Beth's Book Review

Together: A Journey for Survival by Ann S. Arnold

Together: A Journey for Survival by Ann S. Arnold (Avalerion Books, 20160)

 

At the March meeting of the New Jersey Commission on the Holocaust, Mark Schonwetter, a survivor of the horrors of the 1930s and 40s, and his daughter, Ann S. Arnold, introduced the Commission to Ann's publication of her father's story, Together: A Journey for Survival. Arnold explained that she wanted the remarkable saga of her grandmother, aunt, and father's survival of the Holocaust to be recorded for future generations to know.

Early in the beautifully written memoir, Arnold states, “Only after I had children myself did I understand parts of the story all the way down in my soul. My grandmother's courage, strength, and perseverance will always stand as an example of the superhero-like qualities that can be found in a mother's love. She swore to her husband that she would keep them together. She kept her word.” (p.140) Through using her intuition, guts, and determination, Sala Schonwetter persevered in fighting to keep her little family alive during one of history's darkest hours.

Sign Up for E-News

The survivors of the Holocaust who are still alive today, for the most part, were children during those perilous times. Since most of the children who were sent to the concentration camps in Europe perished upon arrival, the remnants of the aging survivors are mostly children who were hidden by their neighbors. Many of the victims found shelter with brave citizens under Nazi siege, and are only now coming forward to tell their stories before they are lost to history forever. Talking about their experiences as fugitives remains a harrowing exercise for the handful of survivors who are still with us. When they do speak in schools, our students are held spellbound by their stories, and treat the elderly survivors with reverence and awe. It is truly amazing to attend a lecture given by a Holocaust survivor.

The Schonwetters lived in Brzostek, a village in Southern Poland. They ran a respectably prosperous farm until the arrival of the German army. Arnold tells us, “My grandfather quickly went from prestigious farmer and landowner to working on slave crews.” (p. ii) After her husband was taken in a round-up by the Germans and disappeared forever, Sala Schonwetter and her small son, Manek (who is known as Mark Schonwetter today) had a frightening encounter with an SS officer, in which a naughty Manek caused horses attached to a wagon to bolt, nearly unseating a uniformed soldier on a motorcycle. As Sala watched the drama unfold, she thought, “One heartbeat . . .Another heartbeat.” (p.10) In order to protect young Manek from a Nazi bullet, she beat her beloved son in front of the enraged soldier. From thereon, the lives of the Schonwetter family are marked by the conscious beats of a desperate mother's heart. The powerful theme of the beat of the human heart to stay alive, is the thread that connects one harrowing incident to another throughout the story.

In discussing the book with the Commission, Mark Schonwetter told the audience how his mother knew when it was safe to hide with families who agreed to take the risk. Arnold recounts her grandmother's logic in accepting help in this statement, “From house to house, she searched for someone willing to risk their lives to protect a Jewish family . . . Most of the people she entreated were happy to take them. This eagerness scared her. No sane person would want to risk the wrath of the Germans. Sala suspected their open arms meant they saw an opportunity to profit from their presence. She knew they would turn her and the children in at their first opportunity for nothing more than a jar of marmalade or a kilo of sugar. So she would move on.” (p.89)

Some of the time the little family stayed in barns, sleeping in sweet smelling hay. However, one farmer, a fellow named Ribba, escorted the Schonwetters to his stable. There he had dug out a grave, which he commanded Sala and her children get into. She stoutly refused to take up his offer until little Manek persuaded her by saying, “Marmusia, look. . . It's warm. Nice and warm. We don't have to worry about someone seeing us through the trees, and the wind cannot reach us down here. We will be able to sleep, really sleep, and not have to worry about anything.” (p. 91) Through the harsh Polish winter, the Schonwetter's existed in a forlorn pit, surviving on the meager bread and water that their host brought daily.

During the warmer months, Sala and her children scavenged the forests for berries, edible mushrooms, and whatever else they could find to eat. Constantly on the lookout for posses of German soldiers, the Schonwetters scrambled to stay hidden and survive. But, they emerged from the experience resembling skinny scarecrows left to pick up the remnants of their once happy lives.

Due to the violence and horror of the events of the Holocaust, it is difficult to find literature that is suitable for younger children. Staples of elementary and middle school reading materials are The Diary of Anne Frank, Number the Stars, and The Book Thief. Elie Wiesel's classic 100 page long story of his survival in the Auschwitz death camp is generally taught in the 8th or 9th grade. One of the compelling reasons to read Together:A Journey for Survival is that the horror is kept to the barest minimum and the larger themes of the struggle to survive, the importance of family in one's life, and the significance of having the courage to stand up to the bullies of the world, make this book a great one to use as an introduction to youngsters about the tragedies of the Holocaust.

Ann S. Arnold has achieved her goal of paying tribute to her strong and determined grandmother, but she also delivers the important message that even in the most dire events of the 20th century, there are moments of triumph and salvation to be recounted.

