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.
Written with the invaluable assistance of Michael, now seventy-two and living in New York City, GERTRUDA’S OATH re-creates Michael and Gertruda’s amazing journey. Gripping vignettes bring to life the people who helped ensure their survival, including SS officer Karl Rink, who made it his mission to save Jews after his own Jewish wife was murdered; Rink’s daughter, Helga, who escaped to a kibbutz, where she lived until her recent death; and the Jewish physician Dr. Berman, who aided Michael and Gertruda through the worst of times.
GERTRUDA’S OATH is a story of extraordinary courage and moral strength in the face of horrific events. Like Schindler’s List, it transcends history and religion to reveal the compassion and hope that miraculously thrives in a world immersed in war without end.
From the Hardcover edition.
|Publisher:||The Crown Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||8.22(w) x 11.06(h) x 0.71(d)|
About the Author
From the Hardcover edition.
Read an Excerpt
The smoke clouds of war slowly began to dissipate and the spring sun broke through, caressing the ruins that buried tens of thousands of human beings, flooding the devastated streets, and scattering sparks of light on the waters of the broad Vistula River that slowly bubbled up to wash away memories of dread and death.
On the hill, above scarred Warsaw, stood the ancient and magnificent mansion of the Stolowitzky family, which had miraculouslysurvived the war intact. Four floors of hewn stone, carved edges, statues of ancient warriors on the roof ledge, impressive mosaic windows and painted wooden ceilings.
Only two of the original inhabitants of the mansion were still alive, a boy and his nanny, and they were on their way to another country, far away. In their new home, between peeling walls, rust spots spreading in the bathtub, and cheap furniture–that mansion with all its splendor and charm seemed like a daydream, the product of an overactive imagination.
The boy and his nanny, who adopted him as a son, lived in a small apartment in one of the alleys of Jaffa, in a tenement. From the window, they saw only dreary buildings, children playing in an abandoned yard, and women returning home from the market, carrying heavy shopping bags. Most of the day, the apartment was invaded by the noise of passing cars and the stench of garbage. In winter the smell of mildew permeated the rooms, and in summer the walls trapped a blazing stifling air.
In the mansion on the hill, everything, of course, was different. The big building with its spacious wings, its gardens, was properly heated in winter and properly cooled in summer. A pure breeze from the river blew in the windows and servants tiptoed about to avoid any undue noise. The closets were stuffed with expensive clothes. Luxurious meals were served in rare china dishes. The old heavy cutlery, polished clean, was gold, and the wine was poured into fine crystal glasses.
Michael Stolowitzky and his adoptive mother, Gertruda, had survived the war and now both of them were struggling to survive in the new land. He attended school. She was past her prime by now. Every morning she’d go to work as a cleaning woman in the northern part of the city and return in the evening, her joints aching and her eyes weary. Michael would greet her with a kiss, take off her shoes, cook her meager supper, and make her bed. He knew she was working too hard only to have enough money to send him to school and provide for all his needs. He swore that someday he would pay her back generously for everything she had done for him–for saving him from death, for devoting her life to him, for making sure he didn’t lack anything.
Poverty and shortages weren’t strangers to Michael Stolowitzky. He had experienced them throughout his journey of survival in the world war, but he also saw light at the end of the tunnel, the end of penury, the end of the daily struggle for existence. He believed that someday, in the not-too-distant future, everything would change and things would go back to the way they were, to the days when they knew wealth and comfort, days far from suffering and torments.
His rosy future was within reach, clear and concrete. Only a four- hour flight from Israel lay a blocked treasure, millions of dollars and gold bars deposited in Swiss banks by his late father, Jacob, the Jew who was called “the Rockefeller of Poland.” Michael was his only heir.
The legacy, a small recompense for the suffering and loss of the war, filled Michael’s thoughts and assumed a central place in his fantasies. When he was recruited into the Israeli army, he waited impatiently for his military service to end so he could work on getting the money. He was sent to a battle unit and was wounded in the leg by a bullet from a Syrian sniper during a firefight in the northern Kinneret.
Groaning in pain, he was taken to the operating room in the hospital in Poriya. When he opened his eyes after the anesthesia wore off, he saw his adoptive mother weeping. He held his weak hand to her and she clutched it to her bosom.
“Don’t cry,” he said. “I promise you that everything will be fine.”
When he was discharged from the army, he returned to their small apartment and the very next day he went to look for work. No work was beneath him. He was a messenger on a scooter, running around all hours of the day among customers in Tel Aviv; he worked as a waiter in the evening; and he was a guard at a textile factory at night. It was important for him to save up money.
Two years later, in June 1958, he took all his savings and the surviving family documents and bought an airplane ticket to Zurich.
