We Sur­vived the Holo­caust: The Bluma and Felix Gold­berg Story

  • Review
By – April 11, 2023

In this thor­ough­ly researched graph­ic biog­ra­phy, com­plete with a time­line and fam­i­ly pho­tographs, Frank W. Bak­er and Tim E. Ogline por­tray the lives of Holo­caust sur­vivors Bluma and Felix Gold­berg. When the book begins, their adult chil­dren are leav­ing the ceme­tery where they are buried, resolv­ing to write the next chap­ter” of their sto­ry of sur­vival and emi­gra­tion. Cater­ing to young read­ers who may be unfa­mil­iar with even the basic facts of his­to­ry, Bak­er pro­vides exten­sive infor­ma­tion in each block of nar­ra­tive text and speech bub­ble. (There is also a help­ful Teacher’s Guide avail­able as a sup­ple­ment.) Metic­u­lous expla­na­tions of each stage of the Gold­bergs’ lives, from their intern­ment in Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, and oth­er con­cen­tra­tion camps, to their unlike­ly lib­er­a­tion, reflect the full arc of their lives and legacy.

The book’s pur­pose is open­ly didac­tic, appro­pri­ate­ly based on the assump­tion that young read­ers need to under­stand the process of Nazi geno­cide. The pro­logue is print­ed in white font that address­es the read­er with a series of ques­tions. While the sta­tis­tic of six mil­lion Jews hav­ing been mur­dered may be rel­a­tive­ly well known, Bak­er also asks his read­ers if they know that nine mil­lion Jews lived in Europe before World War II. With­out this sec­ond cru­cial fact, the pre­vi­ous one is less spe­cif­ic about the mean­ing of geno­cide. To Bak­er, every indi­vid­ual fact mat­ters; and his urgency and accu­ra­cy ensure that read­ers will begin to grasp the truth.

The par­al­lel expe­ri­ences of Bluma and Felix are nar­rat­ed in sep­a­rate chap­ters. By jux­ta­pos­ing their family’s lives with encroach­ing world events, Bak­er estab­lish­es how, indi­vid­u­al­ly and col­lec­tive­ly, many Jews were unpre­pared for a rad­i­cal­ly changed real­i­ty. His descrip­tions of the dai­ly hor­rors in the camps, along with Ogline’s dra­mat­ic black-and-white images, are unflinch­ing. His unspar­ing nar­ra­tion demon­strates how pris­on­ers could con­front each moment of degra­da­tion only as it hap­pened, and how chance and cir­cum­stance could be the dif­fer­ence between life and death. Both Felix and Bluma respond with alter­nat­ing courage and despair as they attempt to sur­vive the unbearable.

When the Gold­bergs set­tle in Colum­bia, South Car­oli­na (with the help of the Hebrew Immi­grant Aid Soci­ety) after the war, the book’s ambi­tion to tell the unvar­nished truth falls some­what short. Despite its mes­sage of free­dom, the biog­ra­phy fails to men­tion the Jim Crow laws that sub­ject­ed the Gold­bergs’ Black neigh­bors to legal seg­re­ga­tion. To describe post­war South Car­oli­na as the beau­ti­ful coun­try­side of the South­east­ern Unit­ed States,” where they were treat­ed to easy smiles and south­ern hos­pi­tal­i­ty,” ignores vital facts about a time in Amer­i­can his­to­ry that was marked by a strug­gle for civ­il rights. This sec­tion of the book can offer care­givers and edu­ca­tors an oppor­tu­ni­ty to dis­cuss social and polit­i­cal change.

What Bak­er does empha­size is the Gold­bergs’ pro­found grat­i­tude for their new coun­try. After what they had expe­ri­enced in Europe, the Unit­ed States offered them a haven, and they became devot­ed to their com­mu­ni­ty. Their abil­i­ty to start over as immi­grants in a new place, after unspeak­able suf­fer­ing, is a pro­found les­son for everyone.

Emi­ly Schnei­der writes about lit­er­a­ture, fem­i­nism, and cul­ture for TabletThe For­wardThe Horn Book, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, and writes about chil­dren’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Lan­guages and Literatures.

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