JOINT DISCUSSION: For Such a Time by Kate Breslin
ALL THE TRIGGER WARNINGS
Janine: I asked Sunita, who read this book in its entirety, to join me for this discussion. As one whose relatives died in Auschwitz, I could only bring myself to read 35% of Breslin’s novel, the first 145 pages. So there are questions I can’t answer, like whether the heroine remains Jewish or converts to Christianity, whether the hero gets a HEA, or whether his “redemption” comes across as genuine. I’m hoping Sunita will weigh in on these and other topics.
Sunita: I managed to get through the whole book, but it was hard. When I decided to read it I went in with the conscious intention to accept the premise, as awful as it seemed. There may be a way to tell this story, but that will have to remain an open question for me, because this book is definitely not it. I found it more difficult to read as I went on, and the last quarter of the book, where the action takes off, was the most disturbing.
Janine: Thanks for making it all the way there. I honestly can’t think of a way to do justice to the harrowing experience of the concentration camps in a romance novel. Perhaps some things should not be attempted, and that’s one of them. As for making such a romance a Christian inspirational and casting a Jewish survivor of Dachau and a Nazi concentration camp Kommandant as the central couple… I am hard put to come up with strong enough language to underscore what a horrible premise this is.
On the cover and the cover copy:
Janine: Setting aside all the issues I have with the author’s choices for a moment, I want to start by talking about how the publisher, Bethany House, handled the marketing of this book. The back cover blurb is so distressing that I’m very conflicted about reproducing it, but here it is:
Powerful Retelling of the Story of Esther
In 1944, blonde and blue-eyed Jewess Hadassah Benjamin feels abandoned by God when she is saved from a firing squad only to be handed over to a new enemy. Pressed into service by SS-Kommandant Colonel Aric von Schmidt at the transit camp of Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia, she is able to hide behind the false identity of Stella Muller. However, in order to survive and maintain her cover as Aric’s secretary, she is forced to stand by as her own people are sent to Auschwitz.
Suspecting her employer is a man of hidden depths and sympathies, Stella cautiously appeals to him on behalf of those in the camp. Aric’s compassion gives her hope, and she finds herself battling a growing attraction for this man she knows she should despise as an enemy.
Stella pours herself into her efforts to keep even some of the camp’s prisoners safe, but she risks the revelation of her true identity with every attempt. When her bravery brings her to the point of the ultimate sacrifice, she has only her faith to lean upon. Perhaps God has placed her there for such a time as this, but how can she save her people when she is unable to save herself?
First let me say that the word “Jewess” is not an acceptable way to refer to a Jewish woman. It’s offensive and hurtful.
Then there’s the use of the yellow Jewish star. This was a part of the Jewish experience in much of Europe during the 1940s. Like many other Jewish people, my teenaged grandparents were forced to pin such stars to their coats. These were meant to mark them as Jews and eventually isolate them from the rest of the population of Belgium, where they lived at the time.
Finally there’s the use of a photograph of Jews at Auschwitz, many of them likely going to their deaths, to market a romance featuring a Nazi concentration camp Kommandant as its hero.
I have to ask myself, what was this publisher thinking?
Sunita: The cover is deeply unsettling, because at first glance it looked like an ordinary trade paperback cover to me, one that signals historical, often romantic, fiction aimed at women. But then you look more closely and you realize what the yellow represents, and who the people in the photograph must be. I have to say I grew to dread seeing the book in my Kindle library and on my ereader.
Janine: I breathed a sigh of relief after I returned the book to Amazon, citing “offensive content” as the reason. In the space of three days, the sight of it on my reader had become almost unbearable.
On clearing up misconceptions about the book:
Janine: Before reading the first third of this book, I read that the heroine is taken for a gentile because of her blond hair and blue eyes. That is not the case. The heroine has false papers declaring her to be “Stella Muller” (her real name is Hadassah Benjamin), a gentile German.
Unfortunately for her, when one of the Gestapo attempts to press her for sexual favors and she refuses, her identity papers are stamped to say she is Jewish. Aric, the male protagonist of the novel, discovers this when her name is dropped from a train manifest, and seeing something in her that calls to him, gives her a position as his secretary.
Sunita: I keep seeing that repeated, that it’s Stella’s appearance that makes Aric think she’s not Jewish. But there is a scene very early in the book where she explicitly tells him she’s not Jewish and he believes her, apparently because he has a low opinion of the Gestapo (this is an early attempt to make him seem different from other Nazi officers).
