Review by Rabbi Yitz Greenberg

  

This extraordinary book enables the reader to see the Holocaust through two different lenses. Each lens gives us a compelling view of a world, far from our present reality, which we need to know. Each lens opens a gate and leads us into a reality from which we return transformed. This book which started as a gift of love from the author to her survivor parents-in-law, turns out to be a gift of seeing life anew to every reader. It enables us – no, it compels us-to see our everyday lives in a new dimension of appreciation, meaning and purpose. I urge everyone to look deeply into this book and accept its priceless gift of a new life.


The first lens reveals the remarkable story of Sam Goldberg and Esther Wisznia Goldberg who survived the cruelest and darkest depths of the Holocaust. Their stories are told separately and parallel until they come together, to hide in a dugout pit in forest ground, abutting the farm of a Polish family that agreed to hide them and try to feed them (all in secret, lest they be discovered and executed for helping Jews). By this time, every member of Sam and Esther’s family had been killed in various ways.


Esther and Sam enjoyed warm, loving childhoods as they grew up in observant Jewish homes. Sam survived German air bombings, flight to Russian-occupied Poland, draft service in the Russian army, Nazi P.O.W. camps for Russians (where hundreds of thousands were murdered), escape, recapture, and being sent to build Treblinka death camp. He spent thirteen months in this place of extermination as supervisor of the laundry. At several critical moments, he was kept alive by the arbitrary whim intervention of the deputy Director of Treblinka, Kurt Franz an SS officer who shot prisoners for sport but somehow decided to keep this Jew alive. Sam took part in the prisoner uprising in Treblinka. In the subsequent chaos, he and tens of others fled but most were caught and killed. Of about 875,000 Jews sent to Treblinka, about 65 survived the war. Sam was one of them.


Esther survived German air bombing of her home town, Stoczek, her home burning down, flight to Bialystok and then to Slonim, Einsatzgruppen killing of her entire family (She was spared because she was in the hospital recovering from typhus). She returned to Stoczek, survived random selections, months of hiding with her husband under a haystack in the barn of a sympathetic Polish family, the murder of her husband when he went out to seek for food, the birth and death of her first child -until the final twelve months in the pit in the forest.


Each of these stories is told with breath-stopping matter of factness, with a heart-breaking eye for the telling detail, with restraint and accuracy, compounded of extended conversations with Sam and Esther and meticulous research on the background and circumstances by the author. This section puts the volume in the immortal ranks of survivor accounts which tell the story of the Shoah with fidelity, sanctity and unforgettable power.


The second lens reveals how the author, Karen Treiger, a third/fifth generation American who grew up in Seattle, Washington, galaxies away from the death planet of Treblinka, takes up the task of telling the story of Sam and Esther, after their death. She and her husband and various friends and family members go back and visit the scenes of the Goldbergs’ lives. They also visit Auschwitz, Treblinka, Majdanek and other scenes of the total destruction. Alas, the Jewish presence is mostly buried in the ruins. The depressive effects of these revelations are tempered and somewhat overcome, in the encounter with the families of those who risked their lives to hide and feed Jews. We learn how in the deepest rings of hell, where mass murderers ruled and flourished, there were a precious handful of righteous Gentiles who risked all to save Jews. In the worst moments of the Holocaust, there were humans who chose life, both Jews and non-Jews who upheld the sanctity of human life and honored ethics and human responsibility. They also meet people who fan the sparks of rebirth in Polish Jewry.


Gradually, the author reveals to us how the encounter with pure evil and death of the Holocaust has the paradoxical effect of opening our eyes to the preciousness of life, to the miraculous goodness of everyday living, of the difference we can make by caring for others and not standing idly by the blood of our neighbor. This section teaches us that we must confront and remember the Shoah, even if our family was never there.


Reading this book is an invitation to live a fuller life - to become the children and grandchildren of those martyred and of those who preserved their image of God and Jewish identity under impossible circumstances. One can only bow one’s head, out of an unutterable gratitude, to the author for her contribution to the sacred narrative of our people. I call this book sacred, for (as with all forms of scripture) it tells not only what happened - but how to live in light of the story.


Rabbi Yitz Greenberg is the   

President Emeritus, CLAL: The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership; chairman, the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, 2000-2002.

    


Esther, Shoshana and Elisheva Goldberg with the old woman in Bagatele

Esther, Shoshana and Elisheva Goldberg with the old woman in Bagatele

TRIBUTES

Jewish good luck figurines for purchase in a store in Warsaw.

Rabbi Michael Schudrich, Chief Rabbi of Poland

  

There are many books written by Holocaust survivors.  Each is unique.  "My Soul is Filled with Joy" is unique even among the other unique survivor stories. The survival stories of Sam and Esther Goldberg reads like the best action novel but it is fact and not fiction.  But much more importantly it testifies to how people even in the absolutely worst situations life can present still found a way to love and found others who would help and love them.