Beth Moroney, former English teacher and administrator in the Edison Public School District, specialized in teaching Creative Writing and Journalism. Recently Moroney published Significant Anniversaries of Holocaust/Genocide Education and Human/Civil Rights, available through the New Jersey Commission on the Holocaust. A passionate reader, Moroney is known for recommending literature to students, teachers, parents, and the general public for over forty years. Moroney can be contacted at trackdak19@hotmail.com.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of TAPinto.net or anyone who works for TAPinto.net. TAPinto.net is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

Elizabeth

Upcoming Events

Carousel_image_ec60039a423eee95393a_scan_0005

Sat, November 25, 10:00 AM

Roselle Park Knights of Columbus #3240 at the Church of the Assumption, Roselle Park

Blood Drive in Roselle Park

Sun, November 26, 3:00 PM

The Snyder Academy of Elizabethtown, Elizabeth

Actors Shakespeare Company presents A Christmas ...

Arts & Entertainment

Tue, November 28, 5:00 PM

Center for Hope Hospice, administration building, Scotch Plains

“VA Benefits for Long Term Care” -- CEU seminar ...

Health & Wellness Other

Elizabeth Football and Cheer Program Seeks Community Support to Raise Funds for 2017 National Cheer & Dance Competition

November 19, 2017

ELIZABETH, NJ—A local, long-standing program in Elizabeth has the opportunity to compete in the 2017 National Cheer & Dance Competition in Orlando and they are seeking donations from the community to make it happen.

The Football and Cheer Program is a part of PAL (Police Athletic League). Elizabeth PAL was started in 1947 by a group of caring police officers that wanted to make a ...

Tree-Lighting Ceremony to Kick-Off Holiday Festivities -Santa Comes to Elizabeth

ELIZABETH, N.J.--It’s that time of the year, twinkling lights, festive decorations and a chance to visit with the most important guy in a red suit you’ll ever meet.

The Elizabeth Avenue Partnership (EAP) has announced the lineup of holiday events on Elizabeth Avenue this season starting with the Official Tree-Lighting Ceremony at Union Square Plaza on Tuesday, November 28 from ...

Learn How to Defend Against Cyber Bullies

Springfield, N.J.--With the continued rise of social media, an alarming number of children and teens are targets of online bullying. To learn more about cyberbullying tactics and how to fight back against them, parents and caregivers are invited to attend “Bullying & Our Children,” a free public discussion.

This special presentation will be held on Monday, November 27, from ...

Trinitas Regional Medical Center Seeks Level II Trauma Center Designation

Elizabeth, N.J.--Trinitas Regional Medical Center is seeking formal Level II Trauma Center designation in response to the first official trauma call by the New Jersey Department of Health DOH in nearly 20 years.  The Medical Center will submit its application to the DOH this week.

According to Gary S. Horan, FACHE, Trinitas President & CEO, the state of New Jersey has an excellent ...

Redesigned Elizabeth Train Station on Hold-Mayor Says Fire NJ Transit Executives

November 10, 2017

ELIZABETH, NJ—The Governor-Elect already has a decision to make on his first day in office.

Mayor J. Christian Bollwage is calling upon the Governor-Elect to remove the New Jersey Transit Executive Team of their positions and appoint pro-active, capable individuals, who are in favor of rail improvements. The Mayor has requested that this action be taken in response to New Jersey ...

Fanwood Police Officer with Law Enforcement Team in Puerto Rico Finds Misery and Optimism

November 11, 2017

FANWOOD, NJ -- Like many other visitors to post-hurricane Puerto Rico, Fanwood Police Officer Elliott Bernard says the images seen on TV and online simply don’t capture the enormity of the damage, even two months after the storm. Roads with giant fissures, downed utility poles, epic food and water shortages and the lack of power make day to day life exhausting.

“Every day, you ...

Scotch Plains Resident with Autism Thankful for Support from Community Access Unlimited

November 19, 2017

SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ -- Tyler O'Neill and his family are thankful for so much this Thanksgiving, including the support he receives from the nonprofit Community Access Unlimited (CAU).

O'Neill, 25 and a resident of Scotch Plains, is a person on the autism spectrum who attends CAU's Academy of Continuing Education (ACE) twice a week.

"I learn to act in theater class," he ...

The Two Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman

The Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman (St. Martins Griffin, 2016)

 

Author Lynda Cohen Loigman states, “The Two-Family House is a story I thought about for at least ten years before I ever wrote a word. I spent countless hours over a full decade thinking about how Rose, Helen, Abe, and Mort would behave in difficult situations, and how they would feel when faced with ...

Sustained, Severe Cuts Equal Setbacks at NJ Department of Environmental Protection

November 8, 2017

Trenton, N.J.--Long-term budget and staff cuts have severely impacted the ability of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to carry out critical work to protect New Jersey’s environment and residents. This has serious implications for wildlife, public health, and our economy. DEP is charged with managing and protecting the State’s environment and natural ...