On the language:
Janine: The language struck me as well-crafted and almost inviting. That did not make the book any more palatable to me, if anything it was disturbing in itself. Also, “Jew Killer” is used in Hadassah/Stella’s thoughts in reference to Aric early on, and each time it appears on the page was flinch-inducing.
Sunita: I didn’t like the writing nearly as much as you did, or as other reviewers did (including some reviewers who disliked the book intensely). I described it to a fellow reader as “bog-standard mediocre historical romance style.” It’s got a ton of unnecessary description, hackneyed and clichéd phrases, and it’s very unsubtle. We did not need things like Jew Killer and zoineh repeated so many times, let alone so much exposition about the awfulness. There are also some odd word choices, e.g., in the same paragraph Stella’s features are described as both “delicate” and “raw-boned.” And her eyes are first compared to blue water in Aric’s home place, but then they are described (twice) as “blue … like Austria.” That just read so strangely to me.
Janine: Great points.
On the heroine and on her Jewish identity:
Janine: I didn’t read far enough to say whether the heroine converts to Christianity, but from what I did read, she did not appear to be heading that way. However, there were some ways in which Stella’s Jewish identity didn’t read as authentic.
For example, though she is devout, she enjoys a scented bar of soap without giving thought to whether the soap is kosher. She finds a painting depicting a monastery comforting. She thinks of her Christian friend Marta, one who “many times […] had tried in her earnest, gentle way to convert Hadassah to Christ”:
Perhaps that was why they were best friends, she thought with a wistful sigh. Marta’s efforts hadn’t borne fruit, but Hadassah was always touched by the genuine concern for her soul.
Really? When Hadassah was raised by a rabbi? It seems much more likely that she would find such attempts to convert her away from her faith, if not offensive and hurtful than at the very least mightily irritating.
Sunita: This is a point of contention, even among people who have read the book (people who haven’t almost always describe her as having converted). It’s always unwise to speculate on author intentions, but the way spiritual words and phrases are deployed feels less like a signal of conversion than a clumsy attempt to describe Jewish spirituality. Stella/Hadassah almost always reads from the Old Testament of the Christian Bible which is in her room (and that she takes with her later), until the very end of the book. When she thinks of Jesus, it’s via her thoughts of her good friend Marta, who was Christian. But the phrases feel very 21st-century Christian to me; not just her thoughts but those of other Jewish characters. So I can see why readers think that there is subtle conversion going on.
As a non-Christian who’s had her share of conversion attempts (well-meaning and otherwise), and who has attended Christian services throughout her life, nothing that happened in the book suggested to me that Stella ended the book as a Christian. But I fully agree that she was not depicted authentically as Jewish.
Janine: Hadassah also describes herself as “Mischling, half Jewish.” Wikipedia tells me that “Mischling” is a German word meaning “crossbreed.” It seems like it could be a derogatory term, but setting that aside, I don’t think it that likely that a woman brought up by a rabbi (her uncle Morty) would consider herself “half Jewish.”
That’s because in Judaism, anyone born to a Jewish mother is Jewish, unless and until that person converts to another religion. Just as anyone born to a gentile mother is gentile, unless and until that person converts to Judaism. Because Judaism is a matrilineal religion, the father’s religious or ethnic background doesn’t enter into it. So one is either considered Jewish, or not.
In addition to being portrayed without authenticity, Hadassah/Stella’s Jewish identity is constantly used by the author to torment her. I don’t think I’ve ever read a more tortured heroine, either.
Sunita: From my outsider (non-Jewish, non-Christian) perspective, I swung between feeling that Stella was put through the wringer and thinking she was not believable as a professional woman who grew up in Germany in the 1930s and was then incarcerated at Dachau. In the latter half of the book she gains greater agency, but that part is no more believable to me than the earlier parts.
Janine: Stella begins the book as prisoner recently taken from Dachau. In Dachau, her hair is shaved, a number is given her and tattooed on her arm (According to the US Holocaust Museum, only prisoners at Auschwitz were tattooed), and she is starved. Then the little girl she loves and cares for as her own is shot by a firing squad while trying to protect her. After this experience she is forced to work for a Nazi.