“How long will you be there?” asked Gertruda anxiously.
“Two or three days. I don’t think I’ll have to stay any longer than that.”
“And if they won’t give you the money?”
He smiled at her confidently. “Why won’t they? You’ll see, I’ll come back with my inheritance and our whole life will change,” he promised.
She went to the airport with him and kissed him good- bye.
“Take care of yourself,” she said. “And take care of the money. Don’t let them steal it from you.”
“Don’t worry,” he replied.
He got on the plane, excited and anxious. In Zurich he rented a small room and couldn’t fall asleep all night. He had only the name of one bank among those where his father had deposited his funds, and the next day he went there. He pictured the bank clerks bringing him heaps of money and his adoptive mother welcoming him when he got back to Israel, rich and carefree. He knew exactly what he would say to her:
“We’re rich, Gertruda. Now we’ll move to our own house, we’ll buy whatever we want, and most important–you won’t ever have to work again.”
And she would wind her arms around him, and would say to him, as always:
“My dear, I don’t need money. I only need you to be with me.”
Shrouded in a uniform decorated with the military medals inherited from his forefathers, the marquis Stefan Roswadovsky bit his lips in rage and drained another glass of brandy. He was a potbellied, ruddy- faced man, whose seventy- two years had passed in a nonstop journey of pleasures. Under his broad jaw, like a plump dumpling,hung a pink double chin, which grew and thickened as the rest ofhis body swelled with his gluttony.
From the yard came the rustle of carriage wheels entering thegate, and the taste of nausea, as the taste of impending disaster, rose in the marquis’s throat. What wouldn’t he give to prevent this?
Gloomy leaden clouds, like his mood, hung over Warsaw. A thin silent rain fell on the flower gardens of the mansion at Ujazdowska Avenue 9 when the carriage stopped and the driver jumped from his seat and opened the door. A man of about forty, lean and tall, in an elegant wool coat, got out of the carriage. His face was firm and his step supple and confident. The driver opened an umbrella over his head and walked him to the door. From the corner of his window, the marquis watched them in despair. In a few minutes, he knew,
the door would be opened and the honor that had been the glory for generations, passing as a legacy from father to son, his family honor and his own honor, would be trampled and desecrated by a coarse foot.
A servant with a frozen face, wearing a black frock, led the guest in and took his coat.
“Will the gentleman please wait until I announce his arrival,” he said submissively.
The servant silently entered Roswadovsky’s office and bowed deeply.
“Marquis,” he said, “Mr. Stolowitzky has arrived.”
The marquis hesitated. “It won’t hurt the Jew to wait a little,” he grumbled. He needed more time to prepare for the meeting.
With a sigh, the marquis sank deeper into his armchair. His forefathers looked on from the velvet- covered walls, decorated army officers, bearing swords, astride noble steeds with gleaming hides. Next to them, in gold frames, were the portraits of their beautiful plump wives in splendid gowns, wearing gold jewelry and diamonds. Persian rugs, woven by experienced artists who toiled for days in the cellars of Isfahan and Shiraz, were spread from wall to wall, and beautiful furniture that could adorn royal palaces stood in various corners of the spacious office.
The elderly marquis stirred uneasily in his chair, nervously pulled his well- tended mustache, and labored to hide his revulsion at his meeting with the man waiting in the next room. Never had it occurred to him that he of all people, offspring of a noble Polish family, only ruler of the fate of hundreds of tenant farmers, owner of lands and precious art, would wind up in such an embarrassing and offensive situation that would roil his peace of mind and stir melancholy thoughts about the order of the world that had been turned on its head.
In the family of Marquis Roswadovsky, honor and position were supreme values, the core of life. Roswadovsky was sure of what his ancestors would have done if a Jew had dared to set foot in their house. None of them would have hesitated to throw him out and might even have thrashed the man who had the nerve to stand up to them and take advantage of their distress.
Never had members of the Roswadovsky family met Jews like the man now waiting in the vestibule. In Baranowicz in eastern Poland, where the family owned many estates, the Jews would be filled with dread and awe whenever the marquis’s carriage passed by. They all knelt down and didn’t dare raise their eyes to him. Where did those days vanish to, how did his authority fade? Could the floor of his splendid house in Warsaw, one of the many glorious family houses scattered throughout Poland, be defiled by the shoes of one of the Jews of his city, who came not to plead for his favors,
but because the marquis himself summoned him urgently to help get him out of trouble?
