Living Among the Dead: My Grandmother's Holocaust Survival Story of Love and Strength
Holocaust Survivor True Stories WWII Book 3
by Adena Bernstein Astrowsky Genre: Biography, Memoir
This is the story of one remarkable young woman's unimaginable journey through the rise of the Nazi regime, the Second World War, and the aftermath. Mania Lichtenstein’s dramatic story of survival is narrated by her granddaughter and her memories are interwoven with beautiful passages of poetry and personal reflection. Holocaust survivor Mania Lichtenstein used writing as a medium to deal with the traumatic effects of the war.
Many Jews did not die in concentration camps, but were murdered in their lifelong communities, slaughtered by mass killing units, and then buried in pits. As a young girl, Mania witnessed the horrors while doing everything within her power to subsist. She lived in Włodzimierz, north of Lvov (Ukraine), was interned for three years in the labor camp nearby, managed to escape and hid in the forests until the end of the war.
Although she was the sole survivor of her family, Mania went on to rebuild a new life in the United States, with a new language and new customs, always carrying with her the losses of her family and her memories.
Seventy-five years after liberation, we are still witnessing acts of cruelty born out of hatred and discrimination. Living among the Dead reminds us of the beautiful communities that existed before WWII, the lives lost and those that lived on, and the importance to never forget these stories so that history does not repeat itself.
*2020 Reader's Favorite Gold Medal Winner in the Non-Fiction – Biography Genre!!
The first real signs of danger that Bubbie experienced from the Nazis were derogatory statements on the radio, as well as from strangers on the streets. They would spew hateful commands exclaiming, “Jews, go to Palestine! Jews, go to Palestine!” They wanted the Jews to leave their hometown. She then heard rumors that the Poles, who at that time had authority in her city, were gathering Jews and sending them to Madagascar or Africa. 43 My grandmother viewed Madagascar as this “strange, fun place.” Her family knew it was in Africa and was, in her mind, probably wild and savage. Still, they thought maybe it would likely be better there than where they were currently living. Regardless, her family made no attempt to leave the country nor did anyone else they knew. It was not that they wanted to stay, but they did not have any other place to go. Besides, they had little money, and more importantly, this was their place, their home.
Adena Astrowsky has dedicated her career to helping the most vulnerable of our society. She did this by prosecuting child sexual abuse cases and domestic violence cases within the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office. She became the local expert concerning the prosecution of domestic violence related strangulation cases and taught extensively on that subject. Currently, she handles post-conviction cases on appeal and foreign extradition cases. Adena taught Sunday School at her temple for eight years, and in her last two years she co-taught "Character Development Through the Studies of the Holocaust." Adena contributes articles to MASK (Mothers Awareness on School-age Kids) Magazine, often writing about children's safety, drugs, law and order, etc. Once a month Adena volunteers at a local Scottsdale library with her therapy dog, Charlie, as part of the Tail Waggin' Tales Program. Adena has also chaired events to raise money for the Emily Center of Phoenix Children’s Hospital. Adena’s greatest role, however, is as the mother of three very active children. She, and her husband, Brad, are kept very busy with their respective dance, theater, music, and athletic activities.
Can you, for those who don't know you already, tell something about yourself and how you became an author?
I didn’t start out thinking I would ever have a book published. My background is working as a government lawyer and raising my three children. However, my grandmother was a Holocaust survivor. In the 1990s, before she lost her vision, she began writing about her experience during World War II. Some of the pieces she wrote were more poetic; others were personal reflections. She would make copies of the writings and send them to me over the years. When my kids were younger it occurred to me that they should also have a copy of all of my grandmother’s writings and so I began collecting them from all over my house. Then I decided the writings would be easier for my children to understand if they were imbedded within their historical context, so I began interviewing my grandmother to help fill in some of the story. One thing led to another and in March 2020, Amsterdam Publishers published my book, Living among the Dead.
What are some of your pet peeves?
I am really bothered by how difficult it is for some people to say “thank you.” Especially in today’s world, it is so important to have good manners and be appreciative of the things we have or are given. Another huge pet peeve of mine is waste. I hate wasting time, energy, money, etc.
