IF YOU FIND THIS CONTENT USEFUL, FUN OR JUST PLAIN AWESOME, PLEASE:
                                    COPYRIGHT © DEESULTIMATEREVIEWS.COM 2013-2015. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED..
HOME LITERARY CORNER CULTURAL  CORNER 10 BEST/ MOST LIFESTYLE& FITNESS AROUND  THE WORLD PLAY&MUSICAL  REVIEWS CONCERT&SHOW  REVIEWS MUSEUM&EXHIBITION  REVIEWS RESTAURANT  REVIEWS BAR&CLUB  REVIEWS
Rena’s Promise ****** A Story of Sisters in Auschwitz Rena Kornreich Gelissen with Heather Dune Macadam Rena’s Promise is a Holocaust Memoir based on the experiences of a survivor, Rena Kornreich Gelissen and co-authored by Heather Dune Macadam. It starts off mellow enough with descriptions of how Rena and Heather met. The Prologue differs in style from the rest of the book; I would characterize it almost as somewhat chaotic. Heather’s impressions are followed by bits and pieces told by Rena about her childhood, the life in her hometown Tylicz, the Auschwitz. The tenses are all mixed up, the past and present permanently intertwined. The nonlinear narrative helps the reader get a feeling of how the corroboration of the two women came about and gradually sets the stage for what is to follow. After that the story is told chronologically with occasional flash-backs in the form of memories, whenever relevant to currently addressed events. Perhaps it should be mentioned that the Prologue really does not represent a fair sample of the high caliber of the style present in the whole book: it seems a little fluffy and irrelevant at first. You will quickly discover, however, that the overall quality of the writing is truly superb. It combines matter-of-fact accounts from everyday life in the camps with deeply emotional statements and thoughtful, profound philosophical reflections about their situation, the Nazi Regime and the general nature of Evil, as well as brief historical background very useful to the readers perhaps not so familiar with the period. One can actually be almost taken aback by the masterful symbiosis of these elements: graphic descriptions of sheer bestiality are followed by paragraphs with lyrical accounts of the depth of sisterly love and the struggle to retain Rena’s dignity and humanity, to remain compassionate even in the most extreme circumstances. The language possesses a poetic quality to it, the words paint pictures so vivid and subtle at the same time that they penetrate deeply into your soul and stay there forever, like the description of the last time Rena saw her parents: “Tears usually taste salty but mine are bitter, frozen to the sides of my cheeks, frozen in time.” (p.42) It is also used as a highly effective dramatic tool, conveying tension, fear and despair. After we are told briefly about Rena’s almost idyllic pre-war life in Tylicz, the story quickly unfolds to describe the beginning of the German occupation and the rapid worsening of the Jewish situation. The cruelty and brutality portrayed in this memoir gradually intensifies, abuse and murder become their constant companions and soon their whole existence is defined by fear. Completely ignorant as to the ultimate purpose of the Concentration Camps, Rena follows the Nazi directive for all Jews to register to partake in forced labor. Still not fully comprehending that the world as she knows it is gone and whatever madness ensues will be a precedent in the history of humanity, she boards the cattle train taking her and all the other unfortunate travelers to the Concentration Camp. She is given the number 1716.  Little does she know that she has just become a participant in a very significant historic event: this is the very first Jewish transport to ever make its way to Auschwitz. Even though she desperately tries to beware her naïve innocence, she cannot stay in denial for long. Whatever is happening around her and to her is just too bewildering, too savage to be justified in any rational terms. The Nazis no longer perceive Jews as human beings, religious or moral laws do not apply any more to the manner in which they are treated: “’Get out! Get out!’ Orders, more orders. The guard’s words jump into our brains, dislodging free thought, exiling it to the nether regions of sanity. There are no towels to dry our shivering frames. Our clothes are not waiting for us, but the line is. Our lives have become one long line moving slowly from one horror to another.”(63)  Their only crime: being born a Jew. As she finally comprehends that time has ceased to exist in any normal meaning of the word and this is now her reality, Rena decides to formulate a resolution of survival, all the things she must and must not do to stay alive. She undergoes the biggest transformation of her life, practically overnight the naïve girl becomes a weary and seasoned veteran of self-preservation. After awhile her biggest dream as well as nightmare comes true: one day she discovers the face of Danka, her younger sister, amongst the new arrivals. After the initial joy Rena becomes even more determined to save them both and focuses her whole energy on “organizing” extra food, scraps of fabric, little things that can mean the difference between life and death. She learns to be alert and to foresee dangers lurking around every corner. The thought of seeing her family again turns into a sort of a mantra for Rena, her light at the end of the tunnel. She has only two goals: save herself and Danka. Be reunited with her family. Although deep inside she suspects, knows even, that they cannot possibly be still alive… Eventually the sisters are moved to Birkenau, where the conditions are even worse. No sanitary appliances. No bunk-beds. Less food. Every day starts with the dreaded cry:” Raus, raus!”