Signs of Survival: A Memoir of the Holocaust by Renee Hartman with Joshua M. Greene

Signs of Survival: A Memoir of the Holocaust

Renee Hartman with Joshua M. Greene, Authors

Scholastic Press, Nonfiction, Jan 4., 2022

Suitable for ages:  8-12

Pages: 128

Themes: Sisters, Deafness, Czechoslovakia, Holocaust, Survival., Biography

Publisher’s Synopsis:

 I was ten years old then, and my sister was eight. The responsibility was on me to warn everyone when the soldiers were coming because my sister and both my parents were deaf. 

I was my family’s ears.

Meet Renee and Herta, two sisters who faced the unimaginable — together. This is their true story.

As Jews living in 1940s Czechoslovakia, Renee, Herta, and their parents were in immediate danger when the Holocaust came to their door in 1943. As the only hearing person in her family, Renee had to alert her parents and sister whenever the sound of Nazi boots approached their home so they could hide.

It became too dangerous, and their parents sent the two girls to live on a farm miles outside of their town of Bratislava. But soon their parents were tragically taken away to Auschwitz. The farmers made the girls leave. The two sisters went on the run, desperate to find a safe place to hide. Eventually they, too, would be captured and taken to the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen. Communicating in sign language and relying on each other for strength in the midst of illness, death, and starvation, Renee and Herta would have to fight to survive the darkest of times.

This gripping memoir, told in a vivid “oral history” format, is a testament to the power of sisterhood and love, and now more than ever a reminder of how important it is to honor the past, and keep telling our own stories.

What I like about Sings of Survival:

I’ve reviewed many Holocaust books for middle grade students, but this book is really an excellent “first book” on the subject for young readers.  It is informative, without revealing too much scary information for children. The book is only 120 pages with short chapters narrated by both Renee and Herta.

Renee and Herta’s stories are taken from interviews from the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale University. Renee and her husband, Yale Professor Geoffrey Hartman, founded the program.  Geoffrey was a Holocaust survivor.  It was their mission to record as many survivor stories as possible. Joshua Green, who produces books and films, transcribed their stories and edited them together. But they are both Renne and Herta’s own inspiring words.  

This is the first book, where I’ve encountered a deaf family and the danger they faced. They can’t hear soldiers outside, the marching of boots, and air raid sirens. Renee’s big job was to alert her family when soldiers approached. I enjoyed the very strong bond between Renee and Herta. Renee fiercely protects her sister throughout their ordeal . She manages to keep the the Nazi doctors from experimenting on her sister. Herta meets other deaf prisoners and learns to sign in several languages and is strong in her own way. Just before the camp is liberated, Renee comes down with typhoid fever and nearly dies. But Herta won’t let her and gets her to hold on until the camp is liberated. They are both sent Sweden to recover for three years, before American relatives locate them and fly them to New York City in 1948. Herta finally is able to attend a deaf school.

Make sure your check out the Epilogue by Joshua Greene at the end of the story. There are also photos of Renee and her family, that relatives found and sent them. There are photos of them in America, where family cared for them. Readers will also view pictures of  Bratislava in the 1930s, children living the Jewish quarter of Bratislava, deportation and prisoners at Bergen-Belsen.

Renee Hartman was born in Bratislava, which is now the capital of Slovakia. She and her sister were arrested by the Nazis and imprisoned in Bergen-Belsen, where they endured horrifying conditions, and where Renee nearly succumbed to typhus. After being liberated, Renee and her sister immigrated to the United States. Ever since, Renee has been writing about her experiences in the Holocaust. She lives in Connecticut.

Joshua M. Greene produces books and films about the Holocaust. His documentaries have been broadcast in twenty countries and his books translated into eight languages. He has taught Holocaust history for Fordham and Hofstra Universities. He lives in Old Westbury, New York.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Make sure you check out the many links to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.