Moshe Stolowitzky was the sort of Jew Marquis Roswadovsky didn’t know. He was extraordinarily rich, very powerful and influential; not many men in Poland could boast of his great wealth. He had inherited a great deal of his wealth from his father, a resourceful businessman who had made the bulk of his money before World War I, producing and selling sleepers for railroad tracks, polishing millstones for flour mills, operating a tavern in Baranowicz where he lived, and trading successfully in real estate. When Baranowicz passed from the Poles to the Russians during World War I, many of its residents fled to Warsaw. Moshe Stolowitzky managed to save most of his fortune. Marquis Roswadovsky wasn’t so lucky. In the dead of night, he escaped from the city, leaving behind quite a bit of his wealth, and found shelter in his magnificent house in Warsaw. But his money soon ran out, his debts mounted, and he had to settle them without delay. The only way to satisfy his creditors was hard and painful–he had to sell houses and plots of land. Buyers came and went. Some wanted to take advantage of the marquis’s difficulty and offered unreasonably low prices. Others offered a little more but not enough. Until Moshe Stolowitzky came and finally made a decent offer.
The servant returned to the marquis a few minutes later.
“Mr. Stolowitzky’s in a hurry,” he said. “He claims he can’t wait.”
The marquis grumbled aloud. “He’s got some nerve, that Jew,” he growled.
The servant was silent, waiting for instructions.
“Fine, show him in.” The marquis swallowed his revulsion.
A few minutes later, Moshe Stolowitzky stood in the doorway, looking directly at the marquis. He came to do business from a position of strength. He had no time for small talk or pleasant manners.
Reluctantly, the marquis entered into a business discussion with his guest, who conducted hard and uncompromising negotiations. In the next hour, Roswadovsky sold him buildings and lots in Baranowicz and also transferred to him ownership of the house in Warsaw. As always, when he was in desperate need of money, it outweighed honor, position, and every other consideration. With a heavy heart, the Polish marquis swallowed his offense and signed the bill of sale.
It was very hard for him to part from his property, particularly the beautiful house in Warsaw. It was a big mansion, furnished with ostentatious splendor, full of rare art, his pride and joy. In that house, Roswadovsky employed an army of servants, and there was a pantry stuffed with delicacies and a cellar of fine wines. At stately dinners, he entertained the Polish elite and wealthy businessmen, and it was painful to give all that up to prevent a scandalous bankruptcy.
His young mistress, a black- haired beauty, daughter of one of his tenant farmers, who lived in the mansion in Warsaw and made his visits there even more pleasurable, wept bitter tears when she had to pack her things and return home. The marquis stood helplessly at her side.
“What will happen to me now? What will happen to us?” she sobbed.
The marquis stroked her head and a tear gleamed in the corner of his eye. He had no answer.
Moshe Stolowitzky left the marquis’s house with the feeling that he had made an excellent deal. He was known as an experienced merchant. His crafty mind and audacity paved his way to the offices of senior government officials, and he soon became the contractor for railroad tracks. The hundreds of workers he hired laid railroad tracks throughout Poland and then stretched rails for trains over Russia as well. Anti- Semitic manifestations didn’t bother him because Jew haters didn’t dare touch him. He was a welcome guest in the homes of heads of state and they were glad to be entertained in his own house.
The marquis requested a week to move out of his house in Warsaw. After the last moving van left the place for good, Moshe Stolowitzky moved in there with his wife, Hava, and their little son, Jacob.
Moshe Stolowitzky wasn’t only a rich man, he was also a proud Jew. He regularly read the Yiddish newspaper, Dos Yidishe Tageblat, he and his wife attended the Jewish theater, Wikt, established by the actor Zigmund Turkow, invested in the Yiddish film Yiddl mitn fiddl, which became a hit among Jews throughout the world, contributed to yeshivas and Jewish schools, and supported Jewish writers and poets. Every Friday baskets of Sabbath food were sent on his behalf to the poor of the city, and in his mansion, as was customary among major Jewish philanthropists, a box of cash was set up for grants to the needy who knocked on his door every single day.
His only son, Jacob, was destined to follow in his footsteps. Moshe hired teachers who taught him Hebrew and general sciences, bought him a subscription to the Hebrew children’s newspaper Olam Katan (Small World), and was happy when the boy read stories about Hasids–pious Jews–and the holy places in the Land of Israel.
One stormy winter night, Moshe Stolowitzky sat in the first row in the Novoschi auditorium where about three thousand Jews gathered to listen to a talk by Ze’ev Jabotinsky. The short, bespectacled Zionist leader with a serious face called on them to ascend to the Land of Israel before Europe tossed them out. Moshe Stolowitzky admired Jabotinsky and read his writings devotedly, but he thought Jabotinsky exaggerated when he talked about the danger lurking for the Jews of Europe. Stolowitzky and his family, like most of their friends, saw Poland as their homeland and were grateful for the wealth they had amassed there. They felt good and comfortable and naturally it didn’t occur to them that bad times were in store for them as Jabotinsky’s gloomy predictions had foretold.