. Every day they work, they starve, they die: “We have a calendar in Birkenau. It is hunger. The emptiness in our stomachs never ceases, just as the chill never leaves. It is our only clock, our only way to discern what time of day it is. Morning is hunger. Afternoon is hunger. Evening is hunger. Slowly we starve until we cannot make out anything beyond the gnawing of our intestines grinding against each other.”(100)  There are endless selections, there is disease, but there is also random killing. For fun. The Nazis enjoy having the prisoners torn to shreds by hungry dogs or kicking in their skulls while they are forced to lie with their faces in the mud.  Being randomly shot or beaten to death is par for the course. Auschwitz is a lonely place with not much in terms of entertainment, so obviously the guards have to amuse themselves somehow. And some of the German Kapos are convicted murderers sent to camp for their extraordinary sadism. One can only imagine what kind of evaluation test you had to pass to join the Nazi party, become a member of the SS… They were the worst human element, chosen based on their ruthlessness and absolute lack of empathy. So you are not a complete, degenerate psychopath? Sorry, you’re out! And there are, of course, the experiments. Rena mentions the infamous Dr. Mengele several times: she and Danka experience the dubious honor of being “selected” by him on numerous occasions. She even describes her encounters with the notorious Irma Grese and other Nazi historical figures. The Jews not deemed worthy of living are taken to the gas chambers. Their bodies are burnt in the huge ovens afterwards. Sometimes the gas does not quite suffice to kill the prisoners; those are placed in the ovens while still alive. The ones spared to live another day pray that when their time arrives, there will be enough poison to send them over the edge. Having your still breathing flesh consumed by naked flames being the only alternative… Everywhere there is death and destruction: “We are hot or cold, there is no in-between. We are hungry and miserable. In a few moments we may be dead. Not sick, not hungry, not hot, not cold-dead.” (151) And yet they persevere, the bond they share stronger than any of the atrocities around them.  The most integral part of the story centers around Rena’s promise (thus the title) to her sister that they will live or die together. So if Danka were to ever be selected, Rena would volunteer to come to the gas chamber with her. Their survival revolves around the pivotal idea of mutual solidarity, loyalty and sacrifice. This promise can be perceived as both her blessing and her curse, but ultimately it gives her the strength and motivation to go on day after day, despite the unimaginable bestiality surrounding her. One cannot help but ask: was it not for the responsibility for Danka that she took upon herself, would she at some point not have given up? Would the burden of dealing with death on daily basis have crashed that intense will to survive? Without Danka, would there even be enough left to live for? In fact, would there be anything? Certainly not much on a spiritual level: even though she tries to derive comfort from her religious beliefs, we witness her gradual loss of faith in God and the struggle to understand his plan behind all this anguish: “My God has abandoned me, left me cold; still I pray but in the same breath I doubt his power.” After over three years of unspeakable suffering Rena and Danka are finally liberated and become free again. It is almost impossible to believe that they actually survived this ordeal for so long! Their love, their cleverness and the help of their fellow prisoners as well as a few sympathetic Kapos surely played a significant role, but one really has to admit that they were also extraordinarily lucky. Between the two of them they must have escaped from Death’s cold grasp probably a dozen times, each encounter making them grateful to be alive, despite their doubts about this life’s value: “Will there ever come a time when we thank God for being alive today before we have to ask the same privilege tomorrow, and the next day? Is life a privilege or a curse?” (184) They went on to have families of their own, they both emigrated to America. They stayed close and they stayed together. Nevertheless, the recollections from her past caused Rena unspeakable pain for the rest of her life. She had her prisoner number tattoo removed, but she could never erase the memories... It does not matter if you are a seasoned Holocaust researcher or this is the first time you are confronted with this type of literature. Rena’s Promise is one of those works that will shake you to the core and put a lot of things into perspective. You will learn how petty most of our problems really are. You will truly understand the depths of darkness of the human heart. But above all you will discover that even in the abyss of the greatest depravity there is always light. There is always hope. And there is always the overwhelming, ever consuming desire to live, to love and to tell your story. To warn all the generations to come. So that this will never, can never, happen again. All the quotes come from the following edition of this work: Kornreich Gelissen, Rena with Dune Macadam, Heather: Rena’s Promise. Boston: Beacon Press, 1995. 
