This book rattled me. If you've read nothing or believe you've read everything about the Holocaust, make this memoir your next read! It's not about the politics or the moving of armies or the gas chambers. It's the very personal story of a girl named Irene; seventeen, Catholic, naïve and innocent, with four sisters and a loving Polish family. And then, war.
"In My Hands" is the perfect title. Lives of others end up becoming Irene's responsibility in this harrowing and yet hopeful tale. She doesn't become a resistor, a smuggler, and a defier of the Nazis overnight. The reader watches her turn into a hero in little steps, day by day, from teenage nurse to a battered survivor. She loses her family and friends, but never gives up on life, making a commitment to help others, even at the grimmest moments.
Irene's tale is accessible and readable for teens and adults alike. It's hard to not be inspired as she sneaks food to the ghetto, hides Jews in the cellar of an SS Officer's home, and survives months on trains and in forests, malnourished and with only strangers for company. Books like this remind me that no matter how bad I think life gets, it's nothing compared to what some went through during WWII. Somehow, this girl survived when she shouldn't have and reunited with people in ways that should have been impossible.
This book kept my attention even more than Elie Wiesel's Night or Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl. If you want a first-hand account of WWII-era Poland, how people's lives were razed to the ground and how a teenage girl refused to forfeit her soul, you must read this book.
Recommended by Matthew Lowder