Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Thinking of Our Independence Day While Reading The Seven Year Dress by Paulette Mahurin...




Everything can be taken from a man but one thing:
 the last of human freedoms - 
to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, 
to choose one's own way. 
Viktor E. Frankl



It was strange, sad, reading Paulette Mahurin's latest book while we in America are singing and dancing, enjoying the freedom that America presents to us... Yet, Mahurin was able to take me away from our own freedom and immerse myself in the story of Helen Stein, one of the few who lived to celebrate Auschwitz Liberation Day. Sometimes, I lost myself so deeply into the story that I had to break away and read a cat mystery book, so that I could maintain some sense of separation in order to express my thoughts coherently.

Mahurin received the gift of this story directly from the woman who lived to share it with us. It is fiction based upon fact plus research to confirm and round out the story of what was happening. You will understand that, especially since Helen spent four years of that time of terror, underground, totally away from the world, alone only with her brother...

The book shares the intimacy of her life as she faced what had happened--what she saw, what she heard from other trusted individuals, but, more, what she herself experienced...

We all think we know about what happened during that time...but we don't. We can't. Even while reading this book, which is vividly detailed and written so authentically that many will think we are hearing the story directly from the woman sharing her story. While that means that the author has done an outstanding job in writing the book, it also has revealed to many of us a much more intimate, unforgettable tale of inhumanity that cannot be imaged except when we are forced to face the reality of it.  With a German heritage on both sides of my family, I can only get lost in heartache of what Hitler brought about that was so devastating that none of us will ever forget or accept it as anything more than the actions of the devil himself...and as we see, of his many cruel and evil followers.

--LOVIS CORINTH
The story begins when a young girl seeking a room to rent meets an older lady who has a room, but asks a lot of questions before she is willing to show the girl the room...

I was looking to rent a room. She was looking for family. I needed a place to live. She needed to fill an empty void in her heart. But it would take me a few weeks to realize the role I was to play in her life.

The author uses the Prologue to tell this story as they got to know each other and finally, the woman opens up to the young girl... The rest of the book is her story... began the day that the young girl spied the tattoo of numbers on her arm and realized what she'd gone through... One of the stories was about a picture frame holding a small scrap of cloth...it was once part of a dress...


