It is 1942 and Eva Adami has boarded a train to Auschwitz. Barely able to breathe due to the press of bodies and exhausted from standing up for two days, she can think only of her longed-for reunion with her husband Michal, who was sent there six months earlier.
But when Eva arrives at Auschwitz, there is no sign of Michal and the stark reality of the camp comes crashing down upon her. As she lies heartbroken and shivering on a thin mattress, her head shaved by rough hands, she hears a whisper. Her bunkmate, Sofie, is reaching out her hand….
As the days pass, the two women learn each other’s hopes and dreams – Eva’s is that she will find Michal alive in this terrible place, and Sofie’s is that she will be reunited with her son Tomas, over the border in an orphanage in Austria. Sofie sees the chance to engineer one last meeting between Eva and Michal and knows she must take it even if means befriending the enemy….
But when Eva realises she is pregnant, she fears she has endangered both their lives. The women promise to protect each other’s children, should the worst occur. For they are determined to hold on to the last flower of hope in the shadows and degradation: their precious children, who they pray will live to tell their story when they no longer can.
I’m delighted to grant my first five stars to an audiobook. It’s not surprising really, I have a strong interest in what happened during the Holocaust so that was a good reason for picking this audiobook and the narrator in this instance, Katy Sobey, told the story in a softly spoken voice. Where this might put me off in another story, making the main character sound perhaps too fragile or weak for my liking, it fitted the story here perfectly. Eva and Sofie, the two main characters, weren’t weak though, they both show resilience and they tried to lift each other up but they were also subjected to the tempers of the guards. Sofie caught the eye of a guard who takes pleasure in taunting her and Eva has to do laborious work that completely wears her out. They struggle to survive, like so many others, but their friendship and loyalty to each other shine like a little ray of light in a dark world. All is not lost.
The author is an excellent story-teller and it was easy to get and to hold my attention listening to The Child of Auschwitz. Sofie’s will to survive was driven by her hope to find her son Tomas and Eva knew her husband Michal was sent to the camps so she deliberately came to find him. Sadness but also joy were part of the rollercoaster of emotions from the moment she saw him but I was most moved when I reached the part that I had wondered about before I even read the first page. You’d think it is impossible that in a place this horrid there could be new life, or a chance at new life even but The Child of Auschwitz gave me hope from the start that something good could happen even in the darkest of times. I couldn’t imagine how a baby could survive though with a malnourished mother who didn’t even have enough food for herself and it broke my heart more than once reading about the trials she was faced.
The Child of Auschwitz was a very moving story and although it was tragic and sad, it is also a story of friendship and of love as Eva and Sofie love their children so much that they would do anything for them. Even if they don’t all survive, there’s enough to be found in the story to act as a balm to my heart.
This is a story of fiction but the book was inspired by the true story of Vera Bein who gave birth to her daughter in the top bunk of camp C at Auschwitz-Birkenau in December 1944. I highly recommend this novel – the camp life seems well researched and detailed – if you enjoy this type of historical fiction. Truly unforgettable.