Source: Received the audio download from the publisher for review
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Widow Clicquot comes an extraordinary and gripping account of Irena Sendler—the “female Oskar Schindler”—who took staggering risks to save 2,500 children from death and deportation in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II.
In 1942, one young social worker, Irena Sendler, was granted access to the Warsaw ghetto as a public health specialist. While there, she reached out to the trapped Jewish families, going from door to door and asking the parents to trust her with their young children. She started smuggling them out of the walled district, convincing her friends and neighbors to hide them. Driven to extreme measures and with the help of a network of local tradesmen, ghetto residents, and her star-crossed lover in the Jewish resistance, Irena ultimately smuggled thousands of children past the Nazis. She made dangerous trips through the city’s sewers, hid children in coffins, snuck them under overcoats at checkpoints, and slipped them through secret passages in abandoned buildings.
But Irena did something even more astonishing at immense personal risk: she kept secret lists buried in bottles under an old apple tree in a friend’s back garden. On them were the names and true identities of those Jewish children, recorded with the hope that their relatives could find them after the war. She could not have known that more than ninety percent of their families would perish.
In Irena’s Children, Tilar Mazzeo tells the incredible story of this courageous and brave woman who risked her life to save innocent children from the Holocaust—a truly heroic tale of survival, resilience, and redemption.
Irena’s Children was a powerful reading experience. I don’t think you get a true sense of the devastation of WWII and the Nazi regime until you read a book like this, written about those or from those who were out there doing everything they could everyday to save those being threatened. Putting their own lives on the line everyday knowing that one wrong move could not only end in the loss of their own life, but that of many others in their network too. I had of course heard stories of those individuals who were saving others, and of course had heard about Oskar Schinder and seen Schindler’s List, but I had never heard of Irena Sendler and her equally amazing story.
Sendler’s story is amazing not only because of what she did (saving over 2000 Jewish children) but also what happened to her. She was arrested for her actions and sentenced to execution, but thanks to some of the inner workings of her network, she was able to escape and lead the Nazi’s on a chase for her while still helping to save more children. It’s equally amazing that her contributions to the effort were not recognized officially until 1965 and even still her name is not well known (I took several college and Masters level classes on WWII and her name and organization never came up once in all my readings and discussions). Of course she didn’t do it for fame and notoriety, but failing to recognize the contributions of her and her organization is a gaping hole in the history in my opinion.
Mazzeo beautifully renders this story and brings Irena to life. I felt that I was able to get to know this woman and what drove her day in and day out to continue doing this extraordinarily tough job. I felt a hint of what it would be like to be afraid of everything falling down around you, the stresses of the daily danger, and hoping that you could make it work, a world bigger than her own existence. Her associates, many of them, are given the same treatment and Mazzeo gives us their story as much as possible too. This book made me really feel for these people and brought tears to my eyes a few times.
This is a compelling and page-turning book. While not written in a narrative style that usually is the most successful at driving a non-fiction work forward, the sense of danger that is created here from Irena’s life takes over that responsibility and made we want to keep reading more.
I definitely had a struggle with this narrator at the beginning of my listening experience. Especially in the opening chapters she almost sounds robotic or computer generated. Many of the words sounded over enunciated and there was a staccato speech pattern. My enjoyment of the text of the book made it more tolerable to listen to. However, either I became used to the sound of her voice or it changed some, I’m not sure, it because easier to listen to the further I went on and I didn’t find that I was noticing the robotic feel that stood out in those earlier sections. I don’t know it this was a production type thing or what, but I’m glad it resolved itself.
You can check out a sample of this audio book below:
Reviews of this book by other bloggers:
Also by Tilar J. Mazzeo: