Review: Broken Birds

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Broken Birds: The Story of Momila
The Holocaust really did happen and we should never forget that. Many survived only to live with unseen scars and permanent memories of the atrocities that were inflicted on them by these horrific people under the command of Hitler and his regime.

There are many who would tell this story differently; there are others that would hide from the truth and bury their heads in the sand. Author Jeannette Katzir will take you back in time to where it all began for her mother and describe what becomes of her family and her in a poignant and heartbreaking novel with a title that surely fits: Broken Birds: The Story of Momila.

Twelve year old Channa Perschowski and her older brother Isaac are forced to leave all their worldly possessions, family and the safety home to flee the horrors that would befall so many at the hands of the Nazi’s who inflicted more than just pain on the Jewish people. No child should or adult should have to endure what Channa and her brother did when their mother Rachel and sister Yetta, sacrificed themselves and were forced to remain at the hands of the inhumanities endured by so many people because they were Jewish.

Told through the voice of Channa’s daughter Jaclyn, you learn not just about the Holocaust and its devastating impact on this and many other displaced families, but what happens when trust and family loyalties become frail and fall apart and the priorities that prominent are anything but family based.

Returning to her home at the close of the war brings the end result in perspective as Channa comes face to face with the destruction and harsh reality of having to leave Poland and embark on a life in America along with her brother, Isaac. As the author completes Channa’s introduction to the reader she next tells us about her father, Nathan and all he endured at the hands of the Germans in the camps before coming to America. As she recounts his life with his mother Jolin an enterprising woman taken by soldiers in Uzhgorod in Hungry, as the government there decided to inflict their own rules of Anti-Semitism on the Jewish population living there.

As with segregation in the South where blacks were forced to ride in the back of the bus and eat at separate counters in a restaurant, Jews were forced to walk on different sides of the streets from Gentiles and hand over their hard earned businesses to them just because they said so. As fear set in 14 year old Nathan’s life would take a horrific a family member is killed and life would become more tragic. Food became scarce, anti-Semitism was on the rise and by 1944 the Hungarian Government became just as cruel as the German. Forced to spend time in Dachau and finally escaping and hidden, Nathan and his friends hope to find safe passage to America and freedom.

Alone and with nowhere else to go he humbly asks his stepfamily for help although they really did not want to. As he became acclaimed to the country and learned much from his experiences he goes to a dance where Channa and Nathan finally meet and their life would begin together. Channa worked at many jobs, saved money and her brother had taken much gold and hidden it during the war. But, when Channa and Nathan finally marry and their family begins to grow, Isaac, her brother becomes more like a stranger to her, enlisting Nathan into helping him start a new bungalow business, taking the gold for himself and forcing her to give over her well earned money needed for her family, convincing Nathan to turn against her.

Like the feathers on a bird, which are so fragile and delicate so is the structure of this family, which has begun to crumble and fall apart. Even as the dynamics of the family changed and with Channa having five children each different and requiring different needs, the family did not always get along and what happens will teach not only our narrator but other family members some long and hard lessons. Jaclyn married Gol an ambitious man who provided well for their family.

Working together with her husband they built several lucrative businesses. But, sister Shirley married to Eric found herself always in competition with her older sister and often caused much strife within the family. Added to that Eric’s business sense and acumen were not always honest and this too caused a major rift in the family along our narrator always felt that family comes first and must be trusted, little did she know that they were the ones that would ultimately betray her in the end. Channa and Nathan were drifting apart and the family was becoming as worn as a coat with a torn seam that could not longer be repaired.

As Gol, tried to help many members of Jaclyn’s family make a living, he also realized that certain things would never work out and Eric and Shirley two of them. As Jaclyn enlisted the cooperation of her sister in using her address so her children could attend a better school, the stab in the back came hard and swift and the knife would forever remain.

Single minded, difficult to dissuade from her own point of view, Channa remained a force to be reckoned with and her children rarely went against her wishes or thoughts. Difficult to deal with, often blunt and too straightforward in her remarks to her children, it is amazing that she was able to keep her family together at all. Stating that family comes first and you only trust your blood, learning that from surviving during the war, our narrator soon learns through many hard lessons in life and in business that her mother’s viewpoint was not always right or true but she respected and honored it. Betrayals come in all forms and from many different places in this family. New members are not exactly what they seem and sides are taken and battle lines are drawn.

But, Jaclyn could not say no to her nephew Garth no matter what her sister had done to her and instead of common sense and saying no to his working with Gol, she managed to figure out something that he could do anyway which once again proved wrong. Channa and Nathan were  two war torn individuals that would never really overcome what they endured in life nor were they ever really happy for the successes of their children.

Happiness was relative to them and certain aspects of life were such as marriage and family loyalty was foremost in their minds. As the author so aptly states her parents were like two broken birds waiting for the next crisis or shoe to fall. But, the real dissent starts when Channa passes. As the will is read each family member realizes the end result of their mother’s wishes and vies for a large piece of her estate. Emails back and forth and harsh words said, one brother wanting it all and the rest fighting for their share, this family becomes more than just broken apart. As the family visits their father’s homeland they begin to understand what kind of life he weathered and relived his past right in front of his children.

Many will deny and say that the Holocaust was made up but those of us who had family who lived and survived it know better. As they visited the death camps and saw the crematoriums reliving his past in the present. But, what would the end result be for the family and who would finally get what Channa left and who would be left without.

Channa Perschowski was a strong yet fearful woman who distrusted even her own husband and thought he would eventually leave her. How can a family mend itself when its branches are too broken and its backbone not able to keep it in place? Author Jeannette Katzir brings to light so many important issues in this outstanding true story of the lives of her dysfunctional family members, the greed, betrayal and distrust that ensued and one woman: Channa: Her Momila, which is what my mom calls me, that only wanted to be loved.

Powerfully written, heartbreaking, events clearly depicted and described and I am honored to have been asked to read and review this outstanding book. The Holocaust did more than just take the lives of those killed, it destroyed the spirit, the joy and the souls of both Nathan and Channa who lived it, survived and created a live for their five ever so different children in a world filled with many more Broken Birds. One simple document: One Will: The Words of One Woman: What had Channa Done? Read this novel and understand what happens when the greatest war of your life is not fought on the battlefield.

After just losing my precious sister, Marcia, who was my best friend in the whole world, I cannot imagine why any family would want to drift so far apart and not fix those broken branches and make them into a tall, strong tree with many strong limbs.  This is one novel that everyone needs to read and hopefully will open your eyes to the importance and love of family. A sad but true story that brought tears to my eyes and much more. My grandmother and her sisters survived the camps in Poland and told me what they went through and more. I dedicate this review to all those Holocaust Survivors to our outstanding author who had the courage to share her sister and to my grandmother late grandmother Katie Goldberg who lived it.

Author Jeannette Katzir
Fran Lewis: Reviewer

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