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Essay Topic: Rena's Promise; A Story of Sisters in Auschwitz

Rena’s Promise

By Rena Gelissen and Co-written by Heather Dune Macadam


An Analysis of the “Auschwitz Chapter”


Through imagery, character, theme and climax Rena Gelissen and Heather Dune Macadam’s “Rena’s story: A Story of Sisters in Auschwitz” unveils the tragic life experience of one of the first Jewish girls to be a prisoner of the Nazi regime’s genocide known as the holocaust and survived to share their story. The story tells of the capture and imprisonment of Rena Kornreich (Gelissen by marriage) and her sister Danka who were among the scores of other Jewish prisoners in 1942. The deplorable conditions they had to reside in, the cruel and inhumane treatment they received during their subjugation and Rena’s indomitable will to survive, protect her sister and see themselves to freedom is captured by Heather Dune Macadam who interviews Rena and who enters her own narrative into the telling of the story alongside Rena’s own reckoning.


The imagery created by Rena as she recalls the conditions in which they had to live gives us an insight as to how unfortunate they were and forces us to visualize said conditions for which we immediately put ourselves into her place and empathize with her as we consider how our own emotional state would have been if we were in those conditions. Rena goes on to say-“The floor is dirt. There are no bunk beds here; there are shelves, wood planks, three tiers high. Where are the mattresses? Our beds look like horse stalls. There is a sour smell of human odor. There are rags for blankets. We stand, squeezing our bread in our hands, unable to cope, unable to move. A girl begins to cry. Like fire in a stable her fear grabs us, and like dried straw we burn inside. Tears cannot quench these flames of disaster. We are lost. This is Birkenau.” Through all this Rena endures as well as the suffering that follows which foretells a rather determined spirit.


Rena’s unfailing ability to love, tell jokes ("My heart is a stone in a river of tears”) despite her predicament and her shear force of will to survive, protect her sister and return home to fulfill her promise shows her great inner strength, humor and compassion. The co-author, Heather Dune Macadam says of Rena “I am always amazed by Rena; her ability to laugh and tell jokes. She is a gift of life and memory, and what a memory. And despite all of the tragedy she has witnessed she maintains her spirit and good humor”. Rena’s strength can be seen by own reckoning. “My one great feat in life, my fate, is to survive this thing and return triumphant with my sister to our parents' house. My dream cannot be marred by German whips or chains or rules. I will succeed because I have no other choice. Failure does not even occur to me, we may die in the interim-death cannot be avoided here-but even that will not dissuade me from my sole purpose in life. Nothing else matters but these four things: be with Danka, be invisible, be alert, be numb.”


Unequivocally the theme of Rena’s Promise is one of survival and to a slightly lesser degree, love. If not for Rena’s love for her sister and family and the sense of loyalty she felt then it would be unclear as to what then would she have had to draw strength from to survive such a tragic event. The co-author goes on to speak about Rena’s strength of character and her love as to the reason why she’s sharing her story with the world. She says “Rena's story of survival reveals the power of relationships between sisters, men and women, Gentiles and Jews. It is love which gives them the will to endure unimaginable circumstances-it is that same love and courage that allows Rena to share her story with others. Her mission is to share her experience along with her message-Shalom to all people.” Rena’s strength and determination got her going and sustained her enough to endure until she and her sister finally found freedom.


Rena and Danka are liberated and Rena thus fulfills her promise to her mother by protecting Danka and bringer her home. We read that “On May 2, 1945, the Russian and American troops met in the middle of Germany and Rena and her sister were finally liberated.”We're free!" We hug each other, crying. "We are free!” she says. Now we see the story come to a close and we are enlightened by the fact that all her strength of mind enabled her to encounter danger and bear great pain and adversity with absolute courage.


These techniques bear great relevance to the story and overall theme of survival. Through said techniques the story has a greater impact upon us as the imagery describes quite frankly the ordeal they went through, her character gives us insight as to her ability to survive said ordeal, and in the climax there is confirmation of said survival thus substantiating the theme.


The story jumps between being narrated by Rena and the co-author Heather Dune Macadams. Rena’s account in the Auschwitz’ chapter details what she remembers. She not only recalls what happens but she enlightens both the co-author and us, the readers to what she was feeling and what was going through her mind while enduring this predicament. By injecting herself throughout the co-author gives the reader this back and forth narrative of her and Rena and communicates her own observations of not only Rena’s character but of the general concept of the story and its historical significance. She goes on to say “If we can let Auschwitz teach us how to live then those six million and more deaths will not be for naught. Auschwitz is our world's shared human history (it is not only for Europeans to learn from, it is for all of us to take to heart) only then can we learn that hatred is meaningless.” She makes these observations as we would do while reading thus making a link between her and us the readers. She communicates her understanding and analysis of the story and what it means to her as well as its importance as the only published account of a female from the first transport of prisoners.


1035 Words

Work Cited

Gelissen, Rena. Heather Macadam. Rena’s Promise: A Story of Sisters in Auschwitz. Boston: Beacon

Press, 1996. Ix-19.


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