Where were you born/grew up at?
Of my childhood family, I am on the only one born in the United States. My mother was born in a displaced persons’ (“DP”) camp after my grandparents were liberated. My father was born in Montreal (his parents fled Poland before World War II. Montreal is where my parents met and married. Although they lived there for many years, my parents moved to Baltimore, Maryland for one year for my dad’s internship and during that year, I was born. We then moved back to Monteral and both of my sisters were born there.
How to find time to write as a parent?
It’s important to me so I find little bits of time to squeeze it in on the weekends and evenings when I am not working or helping my children.
Describe yourself in 5 words or less!
Hard worker & persistent
Do you have a favorite movie?
Father of the Bride!! I love Steve Martin’s characters and it is just such a sweet, whole-some, feel good movie! Plus Martin Short is hilarious!
Which of your novels can you imagine made into a movie?
I only have one published novel, but several people have mentioned it would be a wonderful movie.
What inspired you to write this book?
The book was written with my children in mind. I wanted to memorialize their family history so it would live on for many generations.
What can we expect from you in the future?
I have two children’s stories written that I would like to get illustrations made for them. I also have a couple of other book ideas that, if I can find the time, will begin working on them in 20201.
Can you tell us a little bit about the characters in Living Among the Dead ?
The book is about my grandmother, Mania Lichtenstein, and her unimaginable journey through the rise of the Nazi regime, the Second World War, and the aftermath. It is a dramatic story of survival of the Holocaust narrated by me and her memories are interwoven with beautiful passages of poetry and personal reflection.
Who designed your book covers?
The book cover was like a gift from heaven. After my grandmother passed away, my mother took all of her photo albums home. One day I was looking through the photo albums and saw the photo, now the cover of my book, which is a picture of my grandmother and my mother walking in Berlin, just a couple of years after being liberated. I love the old cars featured in the background. But most of all, the photo displays a mother and daughter walking happily and carefree – one would never know of the unimaginable nightmare my grandmother had just lived through. The minute I saw the photo I knew it had to be featured on the cover and my publisher agreed immediately.
Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
I was very lucky that my grandmother was still alive when I was writing the book, so I was able to speak with her often and have her fill in any gaps. I learned a lot more about the war, her family, and what it took to survive.
How did you come up with name of this book?
My publisher actually came up with a dozen potential titles and we narrowed it down to two. From there, I really thought about it and decided this was the most fitting as my grandmother, at the age of 17, was the sole survivor of her family.
If you could spend time with a character from your book whom would it be? And what would you do during that day?
My grandmother. I miss her so much. We would sit and talk and bake her sugar cookies.
Have you written any other books that are not published?
Yes, two children’s stories.
What kind of research do you do before you begin writing a book?
My book involved a lot of research in order to be as factually accurate with the historical context in which different events took place. I worked with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Yad Vashem, many online websites, and several people with extensive knowledge about the Holocaust. I also interviewed my grandmother and watched her interview with Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation Project several times.
Pen or type writer or computer?
Why did you write the book? As a means of coping with the trauma of the Holocaust, my grandmother wrote. She wrote about meaningful things to her such as her childhood, her family, her garden, etc. Over the years she would send me her writings and I found that as time went by I had them stored in all different places of my home. So, initially my goal was to gather all of my grandmother’s writings and copy them into a bound packet so that my children would have them all in one place. Then I decided the writings would make better sense if they were imbedded within the context of whatever she wrote about so I began doing some of my own research, including listening to her interview with Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation multiple times, and interviewing her. As others learned of what I was doing, I began getting requests for copies of the completed product. At the same time, I spent a lot more time learning the historical context that surrounded her writings and decided to also offer my third-generation survivor perspective as I thought it was equally important to help combat current forms of hate and genocide occurring all over the world. If we don’t begin addressing the roots of hatred, there is no way to ensure another holocaust won’t occur in the future.
Did you think it difficult to write about your family's hardship?