RENA’S FAMILY DANKA AND RENA

Follow Us

NAVIGATION MENU
Rena’s Promise ****** A Story of Sisters in Auschwitz Rena Kornreich Gelissen with Heather Dune Macadam Rena’s Promise is a Holocaust Memoir based on the experiences of a survivor, Rena Kornreich Gelissen and co-authored by Heather Dune Macadam. It starts off mellow enough with descriptions of how Rena and Heather met. The Prologue differs in style from the rest of the book; I would characterize it almost as somewhat chaotic. Heather’s impressions are followed by bits and pieces told by Rena about her childhood, the life in her hometown Tylicz, the Auschwitz. The tenses are all mixed up, the past and present permanently intertwined. The nonlinear narrative helps the reader get a feeling of how the corroboration of the two women came about and gradually sets the stage for what is to follow. After that the story is told chronologically with occasional flash-backs in the form of memories, whenever relevant to currently addressed events. Perhaps it should be mentioned that the Prologue really does not represent a fair sample of the high caliber of the style present in the whole book: it seems a little fluffy and irrelevant at first. You will quickly discover, however, that the overall quality of the writing is truly superb. It combines matter-of-fact accounts from everyday life in the camps with deeply emotional statements and thoughtful, profound philosophical reflections about their situation, the Nazi Regime and the general nature of Evil, as well as brief historical background very useful to the readers perhaps not so familiar with the period. One can actually be almost taken aback by the masterful symbiosis of these elements: graphic descriptions of sheer bestiality are followed by paragraphs with lyrical accounts of the depth of sisterly love and the struggle to retain Rena’s dignity and humanity, to remain compassionate even in the most extreme circumstances. The language possesses a poetic quality to it, the words paint pictures so vivid and subtle at the same time that they penetrate deeply into your soul and stay there forever, like the description of the last time Rena saw her parents: “Tears usually taste salty but mine are bitter, frozen to the sides of my cheeks, frozen in time.” (p.42) It is also used as a highly effective dramatic tool, conveying tension, fear and despair. After we are told briefly about Rena’s almost idyllic pre-war life in Tylicz, the story quickly unfolds to describe the beginning of the German occupation and the rapid worsening of the Jewish situation. The cruelty and brutality portrayed in this memoir gradually intensifies, abuse and murder become their constant companions and soon their whole existence is defined by fear. Completely ignorant as to the ultimate purpose of the Concentration Camps, Rena follows the Nazi directive for all Jews to register to partake in forced labor. Still not fully comprehending that the world as she knows it is gone and whatever madness ensues will be a precedent in the history of humanity, she boards the cattle train taking her and all the other unfortunate travelers to the Concentration Camp. She is given the number 1716.  Little does she know that she has just become a participant in a very significant historic event: this is the very first Jewish transport to ever make its way to Auschwitz. Even though she desperately tries to beware her naïve innocence, she cannot stay in denial for long. Whatever is happening around her and to her is just too bewildering, too savage to be justified in any rational terms. The Nazis no longer perceive Jews as human beings, religious or moral laws do not apply any more to the manner in which they are treated: “’Get out! Get out!’ Orders, more orders. The guard’s words jump into our brains, dislodging free thought, exiling it to the nether regions of sanity. There are no towels to dry our shivering frames. Our clothes are not waiting for us, but the line is. Our lives have become one long line moving slowly from one horror to another.”(63)  Their only crime: being born a Jew. As she finally comprehends that time has ceased to exist in any normal meaning of the word and this is now her reality, Rena decides to formulate a resolution of survival, all the things she must and must not do to stay alive. She undergoes the biggest transformation of her life, practically overnight the naïve girl becomes a weary and seasoned veteran of self-preservation. After awhile her biggest dream as well as nightmare comes true: one day she discovers the face of Danka, her younger sister, amongst the new arrivals. After the initial joy Rena becomes even more determined to save them both and focuses her whole energy on “organizing” extra food, scraps of fabric, little things that can mean the difference between life and death. She learns to be alert and to foresee dangers lurking around every corner. The thought of seeing her family again turns into a sort of a mantra for Rena, her light at the end of the tunnel. She has only two goals: save herself and Danka. Be reunited with her family. Although deep inside she suspects, knows even, that they cannot possibly be still alive… Eventually the sisters are moved to Birkenau, where the conditions are even worse. No sanitary appliances. No bunk-beds. Less food. Every day starts with the dreaded cry:” Raus, raus!”