, who turned them away at her doorstep, fearing for her own childrens' safety. Abandoned and jailed, the two children embarked on what would become a series of crises, rescues, and remarkable recoveries. Of some, they were the recipients, but of others, they had to initiate the actions that would further their progress. I do not know how the author retained an intact psyche. As her daughter, Deborah Alter Goldenberg, writes in the foreword: “When so few children survived the Holocaust, Mom survived and built on each of her experiences to strengthen her resolve to go forward.” Today, she is a gift to her immediate family, her friends, and the institutions she works to strengthen. Not wanting to give away any more of this well-written and remarkable true adventure, different from all the other survivor stories I have reviewed for JBW, I say: buy it, read it, and give it to every bat mitzvah girl you know.



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