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Gertruda's Oath - a promise kept

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Trapped in the horrors of World War II, a woman and a child embark on a journey of survival in this page-turning true story that recalls the power and the poignancy of Schindlers List.

This is the first time that Oren has written about the Holocaust years and the lives of European Jews, and he did well to turn his talents in this direction as well. The book tells the true story of Michael "Mike" Stolowitzky, who lives in New York today and is credited on the title page as an "advisor" to the author. The precise nature of the advisor's role is not explained, but I imagine that he sat with Oren for many hours, told him his story, provided the photographs that illustrate it, and led him to the other central figures in the plot. This way, Oren could call the book "A True Story" and note on the back cover that "This is a story that no one could have told better than reality itself." However, it is clear that he enhanced the biographical materials with descriptions and historical detail from his own background research, and that he freely added imaginary dialogue between the characters.

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Michael Stolowitzky, the only son of a wealthy Jewish family in Poland, was just three years old when war broke out and the family lost everything. His father, desperate to settle his business affairs, travels to France, leaving Michael in the care of his mother and Gertruda Bablinska, a Catholic nanny devoted to the family. When Michael's mother has a stroke, Gertruda promises the dying woman that she will make her way to Palestine and raise him as her own son. It was Gertruda who brought Michael to Palestine aboard the refugee ship Exodus 1947.

The wonderful story of Gertruda Bablinska, a Catholic nanny in a Jewish millionaire’s house in Warsaw, who put her life in danger during the Second World War in order to save three year old Mike Stolivitzky of whom she was taking care. After countless hardships all over torn apart Europe, Gertruda managed to fulfill the child’s deceased mother’s wish and brought him to “Eretz Israel”. She won the title of “Righteous Gentile” from “Yad Vashem” in Jerusalem and her story is part of the testimonies exhibited in the “Shoah” Museum in Washington. The book has won wide success and has been praised by critics. The English translation will be released by “Doubleday” New York in August of 2009.

Other characters in the plot include SS officer Karl Rink, who was once married to a Jewish woman; his daughter Helga-Elisheva, who was smuggled to Israel, where she was a member of Kibbutz Kfar Giladi until her recent death; and the Jewish physician Dr. Berman, who died in the Holocaust. The title refers to the promise that Gertruda made to Lidia, Michael's mother, when the latter lay on her deathbed in Vilna, the city to which the family fled after being separated from Michael's father in the chaos of the war. The mother made the governess swear that she would protect her only son, teach him to hide his Judaism and bring him to Palestine when the war was over.

When the intelligent orphan boy asks Gertruda whether he should call her "mother" from now on, she prefers that he remember Lidia, and he himself chooses to call her by the name "Mamusha." From this point on, however, they regard each other as mother and son. Gertruda remembers her oath to Lidia all through the long and arduous road she travels, including the moment when the commanders of the immigrant ship want to remove her from the list of passengers because she is a gentile, feeling that her place would better be given to another Jewish refugee. Despite everything, she indeed remained true to her promise, lived in Israel and died in Nahariya in 1995. Oren weaves the plot masterfully, and it unfolds toward the catastrophe along several paths in the heroes' lives, until they meet at important junctures in those lives. One can agree with the impression of several readers, who wrote in online responses that the book was impossible to put down even for a moment.

piątek, 19 marca 2010, saralewa

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