It was extremely difficult to write about my grandmother’s hardship because fleshing out the details caused my grandmother to relive the trauma. It was helpful to me that she was interviewed in the late 1990s by Steven Spielberg’s project, the Shoah Foundation, as I was able to learn many of the details through her videotaped interview, but still, asking my grandmother to recount countless details caused her obvious pain which in turn caused me to feel badly.
Another interesting thing occurred during the writing of my book: I was put in touch with a childhood friend of my grandmother’s. This connection came through a contact I was working with at Yad Vashem. I was able to communicate with my grandmother’s childhood friend through a college friend of mine who spoke Hebrew and was living in Israel at the time. This woman grew up in the same hometown as my grandmother and they were very close in age. Additionally, they lived together in the first ghetto before being separated. She shared with me some beautiful and unknown stories about my grandmother that my grandmother never told anyone. I can only assume that my grandmother had a reason for not sharing certain things and although I knew many would find the stories interesting, I decided not to include some of them in the book.
Now that only a few survivors are alive, do you think this type of book will becoming a new genre?
As fewer survivors remain alive, any new “Holocaust Memoirs” will decrease. We will likely start seeing a new genre of books like mine, written by descendants, and based on the information they were able to glean from the survivors during their lifetime, their own research, and their own personal perspective.
What is your main message with this book?
Nearly seventy-five years after liberation, we are still witnessing acts of cruelty born out of hatred and discrimination. My message in “Living among the Dead” is to remind people of the beautiful communities that existed before WWII, the lives lost and those that lived on, and the importance to never forget these stories so that history does not repeat itself.
What do you think about the general knowledge about the Holocaust?
Like most members of my generation, born three decades after the end of World War II, I came to my own story with almost no real understanding of the plight of Jews in the Holocaust, much less that of my own grandmother. With no real, personal connection to the Holocaust, I think it is unrealistic to expect others to have much more than a brief, general understanding of the Holocaust. Unfortunately, as time goes on, this will be even less so. I am very grateful that in my home state of Arizona, legislation is currently being considered to make Holocaust education mandatory. The Holocaust Education bill has passed in the House of Representatives and then will need to be voted on in the Senate before being sent to our state’s Governor to sign it into law. Should this get accomplished, children will be required to learn about the Holocaust as part of the school’s curriculum.
Writing biography as a memoir will become a new genre of books that will be both unique and important for future generations. With the passing of time, and fewer Survivors living, we will have less and less memoirs dedicated to detailing their stories of survival in the first person. As such, we will become more dependent on others to write these non-fiction books outlining the events that took place during the Holocaust. Likely, more second and third generation survivors will need to take over the task of learning the Survivor’s history, doing the research, and writing their story. Doing so will be imperative in order to keep their stories alive and help future generations by learning what is at stake if we don’t stand up against discrimination.
In a nutshell, my grandmother’s story is about a 17-year-old girl who was living in a beautiful community surrounded by friends and close family. As the Nazi regime gained power and Jews were targeted her entire life changed in an instant. She went from being shy and the youngest in her family to being an orphan, alone, and having to fend for herself. Miraculously, she was able to survive three pogroms and escape to the forest where she met some others in hiding. From there she was liberated and eventually emigrated to Canada with her husband, another Survivor she met in the forest, and their young girl. From Canada she moved to the United States and before she passed away, her family totaled 2 daughters, 5 grand-daughters, and 9 great-grandchildren. She left behind beautiful passages of poetry and prose written about her life in Europe, the Holocaust, and her feelings.
Hatred and bigotry led to the worst genocide in world history. While there are so many lessons to be learned from the Holocaust, and while we would expect to see more empathy and understanding today, instead, hatred and violence are on the rise. Jews are being targeted and anti-semitism is as real today as it was during WWII. As we get farther and farther removed from the Holocaust, trying to apply the lessons of the past when facing the issues of today has become a real challenge. We must keep these stories alive as they provide detailed information, a chance for a young reader to connect personally, with the story of a Survivor. We need a constant reminder of what unchecked hatred can lead to. And that’s why testimonials and stories such as my grandmother’s are so important today. They speak of hope, resilience, love, and determination.
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