By My Mother's Hand: As Told By Survivor Henry Melnick

Michael Melnick
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Holocaust survivor HENRY MELNICK was born in Lodz, Poland. Shortly after the Nazis occupied Poland in 1939, he was sent to do slave labour in the Nowy Sącz, Tarnów Ghettos and Szebnie camp. He was then transferred to Auschwitz-Birkenau, Buna, Dora-Mittelbau and Bergen-Belsen death camps. 

When his parents were murdered in the Belżec death camp, he became the sole survivor of his entire family. After liberation, Henry volunteered for the Israeli Army and fought for Israel’s independence. He came to Canada in 1965 with his wife Hela and their two children. 

His story is one of strength and courage. His survival is nothing short of a miracle. 

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About the author

Henry Melnick grew up in Lodz, Poland. After the Nazis occupied the majority of Europe during World War II, he was forced to endure slave labour and was transferred among nearly a dozen different concentration camps. He emerged from the war as the sole survivor of his entire family.

Henry moved to Israel with his new wife Hela and fought for the nation's independence. Several years after his two children were born he moved to Toronto, Canada.

Henry passed away on his 91st birthday on June 25, 2013. His legacy remains in the form of By My Mother's Hand.

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Michael Melnick
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Published on
Jun 30, 2011
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Biography & Autobiography / Personal Memoirs
History / Holocaust
History / Jewish
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I Choose Life is the true, first person account of two Jewish youths, Sol and Goldie, who survived Nazi concentration camps and transcended despair by choosing life. The book title derives from a harrowing encounter between Sol and the Commandant in Auschwitz. The Nazi cruelly forced Sol to choose between execution by hanging or firing squad. Sol, then 19-years-old, defied him, declaring, If I have a choice, I choose life!

Goldie Cukier, a 13-year-old girl, and her older sister were rounded up in a random raid in their neighborhood. An SS guard gave Goldies father the choice of freeing only one of his two daughters. Goldie volunteered to be taken so that her sister would be spared. It was the last she would ever see her family alive.

I Choose Life describes idyllic childhoods in Radom and Sosnowiec, Poland, in warm and loving families imbued with Jewish pride and values; years of darkness, suffering, separation, loss and death; raids, selections, forced labor camps, cattle cars, and death marches; and survival in Auschwitz, Mauthausen and Bergen-Belsen. Sol says, A sane person cannot imagine what it was like.

For years, Sol and Goldie never shared their stories, not even with each other. Now, they have decided to tell their stories, to leave a legacy to their grandchildren, and to help ensure the Holocaust is never repeated.

Sols story is full of adventure and suspense, while Goldies narrative draws the reader into the poignancy of a young girls inner world as she is torn from her family by the Nazis. I Choose Life is two complete and parallel memoirs of survival and rebirth. Together, the two memoirs of I Choose Life illuminate the Holocaust experience in a unique way, offering both male and female perspectives, one told by a person of action and one by a person of feeling, to yield insights into the most monumental tragedy in human history.

I Choose Life is distinguished as a Holocaust testament, not only because it is two complete memoirs of a boy and a girl, but ultimately, because the two stories entwine as Sol and Goldie meet in a Displaced Persons camp in post-war Germany. The book explores the challenges of restoration and rebirth, how two youths regained the ability to trust and love, to rebuild new lives after unimaginable losses, and to move to another continent to start a new family and live the American dream. In one of the most peculiar and fascinating chapters of modern Jewish history, Sol and Goldie tell the story of how hundreds of Jewish concentration camp survivors from Europe found an unexpected new Zion in rural Vineland, Jersey, as a community of chicken farmers.

I Choose Life is also distinguished by its reliance on historical documents. With the help of the research resources of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Sol and Goldies son Joseph was able to access original historical records which have become newly available to survivors in search of answers about themselves and family members lost in the Holocaust. These documents, some of which are reproduced in the book, enabled Joseph to verify and discover new facts and details, including the name and location of a secret V2 rocket factory, dates of prisoner transports, arrival dates at different camps, and lists of prisoners in which Sols and Goldies names appear.

Through an emotional journey, I Choose Life describes the moving discovery of the final events and fate of Sols father, Jacob Finkelstein, following his separation from Sol just a week before liberation in Mauthausen concentration camp. Through research by Joseph, Sol finally learned, while this book was being completed, of the existence of his fathers unmarked grave in Austria. This astounding discovery gave Sol and his family emotional closure, after from 60 years of uncertain guilt that Sol carried with him since the day he and
"Do you know why I write so much? Because as long as you read, we are together."
-- Raizel Garncarz (Sala's sister),
April 24, 1941

Few family secrets have the power both to transform lives and to fill in crucial gaps in world history. But then, few families have a mother and a daughter quite like Sala and Ann Kirschner. For nearly fifty years, Sala kept a secret: She had survived five years as a slave in seven different Nazi work camps. Living in America after the war, she kept from her children any hint of her epic, inhuman odyssey. She held on to more than 350 letters, photographs, and a diary without ever mentioning them. Only in 1991, on the eve of heart surgery, did she suddenly present them to Ann and offer to answer any questions her daughter wished to ask. It was a life-changing moment for her scholar, writer, and entrepreneur daughter.

We know surprisingly little about the vast network of Nazi labor camps, where imprisoned Jews built railroads and highways, churned out munitions and materiel, and otherwise supported the limitless needs of the Nazi war machine. This book gives us an insider's account: Conditions were brutal. Death rates were high. As the war dragged on and the Nazis retreated, inmates were force-marched across hundreds of miles, or packed into cattle cars for grim journeys from one camp to another. When Sala first reported to a camp in Geppersdorf, Poland, at the age of sixteen, she thought it would be for six weeks. Five years later, she was still at a labor camp and only she and two of her sisters remained alive of an extended family of fifty. In the first years of the conflict, Sala was aided by her close friend Ala Gertner, who would later lead an uprising at Auschwitz and be executed just weeks before the liberation of that camp. Sala was also helped by other key friends. Yet above all, she survived thanks to the slender threads of support expressed in the letters of her friends and family. She kept them at great personal risk, and it is astonishing that she was able to receive as many as she did. With their heartwrenching expressions of longing, love, and hope, they offer a testament to the human spirit, an indomitable impulse even in the face of monstrosity.

Sala's Gift is a rare book, a gift from Ann to her mother, and a great gift from both women to the world.
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