RENEE: I was ten years old then, and my sister was eight. The responsibility was on me to warn everyone when the soldiers were coming because my sister and both my parents were deaf.
I was my family's ears.
Meet Renee and Herta, two sisters who faced the unimaginable -- together. This is their true story.
As Jews living in 1940s Czechoslovakia, Renee, Herta, and their parents were in immediate danger when the Holocaust came to their door. As the only hearing person in her family, Renee had to alert her parents and sister whenever the sound of Nazi boots approached their home so they could hide.
But soon their parents were tragically taken away, and the two sisters went on the run, desperate to find a safe place to hide. Eventually they, too, would be captured and taken to the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen. Communicating in sign language and relying on each other for strength in the midst of illness, death, and starvation, Renee and Herta would have to fight to survive the darkest of times.
This gripping memoir, told in a vivid "oral history" format, is a testament to the power of sisterhood and love, and now more than ever a reminder of how important it is to honor the past, and keep telling our own stories.
Based on video testimonies of two Jewish sisters—Renee Hartman and Herta Myers—born in Bratislava, what was then Czechoslovakia, this memoir reads true to its origins as an oral history of the girls' experiences during and after the Holocaust. The book opens in 1943 when Hartman—the only hearing member of her family, which communicates using sign language—is 10 years old and Herta is eight. The "family's ears," Hartman is charged with warning her family as Nazi soldiers begin to round up Jewish people living in their town. The sisters recount their arduous journey first as unaccompanied children sent into hiding by their parents to live on a farm in Poland, then through a year in the Bergen-Belsen camp, followed by three in Sweden. Narrated in a matter-of-fact tone primarily by Hartman, with additional entries by Myers, the story is rich in the depiction of the sisters' strong sustaining relationship throughout their horrific ordeals, especially Renee's protection of her sister. Final sections chronicle the siblings' subsequent lives in America, where they arrived in 1948; Greene's epilogue provides historical background about the Holocaust. Ages 8–12.