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Hope Is the Last to Die: A Coming of Age Under Nazi Terror : A Classic of Holocaust Literature

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This book, a classic of Holocaust reminiscence, was originally published in Poland in 1967. Covering the years 1939-1945, it is the author's own account of her experience growing up in the Warsaw ghetto and her eventual deportation to, imprisonment in, and survival of the Majdanek, Auschwitz, Ravensbruck, and Neustadt-Glewe camps. The book is notable for its simplicity and This book, a classic of Holocaust reminiscence, was originally published in Poland in 1967. Covering the years 1939-1945, it is the author's own account of her experience growing up in the Warsaw ghetto and her eventual deportation to, imprisonment in, and survival of the Majdanek, Auschwitz, Ravensbruck, and Neustadt-Glewe camps. The book is notable for its simplicity and clarity of style, and is told with a first-person immediacy that makes the stark terror of its content stand out. This edition is expanded with a new epilogue and postscripts that bring Mrs. Birenbaum's story up to date.


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This book, a classic of Holocaust reminiscence, was originally published in Poland in 1967. Covering the years 1939-1945, it is the author's own account of her experience growing up in the Warsaw ghetto and her eventual deportation to, imprisonment in, and survival of the Majdanek, Auschwitz, Ravensbruck, and Neustadt-Glewe camps. The book is notable for its simplicity and This book, a classic of Holocaust reminiscence, was originally published in Poland in 1967. Covering the years 1939-1945, it is the author's own account of her experience growing up in the Warsaw ghetto and her eventual deportation to, imprisonment in, and survival of the Majdanek, Auschwitz, Ravensbruck, and Neustadt-Glewe camps. The book is notable for its simplicity and clarity of style, and is told with a first-person immediacy that makes the stark terror of its content stand out. This edition is expanded with a new epilogue and postscripts that bring Mrs. Birenbaum's story up to date.

30 review for Hope Is the Last to Die: A Coming of Age Under Nazi Terror : A Classic of Holocaust Literature

  1. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    "One day as we were passing a column of Jewish people from Hungary, our labour gang halted for a while. During this short pause I found myself close to a young married couple, the mother holding an infant in her arms. It was crying. The father looked at his watch, then at a straw basket from which a baby's bottle projected. He asked us, the "locals" whether it was far to the work camp and the barracks of the Jewish settlement at Birkenau, as if it was almost the child's feeding time. They had on "One day as we were passing a column of Jewish people from Hungary, our labour gang halted for a while. During this short pause I found myself close to a young married couple, the mother holding an infant in her arms. It was crying. The father looked at his watch, then at a straw basket from which a baby's bottle projected. He asked us, the "locals" whether it was far to the work camp and the barracks of the Jewish settlement at Birkenau, as if it was almost the child's feeding time. They had only a few yards to go to the gas chambers. No one answered his question." I try to read at least one Holocaust memoir every year. It seems the least I can do considering what these people had to go through to write these books. Of course, you always have to be prepared to hear about unimaginable awful things, a life so unbearable it's hard to imagine how anyone got through it. On the other hand, you also learn about the resourcefulness, generosity and courage of the human spirit. So, it's not by any means all demoralising. There's often much in these accounts that celebrates the human spirit in a manner that is more moving than anything in fictional literature. We see the worst of what human beings are capable of but we also see the best in many ways. The author was twelve when she arrived at her first concentration camp. In the confusion of arrival, she lost her mother. Only when she was in the barracks did she realise her mother was no longer with her. Her mother had failed the selection. Halina Birenbaum writes of her experiences in the death camps of Majdanek, Auschwitz, Ravensbruck and NeustadtGlewe in a very simple direct style. Unlike more intellectual authors she doesn't shy away from details about personal hygiene and sanitary conditions which make you realise how these people lived in a constant state of humiliation. Even at night when the Nazis were not to be seen they had to endure experiences which would severely test the spirit. Add to that the cruelty of some fellow inmates. One fascinating detail was the behaviour of the camp guards and commandant when they realised the war was almost over. They gave the prisoners food parcels and politely called for order. It was like the effects of a hallucinogenic drug had worn off and these monsters suddenly became human beings again. Halina talks of the euphoria of shoving aside one of these monsters who had tormented her every day to get to the food and I shared her euphoria.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Mary Frances

