The Luck of The Jews: An Incredible Story of Loss, Love, and Survival in the Holocaust by Michael Benanav

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Book review

One December night in 1944, while sailing across the Black Sea on the deck of a refugee ship filled with Jews fleeing the Nazi genocide in Europe, Joshua Szereny met Isadora Rosen. He was twenty-two, from Czechoslovakia; she was twenty, from Romania. Both had lost nearly everything in the war – yet in their chance encounter at sea, they found a new beginning. Three days later, on a train rattling across the Turkish countryside en route to Palestine, with no common language between them, they were married…and spent the rest of their lives together.


Isadora had emerged from the brutal, frozen ghettos of Transnistria – known as the ‘Forgotten Cemetery’ of the Holocaust. Joshua had escaped from the Hungarian Army’s slave labor corps as his unit was being marched toward a train to Auschwitz. That either survived is incredible; that, of all possible fates, the war would toss them onto the same deck of the same boat at the same time is simply unbelievable – except that it happened.


Here, their grandson, prize-winning author Michael Benanav, traces the improbable twists and turns that pulled Joshua and Isadora through the horrors of the Holocaust. As their families were destroyed and their own lives nearly lost, each element of their experiences – including a photograph of a Hungarian general; a mismatched pair of galoshes; a Romanian Orthodox priest; an SS officer’s wife; and maybe, on one occasion, an angel – proved crucial to getting them out of the war and onto that boat. Benanav vividly recounts the devastating events and astonishing coincidences that brought his grandparents together – while reckoning with the unsettling knowledge that without the Holocaust, his family would not exist.


In addition to unique accounts of Holocaust experiences in Transnistria and the Hungarian slave labor corps, this historical memoir presents a personal portrait of Eastern Europe between world wars, when Joshua and Isadora were growing up, and follows them into their post-war life in Palestine, where they joined the fight for Israeli independence from the British. Benanav also includes surprising vignettes from his own travels back to the Old Country, illuminating the past in reflections of the present.


This is an extraordinary true story, rooted in the terrible tragedies and stunning flashes of serendipity that together are The Luck of the Jews.


Praise for The Luck of The Jews (First published by Lyons Press as Joshua & Isadora: A True Tale of Loss & Love in the Holocaust):


“Movingly written, Michael Benanav’s search for his grandparents’ tragic memories and experiences brings the reader closer to an ineffable truth that must not be forgotten.” – Elie Wiesel, Nobel Prize Winner, author of Night


“A harrowing wartime saga [and] an intriguing record of Holocaust survival written with passion and authority.”–Publishers Weekly


“A tale of suffering, romance and redemption in Israel… What stands out about this story is its ability to bring Southeastern Europe and Bessarabia, a southern Yiddish-speaking region in today’s Moldova, into focus. The narrative is highly imagistic, often relying on crisp depictions of Jews moving through the landscape to power a story of loss.” –The Jewish Daily Forward


“Important and gripping.” –Hindustan Times



About the Author
Michael Benanav is a freelance writer and photojournalist whose work appears in The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, Geographical Magazine, Lonely Planet guidebooks, and other publications. His first book, Men Of Salt: Crossing the Sahara on the Caravan of White Gold, was nominated by Barnes & Noble for their Discover Great New Writers award and was named a Best Book for Young Adults by the American Library Association in 2007. Please visit www.michaelbenanav.com to see more of his work.


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