In her powerful book Born Survivors, Wendy Holden tells the story of three young mothers who exhibited strength, courage, defiance, and hope while enduring Nazi atrocities.
The three mothers, Priska, Rachel, and Anka, defied death to give their children life. Torn from their families by the Nazis, they were first sent to Auschwitz, then Freiberg, then finally Mauthausen. Despite being strangers to one another, these women had something in common: all were a few months pregnant and needed to keep this a secret from their Nazi captors. To find out if women were pregnant, Dr. Josef Mengele would squeeze their breasts to see if any milk leaked out. Those discovered were either sent to their death or were used for genetic testing.
Like most books about the Holocaust, this one is difficult to read, the cruelty beyond comprehension. Holden describes in detail the conditions these mothers had to endure in the concentration camps and on the brutal death train transfer. The reader is able to picture the events as if he or she were going through the atrocities with the women — as well as the uplifting conclusion to their story. Whether by luck, miracle, or a little of both, these three women and their babies beat the odds. They did not just survive but flourished after the liberation. As Holden writes, “These babies went on to have babies of their own and create a second and then a third generation, all of whom continue to live their lives in defiance of Hitler’s plan to erase them from history and from memory.”
Born Survivors also brilliantly contrasts the cruelness of humanity with the kindness. There are many scenes where the readers will be overcome with grief regarding the Nazi actions, but there are also scenes in which townspeople and the American liberators provided emotional, medical, and material support.