There are many eras in history where one stops and thinks: Could I have survived in those days? Had I been born Jewish, lived in Berlin during the rise of Hitler and ended up in Auschwitz is something I have always wondered about. Paulette Mahurin has pretty much convinced me that I would not have. Fortunately, Helen Stein, the book's main character, did.
Based on a true person, Helen tells her story to a young student nurse to whom she rents a room and who has noticed the damning tattoo on her forearm.
Prior to the war, Helen leads a comfortable enough life, until her father, who works for the German Government, is dismissed, simply for being Jewish. Life becomes more and more difficult. Helen has a friend, though, in the Nazi Youth, Max, who only joins because he is homosexual and feels that this course of action is the best way to hide his 'frailties'.
When the hatred escalates, Max aids Helen and her brother Ben to escape at great danger to himself and hides them in a derelict farm belonging to his family. For four years they live there in fear that one day they will be discovered. That day arrives and they are transported to Auschwitz.
This a most powerful and compelling novel; the violence is never graphic, but the horror and threat of it as well as the implied violence will remain with the reader long after the last page has been reached. The author has not held back in any way and deals sensitively yet matter-of-factly with the atrocities and the sheer spirit of those who had the will and the almost inhuman strength to survive.
I thoroughly recommend this book, despite its harrowing nature, to anyone interested in this shameful period of human history and are curious to know what it was really like.