Sunita: This is one of the departures from fact and history that really annoyed me, and it’s symptomatic of the over-written melodrama in the book. Stella doesn’t need a tattoo to be sympathetic. She’s emaciated, her head is shaved, and she’s terrified, but that’s not enough, let’s give her a tattoo. Not only that, the text returns to the tattoo several times through the book. Why? A young Jewish woman who is at the mercy of Nazi captors isn’t sympathetic enough?
Janine: Apparently not in the eyes of the author. For me the bit about Aric being taken with the love for the little girl that he sees in Stella’s face just as the child is shot by the firing squad was even more infuriating. There were so many displays of adults trying to protect children during the Holocaust. To portray this common heroism as something exceptional enough to move a Nazi officer to mercy is to erase the brutal reality most parents and children faced in the concentration camps.
When Stella comes to work for Aric, he insists that she eat everything on her plate – and this includes pork. I don’t know if someone who doesn’t come from a background of knowing people who keep kosher or halal can understand how icky and horrifying this is to a devout person.
Stella later has to participate in a dinner party for Nazi officers. Jewish prisoners are present as musicians, and she has to witness her own people mistaking her for the Kommandant’s whore.
Sunita: This is, I believe, the only time we are given any indication that there are musicians at Theresienstadt. In fact, Theresienstadt was a singular type of camp/ghetto, because it was a “show-camp” to which elderly and more affluent Austrian and German Jews had been lured with the promise that it was a type of retirement facility. In retrospect this seems incredible, of course, but there were many musicians, artists, and other professionals there. You get no sense of this from any part of this novel.
Janine: Yes, the prisoners at Theresienstadt are portrayed in a distressingly one-dimensional way.
To get back to the dinner party, during that event, Joseph, a Jewish boy Stella has befriended in the household and whom she feels responsible for, is almost caught sneaking food to the prisoners. To divert the Nazis’ attention, Stella is forced to kiss Nazi Captain Hermann, the sadistic Nazi officer who abuses prisoners and who cut off Joseph’s ear.
Later, at Theresienstadt, Aric tricks her into kissing him, again, in front of Jewish prisoners. Stella also has to wear a Nazi armband around them. She constantly thinks about how her people think she is betraying them. Of course, Stella’s budding feelings of helpless, sometimes even repugnant, but nonetheless ever-present attraction to Aric are a constant torment to her too.
Sunita: Throughout the first two-thirds of the book the reader is whip-sawed between scenes of (chaste) longing between Aric and Stella, horrific circumstances within the ghetto, and the monstrous villainy of almost all the other Nazis (besides Aric and his aide-de-camp). It’s very uncomfortable, in part because they are so discordant, but also because the switches between romance and reality are not well managed.
Janine: All of the events I’ve recounted reading were horrifying to read, but for me nothing in the section I read was worse than the moment when Stella is asked by Captain Hermann to type up a list of two thousand prisoners to be shipped from Theresienstadt to Auschwitz. She manages to omit a hundred and sixty names from this list but she agonizes over the name on the top, which she cannot omit.
Mina Keleman’s card still lay on top. Stella bit her lip. The first card of each stack might hold some significance. While she couldn’t be sure, it was more of a gamble than she could afford to take. Captain Hermann—or anyone else with half a mind—might notice its removal.
Forgive me. She typed Mina’s name, each touch of the key like a knife in the other woman’s back. Marta might liken this to the story of Jesus, how He’d given up His life to save the whole world.
(Stella’s thought of Christ at this time seems utterly inappropriate. How is Mina’s death at all the same, when Mina isn’t choosing or consenting to die to save anyone? Or is it Stella who is making the ultimate sacrifice in typing Mina’s name? Why throw in a Christian metaphor into a scene in which a Jewish woman is forced to type another Jewish woman’s death warrant?)
I couldn’t help but feel that it was the author forcing Stella to undergo these horrors.
Sunita: The inclusion of Jesus through Marta was incredibly clumsily done, and you’ve said perfectly why it’s so infuriating and hurtful.
On Stella’s uncle Morty:
Janine: Stella’s uncle Morty is portrayed in a stereotypical yet saintly way. His visions hint that Stella will deliver her people. His saintliness is doubly problematic since Morty is a member of the Judenrat and is the one who chooses which names go on the deportation lists. Such people were viewed by some of the other Jews as collaborators and are controversial figures for the roles they played.
