Concise and beautifully written in a simple manner, Not Without My Sister is a powerful character driven novel focusing on an aspect of World War II that is not often explored – very young children abandoned and left to try and survive the concentration camps.
Be warned – you’ll need your hankies to read this one but it is worth it. It is heart wrenching and in a sense, written in a matter of fact style. This enhances the rawness of the story. With no subplots or romantic elements to this novel (which I found very unique), this further enhances the poignancy of the narrative. It really drew me in and captivated me.
Yet believe me, Not Without My Sister is not a novel full of doom and gloom – it is story of determination, love and hope. It is also full of the beautiful innocence of childhood and the resilience that comes along with that.
Not Without My Sister is an emotionally raw narrative as it tells the story of four-year-old Mindel who is brutally separated from her seventeen year old sister Rachel as soon as they arrive at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp after being captured by the Nazis.
Both Mindel and Rachel are Jewish, yet with a lot of the story told from Mindel’s point of view, she doesn’t even know what a Jew is, never mind understand why the SS guards are so cruel. She just knows that she misses her family with all her heart, especially her older sister. She is also desperate for a friend. Mindel’s story is truly heart wrenching, especially as it is written from her innocent, four-year-old point of view as she tries to make sense of a world gone mad. But her story is heart warming too as it is full of innocence, spirit and friendship.
Not Without My Sister is also Rachel’s story, a harrowing story of survival and despair. Living as a prisoner of war, Rachel asks ‘what had the Nazis done‘ to her and her fellow prisoners? Rachel’s conclusion is that the Nazis have reduced them to ‘beast-like sub-humans…People with no qualms…Where survival was at stake, nothing else mattered: not decency, pride nor basic humanity.’
Yet Rachel’s story is also a story of courage and hope. It is the fragile glimmer of hope in being united with her younger sister that I feel stops Rachel from completely giving up.
Following a visit to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and ‘moved to tears many times‘ when it was hosting a temporary exhibition about Children in Concentration Camps, World War II author Marion Kummerow was inspired to write Not Without My Sister. In her moving account of this visit Kummerow says ‘even though the interviews were harrowing, they also gave me hope for the future of humanity, since the interviewed survivors have chosen forgiveness over hate.’ If you read the author’s account you will see a photograph of a small child tightly hugging a doll. This is a heart breaking photograph and it obviously really emotionally impacted on Kummerow as Mindel manages to keep hold of her beloved doll Paula throughout her time in the horrific camp. Sometimes Paula is her only friend.
This is the first novel I have read by Marion Kummerow, but I want to read more, especially as she was inspired to write historical fiction by her grandparents. They belonged to the German resistance and fought against the Nazi regime. I am so happy to discover Marion has written many other books in this genre. I can’t wait to read more.
Thank you to Sarah Hardy from Bookouture for inviting me to the blog tour of Not Without My Sister, which was published by Bookouture on 19th March 2021. To follow the blog tour and read the reviews from my fellow book bloggers also on the tour, please see below.