. Every day they work, they starve, they die: “We have a calendar in Birkenau. It is hunger. The emptiness in our stomachs never ceases, just as the chill never leaves. It is our only clock, our only way to discern what time of day it is. Morning is hunger. Afternoon is hunger. Evening is hunger. Slowly we starve until we cannot make out anything beyond the gnawing of our intestines grinding against each other.”(100)  There are endless selections, there is disease, but there is also random killing. For fun. The Nazis enjoy having the prisoners torn to shreds by hungry dogs or kicking in their skulls while they are forced to lie with their faces in the mud.  Being randomly shot or beaten to death is par for the course. Auschwitz is a lonely place with not much in terms of entertainment, so obviously the guards have to amuse themselves somehow. And some of the German Kapos are convicted murderers sent to camp for their extraordinary sadism. One can only imagine what kind of evaluation test you had to pass to join the Nazi party, become a member of the SS… They were the worst human element, chosen based on their ruthlessness and absolute lack of empathy. So you are not a complete, degenerate psychopath? Sorry, you’re out! And there are, of course, the experiments. Rena mentions the infamous Dr. Mengele several times: she and Danka experience the dubious honor of being “selected” by him on numerous occasions. She even describes her encounters with the notorious Irma Grese and other Nazi historical figures. The Jews not deemed worthy of living are taken to the gas chambers. Their bodies are burnt in the huge ovens afterwards. Sometimes the gas does not quite suffice to kill the prisoners; those are placed in the ovens while still alive. The ones spared to live another day pray that when their time arrives, there will be enough poison to send them over the edge. Having your still breathing flesh consumed by naked flames being the only alternative… Everywhere there is death and destruction: “We are hot or cold, there is no in-between. We are hungry and miserable. In a few moments we may be dead. Not sick, not hungry, not hot, not cold-dead.” (151) And yet they persevere, the bond they share stronger than any of the atrocities around them.  The most integral part of the story centers around Rena’s promise (thus the title) to her sister that they will live or die together. So if Danka were to ever be selected, Rena would volunteer to come to the gas chamber with her. Their survival revolves around the pivotal idea of mutual solidarity, loyalty and sacrifice. This promise can be perceived as both her blessing and her curse, but ultimately it gives her the strength and motivation to go on day after day, despite the unimaginable bestiality surrounding her. One cannot help but ask: was it not for the responsibility for Danka that she took upon herself, would she at some point not have given up? Would the burden of dealing with death on daily basis have crashed that intense will to survive? Without Danka, would there even be enough left to live for? In fact, would there be anything? Certainly not much on a spiritual level: even though she tries to derive comfort from her religious beliefs, we witness her gradual loss of faith in God and the struggle to understand his plan behind all this anguish: “My God has abandoned me, left me cold; still I pray but in the same breath I doubt his power.” After over three years of unspeakable suffering Rena and Danka are finally liberated and become free again. It is almost impossible to believe that they actually survived this ordeal for so long! Their love, their cleverness and the help of their fellow prisoners as well as a few sympathetic Kapos surely played a significant role, but one really has to admit that they were also extraordinarily lucky. Between the two of them they must have escaped from Death’s cold grasp probably a dozen times, each encounter making them grateful to be alive, despite their doubts about this life’s value: “Will there ever come a time when we thank God for being alive today before we have to ask the same privilege tomorrow, and the next day? Is life a privilege or a curse?” (184) They went on to have families of their own, they both emigrated to America. They stayed close and they stayed together. Nevertheless, the recollections from her past caused Rena unspeakable pain for the rest of her life. She had her prisoner number tattoo removed, but she could never erase the memories... It does not matter if you are a seasoned Holocaust researcher or this is the first time you are confronted with this type of literature. Rena’s Promise is one of those works that will shake you to the core and put a lot of things into perspective. You will learn how petty most of our problems really are. You will truly understand the depths of darkness of the human heart. But above all you will discover that even in the abyss of the greatest depravity there is always light. There is always hope. And there is always the overwhelming, ever consuming desire to live, to love and to tell your story. To warn all the generations to come. So that this will never, can never, happen again. All the quotes come from the following edition of this work: Kornreich Gelissen, Rena with Dune  Macadam, Heather: Rena’s Promise.  Boston: Beacon Press, 1995. 
RENA’S FAMILY DANKA AND RENA
 DEE’S ULTIMATE REVIEWS

Follow Us