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National News / Feature

"Trapped Inside the Story"

A Heart-wrenching Tale of a Young Holocaust Survivor

The year: 1941. The city: Lvov, Poland. The fear level: palpable. To be Jewish in this time and place is to be the prey; the hunted. Entire families disappeared overnight never to be seen again. Hitler’s regime hijacked and took possession of homes and businesses, leaving others penniless. Nazi soldiers roamed the streets, mercilessly rounding up innocent civilians. This was the harsh reality Jewish families faced in Poland during the Holocaust. This was no place for a child to fend for herself and avoid certain death.

“Today, decades later it is unthinkable that the horror and cruelty that Jews suffered during the Holocaust are denounced as fiction by some politicians,” says author and Cultural Anthropologist Leslie Cohen. “In recent weeks the presidents of Iran and Venezuela have both claimed the Holocaust never happened. That is why Holocaust survivors feel it is so important to share their stories; to raise their voices and drown out those ridiculous and insulting allegations.”

While museums and historians have carefully documented the Holocaust atrocities, one of the most harrowing descriptions of the Nazi occupation comes from the voice of a child, Sonya Hebenstreit. Sonya lost her entire family in a six-month period and was forced to rely on her wits and instincts to stay alive during one of the darkest eras of human history. Cohen chronicles Sonya’s struggle to survive in her new book, Trapped Inside the Story.

Sonya had just turned 13 years old when she found herself all alone and plunged into a bleak and terrifying new existence. A heart-wrenching yet inspiring tale, Cohen begins with Sonya’s early memories of happier times with her family. She is a typical little girl, going to school and reading fairy tales. Slowly, her sense of safety and security is chipped away as a blanket of anxiety falls on her neighborhood. Sonya witnesses hushed and worried conversations between her parents, the devastation of air raids, and finally, the unthinkable; all her family members die or simply disappear.

Cohen vividly recreates the pervasive duress that permeated every facet of life for Sonya as she roamed the streets, trying to sell clothing or cigarettes—anything to scrape together some money to buy food—all the while trying to avoid the clutches of the Nazi soldiers who would randomly round up the Jews and haul them away. With the constant fear of capture or retribution looming over the neighborhood, Sonya quickly discovered that the only person she could trust was herself.

In those desperate hours, she found comfort in the fairytales from her early childhood. Sonya began relying on imaginary conversations with story’s heroes to help make decisions that were literally, a matter of life or death. “Here you have a child thrust into a situation where each decision she makes could truly be her last,” says Cohen. “She didn’t have the luxury of seeking advice and instead, Sonya would think about what the fairy tale hero would do and so that became her point of reference and her coping strategy. She felt like she was trapped inside a brutal and tragic fairy tale that had somehow come to life around her.”

Trapped Inside the Story not only recounts Sonya’s desperate fight to survive, it also captures the voices of the missing and the dead. In the book, Cohen helps answer some of the nagging questions about the Holocaust. “People always want to know why the Jews didn’t just leave,” says Cohen. “But when the first rustlings of rumors about Hitler’s death camps made it to the streets, the descriptions were so vicious and so horrific, people simply couldn’t believe it was true. They thought those who talked of the concentration camps weren’t ‘right in the head.’ Of course now, we know otherwise.”

Trapped Inside the Story
By Leslie Cohen
326 pp., paperback $24.95 US
Level 4 Press, 2007
ISBN 9781933769165


Available at www.level4press.com

 

About The Author:

Leslie Cohen was born and raised in New York City. She earned her Master’s degree in Cultural Anthropology from Hunter College and taught anthropology at a branch of the University of Alaska for three years. In 1978, she and her husband, Mitchell, studied Hebrew at Kibbutz Ein Hashofet. Kibbutz authorities asked them asked to become members and they settled there permanently in 1980. They have three children who were all born on the kibbutz.

While teaching English in the kibbutz elementary school, Cohen met Sonya Hebenstreit and began writing her biography. To date, Cohen has published over 100 book reviews, dozens of articles, short stories and poems in a wide variety of newspapers and journals. Her book of poetry and short stories, Facets of the Poet, was published in 2001.

Source: Event Management Services, Inc.


 

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