Friday, June 06, 2014

Book Review: FOR SUCH A TIME

Title: For Such A Time
Author: Kate Breslin
Publisher: Bethany House Publishers
Pages: 430

For Such a Time by Kate Breslin makes the horrors of the Holocaust come alive. We come to know of the unspeakable acts of cruelty that the Nazis perpetrated and how, among other horrible acts, they used hunger as a weapon to break down the Jews.

Hadassah, the heroine of the novel, is a true heroine in every sense of the word. A Jew, she is sent to the concentration camp at Dachau only to find herself spared the horrors there. She is able to cheat death too, all on account of the false papers that her uncle, Mordecai Benjamin, made for her in the name of Stella to prepare for just this kind of eventuality.

Col Aric Von Schmidt, SS commandant at the transit camp at Theresienstadt, in Czechoslovakia, rescues Stella and takes her to his own home as a secretary. Stella is a “bald, bruised scarecrow of a woman” and there is no reason why the colonel should have picked her for a secretary, other than that he completely believes in the accuracy and validity of her false Aryan papers.

Beginning with hostility, Stella finds herself softening towards him as she becomes aware of his vulnerabilities and also his deep compassion not only to herself but also to the Jews that are prisoners in the transit camp at Theresienstadt.

While Stella herself is comfortable as part of the colonel’s household, she is painfully aware of the horrors that plague her fellow-Jews in the camp. Even though the plight of the Jews at Theresienstadt, despite its severity, is much better than the plight of other Jews in other concentration and death camps. 

Soon Stella feels morally compelled to speak up on behalf of the Jews, particularly an elderly gentleman, her uncle, all of whom are the brunt of the brutalities of the colonel’s men. Captain Hermann and Lieutenants Brucker and Koch think nothing of assaulting the Jews, including the old and the frail, and the children.

A Jew who has lost faith in God, Stella finds her faith and moral spine renewed with every reading of a Bible that she finds in her room. Relating the verses in the Bible with long forgotten verses from the Talmud, Stella prepares to meet the biggest crisis of her life.

Her attempts to do her bit to save the lives of at least some of the Jews expose her to the attentions of the colonel’s men, who are determined to kill him and take over the transit camp. Before long, the truth about her beliefs and faith is exposed and Stella is sent to the concentration camp, from where she and thousands of others will be sent on the ‘death’ train to Auschwitz.

Interspersed with the narrative are Stella’s memories of the time she spent in the concentration camp at Dachau, and the oppression she suffered at the hands of the Nazis, particularly the officers of the Gestapo.

The narrative is mostly from the viewpoint of Stella, with the colonel as the unmistakable enemy, the Nazi and Jew killer. Occasionally it shifts to the viewpoint of the colonel, and we find ourselves undergoing a change in our attitude towards him.

The story mirrors in its barest outline that of Esther and Mordecai in the Old Testament of the Bible. Kate draws parallels between the Biblical story of Esther (also known as Hadassah), her cousin Mordecai and the king, and Stella, whose real name is Hadassah, her uncle Mordecai Benjamin, better known as Morty, and the colonel.

Reading this story is a grim reminder of the worst excesses of the Holocaust. How the Nazis meted out the harshest of punishments for the smallest of crimes. How the Jews had to put up with terrible consequences for the most innocuous of actions. How young children were forced by the war and by the atrocities of the Nazis to grow before their time.

The Holocaust was the bleakest and the darkest period in the history of human cruelty. To see hope and love and faith and redemption would have been well nigh impossible for those who lived and survived its horrors as well as for those who fell prey to its many atrocities. And yet Kate Breslin has dared to build a romance in this tumultuous time, a time of genocide and senseless killing, particularly of the old and the very young, and of others who served no purpose in the agenda of one insane man. That’s not the only gamble that Kate has pulled off.

At a time when millions were struggling against hopelessness and despair, she has breathed faith, strength and courage and the willingness to sacrifice all, even one’s life, for one’s fellowmen.

Her writing is poignant and beautiful and invites you to understand the pain that millions of Jews suffered on account of one twisted mind.

Worth reading. And re-reading.

(I received this book for free from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest review. I read it on Netgalley.)

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