Monday, October 31, 2016

We Fight to Survive by Esther Stermer

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Local Library
Read: July 1, 2016

The true story of an extended Jewish family who hides in caves underground for almost a year to escape death during the Holocaust.

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Ester Stermer, 1973 
Like many readers, I tracked down a copy of Esther Stermer’s We Fight to Survive after watching No Place on Earth. The book was difficult to locate, but my library came through and delivered a copy via the Interlibrary Loan program and I am incredibly grateful that their efforts gave me the opportunity to experience the memoir for myself.

Stermer’s narrative is not polished and the dialogue is at times vague. It’s clear she wrote the book as a family narrative with the assumption that any holes could be filled in by either herself or another of her relations, but despite minor gaps, missing details, and erratic transitions, I found the story itself fascinating.

For those unfamiliar with the material, We Fight to Survive chronicles the experiences of a group of Jews who spent more than five hundred days in a series of underground caves to escape execution during the Holocaust. Fleeing their home, the group found a temporary sanctuary in the Verteba cave where they established a crude living arrangement, but their haven did not remain secret for long. The Gestapo raided the cave in 1943 and the group suffered tragic losses, but the survivors fled even further underground to a deeper cave known as the Priest's Grotto. Thirty-eight individuals took refuge in the dark claustrophobia of the cave in May 1943 and despite the odds, all survived to see liberation in April 1944.

It many ways, We Fight to Survive is an atypical Holocaust memoir. It doesn't include insight to the ghettos or camps that feature so prominently in other records, but it is stands as a moving testament to a family's defiance of oppression and survival against all odds.

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Our peace did not last long. We had come to believe that conditions in our area had become stabilized and we took greater risks than we should have. We paid a terrible price for this.
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