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Sharing our love for authors, and the stories they are inspired to tell.

The Midwife Of Auschwitz
by Anna Stuart
Books On Tour
Review

My thanks go out to the lovely Sarah, representing publisher Bookouture, for securing me a spot on this ‘Books On Tour’ journey.

As ever, additional thanks go out to NetGalley, for their excellent download and review service.

Image of the Blog Tour Banner for the book 'The Midwife Of Auschwitz' by author Anna Stuart

THE MIDWIFE OF AUSCHWITZ

Cover image of the book 'The Midwife Of Auschwitz' by author Anna StuartAuschwitz, 1943: As I held the tiny baby in my arms, my fingers traced the black tattoo etched across her little thigh. And I prayed that one day this set of numbers, identical to her mother’s, would have the power to reunite a family torn apart by war…

Inspired by an incredible true story, this poignant novel tells of one woman’s fight for love, life and hope during a time of unimaginable darkness.

Ana Kaminski is pushed through the iron gates of Auschwitz beside her frightened young friend Ester Pasternak. As they reach the front of the line, Ana steps forward and quietly declares herself a midwife – and Ester her assistant. Their arms are tattooed and they’re ordered to the maternity hut. Holding an innocent new-born baby, Ana knows the fate of so many are in her hands, and vows to do everything she can to save them.

When two guards in their chilling SS uniforms march in and snatch a blond-haired baby from its mother it’s almost too much for Ana to bear. Consoling the distraught woman, Ana realises amidst the terrible heartache there is a glimmer of hope. The guards are taking the healthiest babies and placing them with German families, so they will survive. And there are whispers the war is nearly over… Ana and Ester begin to secretly tattoo little ones with their mother’s numbers, praying one day they might be reunited.

Then, early one morning, Ana notices the small bump under Ester’s thin striped clothing…

Cover image of the book 'The Midwife Of Auschwitz' by author Anna Stuart

ANNA STUART

Image of author Anna StuartAnna wanted to be an author from the moment she could pick up a pen and was writing boarding-school novels by the age of nine.

She made the early mistake of thinking she ought to get a ‘proper job’ and went into Factory Planning – a career that gave her some wonderful experiences, amazing friends and even a fantastic husband, but did not offer much creative scope.

So when she stopped to have children she took the chance to start the ‘improper job’ of writing. During the baby years she wrote in those gaps provided by sleeps, playschools and obliging grandparents, publishing short stories and serials in all the women’s magazines.

Her ultimate aim was to write longer fiction and several years ago she published a series of successful historical novels under the pseudonym Joanna Courtney, a name she will continue to write under. She will write and publish her contemporary novels as Anna Stuart.

Keep up to date with all Anna’s news at her website

Follow Anna on Twitter

Connect with Anna on Facebook

“Writing about the holocaust is an honour and brings with it a huge responsibility to the truth. While this novel is a work of fiction, many of the characters are real and I have worked hard to ensure that all details are as close to reality as possible to faithfully represent the terrible suffering that was endured by those, like my characters, who were interred in ghettos and camps by the Nazi regime”

Cover image of the book 'The Midwife Of Auschwitz' by author Anna Stuart

FIRST LINES

PROLOGUEAPRIL 1946

“There are cots everywhere. They fill the echoey, wooden-floored hall and from each one a small child peers, all eyes. There’s not hope, the tiny infants aren’t old enough for that, but there’s a sort of longing that reaches deep into me and tugs, not on my heartstrings but deeper than that – right into my womb”

.

PART ONELODZ

CHAPTER ONE1st SEPTEMBER 1939ESTER

As the clock of St Stanislaus’ cathedral rang out midday, Ester Abrams sank gratefully onto the steps beneath it and turned her face to the sun. The soft rays were warm on her skin but autumn was sending tendrils into the stone and it felt chill against her legs. For a moment she considered taking off her coat to sit on, but it was new and bought in a recklessly pale blue that her younger sister had said brought out the colour in her eyes, and she didn’t want to risk staining it”

Cover image of the book 'The Midwife Of Auschwitz' by author Anna Stuart

MEMORABLE LINES

“Jesus taught her to turn the other cheek but the Nazis had come in slapping both cheeks at once and it was hard to forgive an offence when ten more were already coming at you”

.

