Trapped in the horrors of World War II, a woman and a child embark on a journey of survival in this page-turning true story that recalls the power and the poignancy of Schindler’s List.
Michael Stolowitzky, the only son of a wealthy Jewish family in Poland, was just three years old when war broke out and the family lost everything. His father, desperate to settle his business affairs, travels to France, leaving Michael in the care of his mother and Gertruda Bablinska, a Catholic nanny devoted to the family. When Michael's mother has a stroke, Gertruda promises the dying woman that she will make her way to Palestine and raise him as her own son.
Written with the invaluable assistance of Michael, now seventy-two and living in New York City, GERTRUDA’S OATH re-creates Michael and Gertruda’s amazing journey. Gripping vignettes bring to life the people who helped ensure their survival, including SS officer Karl Rink, who made it his mission to save Jews after his own Jewish wife was murdered; Rink’s daughter, Helga, who escaped to a kibbutz, where she lived until her recent death; and the Jewish physician Dr. Berman, who aided Michael and Gertruda through the worst of times.
GERTRUDA’S OATH is a story of extraordinary courage and moral strength in the face of horrific events. Like Schindler’s List, it transcends history and religion to reveal the compassion and hope that miraculously thrives in a world immersed in war without end.
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RAM OREN is known as the John Grisham of Israel. Formerly a lawyer and journalist, he founded the Keshet publishing company and has written more than sixteen runaway bestsellers. GERTRUDA’S OATH is Oren’s first English translation sold in the United States. He lives in Israel.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The smoke clouds of war slowly began to dissipate and the spring sun broke through, caressing the ruins that buried tens of thousands of human beings, flooding the devastated streets, and scattering sparks of light on the waters of the broad Vistula River that slowly bubbled up to wash away memories of dread and death.
On the hill, above scarred Warsaw, stood the ancient and magnificent mansion of the Stolowitzky family, which had miraculouslysurvived the war intact. Four floors of hewn stone, carved edges, statues of ancient warriors on the roof ledge, impressive mosaic windows and painted wooden ceilings.
Only two of the original inhabitants of the mansion were still alive, a boy and his nanny, and they were on their way to another country, far away. In their new home, between peeling walls, rust spots spreading in the bathtub, and cheap furniture–that mansion with all its splendor and charm seemed like a daydream, the product of an overactive imagination.
The boy and his nanny, who adopted him as a son, lived in a small apartment in one of the alleys of Jaffa, in a tenement. From the window, they saw only dreary buildings, children playing in an abandoned yard, and women returning home from the market, carrying heavy shopping bags. Most of the day, the apartment was invaded by the noise of passing cars and the stench of garbage. In winter the smell of mildew permeated the rooms, and in summer the walls trapped a blazing stifling air.
In the mansion on the hill, everything, of course, was different. The big building with its spacious wings, its gardens, was properly heated in winter and properly cooled in summer. A pure breeze from the river blew in the windows and servants tiptoed about to avoid any undue noise. The closets were stuffed with expensive clothes. Luxurious meals were served in rare china dishes. The old heavy cutlery, polished clean, was gold, and the wine was poured into fine crystal glasses.
Michael Stolowitzky and his adoptive mother, Gertruda, had survived the war and now both of them were struggling to survive in the new land. He attended school. She was past her prime by now. Every morning she’d go to work as a cleaning woman in the northern part of the city and return in the evening, her joints aching and her eyes weary. Michael would greet her with a kiss, take off her shoes, cook her meager supper, and make her bed. He knew she was working too hard only to have enough money to send him to school and provide for all his needs. He swore that someday he would pay her back generously for everything she had done for him–for saving him from death, for devoting her life to him, for making sure he didn’t lack anything.
Poverty and shortages weren’t strangers to Michael Stolowitzky. He had experienced them throughout his journey of survival in the world war, but he also saw light at the end of the tunnel, the end of penury, the end of the daily struggle for existence. He believed that someday, in the not-too-distant future, everything would change and things would go back to the way they were, to the days when they knew wealth and comfort, days far from suffering and torments.
His rosy future was within reach, clear and concrete. Only a four- hour flight from Israel lay a blocked treasure, millions of dollars and gold bars deposited in Swiss banks by his late father, Jacob, the Jew who was called “the Rockefeller of Poland.” Michael was his only heir.
The legacy, a small recompense for the suffering and loss of the war, filled Michael’s thoughts and assumed a central place in his fantasies. When he was recruited into the Israeli army, he waited impatiently for his military service to end so he could work on getting the money. He was sent to a battle unit and was wounded in the leg by a bullet from a Syrian sniper during a firefight in the northern Kinneret.
Groaning in pain, he was taken to the operating room in the hospital in Poriya. When he opened his eyes after the anesthesia wore off, he saw his adoptive mother weeping. He held his weak hand to her and she clutched it to her bosom.
“Don’t cry,” he said. “I promise you that everything will be fine.”