The second part of the book inspires us in how the Goldberg and Stys families meet and bond more than 60 years later. Goodness meets super goodness. 

We are haunted by the question of inexplicable evil.  This book presents us with inexplicable goodness and kindness of the Stys family. It does not take away the devastation of the inexplicable evil but it does give us hope for the future. 

If you want to be inspired in spite of the horrors one human being can do to another human being, read this book.

Marion Blumenthal Lazan, Holocaust Survivor and Co-Author of "Four Perfect Pebbles"

  This riveting account of remarkable perseverance captures the horrors of the Holocaust, both vividly and personally.   It is vital that this book—as well as other accounts of the Holocaust— be preserved and disseminated widely to future generations to help prevent anything similar from ever happening again.

Chris Webb, Author and Historian, Founder of the Holocaust Historical Society

  Karen has written a powerful and personal account of Sam and Esther Goldberg. The account starts in pre-war Poland before the Nazis occupied the country and started persecuting then murdering the Polish Jews in large numbers. Sam escaped from the Treblinka death camp during the uprising on August 2, 1943, where he met Esther hiding in a nearby forest. 

In the second part of the book Karen describes in great detail and clarity her family trips to Poland, retracing Sam and Esther’s steps and meeting the families of the courageous Poles who sheltered them. This book is a must read for those interested in the greatest crime in the history of mankind.

Barbara Mackoff, Author, "The Inner Work of Leaders"

  In capturing the storied lives of Sam and Esther Goldberg, Karen Treiger has written a brave and brilliant odyssey of heart and mind. She reimagines their lived experiences of surviving the Holocaust with loving recollection, vivid vignette and scholarly underpinning.  With a graceful pivot, she then details her family’s recent journey to Poland.  As they retrace Sam and Esther’s steps, she confronts the darkness of war and brings readers into the light, as we witness her grief transformed into gratitude, self-understanding and yes, joy.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, Founder and Dean, Simon Wiesenthal Center

  Six million Jews, one third of all the Jews on the planet were wiped out in the Shoah. In Karen Treiger’s important book she tells the story of her in-laws, Sam and Esther Goldberg. Sam was amongst the few who survived the horrors of Treblinka and Esther was fortunate to have escaped to the forests. Although they were free, they had lost everything. Their suitcases were filled only tragic and bitter memories. Yet, they had the courage to pick themselves up by the bootstraps, wipe away the tears, turn despair into hope, and rebuild Jewish life again. The greatest proof that they succeeded is reading, “My Soul is Filled with Joy,” which tells both their struggle to survive as well as their children’s determination to carry on their legacy.

Katke Reszke, Author, "Return of the Jew: Identity Narratives of the Third Post-Holocaust Generation

  Karen Treiger’s acute sense of mnemonic urgency results in a deeply personal book, which chronicles the unlikely survival of two people brought together in the hell of the holocaust. The author’s quest to preserve this legacy yields a portrait of a multigenerational family with a passionate commitment to active and transformative remembering. 

THE TRIBUTES CONTINUE

Krakow JCC

Steve Steinberg, Author, "Urban Shocker, Silent Hero of Baseball's Golden Age"

  This is a powerful book, told on multiple levels, as Karen Treiger weaves together the stories of her in-laws’ survival and escape from the Holocaust in Poland. It is also her own serendipitous journey back in time and place to connect with her roots and those of her family’s heroic rescuers.

Impeccably researched, well-crafted, and profoundly felt, this is a tale of hope and promise that emerges from horror and destruction, as well as one of the power of the human spirit. 

Timothy J. Boyce, Editor, From Day to Day: One Man's Diary of Survival in Nazi Concentration Camps

  The journey of survival by Sam and Esther Goldberg is miraculous.  The journey of discovery undertaken by their daughter-in-law Karen Treiger--finding lost relatives, the family that sheltered the Goldbergs, and the very pit in which Sam and Esther hid--is equally compelling.  This story, of survival, faith and family, will fill your soul with sadness, but ultimately with joy as well.


Day to Day is the diary of Odd Nansen, a non-Jewish Norweigan who was arrested and imprisoned in concentration camps for years during the war.

Jonathan Ornstein, Executive Director of the Krakow Jewish Community Center

  Karen Treiger's beautiful, haunting, and ultimately uplifting book tells the Holocaust story of Sam and Esther Goldberg, Polish Jews who survived Treblinka and the forest. But it also tells the surprising story of contemporary Jewish Poland as the author retraces the Goldberg's wartime experiences. Treiger's important book seamlessly connects past and present and traces the arc of Polish Jewry- from Poland to hell and somehow, despite the odds, back again to Poland.