“Now the only sounds on the autumn air were the rumbles of sewing machines and leather stampers and looms as the ghetto worked to live a life that no one was sure they wanted any more. For what was a life without a generation to lead the way and another to come behind? What was anyone working for, save another few days in this miserable non-existence?”

.

“Ana fumbled for Ester’s hand as the world spun around her. She’d feared Auschwitz would be hell but had not known hell could be so very deep or so desperately inhuman”

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“The SS shifted and Grese’s eyes narrowed but the singing seemed to hold them bound and not one raised their weapon. The music rose up around the emaciated women in a halo of warm, swirling breath, pouring out their humanity, their togetherness, their refusal just to lie down and die in the dirt of the Nazi regime”

.

“Love would, somehow, triumph over hate. They just had to wait and to pray, and one day, surely, it would be the main gates that opened and let them out into the rainbow”

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“I can’t stop the bitter laugh. The journey this morning was simple, but the years preceding it have been a tangle of hurt and pain. We have been on the sort of dark, dirty road that no one should have to tread to get to this run-down place of dwindling hope”

Cover image of the book 'The Midwife Of Auschwitz' by author Anna Stuart

REVIEW

“One woman’s fight for love, life and hope during a time of unimaginable darkness”

When writing a review, it is all too easy to churn out those much used epithets such as ‘heart-breaking’, ‘heart-wrenching’, or ‘a tear-jerker’ and whilst this book falls into all these categories and so many more besides, I genuinely do defy even the most stalwart reader, not to shed a tear or two over this storyline.

Whether you read it first, as I did, or when you have finished the book, you really do need to check out the ‘Historical Notes’ addendum. It explains clearly, the synergy between actual events and characters, which have been so well researched and then sympathetically and painstakingly rendered into this WWII fictional tour de force, which absolutely demands undivided attention and quality reading time…

It is not often that wartime fictional stories, which are largely centred around Nazi labour camps, are narrated almost exclusively from a female perspective. A brave gambit by the author, which she has executed to perfection and with total empathy, highlighting a storyline which definitely needed to be told and that held me in thrall from the very first sentence, to the very final word. I had never really given any thought to the need for midwives in the concentration camps and the ensuing emotional agony of mothers who did, by some miracle, happen to survive childbirth, only to have their babies so cruelly snatched away from them. Some of the facts are so distasteful, that the cruelty is almost beyond belief or comprehension.

Hopefully spoiler free, here is a race through the storyline…

It is 1939, in Lodz, Poland. Trainee nurse, Ester, meets and falls madly in love with apprentice tailor, Filip. As war breaks out they decide to marry, anticipating that, as Jews, they may either both have to flee the country, or that they may be separated for some time. Their parents are only too happy that the young couple should confirm their love for one another and grab whatever happiness they can, as they know only too well, what wrath is about to be heaped upon their people by the German Nazi regime. Also present at the marriage are the non Jewish, Kaminski family, as Ester and long established midwife, Ana have become firm friends, despite the difference in their ages, which makes their relationship more like that of mother and daughter.

After just a few short days and with the war intensifying, life takes a very sudden and much more horrendous turn for the population, than they could have ever thought possible. The city is divided into sectors; one ghetto for the Jews, one area for all the non-Jews, with the remaining much larger properties being given over to the occupying Nazis and their families. Ana’s home has been designated as falling within the Jewish ghetto, so she, her husband and three young adult sons are forced to move across town, whilst Ester, Filip and both their extended families find themselves sharing and squashed into a tiny house, inside the newly cordoned off ghetto, where they are kept living on the point of starvation, although with both of them plying trades of value to the occupiers, they are permitted to continue working, when many others can’t. As there are other general nurses, but no dedicated midwife in the compound, Ester decides to enlist Ana’s help to train herself, so that she can help those women in need. Ana and her family are active resistance members and risk their lives to smuggle food and nursing manuals into the ghetto, whilst taking advantage of every possible opportunity to help some of the Jews escape, including Ester’s teenage sister.

