REVIEW: Into the Forest: A Holocaust Story of Survival, Triumph, and Love by Rebecca Frankel
A gripping story of love, escape, and survival, from wartime Poland to a courtship in the Catskills
In the summer of 1942, the Rabinowitz family narrowly escaped the Nazi ghetto in their Polish town by fleeing to the forbidding Bialowieza Forest. They miraculously survived two years in the woods—through brutal winters, Typhus outbreaks, and merciless Nazi raids—until they were liberated by the Red Army in 1944. After the war they trekked across the Alps into Italy where they settled as refugees before eventually immigrating to the United States.
During the first ghetto massacre, Miriam Rabinowitz rescued a young boy named Philip by pretending he was her son. Nearly a decade later, a chance encounter at a wedding in Brooklyn would lead Philip to find the woman who saved him. And to discover her daughter Ruth was the love of his life.
From a little-known chapter of Holocaust history, one family’s inspiring true story.
Spoiler (Content warning): Show
Years ago I read “While Still We Live” a fiction book set in Poland during World War II with a large part of it devoted to the partisans who lived in the forests. I ended up not loving it but it did introduce me to the fact that people had lived and survived this way. Then a few years ago, I read “We Were the Lucky Ones” a non-fiction account of a Polish Jewish family that was scattered during the war but managed to survive and reunite. When the blurb mentioned that this book would be about “love, escape, and survival,” I hoped there would be a slightly happier story with a slightly less awful ending than most Holocaust books.
First off for those who are worried, the author has known the two daughters of Morris and Miriam Rabinowitz for years. This is not a faux Holocaust survival story. Secondly, although the four immediate members of the Rabinowitz family survived the war along with the young boy whom Miriam saved, many, many of their family members did not. There is death and suffering in the story so readers need to be prepared for that. Moments of happiness (Morris and Miriam’s early marriage, the birth of their daughters, the warm and extended family that surrounded them) are followed by difficulty under the Soviet occupation that preceded the horror of the Nazis and the Einsatzgruppen. The details are not glossed over.
The Rabinowitzs prepared for some eventualities and Morris’s knowledge of the primeval forest that was close to their hometown as well as his contacts among friendly Christian Poles tipped the scales of survival for the family. Yet life in the forest was not light and gay. There were arguments, they were with some people they didn’t like, there was always the risk of Germans as well as (some of) the Poles, Ukranians and Lithouanians hunting them for reward money. Illness, hunger, and brutally cold winters tested them. And WARNING there were times when the survival of many depended on some of the Jewish fugitives doing some otherwise horrible things. Some sections were very hard to read.
After the war the political situation as well as the tenuous reception they received from former neighbors (some welcomed them back with open arms and returned everything they’d kept hidden for them, others not so much) caused the family to decide to leave Poland for good. This is where more happiness reappears as the Rabinowitz family settles in the US, embraces the opportunities they find, and eventually rediscovers a now grown young man Miriam had risked her life to save. Yep, the romance, love, and marriage arrives. If you feel burned by “Misha and the Wolves” or “Angel at the Fence,” here is a true story of miraculous survival that does yield a (somewhat – because of the terrible loss of other family members) happy ending. B