    I bought this book at Auschwitz. I found it compelling and powerful. It is the memoir of a girl who was swept up in the Warsaw Ghetto as a young teen, survived Auschwitz through luck, the love of her mother and then her young sister-in-law, and who eventually moved to Israel and married. It is pretty disturbing but really does make clear not just the big horrors, but the little daily horrors that were a purposeful part of the camp experience.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Eva Rovňáková

    I feel like I cannot rate this book since it is an autobiography and it wouldn’t be right. There are many books from WW2 that have made me tear up and want to shout at the world for being so old and mature and yet so incredibly cruel and stupid. But this was my first autobiography, a true story. A true, unbelievable, nightmare-like story. It’s made me (yet again) realise how lucky I am. That the hell is empty and all the devils are here, in this world, only wearing human faces. What we are capab I feel like I cannot rate this book since it is an autobiography and it wouldn’t be right. There are many books from WW2 that have made me tear up and want to shout at the world for being so old and mature and yet so incredibly cruel and stupid. But this was my first autobiography, a true story. A true, unbelievable, nightmare-like story. It’s made me (yet again) realise how lucky I am. That the hell is empty and all the devils are here, in this world, only wearing human faces. What we are capable of when combining ambition, hatred, indifference, cruelty, selfishness and the sense of self-preservation. I, we, can only hope that this mixture will never be as strong and worldwide as it was in the past, and that love, understanding and empathy are far stronger in today’s era. Are they really though? I feel heartbroken just thinking about it, for there aren’t nearly as many people living today that would be as strong and brave and selfless as the unfortunate victims (and survivors) of the concentration camps whose will, inner power, want to live and luck enabled them to live longer.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie Ng

    Absolutely amazing. Such an in depth book which talks of the horrors of time spent in the Warsaw Ghetto, and 4 labor/concentration camps, including Auschwitz. The detail Halina goes into is incredible, but not as incredible as her survival.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Paula

    I bought this book after my son and I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau this past Easter. What can I truly say, this recollection made me cry, made me angry, made me shake my head. To be torn from your family, your friends and your home, and to survive such horrific conditions shows a will to live that can never be understood. Thank you Halina for sharing your story.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Lenka Řízek

    What to say. Only a strong person could have written such a horrifying story. Recommend for reading....sad, that it is a true story.

  7. 4 out of 5

    John

    A classic indeed, a story that held my attention throughout. A truly amazing story of survival. Well worth reading.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Suzanne Simpson

    One of the most descriptive and heartbreaking books I have read about Jews in WW2. I don't know how so many people managed to survive such awful conditions. I am for ever thankful to those who write down their stories in the hope this never happens again. One of the most descriptive and heartbreaking books I have read about Jews in WW2. I don't know how so many people managed to survive such awful conditions. I am for ever thankful to those who write down their stories in the hope this never happens again.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Maeganr(:

    Hope Is the Last to Die is a very unique book in the way that it is written, and the subject matter is different from other books. This book is about the Holocaust, told by a little girl, Helena, and her family's experience in Auschwitz. In this way, the book captures the reader, and takes them into their view point of what they experienced. Even if you knew nothing about the Holocaust, this book describes the horrors and lives of people who were sent to Auschwitz or who were threatened to go. H Hope Is the Last to Die is a very unique book in the way that it is written, and the subject matter is different from other books. This book is about the Holocaust, told by a little girl, Helena, and her family's experience in Auschwitz. In this way, the book captures the reader, and takes them into their view point of what they experienced. Even if you knew nothing about the Holocaust, this book describes the horrors and lives of people who were sent to Auschwitz or who were threatened to go. Halina Birenbaum's descriptive language really puts the reader into the narrators point of view.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Izzy

