Score: 92/100 (9.2 out of 10)
Summarizing this fascinating and ambitious Holocaust and World War II biography by Martin Bodek are these words:
“The lives we live are so much bigger than the bodies they inhabit.”
That's definitely a nominee for “Best Quote” and it summarizes this book and its key figure, Zaidy, perfectly.
This book follows the life and experiences of the author's grandfather, Benzion (“Son of Zion”), better known as Zaidy.
Zaidy lived during World War II and the Holocaust, uniquely serving multiple different armies on various sides of the conflict.
Zaidy both literally and figuratively stared the angel of death, Joseph Mengele, in the face. Most admirably, he refused to give up his Jewish beliefs and principles even under the most dire and desperate of circumstances. For instance, even when theft was encouraged or even seemed like a necessity for survival, Zaidy refused to take the property and food of others. Even when cannibalism was adopted to keep the starving and near-death inmates alive, Zaidy refused to eat human flesh even if it meant losing his strength, his health, and potentially even his life. He continued to say the Kaddish (Jewish prayer for the dead) long after others in the same situation had abandoned their faith.
Zaidy is a superb example of an iron man in history and a champion of Israel and the Jewish people.
As you might expect from a Holocaust book, it is full of trauma and tragedy. One of the most heart-wrenching things in this book is when Zaidy's family members who were not selected “for life” are listed and named. This book goes on to teach and remind us that their deaths were not in vain and that they are not forgotten. The sanctity of human life is a reoccurring theme throughout this book, one which we loved and admired along with Zaidy himself.
Another theme that reverberates throughout is the concept of preserving the memories and history of people. We are told that the world should learn—and never forget—the name, life, and legacy of Zaidy and his family, some of whom are no longer here to tell their tales.
This book provides a lot of opportunities to learn from Zaidy's (and the author's) family via interviews. Genealogies are also provided, some of which link the family to some celebrities and even imply a possible link to King David himself. In a lot of ways, this book serves as a record and a time capsule for future generations to pick up and learn from.
Now, there are a few strange things about this book. The one thing that jumped out to us as being more than a little bizarre was that present-tense was used for the narrative despite this book being about history (things that happened in the past). Wouldn't you want to use past-tense for a book about... you know... the past? This might just come with the inexperience of the author as this is apparently their second book and part of a learning process.
Another thing that was a bit strange was that “Mommy” is used instead of “Mom” during the interview segments. It just reads strangely to most people for an adult male to tag their mother as “Mommy” in formal writing. That, however, is more of an annoyance than anything.
It also seemed like the same story was told two different times, but in two different ways—first as a summary, then as a series of interviews. Interestingly, the author was extremely diligent about confirming the accuracy of the information by not taking Zaidy's words at face value. There were times when Zaidy forgot information or misspoke, which is understandable considering how long ago these events occurred.
You can't really take away from the amount of research, heart, and effort that went into this book project.
One last positive thing we wanted to mention is that this book sends the message that a tragic event doesn't define you as a person or a human being. That event isn't the be-all and end-all. It's not the ONLY thing that ever happened to you. So, despite this being a World War II/Holocaust book, the actual war and Holocaust internment take up a surprisingly little amount of the book. Instead, we learn about Zaidy's life (and the lives of his family) before and after the war. It's an encouraging and inspirational perspective.
Check it out on Amazon!