Before long reality proved to Moshe Stolowitzky that he was living in a fool’s paradise. One Friday evening, the Jewish millionaire was relaxing in his velvet easy chair, facing the Ark of the Covenant in the Tlomackie Synagogue, the biggest and oldest synagogue of Warsaw. For a long time he listened with pleasure to the chanting of the well- known cantor Moshe Koussevitzky, and when it was over, he left the synagogue with a group of worshippers. His carriage was standing nearby and at home his family and a traditional Sabbath meal awaited him. Stolowitzky didn’t get far. A group of anti- Semitic youths surrounded the group of worshippers, threw rocks, and shouted curses at them. The Jews stopped in their tracks, stunned. Most of them had witnessed anti- Semitic persecutions in the past, but never ones so brutal. Only when the attackers tried to snatch their prayer shawl bags did the victims recover and assault the youths. A brawl developed, lasting until the police came and restored order.
In his private carriage, Moshe Stolowitzky, bruised, his clothes torn, returned home. The event itself didn’t worry him too much. He preferred to believe that isolated anti- Semitic incidents didn’t indicate a dangerous trend. He was concerned mainly that his wife would take things more seriously than he, and so he told her only that he had fallen and bruised himself on his way out of the synagogue. She called a doctor, who bandaged him and ordered him to stay in bed for two days.
When he returned to the synagogue a week later, the rabbi mounted the pulpit when prayers had ended. His arm had been broken in the attack and was in a sling.
“I have decided to leave Poland and move with my family to Jerusalem,” he called out in a clear and emotional voice. “Poland is a trap for every Jew. Take your things and leave here before it’s too late.”
Moshe Stolowitzky wished the rabbi good luck and returned home. He told his wife about the panic that had gripped the rabbi and about his decision to leave Poland.
“Maybe he’s right,” she responded pensively.
“Nonsense!” He raised his voice. “There’s no reason to panic.”
June 28, 1924, was a hot, sunny day, and hundreds of Warsaw residents were strolling on the paths through the green lawns along the river. That afternoon, Jacob Stolowitzky introduced his parents to his fiancée, Lydia. He was twenty- two years old, and his bride-tobe was twenty, a handsome girl, thin, the daughter of a Jewish army officer from Krakow, studying political science in Warsaw. They had met at a party at the home of mutual friends and it was love at first sight.
Hava and Moshe Stolowitzky greeted their son’s fiancée in the ballroom of their mansion and spoke with Lydia about her family and her studies. They liked her very much and didn’t care that her parents weren’t as rich as they were. She was Jewish and their son loved her and that was what mattered. At the festive dinner they made for Lydia and her parents, the guests toasted the young couple and they set the date for their wedding.
Three months later, the wedding ceremony gave the elite of Warsaw an unforgettable experience. Members of the government, senior officials, tycoons, artists, and intellectuals poured into the mansion and blessed the happy family. Dozens of servants passed among the guests offering abundant delicacies and champagne and an orchestra played until the last guest withdrew.
The young couple left for a honeymoon in Switzerland and when they returned to Warsaw, a surprise awaited them. Moshe Stolowitzky suggested they live in his splendid mansion and set a big wing aside for them.
Jacob and Lydia settled down comfortably in the spacious house. Lydia ordered furniture from Italy and supervised the crew of servants of their wing–a housekeeper, a cook, two cleaning women, and a chauffeur. Jacob was integrated into the management of his father’s business, which flourished more than ever. He traveled a great deal throughout Europe, signing contracts with various states and amassing a great deal of wealth.
The two of them badly wanted a child. Lydia dreamed he would grow up to be a doctor. His father wanted his son to be a businessman like him, who would someday inherit the family empire. Although they couldn’t agree, both of them had every reason to believe that their child’s future, like their own, would be a bed of roses.
They were wrong.
Karl Rink expected much more from life than he got. He was a twenty-four-year-old bachelor with blue eyes and short hair who worked as a junior accountant for the chemical firm A. G. Farbenin Berlin. His salary was barely enough to pay his rent and buy food. His office was small and dark and his work was boring. He dreamed of a different career, more lucrative and more interesting, which would guarantee him real success. Now and then he even went looking for such a job, but the only work he was offered was in accounting and that wasn’t enough. He learned very quickly that for every good job that opened up, many people, more talented than he, jumped on the opportunity. Unfortunately for him, the chances of finding another position were growing dim.
The only refuge from his tedious routine was sport. Bicycle racing was the only area where Rink showed real talent. He belonged to the company sport club, trained on the weekend in all weather, riding on mountain paths, and he won trophies that were displayed on a shelf in his small apartment. Above them, in a glass frame, was a local newspaper article reporting on his victory in the district competition of bicycle riders.
