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February 22, 2024

We Must Not Think of Ourselves by Lauren Grodstein ~ a Review

by Susan Roberts

A heart-wrenching story of love and defiance set in the Warsaw Ghetto, based on the actual archives kept by those determined to have their stories survive World War II.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.

book cover of historical fiction novel We Must Not Think of Ourselves by Lauren Grodstein
November 2024; Algonquin Books; 978-1643752341
audio, ebook, print (304 pages); historical fiction

This well-written and well-researched novel is a look inside the day-to-day life of the Jewish people inside the Warsaw Ghetto.   It is based on the Oneg Shabbot organization that interviewed people in the ghetto who wanted their stories to survive the war and tell the real story of their lives in captivity.

Adam is 42 years old and his beloved spouse had died several years before.  She had been from a very rich Polish family and her father convinced Adam that he would help him.  In reality, he tricked Adam and took his home and made arrangements for Adam to go live in the Warsaw ghetto where he was forced to live in a small apartment with two families - a total of 10 people.  He teaches school for some of the children and works in one of the Jewish agencies.,  When he's approached by the head of a secret group, he's asked to help them interview people in the Ghetto to get the story of their lives both inside their day-to-day lives in the ghetto as well as their lives in Warsaw before the war.  He begins to document the stories of his friends, students, and other people that he meets.  One of the people he interviews is the wife of one of the families that he shares an apartment with.  She is the mother of two boys and she and Adam fall in love.  In 1942, the Germans started to liquidate the Ghetto and send the inhabitants to 'work camps' that were really concentration camps where many of them were put to death.  When Adam finds out that there is a possibility of escaping from the ghetto, he has to decide if he'll take a chance and who he will take with him?

This book is well-researched.  Using some of the interviews from the archives, the readers get a close look at what life was really like for the Jewish people crowded into a small space and policed by German soldiers many of whom enjoyed punishing and torturing the inhabitants.  Adam is a complex character who tries to make the best of his life even though he sees very little future for many of the people he deals with.

I read a lot of World War II fiction and this is the first time I've read about the underground group that interviewed so many inhabitants of the Warsaw Ghetto.  Many of the documents survived the war and are on display at a museum in Warsaw.

Note:  The Oneg Shabbat group kept the memory of the Jews imprisoned in the Warsaw ghetto and their deaths in extermination camps. Its members undertook a unique form of intellectual resistance against Nazi Germany. The result, the Underground Archive of the Warsaw Ghetto, is the most important testimony of the Holocaust.

Susan Roberts grew up in Michigan but loves the laid-back life at her home in the Piedmont area of North Carolina where she is two hours from the beach to the east and the mountains in the west.  She reads almost anything but her favorite genres are Southern Fiction and Historical Fiction.   

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