Sunita: The Uncle Morty character made me really, really angry. From the way the plot is developed as well as from the names given to his other older friends, I conclude that Morty is a composite of two of the first Jewish Elders at Theresienstadt. The first, Jakob Edelstein, was deported to Auschwitz because he was suspected of falsifying the inmate registries and helping people to escape. He was shot at Auschwitz after being forced to witness the murder of his wife and son. The second Elder, Paul Eppstein, was shot at Theresienstadt in September 1944, perhaps because he had overheard SS soldiers saying that the transport trains to Auschwitz were sending people to their deaths, not to resettlement in “the east.” The third elder, Benjamin Murmelstein, survived his incarceration but was widely hated and despised by his fellow survivors because he was seen as overly eager to comply with Nazi demands.
Morty is depicted as a kindly uncle who also happens to be a rabbi. He never sounds like a rabbi, and he seems to have no other responsibilities other than making up the transport lists. Of course this is a terrible job, but the Elders at Theresienstadt had many important responsibilities and basically ran the society that developed in the camp/ghetto. They had been leaders in their communities before they arrived. This depiction erases all that and makes Morty a one-dimensional old man whose greatest accomplishment was military bravery for Germany in World War I.
Janine: In my opinion, in the world of the novel (the portion I managed to read), Morty’s greatest accomplishment is being a vessel for a vision from God—a vision that Hadassah/Stella will be the salvation of the prisoners. Because nothing else about him is as relevant, Morty seems as empty as a vessel — a vehicle, rather than a character.
On the “hero” and his position as head of Theresienstadt:
Janine: Aric Schmidt is a fictional character. He is said to have taken command of Theresienstadt five weeks before Stella goes to work for him in mid-February of 1944. Thus the timing of his tenure there coincides with the last month of real life Lagerkommandant Anton Burger’s tenure there and later, with that of Kommandant Karl Rahm.
Both men were known for their cruelty: Burger ordered about 40,000 prisoners to stand in freezing water for a census, causing 300 or so to die of hypothermia, while Rahm chose to beat prisoners himself and oversee torture sessions.
Sunita: Yes, fictional Aric is inserted into the factual historical record. He’s described as replacing Rahm. I found this disconcerting because it was hard for me to keep the real Rahm separate from the fictional Aric. As the book progressed and the historical and fictional storylines diverged even more, I found it easier.
Janine: Aric is portrayed differently from the reality of Burger and Rahm. In the section I read, we’re not told much about his Nazi party or professional background before taking command of Theresienstadt, just that he fought in the army and was awarded the Knight’s Cross for his valor. I hope you can tell me whether more of his background is filled in to explain why he was given command of the camp.
During the aforementioned dinner party scene he expresses contempt for the SS, of which he is a part. I found it hard to believe that anyone who made such seditious statements (they are even labeled sedition by his guests) would have remained in command long, since these were turbulent times. More than that, I found it creepy and icky that a Nazi head of a concentration camp would be portrayed in such a sympathetic light.
Sunita: The text tells us that Aric was wounded at Stalingrad. He had been a major in the Army for a decade, but he was invalided out, unable to return because his wounds were too serious. He was personally selected by Himmler to become Kommandant of the camp. I think we are supposed to be impressed by this. The text is very careful to assert that he did not do anything horrible, but I’m not sure how you serve ten years in the German army (including the early years of World War II and the Russian campaign) and avoid it.
I didn’t have as much of a problem with Aric’s comments about the SS, in part because he was depicted as an outsider until very recently, and things were not going well for Germany on several fronts by early 1944. So I could imagine discontent being voiced.
However, I did have trouble with the cartoonish villainy of the Nazi officers. All of them have rapist tendencies, and if that isn’t enough, they send back their food and have bad table manners. The general who appears later in the story is mentally referred to by Hadassah as “General Sausage,” and I couldn’t help but think of General Burkhalter in Hogan’s Heroes. That’s not good characterization in a supposedly serious novel.
Janine: Aric is also portrayed as kind to the disabled, including the one-eared boy Joseph and his mute cook Helen. He even has a slight limp himself. Let’s remember that the Nazis believed in the master race and that they sterilized and killed many people with disabilities, often for no other reason than that they were disabled.
Sunita: This is part of the good-Nazi/good-German portrayal, where he is thoughtful to and solicitous of exactly the people the Nazis are bent on exterminating. #notallNazis, basically.