On September 12, 1924, he hurried to finish work earlier than usual and returned to his one- room apartment in a dreary workingclass neighborhood in west Berlin. He put on a dark suit and a tie, picked up his parents at their house in a distant suburb, and they all took a trolley to city hall, where Mira, her parents, and a handful of friends were waiting for him.
Mira, a plump, fair- skinned girl of twenty- one, was starting out as a clerk in the Department of Wills in the Ministry of Justice. She wore a white dress and stood arm in arm with Karl before the municipal clerk who performed their marriage.
Karl was a Christian and Mira a Jew, but their differences didn’t diminish their love. Karl’s father was a truck driver and his mother was a housewife. They seldom went to church and loved Mira like a daughter. Mira’s parents owned a grocery store and were observant Jews. Even though mixed marriages were common in Berlin, Mira’s parents strongly objected to her marriage with a Christian. Karl tried at length to convince them, and Mira also made considerable efforts to persuade her parents to let her marry her fiancé. In the end, they were forced to agree.
The young couple received a few wedding gifts, mainly glass and china dishes. Karl’s colleagues collected a small sum and his manager gave him a week’s salary as a present. The couple’s parents threw a modest reception and bought them a new double bed.
Happy and in love, Mira and Karl went on a two- day honeymoon to a small town in the Black Forest. They rode bikes on winding paths among the trees, ate blutwurst, and danced to the music of a rustic orchestra in the local beer cellar until the wee hours of the morning. When they returned to Berlin, they settled in Karl’s apartment, and at the end of the year they had a daughter, Helga. They brought her home from the hospital, put her in a cradle, and looked at her with loving eyes.
After everything they had been through, their life was calm. They loved each other and their baby daughter and pushed her stroller in the green parks on warm weekends. Mira was promoted in the Ministry of Justice, and Karl believed he would finally find the work he dreamed of. They both faced the future with confidence. They believed they would have prosperity and professional satisfaction, pure bliss.
They were wrong.
From the Hardcover edition.
Reading Group Guide
1. Gertruda risked her life every day of the war to keep Michael safe. Where did this dedication stem from? Have you ever felt such a connection in your own life? Can you identify with her motivation?
2. When Karl Rink joined the SS party, he said he did so because of the salary and his belief that Hitler would change Germany for the good. Are these reasons justifiable? Knowing their beliefs and tenets, how was he able to remain loyal both to his Jewish wife and daughter and to the party?
3. Helga loses her mother and has to move to a kibbutz to keep safe. She never mentions her father’s job to anyone for years to come. Put yourself in Helga’s position: How would you react if your father joined the SS party? Would you have gone to Israel alone?
4. Emil had a wonderful job with the Stolowitzky family that provided him with all he needed–a warm home, meals, a salary, and respect from his employer, who treated him like family. What do you think made Emil turn on the Stolowitzkys when they fled Warsaw? Was it a side effect of the war, or was he simply always greedy?
5. Why do you think Jacob married Anna? Was he in love with her? Did he do it only to save himself from the war? Why do you think he gave up on his wife and son so soon?
6. Dr. Berman came to Gertruda and Michael’s aid on many occasions. What would life have been like for Gertruda and Michael without him? Would they have survived? What are some of the ways they repaid him?
7. After remaining ambivalent about their cruel policies for too long, Karl Rink gathers the courage to save as many Jews as possible while filling his orders for the Nazi party. Without Rink, Gertruda and Michael would not have survived. Discuss the moment when their paths finally cross in Vilna. What are some of the ways Karl Rink resembles Oskar Schindler?
8. After being left at the altar, Gertruda decides to focus on raising Michael and give up on the idea of marriage, until she meets John Grauel. After all these years, what was it about him that made Gertruda change her mind? Describe what you felt when Grauel explains to her why he’s not interested in her romantically.
9. Discuss what you felt when you read of the journey on the Exodus. How do you think the passengers managed the conditions and the refusal of the British government to let them dock in Haifa? After all they had been through, how were they able to keep strength and hope, even singing the national anthem, “Hatikva,” in the face of defeat?
10. So many people lost their fortunes in the war. When the Swiss banks were unable to recover most of Michael’s inheritance, which he was counting on to give a good life back to Gertruda, what did you think of his decision to give some to Anna? Would you have done the same?
11. World War II exemplified the worst of humanity. At the same time, through the story of Gertruda and Michael, we see the beautiful eternal bond and devotion of one woman to a young boy. Discuss the paradox of these two realities. How can the best of people arise in a time of such evil? Even though the horrors of war are devastating, what are some of the most uplifting moments in the book?
