Rebecca Frankel’s Into the Forest: A Holocaust Story of Survival, Triumph, and Love helps readers grapple with the incomprehensibility of the Shoah by telling the survival story of one family: Miriam, Morris, Tania, and Rochel Rabinowitz, who escaped from the Zhetel ghetto into the Białowieża Forest, where they hid for over two years. Readers will find that Into the Forest is meticulously researched and beautifully written; weaving historical facts with first-hand accounts, Frankel employs an almost novelistic style that makes for a truly compelling read.
The Rabinowitz family’s survival story had an unlikely happy ending. The author’s connection to the Rabinowitz sisters, which is revealed toward the end of the narrative, provides unprecedented access to their memories. While the family is fortunate that, due to Miriam and Morris’ calculated risks and no small dose of luck, they never saw the inside of a death camp, Frankel makes it clear that life in hiding came with its own dangers. The family faced typhus, sub-zero winters, food shortages, and the constant threat of bombs, Nazi soldiers, and mercenaries who were paid to hunt for Jews. The Rabinowitzes lost many of their extended family members and friends despite the extreme measures Miriam and Morris took to try and protect them, including an instance when Morris risked death to try and save his mother, sister, and young nephew. In another instance, Miriam takes an unaccompanied boy under her protection during the first ghetto “selection,” when Nazis would select who would be sent to their deaths — a simple but dangerous kindness that has an unforeseen impact on both of their lives.
The fortitude, bravery, and love it took this family to survive the ghetto and hiding in the woods — with two small children, no less — is astounding, and Frankel’s compelling mediation of their experiences is sure to inspire readers. We owe it to the dead to remember, to tell their stories. But we also owe it to ourselves to share not just the tragedy, but also the miracles that occurred among the death and destruction.
Leah Grisham, PhD is a writer and educator whose upcoming book, Heroic Disobedience: The Forced Marriage Plot, 1748 – 1880 will be published by Vernon Press in 2022. She writes about Jewish life, literature, and feminism.