Suddenly things take an altogether more sinister twist of fate, when the elderly, the infirm, and the youngest children, are rounded up and ostensibly sent to be housed, in the newly built labour camp of Auschwitz. Rumours soon spread about the terrible atrocities committed within its confines, so when Ester’s mother, Ruth becomes one of the ‘chosen’, all efforts are made to save her. Caught up in the ensuing melee, somehow both Ester and Ana also find themselves taken captive and for the remaining duration of the war, are incarcerated in this living hell on earth, kept alive and relatively well, by using the medical skills they have, when so many around them meet an altogether more agonising and often terminal fate. However, their resourcefulness and bravery, come at a huge physical and emotional cost which almost breaks them, especially Ester. Both cruelty and kindness are shown on both the side of the aggressors and their fellow detainees, as everyone fights to survive in the best way they can. So much so, that when a Nazi doctor is challenged by Ester and Ana, and is forced to speak up for his Hippocratic oath, their relief is unbounded, as every small step is seen as a victory for the women and their unborn children. Even the Lebensborn programme is more acceptable than the terrifying alternative, although it was ultimately only a tiny percentage of babies who matched the criteria and were selected. For them, Ester carries out the only procedure she can think of, in the hope that when war is over, those mothers and babies who have survived, stand some small chance of being reunited.

When liberation is in sight, Ester and Ana, together with a small handful of women from Lodz, are lucky enough to be offered a way home without the need for any delays or red tape, which they grasp with open arms. News from family had stopped arriving some time ago, so it is with an air of trepidation that they enter the city, not knowing what they will find and more importantly, who amongst them has survived. There is good and bad news for both ladies, reunions tinged with sadness for those who will not be joining them, and the aching loss and search which Ester will never give up on, as she continues to try and find the missing piece of her, which will bind her to Filip forever.

The compassionate honesty and integrity of this totally immersive, multi-layered storyline, really shines through in its fluent and well structured writing. The story is powerful, intense and highly textured, with an all pervading claustrophobic atmosphere of mistrust and fear. Although events elsewhere in the theatre of war may be moving rapidly and are fast changing, for the women of Auschwitz it is as though time has stood still, as each day highlights anew the strength and resilience of the female spirit to carry a child to full term in such perilous conditions and evokes the same relentless battle and drive to survive, even though fate and the Nazi doctors, decree that your newborn probably won’t. Despite the decimated locations of a country in turmoil and the terrible conditions in which the unfortunate and totally innocent detainees  were incarcerated, some beautifully nuanced and descriptive narrative and dialogue, afford a terrifying and all-encompassing visual and evocative sense of time and place, lifting the sights, sounds and smells from the page, as I took my ‘armchair journey’ back in time.

Anna affords that same attention to detail and visual inclusion, to her eclectic cast of characters, no matter how small a part they play in the whole. They are well developed and defined, and whilst not all are easy to connect or empathise with, the overall dynamics and synergy between them, makes them completely investable, genuine and authentic in their individual roles, as they are given a generous and strong voice with which to tell of their courageous efforts of resilience over adversity. They represent a complex jigsaw of vulnerable human emotions, which are laid bare when the fragility of the lines between life and death, defeat and survival, love and hate, trust and duplicity, the frailty of the human mind and indeed their very existence, are drawn. However a raw addictive passion and the determined will to survive, overcomes the odds stacked against them, although not all are destined to be reunited with loved ones.

What always makes reading such a wonderful experience for me, is that with each and every new book, I am taken on a unique and individual journey, by authors who fire my imagination, stir my emotions and stimulate my senses. This story was definitely one of a kind, having the power to evoke so many feelings, that I’m sure I won’t have felt the same way about it as the last reader, nor the next, so I can only recommend that you read The Midwife Of Auschwitz for yourself and see where your journey leads you!