Early 1920s Who could have possibly imagined that in three years a decorated veteran of World War I would become the leader of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, and years later become Chancellor of Germany and annihilate millions of Jews? Certainly not me, Helen Stein.
While Hitler was gaining popularity in the German Workers’ Party in 1919, I was born to a Jewish family in Berlin. My father, Irving Stein, at thirty-one-years old, was a government lawyer who adored his wife— my mother, Rose— a few years younger than he. Altogether, there were six of us. I was the youngest of the four siblings: Lawrence was seven years older, Shana was five years older, and Ben was four years older than me...
I came into the world in a time of great turmoil, civil unrest, and economic upheaval in the aftermath of The Great War that took the lives of more than nine million people. Ending the year before I was born, the war sent ripples throughout the countries that were affected, causing massive political, cultural, and social changes. Especially impacted was Germany, where a socialist revolution led to the formulation of a number of communist parties. The Treaty of Versailles (written by the victors, of course) placed blame for the entire war on Germany and levied a fine of 132 billion marks— more than 31 billion dollars— to keep the German economy from flourishing. To honor the restitution, the German Republic printed large amounts money. The economic effect was devastating. Hyperinflation made the German mark near valueless, and Germany fell into default. As a result, German territories were transferred to other countries. Because many Germans never accepted the treaty as legal and viewed the taking of their territories as hostile, the German Workers’ Party, later renamed the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSGWP, referred to in English as the Nazi Party), emerged. Created as a means to draw workers away from communist uprisings, the Party’s initial strategy was anti-big business, anti-bourgeois, and anti-capitalism, although these features were later downplayed to get support from industrial organizations. Harboring anti-Semitism from its founding, in the 1930s its focus would change to anti-Semitic and anti-Marxist ideas. I remember my parents talking about those earlier events through the years, but I never understood the foreboding tone in their voices until much later, in late 1938, when all hell broke loose...
~~~

Helen was just a child, but she was a curious one, and wasn't hesitant to listen to adult conversations to try to discover whatever she could. But, still, there wasn't much to worry about then. Her next-door neighbors had a son, Max, with whom she became close friends and she moved through school years much like all of us...Max and she were inseparable, but there came a day when Ben came home upset because Max had started to treat him differently. Helen demanded to know what he'd said and he finally admitted he'd call him a goy... As time went by, though, as Helen asked questions, Max finally hinted that he liked boys and Helen surmised that he liked Ben...

But it was more that the atmosphere was changing. Jews were targeted on an ongoing basis, as more and more government sanctions were announced and acted upon... and soon Helen realized that Max had just as many issues with what was happening as her family did...

In that silence, I came to understand that Max and I each had something very real to fear as “undesirables” living in Germany at this moment in history. The difference was that, if he was very smart and lucky, he might be able to pretend that he was not an “undesirable.” I was smart, but would never be that lucky. But I could already see the price he paid for concealing his true self. He was guarded and moody, not the sweet Max I grew to love and call my best friend. His secret was eating away at him, but revealing his secret— even to me— could have dire consequences. Many minutes had passed before I took his hand. “Let’s go somewhere safe.”

Max was forced to play a role and join the Germans forces, while the Stein family was stripped of their citizenship and employment. Soon, Helen and others were, first, learning to sew, and then acting as seamstresses to keep the family going... But then people on the streets were shot, killed for no reason and finally, the Stern home was soon to be attacked...

Max had gained some credibility and had been able to learn much of plans...It was Max who contacted Helen, and later Ben, trying to get them out of town, which he succeeded in doing, but the rest of the family were killed and/or taken (only the sister may have been still alive.) Max and taken Ben and Helen to his family's farm and they lived in the lower storage cellar...for four years...with only Max who came as often as he could to bring them fresh food and other supplies...and one day he brought Helen a dress...


Max went to a bag he’d brought. “Something for you, Helen.” When he handed a dress to me, I started to cry. He knew I loved my dresses, how they made me feel appealing, special. Boys paid attention to me when I had a nice dress on. This dress was a symbol of normalcy, my femininity, and my past. And I prayed it would also be my future. I hoped to see a day when I would be free to be out in the streets enjoying my life in a lovely new dress. The two dresses I’d been wearing in the cellar were filthy. Scrubbing the cellar’s grime from them with soap at the sink couldn’t remove the stains that had become part of the threadbare fabric. Grease and years of dirt covered everything in the cellar. Safety was worth the sacrifice in cleanliness— Ben and I had agreed. But both my dear brother and best friend understood how much I missed feeling like a proper young woman, and how much a new dress means to a proper young woman...
I slipped into my new, clean, beautiful dress: a blue cotton floral print with swirls of designs surrounding flowers. My fingers moved over the fabric, encircling the rose petals and luscious green leaves on the pattern. For a brief moment, it wasn’t a dress, but nature— and I was encircled in it...
~~~

And it was that one act of love and kindness that led to danger! Because the farmhouse was invaded after Max had left (and later was killed along with his family as sympathizers.) The four years in the basement had ended, only to lead to much worse... Ben didn't make it, while Helen's simple, smart thinking to say that she was a seamstress saved her life...leaving Helen on her way to Auschwitz...

“My Papa told me life is precious.
I had to die many times to truly understand this.”
~~~

Paulette Mahurin has the talent to pull her readers into the story she has molded. This is a page-turner, although hard to read at times. It should be, shouldn't it? Because life is indeed precious and only a few of the millions that Hitler planned to murder, made it out to tell us exactly what happened. Horrific, atrocious historical events once occurred. This book forces you to live what those millions suffered. I believe readers will be better for reading it...I know I am! Highly recommended. Maybe even a must-read for most of us!



GABixlerReviews




Paulette Mahurin lives with her husband Terry and three dogs, Max, Bella, and Lady Luck in Ventura County, California. She grew up in West Los Angeles and attended UCLA, where she received a Master’s Degree in Science.

While in college, she won awards and was published for her short-story writing. One of these stories, Something Wonderful, was based on the couple presented in His Name Was Ben, which she expanded into the fictionalized novel in 2014. The first week out, His Name Was Ben, made it to top ten books sold in the Amazon Kindle store (topic: health/wellness/cancer). Her first novel, The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap, made it to Amazon bestseller lists and won awards, including best historical fiction of the year 2012 in Turning the Pages Magazine.

Semi-retired, she continues to work part-time as a Nurse Practitioner in Ventura County. When she’s not writing, she does pro-bono consultation work with women with cancer, works in the Westminister Free Clinic as a volunteer provider, volunteers as a mediator in the Ventura County Courthouse for small claims cases, and involves herself, along with her husband, in dog rescue. 

Profits from her books go to help rescue dogs.