While I am not of Jewish descent, I have always been fascinated by stories of Holocaust survivors and those who risked their lives to hide the Jewish people during what is easily the darkest time in our modern history. The resiliency of the Jews has always been remarkable to me, and ever since I was a young child, I have sought out books on the topic, so I was immediately drawn to Inmate 1818 and Other Stories.
The first short story is called The Golem of Auschwitz and revolves around a doctor working in the infirmary of Auschwitz and a remarkable young man named Hayim who comes to assist him. Hayim is very clever and has managed to stay alive for many more months than is typical in Auschwitz by using his intelligence and resourcefulness to make himself quite useful. Together with the doctor, the pair decide to make a golem, in the hopes that it may help them escape the camp. What follows is a fascinating tale of mysticism and hope.
Inmate 1818 is about a young boy who was secreted into the ghetto camp with both of his parents due to his mother's ingenuity and he must stay hidden so he is not taken away. There, he meets a young man named Mendl and the two become friends, not realizing their actions will have great consequences for one another.
Kaddish is the tale of a young woman named Dina who learns the importance and sanctity of religious rituals, despite the trauma of the Shoah, as the Holocaust is referred to by the Jewish people. She learns these lessons from an unlikely pair of elderly Jews named Hershel and Moses, who are determined to keep the old ways alive, despite the destruction of all they have known by the Nazis.
Escape from Piotrkov is a harrowing tale of the Schein family, Aaron, Bella and young Benjeck, and their desperate escape from the Piotrkov ghetto before they face the gas chambers, as so many have before them.
In Part II: Then & Now, we have Black Grass which seems like an analogy for the evil actions of the Nazis that has manifested itself in this black grass that is spreading like a plague around the lands where the death camps once stood. What the locals once considered the "Jewish plague" has come back to haunt them now that the camps are gone.
Sonderkommando tells of a young woman who must now come to terms with her father's role during the Holocaust, yet she has trouble communicating with him.
Lotto Fever finds a Holocaust survivor named Harry who can't quite decide whether the numbers tattooed on his arm from his days in the death camps are lucky or not. After all, he did survive.
The Saving Mother concerns a Holocaust survivor who is determined to preserve the stories of other survivors, yet her children just want her to move on from the memories of the atrocities.
Yahrzeit Candles finds Helena, a young Holocaust survivor now living in a Displaced Persons Camp, yet she struggles to hold on to her beliefs and the need to remember those who died before her. She remembers them with Yahrzeit candles, despite the precarious situation it places her in.
Days of Rage surrounds Hanna and Matt, two Holocaust survivors who are making a better life for their son, Matt who has never known such tragedies. When his parents discover Sam has been reading Hitler's teachings under the instruction of a coach at school, they must find a way to deal with the rage and pain, while not alienating their teenage son. The family also discovers that bullies and cowards are not limited only to the Nazis.
The Man Who Hated His Right Arm is a disturbing tale of a man who is so troubled by what occurred while he was in the death camps that he insists his physician amputate his right arm.
Finally, Lego Lager is told from the perspective of a teenage German boy whose father and grandfather were Nazis. As he begins to suspect his father had underlying financial reasons to have a local Jewish family sent to a death camp some years before, the only way he can reach his father is to build a scale model of Auschwitz out of Legos in his room. Perhaps then, his father will come to terms with the past.
While I found that the stories contained within were very interesting, I can't say that I enjoyed Inmate 1818 and Other Stories. It is not the type of book you enjoy, as it deals with such intense pain and suffering. I did find it informative and enlightening, although I must admit that a number of the stories ended rather abruptly to me. It may be a cultural difference, but to me, it seemed like there should have been more, but some stories simply ended.
If you are looking for light, entertaining reading, Inmate 1818 and Other Stories is not it. But if you want more insight into the events that shaped the Jewish people into the strong and resilient group they are, then you should read Inmate 1818 and Other Stories. It is horrifying to think that there are children growing up now who don't know that this atrocity occurred, and much like the events of 9/11 for all Americans, we must never forget what happened to insure that history never repeats itself in this way.