12. We have all heard stories of people like Gertruda who risked their own lives to save Jews during the war. If more people had stood up and acted in this way, do you believe the outcome of the war would have been any different? What do you think motivates these heroes to behave this way and others not?
13. What do you think is the true meaning of the word “hero”? Can Michael, Gertruda, Karl Rink, and Dr. Berman each be described as heroes? How so? Who do you think is the real hero of the book?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I had a difficult time putting this book down. The interconnecting characters were fascinating----somewhat like the movie "Crash", but of course taking place in a much different time. Gertruda was a saint---what she went through for the sake of her beloved Michael proved her to be a strong and valiant woman. And she imparted her loving and generous nature to Michael. No real mother could have done more. I wish I could read the book in its original language. I am unhappy with the translation---it seems unnecessarily terse. Of course the author may simply write that way, but perhaps the translation is responsible for the somewhat business-like tone of the book---clear, concise, but lacking emotion. It reads somewhat like a play, and requires the emotions of actors to bring it to life. It would make a super movie---Stephen Spielberg and others--take note!
Incredible story about one woman's fight to survive and honor a promise made during one of the most horrific times in history. Her story is very moving. You can't walk away from her experience without realizing what is really important in life. A "must read" for today's younger generation.
For anyone pondering how children managed to survive when parents were taken and they were left alone. This is a gripping and heartwqarming story. True and well crafted, interweaving from sseveral perspecgives, making the story more complete than most stories of survival.
One of the best books I've read in awhile. Very inspiring. A must read.
I loved this book. So so touching. I couldn't put the book down and finished it within a couple days.
this is a must read. This woman prevailed in spite of WW11. Her determination to keeep her promise to a dying Jewish woman unfolds a touching well written story of Gertrudas determination to take the young Jewish boy to Israel. Her story is intermingled with the stories of others struggling during this bleak period. Coluld not put it down. Thank Mr. Oren for such a wonderful book.
When I first received this book from librarything I thoughtI had made a mistake in requesting it. Another Holocaust memoir, I just wasn't up for it. But I started to read the bookand it grabbed my attention from the first page. This is a beautifully rendered story and the memoir reads like a fast pace thriller. There are a number of different characters in the story and the fun part is to see theirtrajectory through the course of the second World War andhow they eventually interconnect with one another. Forme by far the most intriguing character was the Naziofficer Karl Fink. A faithful SS officer, Karl is an intriguingcharacter because he also happens to be married to a Jewish woman when under the Nazis this is against the law, and he has a daughter who by birth is also Jewish.Karl's story is but one of the very moving renditions in thiswork, he is by far the most interesting to follow. Gertrudaherself is a bit of a one-note character, believably heroicin all of her actions to save the young boy who the bookis mostly about,but this seems to be her sole purpose andit isn't until she actually falls in love with a priest who himself turns out to be gay, do other dimensions of hercharacter become apparent. I don't doubt that she was a remarkable woman, she just doesn't come across as the most complex of people. but maybe people who are so inherently good don't need other complexities.For me the book was exhilierating until the end when Gerturda settles into her new home with her young charge. It is never explained why the young Polish Jeweventually leaves Israel and Gerturda behind, but I guessthis would be another great story that needs to be told.The narrator at times was a little too omniscient for my liking. He seeemed to know things that were garnered more from history rather then his being present when theevents took place. But this was still a thrilling read for me and it certainly reignited my interest in memoirs of thisperiod. The tragedy of the war is that so many differenttypes of people suffered, Jews, christians and some whoeven followed the faith of the fascists. You get the senseof how deeply scarred Europe was after this tragedy.I highly recommend this to anyone who wants to read aheart-rendering and very powerful story of faith and indomitable will.
A touching story of the devotion and love that can be found in adversity. It told more than just the story of Gertruda and her young charge, which helped enhance the story and provide more depth. It was an easy read, the language is a bit simplistic at times, though that could be attributed to it being a translation. It was, however, an enjoyable story, focusing more on the relationships between the people it involved rather than focusing on the worst of the harsh realities of WWII stories. It touches enough on the hardships endured and the violence, deprivation, risk and unsanitary conditions often endured. A worthwhile read.
