A Mother’s Courage by Malka Levine: a breathtaking account told with dark humour, heart and hope – book review -
But just as powerful as the tales of man’s inhumanity are the accounts of heart-lifting humanity amidst the terrors, and 83-year-old Malka Levine’s moving memoir of bravery, kindness, hope and survival is a story that truly touches the soul.
Levine, who was born in Ukraine but moved to Israel in 1947, is widowed with two children and now lives happily in a suburb of Nottingham. She appeared in the TV documentary Getting Away With Murders, an investigation into why so many perpetrators of the Holocaust went unpunished, and A Mother’s Courage is a testament to her experiences.
It was written first and foremost as a loving tribute to her mother Rivka, a determined and resourceful woman who refused to give up hope as long as her children needed her, but also as a thankyou and to ‘preserve’ the deeds of the courageous heroes who opened their hearts to her and her family, and helped to save their lives.
When Malka was two, the Nazi invaders forced her family into the Jewish ghetto in Volodymyr-Volynskyi, a small Polish city that was once known as Ludmir but is now in present-day Ukraine. It was the first step in a campaign of mass murder.
Of the 25,000 Jews in the city in 1939, only 30 would survive. Malka’s father was shot in the first pogrom, but before he died he begged Rivka to ‘save the children.’ Rivka managed to keep Malka and Haim and Shalom, her two older brothers, alive through eighteen terrifying months as the Nazis systematically killed the inhabitants of the ghetto.
In the midst of the inhumanity, a few people risked their lives to help. A Wehrmacht officer saved them from being shot, and a Polish dressmaker gave them sanctuary when the SS went hunting for victims.
Then Rivka begged Mr and Mrs Yakimchuk, an elderly Ukrainian farmer and his saintly wife, to hide her and the children. The Yakimchuks agreed and kept their word, even after the SS commandeered the farm. They dug a pit under their barn, and there Malka’s family stayed through a freezing winter and into the summer until the Red Army came.
At the end of the war, Rivka was forced to draw on her strength yet again as she set out to create a new life for herself and her children...
Levine writes of her wartime ordeals and deprivations with the pain of reflection but also with thankfulness, searing honesty and powerful emotional intensity, pointing to ‘a time when men lost their sanity and killing Jews was legal.’
Uniquely placed to tell the world of the devastation, suffering and lifetime legacies of those wartime years, Levine makes readers aware of the rage that can still burn inside her over the inhuman treatment of Jews, but she is also determined to thank those few people who helped her family, speak out against ethnic and religious hatred, and to try to make sure that ‘evil never triumphs.’
A breathtaking account told with dark humour, heart and hope.
(Macmillan, hardback, £20)