    I think I've read way too many Holocaust books, but this book interested me particularly because it takes place in Warsaw. It's a young girl's coming of age story as well, as the title says. And what a more trying time to come of age than WWII? I think it's hard to get, though; I purchased it at a ksiegarnia (small bookstore) inside Auschwitz. I think I've read way too many Holocaust books, but this book interested me particularly because it takes place in Warsaw. It's a young girl's coming of age story as well, as the title says. And what a more trying time to come of age than WWII? I think it's hard to get, though; I purchased it at a ksiegarnia (small bookstore) inside Auschwitz.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Maureen O'Flaherty

    This book was recommended by Anna a guide in Auschwitz, having visited there and then reading this it is a stark reminder of the horrors of the nazi regime and the terrible dark years in Poland, please read lest we ever forget the evil humans are capable of

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jill Smith

    One of the best books ever written by a first hand Holocaust survivor, it has stayed with me throughout my life.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Sheena

    Terrifyingly true ... Not for sensitive hearts

  14. 4 out of 5

    Varapanyo Bhikkhu

    Alexander McClelland (former prisoner of concentration camp) Halina Birenbaum, as well as her mother, lived through the war and occupation in the Warsaw Ghetto, and in the concentration camps at Majdanek, Auschwitz, Ravensbruck and Neustadt Glewe. We are often told that Jewish children were immediately killed in “death camps”, yet Halina, aged ten in 1939, survived four camps and emigrated to Israel in 1947. In her horror story Halina recalls a lot of suffering, and the constant rumours that gas ch Alexander McClelland (former prisoner of concentration camp) Halina Birenbaum, as well as her mother, lived through the war and occupation in the Warsaw Ghetto, and in the concentration camps at Majdanek, Auschwitz, Ravensbruck and Neustadt Glewe. We are often told that Jewish children were immediately killed in “death camps”, yet Halina, aged ten in 1939, survived four camps and emigrated to Israel in 1947. In her horror story Halina recalls a lot of suffering, and the constant rumours that gas chambers and crematoria were being built to exterminate and burn Jews (page 16). So if the crematoria were purpose-built to handle thousands of bodies, why are they exactly the same as the very ordinary furnaces designed to burn one body at a time. On page 17 she claims that it was the fear of death that caused the shameful collaboration between Jewish police and the Nazi in the Warsaw Ghetto. On page 52 she says: “Crowds of Jewish police, armed with sticks and bludgeons, were invading Leszno Street. Like a herd of wild, famished animals provoked by a small of blood, howling and yelling, they ran into gateways of houses . . . . each of the policemen had been ordered to supply four Jews to the UMSCHLAG. If he failed, he himself would have to go to the wagons”. Page 62: “By day we were haunted by the noise outside: footsteps, shouts, firing. At night, when silence and saving darkness came, we dreaded ghosts, phantoms, specters. In such an atmosphere, in fear of our shadows and our own breathing, my mother cooked dumplings and tea on a gas ring”. Page 88: There is a description of the train journey to Majdanek. “People collapsed, trampled on each other, raged or prayed. When anyone collapsed with exhaustion, they were crushed to death . . . They placed a layer of dead bodies and half-dead people on the wagon floor. Underneath were the weakest, then the stronger – the number of victims kept increasing . . . that Nazi death was lurking not only inside the wagons, but outside too, all around. They fired at the dare-devils who jumped in despair from the windows of the moving trains”. The trampling of the weak seems to have continued in Majdanek sleeping barracks too where diarrhea, involuntary soiling, blows, curses and insults were the order of the day (page 103). But a bathhouse was available to them (page 133), where the main problem was the difficulty in removing stockings from the festering ulcers which bled on their legs and the swollen and aggressive lice which swarmed to the open sores to satiate themselves on their blood. Page 224: Describes yet another train journey, this time from the death camp of Auschwitz to Ravensbruck. “. . . the two armed sentries arranged a comfortable bed for themselves. We were not allowed to move in that direction under pain of being shot. They took some Jewish woman or other as companion. She lay beside one or the other of them by day and night. The other women gazed at her with hatred and contempt, but they envied her that space on the floor. She, pleased with her priviledges, looked down on us”. This story is not credible because any immoral fraternising with Jewish women was severely punished, usually by being sent to fight on the Russian front. German soldiers were highly disciplined.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Alex McGuinness