Image of author Anna Stuart

A complimentary kindle download of this book for review, was made available by the publisher and supplied by NetGalley.

Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article which promotes this book or its author.

I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a well deserved 5 out of 5 stars!

 

Written by
Yvonne

I can’t remember a time, even as a child, when I haven’t been passionate about books and reading.
I began blogging, when I realised just how many other people out there shared my passion for the written word and I have been continually amazed at the wealth of books that are available and the amount of great new friends I have made, from literally 'The Four Corners Of The World'.

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8 comments
  • Sounds like the author has captured so many elements and combined them into a heart rending and very readable story

    • This was really such a well structured blend of fact and fiction, that it was impossible to know where one ended and the other began.

      I really had never given that much thought about the necessity of midwives being needed in the concentration camps, although given the cruelty shown to either those women who lost their babies in childbirth, or who had them forcibly removed immediately after they had been born, it does make you wonder why the Nazis even pretended to care enough to have midwives in attendance!

      One of my favourite WWII books for sure! 🙂

  • I like this: ‘the cruelty is almost beyond belief or comprehension’. And I think that sums up what happened during the Holocaust very nicely. It’s hard to get your head around 6 million dead Jewish people because you cannot comprehend that many, but read a more personal story like this and it hits home pretty darn hard. I think everyone should be made to read one of these types of books, to understand the history better and to make comparisons with what’s happening in parts of the world today. A wonderful review as always, Yvonne.

    • First of all, thank you so much for your lovely words about my review. I always value and appreciate your support and rely on kind folks like yourself, to tell me truth if you think I have got the take on a book badly wrong!

      The premise gives away the nature of the small procedure Ester carries out on all the babies ‘lucky’ enough to be saved for the Lebensborn programme, although only a very small percentage of babies were ever reunited with their birth mothers. However I guess that each small triumph was precious and gave hope for the future, in the days following the end of war.

      Speaking personally, I think that you could make this type of very personal storyline, compulsory reading and it wouldn’t make a jot of difference to the way we treat one another as human beings, no matter whereabouts in the world we live! I don’t think that even the vast, almost incomprehensible, number of deaths involved would have much impact on most people’s psyche – life seems to have become just too cheap for any kind of conscience!

      Thanks for stopping by and I hope that all is well with you both 🙂

  • Oooo… this sounds good and from yet another interesting viewpoint!

    I always read author’s notes, especially with historical fiction. (wherever they’re placed in the book)

    • This was a snapshot of a much told story about conditions inside Auschwitz, but related from a completely new to me viewpoint, which was so evocative and poignant. The backstory was also so beautifully rendered, as was the repatriation after hostilities were over. The blending of fact with fiction was seamlessly executed and I think the author did full justice to this horrendously cruel period in history, through the eyes of pregnant and newly delivered detainees and the nurses and doctors charged with their care.

      I too generally search out any author notes, but usually before I begin reading. These sections used to be few and far between in books, however I have noticed a marked increase in supporting facts, particularly for wartime storylines, which are becoming more specific and focussed, rather than the general nature of stories found in earlier books from the genre. 🙂

  • I read so many books about the Holocaust and Auschwitz, but I am still reading more (I am going to start another one this weekend). It seems that this is a book I would love, so I am going to add it in my to-read list on goodreads. I like that the author kept the details as close as possible to the reality. Love this!

    • This is quite a unique take on the much written about Auschwitz and one I had never considered before.

      Given the cruelty inside the women’s camp and the almost inevitable outcome for most of the newborn babies and their mothers, the need for midwives was almost unnecessary.

      However the bravery and optimism of these two women, can only be lauded, even if, when war was over, such a small number of babies were ever reunited with their mothers and family.

      Every one was a small victory though!

      I hope you get the opportunity to read the book very soon 🙂

Written by Yvonne

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