Janine: The good-Nazi portrayal was perhaps the most painful aspect of the book. Breslin swings between giving Aric phone calls with Adolf Eichmann and trying to make him palatable, but for me those attempts only made his character horrifying.
Being a romance hero, Aric is also powerful, attractive to Stella, and a good dancer. And, as he tells Stella when she confronts him about the deportation to Auschwitz lists she has just finished typing, he has no beef with Jews:
“I feel no hatred toward your Jews, Stella. In fact, I feel nothing at all since they have little value to me. If it were my choice, I’d let them go free. They’re nothing but a nuisance with which our Fuhrer has hobbled the war effort. Good fighting men and countless resources are wasted dealing with the entire Jew issue. And it would be reasonable to say I treat them better than most in my position.
“But you must understand something else.” He flashed a look meant to frighten her. “I am a solider no longer fit for soldiering. Relegated to a pathetic flock of prisoners with what amounts to street thugs for guards. Until this war is over, I must perform my duty despite the lack of means at my disposal…or how distasteful it might seem. It’s that or risk my own death.”
Aric’s position that the Jews “have little value to me” is the very definition of unexamined privilege and power. To him, the “Jew issue,” is a nuisance and a waste of resources, rather than a horror. He asks Stella to try to understand that he can’t risk his own death, never mind that he’s sending two thousand innocent people to die.
And how does Stella respond?
Whatever reasons had brought him to be in this place, in this time, he had no more choice in the matter of conscience than she did. And, it seemed, less hope of any deliverance.
No, no, no. She is a woman with a number tattooed on her arm and papers stamped “Jewish.” He is the Kommandant of a concentration camp, who won’t even allow her to leave. It stuns me that the author went there, comparing them this way and putting such a thought in Stella’s head. This was the point where I quit reading, because I just couldn’t take anymore.
Sunita: Janine, I am in awe that you made it this far. I found it difficult enough reading, and for you to read so far into the book is so courageous.
Janine: I felt a responsibility to finish so I could express an informed opinion, but had to stop because reading it was so traumatizing.
On the Romance, Believability and Consent
Janine: Not only is the romance unbelievable, it’s incredibly off-putting. It’s impossible for me to believe that a Jewish woman in Stella’s position could come to have feelings of attraction and understanding for a Nazi Kommandant of a concentration camp.
It’s also not a consensual relationship because Stella is unable to leave Aric’s employ. She is his prisoner, so no matter how gentle, compassionate and caring he is portrayed as being to her, she’s not free to choose to leave as she wants to do. She has to stay in his company and endure her feelings of attraction, as she endures other horrors.
Sunita: I agree it’s not a consensual relationship at its core and therefore the rest is irrelevant. She cannot freely consent, full stop. That said, I want to point out that there is no sex (on or off-page) in the book, so rape is not part of this. It doesn’t make the coercion better, obviously, but I have seen their interactions described as “rape,” and that is not accurate.
Janine: True. For me personally, an unwanted kiss from a Nazi Kommandant would be far worse than an unwanted kiss from a total stranger I knew nothing about. Both would be horrible, but there are different degrees of horror. So my revulsion was not mitigated by the absence of sex. Every time Aric said he didn’t want to force Stella, I wanted to throw my ebook reader across the room. He forced her to endure experiences she found distressing from the very beginning.
Sunita: There are two real-life accounts of Jewish women who apparently fell in love with and lived with Nazi officers. One is the subject of a documentary, The Jewess and the Captain (which was shown at at least one Jewish Film Festival and has been shown on a Jewish TV channel). The other is described in a nonfiction book by Edith Beer called The Nazi Officer’s Wife. I haven’t read or seen either, so I can’t speak to parallels between their stories and this fictional account, but they do exist.
Janine: I too haven’t read or viewed either. Whatever the truth of these two cases, it is also true that many Jewish women were raped by Nazis during this time period, and sometimes forced to serve as their mistresses.
On the Story of Esther
Janine: Esther is a part of the Hebrew Bible, a Jewish story of deliverance. While there are certainly some parallels between Haman’s attempt to execute all the Jews of Persia and other persecutions of Jewish people, including the Holocaust, in Esther Jewish lives are saved. In the Nazi Holocaust, millions of Jewish lives – and those of many Roma, gay people, people with disabilities, and dissidents – were extinguished.
