Thanks to My Mother by Schoschana Rabinovici

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Rabinovici, Schoschana.  Thanks to My Mother.  Dial Books, 1998.  $17.99, 247 pages.

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation:

  • 11 year old Suzanne survives the horrors of the Holocaust due to her mother’s quick thinking and determination for her to live.

Summary:

Suzanne is eight years old when the Germans invade the Soviet Union and occupy Vilnius, Lithuania where she and her family lived.  Thanks to My Mother is a memoir told from Susie’s point of view of the next four years.  Although her immediate and extended family stays in her grandfather’s apartment to avoid persecution, all fourteen eventually are moved to the Vilnius Ghetto.  Through a combination of good luck and quick thinking, the family survives in tact until the ghetto is liquidated and they go to the Rossa Cemetery.  There Susie’s mother saves her from being split off to the group of old people and children (who will be killed) by carrying her in a canvas backpack.  Susie and her mother are then transported to Kaiserwald and Stutthof concentration camps, where they live amidst deplorable and horrifying situations where, again, Susie survives when her mother realizes danger is near and creative finds ways out for Susie.  The horrors culminate in an eleven day death march through freezing conditions to Tauentzien concentration camp, where Susie got sick.  She was too sick to be evacuated as the Red Army made advances, and was actually unconscious when they were liberated. They were finally reunited with their single living relative, her uncle.

Evaluation:

This memoir was an difficult read for me.  The details of daily life for poor Susie, her family, and the other families in the camps were heartbreaking.  The writing style is very straightforward, told from the eyes of a child.  As such, there are some instances where an adult audience realizes that Susie’s aunt is pregnant in the ghetto, but Suzanne thinks it’s just food poisoning.  The strength and force of Susie’s mother is amazing.  Trusting her instincts and using creative thinking, she is able to save Suzanne and herself in such dark and dangerous situations.  The details about other characters and their actions drew a truthful, if sometimes depressing, portrait of humanity.  Though there were plenty of cold and detached Germans, there were also those that showed quick glimpses of compassion.  Of the people in the concentration camps, the depth of despair, frustration, fear, and at the same time, love, friendship, hope are overwhelming in the characterization.  This was an intense and difficult read, but rewarding in that both Susie and Raja survive to tell the tale.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 2
  • Quality: 3

Genre and Subgenre: non-fiction, memoir

Appeal Factors: non-fiction, history, World War II, Holocaust, memoir, mother-daughter relationship, survival story

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • A Child of the Warsaw Ghetto by David Adler
  • Hidden Children by Isaac Millman
  • The Liesel Rosenburg Story by Megan Novack

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Batchelder Award

Booktalking Ideas:

  • “Actions” at the Vilnius Ghetto
  • Sneaking Susie into the Rossa Cemetery
  • Batja’s mother having to choose between saving Batja or her younger sister

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • This memoir has been criticized as lacking “redemptive vision.”  Does it?
  • How does this portrayal of the Holocaust and concentration camps compare to other similar literature you have read?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this title because it was a memoir about survival of the Holocaust and the story of a mother’s love for her daughter.  It made me think of a real life version of the movie Life is Beautiful.  As a mother of two, it was heartbreaking to imagine what Susie’s mother went through to keep Susie alive through those horrible things.

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