When he was discharged from the army, he returned to their small apartment and the very next day he went to look for work. No work was beneath him. He was a messenger on a scooter, running around all hours of the day among customers in Tel Aviv; he worked as a waiter in the evening; and he was a guard at a textile factory at night. It was important for him to save up money.
Two years later, in June 1958, he took all his savings and the surviving family documents and bought an airplane ticket to Zurich.
“How long will you be there?” asked Gertruda anxiously.
“Two or three days. I don’t think I’ll have to stay any longer than that.”
“And if they won’t give you the money?”
He smiled at her confidently. “Why won’t they? You’ll see, I’ll come back with my inheritance and our whole life will change,” he promised.
She went to the airport with him and kissed him good- bye.
“Take care of yourself,” she said. “And take care of the money. Don’t let them steal it from you.”
“Don’t worry,” he replied.
He got on the plane, excited and anxious. In Zurich he rented a small room and couldn’t fall asleep all night. He had only the name of one bank among those where his father had deposited his funds, and the next day he went there. He pictured the bank clerks bringing him heaps of money and his adoptive mother welcoming him when he got back to Israel, rich and carefree. He knew exactly what he would say to her:
“We’re rich, Gertruda. Now we’ll move to our own house, we’ll buy whatever we want, and most important–you won’t ever have to work again.”
And she would wind her arms around him, and would say to him, as always:
“My dear, I don’t need money. I only need you to be with me.”
Shrouded in a uniform decorated with the military medals inherited from his forefathers, the marquis Stefan Roswadovsky bit his lips in rage and drained another glass of brandy. He was a potbellied, ruddy- faced man, whose seventy- two years had passed in a nonstop journey of pleasures. Under his broad jaw, like a plump dumpling,hung a pink double chin, which grew and thickened as the rest ofhis body swelled with his gluttony.
From the yard came the rustle of carriage wheels entering thegate, and the taste of nausea, as the taste of impending disaster, rose in the marquis’s throat. What wouldn’t he give to prevent this?
Gloomy leaden clouds, like his mood, hung over Warsaw. A thin silent rain fell on the flower gardens of the mansion at Ujazdowska Avenue 9 when the carriage stopped and the driver jumped from his seat and opened the door. A man of about forty, lean and tall, in an elegant wool coat, got out of the carriage. His face was firm and his step supple and confident. The driver opened an umbrella over his head and walked him to the door. From the corner of his window, the marquis watched them in despair. In a few minutes, he knew,
the door would be opened and the honor that had been the glory for generations, passing as a legacy from father to son, his family honor and his own honor, would be trampled and desecrated by a coarse foot.
A servant with a frozen face, wearing a black frock, led the guest in and took his coat.
“Will the gentleman please wait until I announce his arrival,” he said submissively.
The servant silently entered Roswadovsky’s office and bowed deeply.
“Marquis,” he said, “Mr. Stolowitzky has arrived.”
The marquis hesitated. “It won’t hurt the Jew to wait a little,” he grumbled. He needed more time to prepare for the meeting.
With a sigh, the marquis sank deeper into his armchair. His forefathers looked on from the velvet- covered walls, decorated army officers, bearing swords, astride noble steeds with gleaming hides. Next to them, in gold frames, were the portraits of their beautiful plump wives in splendid gowns, wearing gold jewelry and diamonds. Persian rugs, woven by experienced artists who toiled for days in the cellars of Isfahan and Shiraz, were spread from wall to wall, and beautiful furniture that could adorn royal palaces stood in various corners of the spacious office.
The elderly marquis stirred uneasily in his chair, nervously pulled his well- tended mustache, and labored to hide his revulsion at his meeting with the man waiting in the next room. Never had it occurred to him that he of all people, offspring of a noble Polish family, only ruler of the fate of hundreds of tenant farmers, owner of lands and precious art, would wind up in such an embarrassing and offensive situation that would roil his peace of mind and stir melancholy thoughts about the order of the world that had been
turned on its head.
In the family of Marquis Roswadovsky, honor and position were supreme values, the core of life. Roswadovsky was sure of what his ancestors would have done if a Jew had dared to set foot in their house. None of them would have hesitated to throw him out and might even have thrashed the man who had the nerve to stand up to them and take advantage of their distress.
Never had members of the Roswadovsky family met Jews like the man now waiting in the vestibule. In Baranowicz in eastern Poland, where the family owned many estates, the Jews would be filled with dread and awe whenever the marquis’s carriage passed by. They all knelt down and didn’t dare raise their eyes to him. Where did those days vanish to, how did his authority fade? Could the floor of his splendid house in Warsaw, one of the many glorious family houses scattered throughout Poland, be defiled by the shoes of one of the Jews of his city, who came not to plead for his favors,
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Buchbeschreibung New York : Doubleday, 2009. OPp., gebundene Ausgabe, SU. Buchzustand: Gut. 304 S. SU. leicht berieben, Widmung auf fliegendem Blatt, Seiten altersbedingt leicht gebräunt, ansonsten sehr gut erhalten. ISBN: 9780385527187 Sprache: Englisch Gewicht in Gramm: 480. Artikel-Nr. 115005