To use this particular story to tell a romance between a Jewish Holocaust survivor and the Nazi Commandant of a concentration camp is… well, it’s beyond words.
Sunita: The story of Esther is not one that I’m very familiar with, and even less with the differences between the Hebrew Bible’s and the Christian Bible’s versions. I have read that this story has become very popular among evangelical Christians, and so that may explain why it appealed both to the author and to readers. But that’s just speculation on my part.
On the Rest of the Novel
Sunita: Since I managed to finish the book, I wanted to say a bit about the rest of the novel. I began the book doing my best to give it a fair read, accepting the possibility of the premise going in. I wasn’t drawn in by the writing, but I gave the book the benefit of the doubt for quite a while. I was fortunate to be invited to participate in a group reading and discussion of the book, and the other readers helped me understand some of the Christian language. As the story went on, even I could see how inauthentic the depiction of Stella/Hadassah’s and the other Jewish characters’ spiritual thoughts were. The word salvation occurs so many times, and there are references to heaven and hell that don’t seem right. I understand that Hadassah is supposed to be Esther, but having her called “the one” just jarred and felt disturbing.
But where the book really lost me was when Aric decides to help the prisoners,
[ALL THE SPOILERS]
by hijacking an Auschwitz transport train that is scheduled to leave Theresienstadt the day before the Red Cross Delegation is going to show up. This delegate visit is a real-life event, moved up in the novel for time-compression reasons. Theresienstadt has to be turned into a model facility to assure the Red Cross and other delegates that prisoners are being properly treated. The way this is dealt with in the story is ridiculous; the Evil Nazis are beating up the inmates even though they need to show them as being healthy and well cared for. Then it gets worse. Aric, Hadassah, Uncle Morty and others fill up the transport quota and figure out a plan to divert the train from Poland to Lvov. Meanwhile, the rest of the camp residents, who are the oldest and most infirm, greet the Red Cross delegation (who are consistently and incorrectly described in the book as “the Swiss”). The delegation is furious and the Nazi plan fails.
In fact, the Nazis were successful at creating a fiction of a healthy environment. It took months of preparation, so none of the events in the book could have happened in the way they do. The delegation spent six hours in the ghetto, heard some of the music and performance for which Theresienstadt was well known, and left, filing a positive report. The story we read in the pages of this book erases that shame and suggests the delegation saw beyond the fiction. They didn’t, and it is something that should never be papered over, least of all for reasons of storytelling convenience. It’s one thing to alter facts to create a more real-feeling “truth.” It’s another to write a lie to get your main characters to an HEA.
[REMEMBER, ALL THE SPOILERS]
Aric, Hadassah, and their merry band successfully load up the Auschwitz-bound train and divert it all the way to the Ukrainian border, from where they will walk the “few kilometers” to Lvov. The Evilest Nazi (Hermann who is the novel’s analogy to Haman) manages to get on the train and there is … wait for it … a top-of-the-train fight scene with Aric, Hermann, and Hadassah. I am not kidding. The train doesn’t make it quite to its hoped-for destination because they reach a section where the tracks are destroyed, but many of the escaping Jews survive (there is both a train crash and a gunfight with pursuing Nazis, who have been tipped off about the stolen train).
Do I have to spell out why this is so horrifically awful? Theresienstadt was not a designated death camp, but it was a major transit camp to Auschwitz starting in 1942 (and before that it was a transit camp to other eastern destinations, including the death camp Treblinka). There were dozens of transport trains carrying tens of thousands of Jews. None of them were hijacked by the Good Guys. To rewrite this reality is abominable in a novel which claims to respect the memory of the Holocaust. With that knowledge in my mind, the “happy ending” was almost unendurable to read. Yes, Hadassah and Aric are together at the end. Morty is still alive, as is Joseph, one of the children Hadassah befriended at Theresienstadt. Aric expects to be brought to account for his role in the war, which was about the only bit of reality I could find at that point.
Janine: Thank you so much for finishing the book, Sunita. It’s good to be informed about how it ends, though I’m feeling queasy just reading your summary. As a child my grandfather lived in Józefów, Poland, less than five hours from Lvov. Józefów was rife with Anti-Semitism and that caused him and his family to leave. From what I understand Lvov too was far from a safe haven for Jews during the war. Most of its Jewish population did not survive.