By Mario Escobar
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Helene’s husband Johann was a member of the Berlin Philharmonic before the Nazi’s turned the world upside down. Because he is Romaini, or Gypsy he was no longer allowed to work even though he is a violin virtuoso. Helene can still work because she is a purebred German. The family of seven lives in their own apartment. Food is hard to obtain but they have enough to get by.
Their last day of freedom was like any other. Helene readied the older four children for school. Johann and their youngest child slept up until minutes before their world exploded. As Helene and the children left for the day, Nazi soldiers stormed up the stairs. They had finally come for Johann and the children. Helene was free to stay, but she refused to be left behind.
Thus begins the days of physical and mental anguish. The family is taken via cattle car to Auschwitz. They are hungry, thirsty and terrified. Once they arrive at the camp, Johann is separated from the rest of his family. The barracks are cold, dirty and survival is the only thing everyone cares about. Helene’s family loses the precious few pieces of warm clothes they have to thieves before they realize that their world has forever changed.
Because Helene is a nurse, she is immediately of use to her captors. Life becomes incrementally better when she is moved to a different barracks with women she can trust with her children while she works. Her job in the camp brings her in close contact with one of the most horrific men in the Nazi party, Herr Doktor Mengele.
Helene fears for her children, but is strong and stands up for herself. Mengele admires her and puts her in charge of the Zigeunerlager kindergarten in Auschwitz-Birkenau. While it seems wonderful in the beginning, offering more food and things for the children to do, it is probably just a show for the visiting Nazi leaders. And it is the perfect place for Mengele to find twins to try his experiments on. As the war nears the end, what will happen to Helene and her children as well as the rest of the prisoners?
Escobar’s telling of Helene’s story is heartbreakingly beautiful. The strength of the prisoners, the brutality of the Nazis and the bits of love and happiness that were found in one of the most horrific places on earth all play out in on the pages. This book is based upon the true story of Helene Hannemann and her five children. He visited Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II, Holocaust museums and read scores of documents during his research for this poignant book. The result personalizes the countless atrocities experienced in the camps.
Reading the story of Helene and her family was not always easy. It is evident Escobar put his heart and soul into Auschwitz Lullaby. I would not be surprised to see it becoming as influential as The Diary of A Young Girl (also known as The Diary of Anne Frank) and deservedly so. Escobar’s words will haunt you long after the last page.
Copyright © 2018 Laura Hartman