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 Like

Sign Up for E-News

Plainfield

Get Involved with Downtown Plainfield Alliance

Revitalization of Plainfield has been a talking point for Plainfielders and the surrounding communities for decades, and has been attempted in several stages over time from the 1950s forward. As Plainfielders, we all know the potential of our downtown. Downtown Plainfield is the largest downtown west of Newark, with over 40 blocks. We have a battle that no other downtown near us has - decay - and ...

Philly Fun with the Freewalkers

Jenn's Journey North took a southbound turn to Philadelphia. This past weekend was spent attending events that celebrated the East Coast Greenway, and it didn't hurt that the celebrations included some of my favorite Freewalkers, too.

The East Coast Greenway is the nation's longest biking and walking route.  Their River Relay is a 25th birthday party, with events running from ...

Upcoming Events

Carousel_image_cf40dd8fe0e03ace463c_21752745_272567366594317_1892457096267685574_o

Mon, September 25, 7:00 PM

Plainfield High School, Plainfield

Plainfield Vision 2025: Childhood & Youth ...

Education Government

Carousel_image_cf40dd8fe0e03ace463c_21752745_272567366594317_1892457096267685574_o

Wed, September 27, 7:00 PM

Plainfield High School, Plainfield

Plainfield Vision 2025: Public Safety

Government Police & Fire

Thu, September 28, 3:30 PM

Plainfield Public Library, Plainfield

The Little Prince - A Kid's Movie at the ...

Arts & Entertainment Education

Summit School District Would Respect Student-Athletes' Right to Protest During National Anthem

September 25, 2017

SUMMIT, NJ - While it has yet to occur, the Summit Public School District -- in a two-sentence statement to TAPinto Summit -- indicates it would respect a student athlete's decision to protest during the National Anthem by kneeling or other act / gesture.

"All public school students have the right to free expression providing that expression is peaceful and non-disruptive. Our ...

First Responders Pull 35 Swimmers from Perilous Ocean Waters on One Beach This Weekend

September 24, 2017

BELMAR, NJ — Despite a swimming ban on Belmar beaches triggered by dangerous rip currents, 35 persons were pulled this weekend from the rough surf by first responders, according to authorities.

Although there were no serious injuries reported, ocean rescues on September 23 and 24 kept the all-volunteer Belmar Water Rescue Team and Belmar First Aid Squad, as well as the police department, ...

Plainfield's 21st Century

September 25, 2017

In August, my running-mate, Tera, and I had the pleasure of attending Plainfield's 21st Century Summer Learning end-of-camp celebration. 

It was so refreshing to see some incredible things our students have accomplished in STEAM. Congratulations to all the students who participated- their performance & science projects were simply AWESOME.

We were truly blown away with the ...

Hurricane Relief Concert this Sunday, October 1

September 25, 2017

Show features impressive lineup of R&B, House, and Rap artists, including Aly-Us, Pamela Long, Allure, Judah Priest and Rahway’s Ny’a, to run from 5-8 p.m., sponsored by Union County Freeholders and City of Rahway

 

RAHWAY, NJ---The Union County Performing Arts Center is presenting the Hurricane Relief Benefit Concert, featuring a card of nationally known, ...

What You Should Know about Equifax Data Breach

September 16, 2017

Have you ever applied for a car loan, credit card, lease or mortgage? You may be among the 143 million Americans whose private data was exposed during a recent breach at Equifax – one of our nation’s top three credit reporting agencies. It’s outrageous that Equifax waited more than a month to inform consumers about this hack. And it’s unconscionable that some executives ...

Sam Shepard's 'Simpatico' takes off

Sam Shepard’s “Simpatico” has a forceful workout at McCarter Theatre.

By Liz Keill

PRINCETON, NJ – If you’re at all familiar with the works of Sam Shepard, you know that he writes about gritty, unforgiving characters in what appear to be hopeless situations.

In “Simpatico,” we learn that Vinnie and Carter are former partners in a race horse ...

The Hall Mills Murder Case by William Kunstler

The Hall-Mills Murder Case (The Minister and the Choir Singer) by William Kunstler (Rutgers University Press, 1964

At the end of Brown Avenue in Lavalette, NJ sits an ancient, gloomy, gray house. Flanked by contemporary beach homes, this brooding edifice stands out as a relic of a former era. My friend, Cathy noted to me that this house has a notorious history. “It was once owned by ...