The publication of The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris back in 2018 has spawned many a harrowing tale of that grim place, and I have to confess I’ve been avoiding them, my heart already shattered by John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. But I’m a huge fan of novelist Anna Stuart’s wartime books, and was especially drawn to this one when I learned that its heroine, Ana Kaminski, was based on real-life Polish midwife Stanisława Leszczyńska. This brave Catholic woman from Lotz risked her life working with the Polish underground to rescue Jews from the ghetto until she was finally arrested and sent to the death camp of Birkenau-Auschwitz in 1943. There she established a maternity ward, bringing around 3000 babies into the world in that hell-hole, a handful of whom survived to the end of the war, and around fifty of whom were shipped out for the Lebensborn programme, in which the Nazis snatched Aryan-looking babies to be brought up by German families. Stuart’s fictionalisation of the story gives Ana a helper in Ester Pasternak, a young Jewish nurse whose wedding to her soulmate Filip opens up the story. The first part of the book follows the two women in Lotz as Ester and her family move into the ghetto, while Ana and her family find ways to undermine the Nazi’s diktat that her friends and fellow humans are less than animals. Life in the ghetto gives way to life in the camp when Ana and Ester reunite on the same train out of Lotz. The two women’s relationship is the heart and soul of the story and helps mitigate the nightmare of their experiences in the camp, where horrifying cruelty and indifference are balanced by tales of courage and kindness. For every wicked Irma Grese, Maria Mandel and Josef Engeles, there is a Naomi, the young girl who smuggles Ana a silk slip to help keep her warm, a Dr Janina Wegierska, who ignores her own privations to treat the women of the camp, a Mala Zimetbaum who enjoys enough privileges to find ways of delivering the women their parcels and letters. Harrowing as it is at times, this inspiring story is a timely reminder of how strength, courage and recititude can overcome evil in the end. I’m so glad I read it.
Hope and courage triumph over adversity in this gripping wartime tale
The Midwife of Auschwitz by Anna Stuart is published by Bookouture in paperback and ebookThis review first appeared in NFOP Magazine, July 2022 issue
Follow Anna on Twitter @annastuartbooks and on Facebook @annastuartauthor and visit her website to discover more about all her books, including her historical trilogy Queens of the Conquest, written under the pen-name Joanna Courtney, and her Lockdown romance Just The Two of Us, written under the pen-name Jo Wilde. They're all great reads!
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