Gertruda's Oath contains the stories of several different players, all of which will intersect and interact throughout this story of the Holocaust. First there is Gertruda, a Polish Catholic who moves from her village to Warsaw in the hopes of finding employment after being jilted on her wedding day. Next, the Jewish Stolowitzky family, wealthy enough to be dubbed "the Rockefellers of Poland" and occupants of a vast mansion who are looking for a nanny. Finally, the Rink family: Karl, his wife Mira, and their daughter, Helga. Although Mira is Jewish, Karl, who is unemployed, is lured by the promises of financial stability and the glow of patriotism to become an SS officer. As war nears, all our characters make life altering decisions: after wresting with her conscience and discussing matters with her priest, Gertruda decides that she can morally work for a Jewish family; Jacob Stolowitzky travels into Nazi Germany believing his status as a wealthy foreign businessman will allow him to visit his plants and clear up financial concerns in that country; and Karl Rink tells his wife that since he is a valued member of the SS, his superiors will accept their marriage in time. Once the war begins, the intense ramifications of these choices become evident. Gertruda promises Lydia Stolowitzky that she will protect her charge, Michael, like he is her own son, an oath that will cross her path with the Rink family and give her life a single, consuming focus. This book, based on a true story compiled from interviews with the surviving characters and analysis of historical documents, is highly recommended. Michael and Gertruda interact with the worst humanity has to offer, but also the best. Forced from the life of privilege they knew in pre-World War II Warsaw, Gertruda employs everything at her disposal to save her charge, in a tale that is truly heartwarming. On many occasions the strangers met by the pair put themselves in danger to aid the child. The story caught me from the very first pages, opening with the adult Michael and his attempts to claim his inheritance - millions his father deposited in Swiss banks prior to the outbreak of conflict. The story's intensity remains high throughout, keeping the reader intrigued. Written by "the John Grisham of Israel," this book will not disappoint you.
I wanted to like Gertruda's Oath much more than I did. Somehow, the format, a novelized representation of true events, did not connect with me and left me wanting more. What I wanted was, perhaps, conjecture, rather than invention. Many other Holocaust narratives, particularly those with Gentiles performing acts of heroism and selflessness have been rendered more effectively, at least to my own taste, The Zookeeper's Wife coming most readily to mind. However, having said that, if this book helps even one reader understand and come to grips with the horrors of the Holocaust it will of course be a very successfull endeavor. And maybe someone who has not read widely on the subject will read it and be encouraged to look further into the subject.
I admittedly had lower expectations upon beginning to read it, but ended up being pleasantly surprised and enthralled by this story regarding the Holocaust. I have since passed it on to co-workers who agree!
Numerous memoirs of the Holocaust have been published, and no doubt many are yet to be published. Most of these fall into a particular genre. They chronicle someone's experience of one of the darkest periods in human history. They are heroic tales of personal triumph against overwhelming odds. The great majority leave the reader depressed. After all, how many pages of graphic description of man's inhumanity to one's fellow human beings can one read without vicariously experiencing the events through which the author went? Gertruda's Oath is different. It does not minimize the horrors of the Holocaust. They are there, but they hover in the background like a dark cloud above the horizon. The focus of the narrative is the relationship between Michael, a small Jewish boy, and his nanny, Gertruda Babilinska, a Polish Catholic Christian. It is also the story of how the fate of a Jewish family and that of the family of a SS officer are determined by the choices made by individuals in response to forces beyond their control. Michael's parents, Jacob and Lydia Stolowitzky, are one of the wealthiest Jewish families in Poland. Because of their immense wealth, the Stolowitzkys are able to live among and mix socially with the Polish upper class, despite the latter's anti-Semitism, which is soon to be unleashed by the German invasion. Lydia is oblivious to reality, shielded as she is by her wealth and her obsession with her son. Jacob, aware of the rising tide of anti-Semitism, feels that his wealth will protect his family, just as it did his ancestors. Gertruda comes from a devout Roman Catholic, peasant family. She shares the anti-Semitism that permeates European society during the inter-war years. When first offered the position as nanny for little Michael by Lydia Stolowitzky, Gertruda politely turns it down. "Why?" asks Mrs. Stolowitzky. Gertruda's reply is frank, but honest: "Because you're Jews, and I'm Catholic." But this book is not just the story of a working-class Polish girl and a wealthy Jewish family. It is also the story of Karl Rink and his family. Their future becomes fatefully entwined with the Stolowitzkys and Gertruda. Karl Rink is a German married to a Jewish woman. They have a small daughter, Helga. Karl joins the SS, motivated by idealism and the need for employment. His loving wife, Mira, tries repeatedly to get her husband to understand her fear of the New Germany. As persecution of the Jews escalates, Mira tries to persuade her husband to leave Germany. Karl refuses to listen. Like Jacob Stolowitzky, he believes that his position as a SS officer will shield his wife and daughter from any harm. Then, one day Mira vanishes, and Karl must face the likelihood that his superior had her murdered or sent to a concentration camp. Realizing his daughter is in danger, Karl arranges for her to go to Palestine. After the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, Lydia, Gertruda, and Michael must flee Warsaw. Jacob, who went to Paris on business before the invasion, is stranded, unable to return to Poland. Before her death, Lydia asks Gertruda to promise to look after her son Michael and take him to Palestine. During the course of the war, "fate" intervenes more than once to rescue Gertruda and Michael. At least once, they are saved from certain death, or worse, by the intervention of a young SS officer, Karl Rink. Whether already well-read in the history of the Holocaust or wanting an introduction to the human tragedy that is at the heart of the Holocaust, Gertruda's Oath is where to begin the journey. The book is exceptionally well written by Ram Oren, a best-selling author referred to as "the John Grisham of Israel." Very serious moral and ethical issues are raised that will stimulate the reader's mind, or that may act as fuel for group discussions of the book itself or the history it personalizes. - Reviewed by Paul R. Waibel
This is the beautiful and tragic story of a humble and selfless Catholic woman who saves a Jewish boy fromt the Nazi's during WWII, while also in different ways helping and saving others during this terrible and inhumane time in our history. The writing is a bit choppy and sometimes seems to skip large blocks of times, but the story is so compelling that any deficits in the writing are eclipsed. So many stories of what happened to people in Europe during the war are so unrelentingly horrible and hopeless that I was somewhat reluctant to read this book. The story of Gertruda and Michael certainly has its fair share of horror and violence, but in the end I found it uplifting and hopeful. It is one of the many stories that came out of this unforgiving and unforgiveable war that shines a light in the midst of so much that was full of darkness. I found it inspiring to read about the many people who retained their decency and humanity when so many around them had completely lost these things. Gertruda was a remarkable woman and her story is well worth your time.
