Review: Heroines, Rescuers, Rabbis, Spies: Unsung Women of the Holocaust

Heroines, Rescuers, Rabbis, Spies:
Unsung Women of the Holocaust

by Sarah Silberstein Swartz, illustrated by Liz Parkes

Second Story Press, 2022

Category: Young Adult
Reviewer: Jeanette Brod

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Sarah Silberstein Swartz brings a unique set of professional credentials and personal experiences to the researching and writing of Heroines, Rescuers, Rabbis, Spies: Unsung Women of the Holocaust. As a daughter of survivors, she fulfills her objective of providing role models and inspiration for a new generation. She gives the reader an opportunity to engage with many aspects of the Holocaust in many European countries from an avowedly feminist perspective.

This is an eclectic assemblage of biographies that follows nine women from childhood through the Holocaust and postwar rebuilding of the rest of their lives. A few of the women reflect that their most difficult times came after the war with the realization of the loss of family and the despair of not knowing where to go. It is noteworthy that their heroism does not end when the war does. Several of the subjects are personally known to the author, including her mother and aunt, a personal family friend, and the writer of a memoir she was privileged to edit. She connects to the rabbi from Berlin, the only one who does not survive the war, because of her birth and bat mitzvah in that storied city. Others (or their spouses) have been recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem.

The selection of subjects places each woman in a specific place and time when their personal choices shape not only their futures but the safety of those around them. The stories evidence that heroes are not born but made. In the case of the Holocaust, when choiceless choices could easily replace a moral compass, there are displays of armed, cultural, and spiritual resistance. Each of these women lived a life worth honoring and remembering.

The book includes a Selected Timeline of wartime events, a Map, a Glossary, Suggested Readings and an Author’s Note. There is a quote from each woman and a black ink drawing but there are no photographs. Each woman gets a heading, some of which are reflected in the title: a rabbi, a nurse, a photographer, an archivist, a spy, the founder of an orphanage, the wife of a diplomat and two sisters (the author’s mother and aunt) who were active in the Resistance. The many places each lived are included in the Table of Contents.

The time is past due for women’s experiences in the Holocaust to be considered in the conversation and for myths of passivity to be debunked once and for all. There may have been more exciting ways to tell these tales but it is important that they have been shared. Heroines, Rescuers, Rabbis, Spies: Unsung Women of the Holocaust may be useful in the classroom because of the local histories and diversity of portraits it represents. I will carry the stories of these Unsung Women of the Holocaust with me. 

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Reviewer Jeanette Brod is the Children's and Teen Services Associate at the New Milford Public Library in Connecticut. She serves as an Educational Consultant at Connecticut’s Voices of Hope HERO Center. Jeanette is the former Director of Lifelong Learning at her local synagogue, Temple Sholom, and a past Vice-President of the Children's Book Council in New York City. She holds a Master's degree in Comparative Literature from Indiana University, Bloomington. Jeanette and her husband, Alexander, are the proud parents of two grown children.