It’s ages since I featured Wendy Holden on Linda’s Book Bag in a post you can see here. Since then I have had the privilege of visiting Auschwitz and when, a few weeks ago, Wendy was on friend and fellow blogger John’s blog (here) it made me realise that it was about time I invited her onto the blog to stay in with me and chat about one of her books. I’m delighted she agreed to come!
Staying in with Wendy Holden
Welcome back to Linda’s Book Bag Wendy. Thank you for agreeing to stay in with me.
Thanks so much for having me, Linda. Authors like me rely on bloggers like you to inform and enlighten readers about our work and we are eternally grateful, especially now.
It’s been a touch time in the book world with lockdown hasn’t it? Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?
I’ve brought the new WWII 75 commemorative edition of Born Survivors, my international bestseller and the book which changed my life in all sorts of ways. I have written more than 30 books in my career and this is, without doubt, the most important I will ever write.
I’ve heard magnificent things about Born Survivors Wendy. What can we expect from an evening in with this book?
You can expect to be moved, amazed, horrified and heartened all at once. Born Survivors tells the true story of three young mothers who hid their pregnancies from the Nazis and gave birth in the concentration camp system towards the end of the war.
My goodness. I can’t imagine what that must have been like.
Incredibly, all three mothers and all three babies survived, although the women lost their husbands and most of their families. Although their stories cover a period in world history that is brutal and bleak, the courage, resilience and hope of these three young women shines through every page and has touched hearts around the world. The happy ending is that I worked closely with all three surviving ‘babies‘ – each of them 75 this year and determined to bear witness to the Holocaust. This book is truly a case of finding the humanity in the inhumanity because none of these survivors would have made it if it hadn’t been for a combination of luck and the kindness of strangers.
I think Born Survivors sounds utterly amazing Wendy. I must read it soon.
What else have you brought along and why?
I have bought the theme tune to the film Schindler‘s List by composer John Williams which I listened to over and over again whilst I was researching and writing this book. It is so moving and poignant and every tune seemed to be in sync with the section I was working on.
That’s a film I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch yet.
I have also bought a butterfly brooch because although Anka – the first of the three mothers I ever came across – died six months before I met her daughter Eva (who helped me enormously with the book), every time I was writing about her, or when Eva and I were together, a butterfly seemed to appear either physically or in a piece of cloth or a picture or curtains, as if Anka was hovering close by. It was strangely comforting.
For food I have bought a loaf of Challah bread, the traditional fare of the Friday night pre-Sabbath dinner for Jews and something I only came across whilst I was researching this book. Unfamiliar with Jewish traditions, I learned about so many things such as their habit of laying stones on graves instead of flowers, the significance of lighting candles, and the buttery deliciousness of Challah bread.
I have to confess to knowing little about Jewish traditions Wendy but that bread looks delicious. Thank you so much for staying in with me to tell me about Born Survivors. I think it sounds an utterly wonderful book.
Among millions of Holocaust victims sent to Auschwitz II-Birkenau in 1944, Priska, Rachel, and Anka each passed through its infamous gates with a secret. Strangers to each other, they were newly pregnant, and facing an uncertain fate without their husbands. Alone, scared, and with so many loved ones already lost to the Nazis, these young women were privately determined to hold on to all they had left: their lives, and those of their unborn babies.
That the gas chambers ran out of Zyklon-B just after the babies were born, before they and their mothers could be exterminated, is just one of several miracles that allowed them all to survive and rebuild their lives after World War II. Born Survivors follows the mothers’ incredible journey – first to Auschwitz, where they each came under the murderous scrutiny of Dr. Josef Mengele; then to a German slave labour camp where, half-starved and almost worked to death, they struggled to conceal their condition; and finally, as the Allies closed in, their hellish 17-day train journey with thousands of other prisoners to the Mauthausen death camp in Austria. Hundreds died along the way but the courage and kindness of strangers, including guards and civilians, helped save these women and their children.
Sixty-five years later, the three ‘miracle babies’ met for the first time at Mauthausen for the anniversary of the liberation that ultimately saved them. United by their remarkable experiences of survival against all odds, they now consider each other “siblings of the heart.” In Born Survivors, Wendy Holden brings all three stories together for the first time to mark their seventieth birthdays and the seventieth anniversary of the ending of the war.
A heart-stopping account of how three mothers and their newborns fought to survive the Holocaust, Born Survivors is also a life-affirming celebration of our capacity to care and to love amid inconceivable cruelty.
Born Survivors is available for purchase through the publisher links here.
About Wendy Holden
Wendy Holden was a journalist for eighteen years, including a decade at the Daily Telegraph where she worked as a foreign and war correspondent. She is author and the co-author of more than thirty books, including several bestselling wartime biographies, including Tomorrow to be Brave, Till the Sun Grows Cold, and Behind Enemy Lines. She lives in Suffolk, England with her husband and two dogs and divides her time between the U.K. and the U.S.