I received this book as a Goodreads winner. I have been reading many books and watching many films recently in regards to the Holocaust. This book was very powerful and captivating. To know the courage, fear, and determination of Gertruda, one woman, to save a Jewish child was inexplicably the truest form of human kindness a person can have. I was encaptured by the story and felt the emotions and pain that was involved within this book. I work for someone whose father is a Holocaust survivor. I have met this amazing man several times and have heard his story of survivorship. The strength of the people, deceased and survivors, is a true testament.
I enjoy books about WWII and I'm not sure why. Maybe it's my inability to understand it that keeps me reading book after book.The first thing I really noticed about this book is it did not read like a non fiction, it read like any fiction novel you would pick up off a shelf in a bookstore. Very nice for someone who doesn't care for the slower pace writing that non fiction books often take.The book shares Michael and Gertruda's journey before, through and after the war. The journey they took was filled with so much heartache and suffering and yet they made it through. I felt so sad for the little boy who lost his parents at such a young age. We also got to me so many other people involved or directly affected by the war. It made for an enthralling yet difficult read.Gertruda's Oath is an amazingly, heartbreaking tale to read. What a truly outstanding, loving, strong, woman she was. To give up so much for the love of a boy and the oath she gave his mother, is remarkable.I am glad I got the opportunity to read this book and learn about Gertruda and Michael. It's a story that will stay with me for a long time to come and I would recommend reading it.
¿Gertruda¿s Oath¿ by Ram Oren is a compelling tale of love and family during World War Two. Now this tale which included some of the same historical elements that were also found in children¿s book ¿Number the Stars¿ a personal favourite of mine, but the depth of the writing made the book seem more intriguing and a better read, but the book did read quickly, and, the character development was top notch. I find this book to be a grown up version of an old favourite, while restoring the belief in humanity through all the sacrifices Gertruda made for her adopted son.
Gertruda's Oath is a fictionalized true story of, Gertruda, a polish peasant, and Michael Stolowitzy, a young jewish boy. The events of this story are set during the Holocaust. In the beginning of the story, Gertruda becomes a nanny to Michael. But as the story progresses the relationship between the boy and the nanny is one of love and devotion. Michael's mother, on her death bed, insists Gertruda promise that she will take care of Michael, and get him to safety in Palestine. This in essence is the detailed telling of their trials and tribulations during their travels to Palestine. It's also a tribute to Gertruda, for the love, devotion, and determination, in saving Michael.by Emerald
Gertrude¿s Oath is an interesting tale which personalizes the WWII experience. It described a family¿s journey from riches to dealing with the war. I especially liked the modern glimpses of Michael¿s life to give you a perspective of what the journey led to. One thing which isn¿t emphasized enough, in my opinion, was the story of SS officer Karl Rink. I was fascinated by his story as well and how he could justify his personal and professional lives.I second the thoughts that perhaps due to the translation, the story/language seemed a bit simplistic. Overall however, it was a valuable story to emphasize and I quite enjoyed it.
Poignant and heart breaking, my heart seemed to break just a little more with each chapter. The interconnecting stories truly come together to show just how each persons actions effect not only them but perhaps the entire world.
I was so caught up in this book. It unfolded like a gripping drama, but it was a true story of ordinary people caught in extraordinary circumstances. Gertruda's faith and devotion were inspiring.