    I bought this book in Auschwitz after a recommendation from our guide, who told us this lady still visited the site and used to talk to tourists. She never expressed any hatred or I'll thought towards the nazis. The first part of the book in the ghetto is hard to read as it appears quite repetitive but I imagine that it was!? And only 10x worse for those living through that hell so I perseveered. The second half of the book is less 'monotonous' (I feels awful even typing that!?) and again is har I bought this book in Auschwitz after a recommendation from our guide, who told us this lady still visited the site and used to talk to tourists. She never expressed any hatred or I'll thought towards the nazis. The first part of the book in the ghetto is hard to read as it appears quite repetitive but I imagine that it was!? And only 10x worse for those living through that hell so I perseveered. The second half of the book is less 'monotonous' (I feels awful even typing that!?) and again is hard to read but for a different reason. It is so unimaginable what these poor people went through, but the strength of this woman and her will to survive is inspiring. I think I'm waffling now so I'll leave it there...

  16. 5 out of 5

    Debbie Shoulders

    Birenbaum does an exceptional job of conveying life under Nazi terror. At ten years old she was forced into hiding in Warsaw to avoid selections to Treblinka. After their luck ran out the she and the remaining members of her family were sent to Majdanek. Halina was sent to three more camps until liberation in May of 1945 during which the teen lived through events few ever had. What makes this outstanding is her memory of the little things, which ultimately made the difference in whether one live Birenbaum does an exceptional job of conveying life under Nazi terror. At ten years old she was forced into hiding in Warsaw to avoid selections to Treblinka. After their luck ran out the she and the remaining members of her family were sent to Majdanek. Halina was sent to three more camps until liberation in May of 1945 during which the teen lived through events few ever had. What makes this outstanding is her memory of the little things, which ultimately made the difference in whether one lived or died.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ouii Ungboriboonpisal

    I bought this book at Auschwitz. The clarity of the fact that human beings can be so inhumane to one another has never left me since. This book further shed light in great details on conditions, manners of Nazi-sided guards and feelings experienced by a young girl in her road in and out of the Nazi concentration camp. Power can change people’s behavior. The hard time brought the best and the worst in people. It inspires me to study human rights law and be in a position to prevent any human right I bought this book at Auschwitz. The clarity of the fact that human beings can be so inhumane to one another has never left me since. This book further shed light in great details on conditions, manners of Nazi-sided guards and feelings experienced by a young girl in her road in and out of the Nazi concentration camp. Power can change people’s behavior. The hard time brought the best and the worst in people. It inspires me to study human rights law and be in a position to prevent any human rights violation, one way or another.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Danielle

    I purchased this at Auschwitz Birkenau when I visited Krakow in February. I'm glad I did. After visiting those places and finding out more detail of what happened to all those people, this book makes the visions even clearer. The terror, treatment and the way of living these people done in the camps really puts life into perspective. This book will always stay with me, I have no other words to explain. Its a must read if Holocaust is of an interest. I purchased this at Auschwitz Birkenau when I visited Krakow in February. I'm glad I did. After visiting those places and finding out more detail of what happened to all those people, this book makes the visions even clearer. The terror, treatment and the way of living these people done in the camps really puts life into perspective. This book will always stay with me, I have no other words to explain. Its a must read if Holocaust is of an interest.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Tiago Vinagre

