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Rena's Promise: A Story of Sisters in Auschwitz Paperback – October 30, 1996

4.8 out of 5 stars 706 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Imagining that, by volunteering for a work camp, she would somehow be protecting her family from the Nazis, Rena, at age 17, put on her best clothes, left her fiance and the Polish village of Tylicz in the Carpathian Mountains and was sent off to Auschwitz. Presently, her sister Danka arrived, as did cousins, schoolmates and neighbors. As a child, she had promised her mother to look after her baby sister, and that promise obsessed her throughout her incarceration in the camp. It gave her reason to survive, so that one day she could bring Danka safely home. How they escaped starvation, beatings, the crematorium, the medical experiments of the notorious Josef Mengele and survived the end of the war is all recounted here in this spirited survivor's testament, written with freelancer Macadam. After the war, Rena married a Red Cross worker and emigrated to the U.S., following her sister.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Gelissen, who was on the first Jewish transport to Auschwitz, describes in this account the constant struggle for survival in the camp. She soon learns there were no guarantees. Rena's motivation came strongly from a promise to her parents to keep her younger sister, Danka, safe. Her account describes the relentless specter of death while at the same time showing how prisoners would risk their lives to smuggle medicine, clothes, and food to other prisoners. Because Rena was an early prisoner in Auschwitz, she describes some of the confusion at the beginning and the realization of what was really happening to the Jewish people. Helpful features of the book include historical notes and a section describing the fate of the people the sisters knew. This memoir captures the horror of Auschwitz in a clear way that helps the reader understand the atrocities perpetrated there. Recommended for Holocaust collections.
Mary Salony, West Virginia Northern Community Coll. Lib., Wheeling
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press; Reprint, 2011 edition (October 30, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807070718
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807070710
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (706 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #107,208 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Lee Mellott TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 15, 2005
Format: Paperback
There have been many first person accounts of the concentration camps. Rena's story is among the most detailed and gripping.

Rena as a young woman turned herself in as a Jew in order to prevent problems for a family that was helping her. Little did she know of the ordeal that lie ahead. And when I say ordeal that does not begin to describe the terrifying journey that Rena takes.

In the camps, Rena is eventually reunited with her sister Danka and makes a promise to her (hence the title of the book) that if she (Danka) is to be killed Rena will go with her. They will die or live together. As the story unfolds you really grasp the utter evil of the Nazi's as they played their evil games with the prisoners. How Rena and Danka manage to escape deaths door on so many occasions is a miracle. But they do. Yet the pain and suffering they experience is unimaginable. And the pain and suffering of those who meet untimely, unthinkable torture and deaths is described too.

Whenever I am tempted to whine or moan or b*tch about something, I think of Rena and Danka and their incredible endurance. It puts my problems in perspective. The book also has made me appreciate the little things, like a hot shower or good book, a warm meal or a lazy morning sleeping. Things that Rena and Danka never received but could only dream of.

This is a graphic book, but one that can change your way of thinking of life. A truly bold tale that opens your eyes to the deepest evil and the strongest love.
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Format: Paperback
Hey everyone, I am Danka (Dina) Brandel's grandson, Andrew Brandel. Rena is my great aunt. It's really great to hear all of your praise about the book, and that you enjoyed reading about the stories I grew up on. My grandma gave these first hand accounts often, especially when I was younger and I know our whole family was very excited when my Tante Rena wrote it all down. They are both as amazing people in real life as they are portrayed in the story, I can assure you first hand. Anyway, I am glad you all enjoyed their story!
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Format: Paperback
This was a very involving and detailed book; even though the content can be too much for some people, I really like how many specific details were given about what happened every day, instead of, like some other Shoah memoirs, just skipping between the most important events during the author's incarceration, or not giving enough details about daily life. I've read some pretty detailed Shoah memoirs, but this one by far has been the most intricately detailed one, complete with footnotes elaborating even further on the event or date being described. Rena and Danka were also prisoners in the camp from practically the very beginning, among the first civilian transports, as opposed to how there were originally only male political prisoners there. These incredible sisters had some incredible strokes of luck the way they escaped nearly certain death so many times, like when they just walked away from the roll call taking place before Mengele was to begin medical experiments or when Rena evaded detection at several roll calls after she stole potatoes in the last camp they were in. I would have liked some extra chapters on how they got by after the liberation too, but the afterword sufficed, telling us the basics about what happened to them and their friend Dina, as well as the fates of the various other people we met throughout the book, like the male prisoners who helped to save them at various points, or the fate of their other relatives and friends. I also liked how the story was told in nonlinear perspective at the beginning (i.e., in different voices and at different times). It was also surprising to read at the beginning that Rena had had her tattoo surgically removed and kept it in a jar of formaldehyde; I've only heard of a handful of survivors who elected to have their tattoos removed.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Having toured Auschwitz-Birkenau, I decided to purchase and read Rena's story. I was hooked immediately; it was difficult to put my Kindle down. I love the author's style of writing, "method writing", as I read the story I felt at times I was sitting in the room with her and Rena. This is truly one of the best books I have ever read. What an incredible story of love, fear, emotional strength, survival, hope, and shear determination. Ms. Macadam was so blessed to have had the opportunity to meet such amazing women, Rena and Danka. Since the first book I read about the Holocaust more than 20 years ago, I have been on a quest to try to understand how such a horrific event could have actually taken place. Of course, I will never be able to fully answer any of the questions that this event has raised. My only hope is that people will never forget.
In January 2010, I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau, it was such a surreal experience that I cannot even begin to explain the emotions I experienced. The day I visited, it was around 21F or -6C, it had been snowing the previous day and the ground was covered with a few inches of new snow, of which there was already several feet from previous snow storms. The day I visited, it was sunny, windy, and very cold. Even though I was dressed for the elements, I could still feel the cold. As I toured the camp, I tried to imagine how anyone could have survived for even a day. I looked at all the photos, read all of the names of the men, women, and children that were brutality murdered for no other reason than they were Jews. As I walked into the areas that human hair, clothing, shoes, luggage, and other personal items were kept I could not stop myself from crying. The pictures of the children and their clothing were heart wrenching.
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