I have read many stories about the harsh realities suffered by the Jews during World War II. Nothing I’ve read comes close to the story of Rena’s Promise.
We first meet Rena at her home in North Carolina and learn to love her vivacious manner and the loving interchange between she and her husband John. We also meet the author Heather Macadam, whose job was to take Rena’s long-held memories of Auschwitz and put them into a contemporary book. The author’s goal was to keep the memory of those Polish Jews alive for future generations.
As Rena tells her story we are immediately taken back to the wonderful yet strict life Rena and her sisters had in their hometown of Tylicz, Poland (a rural farming area). Slowly their lives change until at last the invading Nazis take control. What follows is an almost daily accounting of what happens after Rena turns herself in to the Nazis; she believes that since she is a strong farm-bred young woman who is accustomed to working long hours in the fields that she will volunteer to work in the labor camps and thus spare her family and friends any undue attention and scrutiny. She dresses in her best clothes and presents herself to the Nazis, hoping to prove to them that personal dignity can not be taken away. The next three years prove to be the undoing of Rena as she clings to her younger sister Danka. It is only the closeness of the sisters that keeps them from losing their sanity – although at times they come very close to doing so. I will not elaborate on the atrocities that they suffer. The reader needs to experience them firsthand through Rena’s memories.
At times in Rena’s narration, there are shifts from present day to that horrendous time as her memories take hold and pull her back. One can sense the way she is compelled to finish her story in order to exorcise some of the violent hatred from her very soul. This book can be described by me as compelling, powerful, gripping, and encompassing. I could not put it down.
There were times when I felt the fear, degradation, and pain that Rena and Danka suffered. And in all of my reading about World War II, never have I been so moved by the Allies’ liberation. I could not stop the tears from falling even though I knew that Rena had survived.
The book concludes nicely with a follow up of the other people we meet through Rena’s story. I wish I could give this story more than five stars. I highly recommend it.
Rating: M M M M M +