    The details show us how cruel the Nazis were - I still can't picture many of the things I read. "Overseers guarding us at work would sometimes throw meat to their dogs, then give us the leftover bones to gnaw"... I recommend everyone to read this book. It will give you a lot of perspective of what happened - without leaving out the cruel details we never heard of in history classes. The details show us how cruel the Nazis were - I still can't picture many of the things I read. "Overseers guarding us at work would sometimes throw meat to their dogs, then give us the leftover bones to gnaw"... I recommend everyone to read this book. It will give you a lot of perspective of what happened - without leaving out the cruel details we never heard of in history classes.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    Really wish I could give it 3.5 stars. This book was recommended by the Polish guide to Birkenau. I hesitated to purchase it, as I was afraid Ms Birenbaum was benefiting from the captive audience factor. But the book is well written. We see the shrinking and systematic liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto and survival of concentration camps through the eyes of a teenager. Of course there are many other books that tell the same tale, but the tale must be told and read and absorbed. Especially in this Really wish I could give it 3.5 stars. This book was recommended by the Polish guide to Birkenau. I hesitated to purchase it, as I was afraid Ms Birenbaum was benefiting from the captive audience factor. But the book is well written. We see the shrinking and systematic liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto and survival of concentration camps through the eyes of a teenager. Of course there are many other books that tell the same tale, but the tale must be told and read and absorbed. Especially in this fragile political era which, in too many ways, appears to be mimicking the progress of the Nazi party.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Loser Lam

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. i - wow this is hands down one of the most emotionally real books about ww2 i’ve read. the description, the way she describes loss, i can’t express how important it is that everyone reads this and knows this and knows how important it is

  22. 4 out of 5

    selina

    read for my holocaust course. this is such a powerful memoir and it definitely made me very emotional multiple times. the imagery that halina invokes and the way she describes her life as a 10 to 15-year-old living through the holocaust is heartbreaking. a story about survival worth reading.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Becky Griffin

    Incredible story. I can't even imagine living through what she did. Incredible story. I can't even imagine living through what she did.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Gary Johnston

    An insightful piece from a teenager who survived the Holocaust. Halina Birenbaum tells of the conditions in the camps and barracks in a way that I have never read before.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Lee

    Wonderful ingenious lady. Very good book worth reading. To believe at the age of 13 to endure what she did.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Angel Rios

    beautiful

  27. 4 out of 5

    Máté Skublics

    I got a copy from the author herself in the summer of 2005. It made a deep impression on me. I am grateful to have met Ms. Birenbaum and for the book. I highly recommend it.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Shelbi

    When I visited Birkenau, I stopped in the bookshop. This book was recommended to me by the lady who worked in the shop. I absolutely loved reading this book. I admire the courage and the strength of this lady and all of the victims. For a real account of the Holocaust and a person living through it, this is the book to read.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Karen Levi

    This is a simply rendered yet powerful description of life in a Nazi concentration camp. The book was written by a survivor in her late thirties, but she retold her story from the perspective of a young .teenager,, her age during her imprisonment. Touching in that she was alone, there were no parents, relatives, or friends to watch over her. She managed on her own, and she survived. Halina found friends to help her avoid the dreaded “selections” for murder in the gas chambers. Halina wrote an ho This is a simply rendered yet powerful description of life in a Nazi concentration camp. The book was written by a survivor in her late thirties, but she retold her story from the perspective of a young .teenager,, her age during her imprisonment. Touching in that she was alone, there were no parents, relatives, or friends to watch over her. She managed on her own, and she survived. Halina found friends to help her avoid the dreaded “selections” for murder in the gas chambers. Halina wrote an honest, personal story of miraculous survival.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Becky

    I really enjoy reading different accounts from World War II, especially Polish ones. This is one of my favorites, in it Helena writes about her and her sisters experience in Auschwitz. I actually got this book at the little ksiegarnia (bookstore) outside of Auschwitz on a visit there a couple of years ago. The amazing thing about Helena'a perspective is how she still remained hopeful and saw good in people and in the world despite the horrible things she experienced. I really enjoy reading different accounts from World War II, especially Polish ones. This is one of my favorites, in it Helena writes about her and her sisters experience in Auschwitz. I actually got this book at the little ksiegarnia (bookstore) outside of Auschwitz on a visit there a couple of years ago. The amazing thing about Helena'a perspective is how she still remained hopeful and saw good in people and in the world despite the horrible things she experienced.

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