on 4 July 2013
When reviewing Holocaust memoirs, I automatically tend to rate them highly for a number of reasons. For one, I admire the amount of courage it takes for a victim to come forward with the truth, often after decades of painful silence, and secondly, for the valuable primary source material these stories provide. And although the reader understands from the outset that the protagonists of these memoirs will survive the Holocaust, I always find them difficult to put down, possibly because most of the more recent titles I've read - including this one -- feature an innocent young girl coming face-to-face with evil they weren't equipped to process, even decades later. Also, this type of reading takes Hitler's racial policies out of the calm, blurry, dry realm of statistics and history books and brings them into horrifyingly sharp focus. And finally, many of these memoirs - this one included -- feature selfless, courageous people who rescued these ill-prepared young girls at key points in their experiences and the tales of courageous, quick-thinking people always make for compelling reading.
Aside from the appealing love story that gives this memoir its title, what sets apart the story of Millie Werber -- a Jewish teen forced into the Radom ghetto, then a munitions factory, and finally Auschwitz -- is the incongruously poetic beauty of the writing, very similar to that found within the pages of "I Have Lived a Thousand Years." While attempting to take notes for this review, I found myself instead copying down reams of quotes, one more stunning than the next. For instance, Werber recalls the forced march from Radom to Auschwitz in this way:
"One loses a sense of time when all the world contracts into the single project of taking yet another step, step after step, for kilometers on end. And the heat all around, the heat burning down from the heavens and rising up in waves from under the road. All the world transformed into an oven, a terrific furnace, and all of us enveloped in it, burning it its belly, with no one to offer us relief."
The way in which her first impressions of Auschwitz are described is particularly insightful. She admits that while the images of Auschwitz are now easily recognizable, that "everyone knows now about the nightmare of Auschwitz," for her and her fellow sufferers it was horrifyingly new:
". . all of us had been through much. But until now, we had lived in a world that we recognized - a frightening world, a cruel world, to be sure, but it was a world we could understand, too. The reality of Auschwitz was unrecognizable. These affronts stunned us, tore us brutally from anything we were able to decipher for ourselves, and dropped us into the panicked insanity of this horrible, horrifying place."
I'm not sure how much of the writing's beauty can be credited to the book's co-author, Eve Keller, but reading Two Rings is a powerful, immediate, and extremely insightful way of observing Hitler's Final Solution through the eyes of one of his intended victims.
This review first appeared at CurledUpWithAGoodBook.com.