Sent to Auschwitz on the first Jewish transport, Rena Kornreich survived the Nazi death camps for over three years. While there she was reunited with her sister Danka. Each day became a struggle to fulfill the promise Rena made to her mother when the family was forced to split apart--a promise to take care of her sister.
One of the few Holocaust memoirs about the lives of women in the camps, Rena’s Promise is a compelling story of the fleeting human connections that fostered determination and made survival a possibility. From the bonds between mothers, daughters, and sisters, to the links between prisoners, and even prisoners and guards, Rena’s Promise reminds us of the humanity and hope that survives inordinate inhumanity.
“This is a book filled with melancholy wisdom and bitter artistry.... A miraculous message...a voice which we must heed and honor.” —Mike Fink, Rhode Island Jewish Herald
“A personal story of courage....[Rena’s] first-person account is an illustration of the power of love, even in the face of the Nazi killing machine.” —Paul Nowell, Associated Press
“Deeply moving.” —Dena Taylor, San Francisco Chronicle
Preface to the Expanded Edition
Chapter One Rena
Chapter Two Tylicz
Chapter Three Slovakia
Chapter Four Auschwitz
Chapter Five Birkenau (Auschwitz II)
Chapter Six Stabsgebaude (Staff quarters)
Chapter Seven Neustadt Glewe
1.In the beginning of memoir, the co-author puts herself into the story. Her voice, and narrative flips
back and forth between present time and the past then eventually disappears as Rena’s voice takes
over. Why do you think the author uses this technique?
2.The narrative voice, for both co-authors, is written present tense. How does writing about Auschwitz
in present tense change your perspective on the events you are reading about?
3.Occasionally, the text uses footnotes to give a sense of history, time and place, outside of the first
person narrative. How does this effect your impression of the events and how they are all framed by
time and Rena’s perspective? What does say about the writing of memoir and history?
(Group Exercise: referring to page 151. Have your reading group or class line up and march
outside—no one should be allowed coats, etc., make it abrupt—before exiting the building make sure
they understand that any giggling, talking, etc., is punishable by “death”. Simulate “Roll Call”
conditions by ordering them to line up in rows of five, five wide, five deep (you can make it smaller if
the group has just a few people in it). Have them stand for five minutes at full attention, and remind
them how many hours every day Rena stood just like this, no matter what the weather. Then order
them to line up for a mock selection. Using a stop watch, or counting “one-one thousand, two-one
thousand, three-one thousand” give them each three seconds to stand in front of you before giving
them the thumbs up sign allowing them to enter the building. Allow time to process this experience
through writing and discussion.)
4.Men’s and women’s experiences in the Holocaust varied—what can you attribute to that fact? What
would have caused these discrepancies. What do the footnotes say about this information?
5.If you could pick out one theme for Rena’s story, what would it be? What were the key factors that
kept Rena and Danka alive through Auschwitz, and what made them different from those who were
not so lucky? Were they different, or were they simply lucky?
6.What compelled Rena to act so selflessly when it came to taking care of and providing for her
sister? Was she acting out of the goodness of her heart, or out of necessity?
7.Danka also helped Rena, and saved her life during the death march, how did their relationship help
both to survive?
8.How does Rena’s story change your attitude towards a particular religion or race? Does it make you
want to be more opened minded and accepting of different cultures and religions? *After 9/11 Rena expressed concern for American-Muslims. She was worried that people would hurt them like the Jews were hurt in Europe. “To hate is to let Hitler win.”
1.Pick one scene that you feel particularly strongly about and rewrite it from the perspective of one of
the other people in the story—you cannot write it from Rena’s perspective because you already know
what she is thinking. Write the scene so you get to know who this person is, what they were thinking,
and what motivated them to do what they did.
2.Imagine what a potato peel tastes like from Rena’s description and write down your perceptions.
Then take a potato peel and eat it—how does it really taste?
3.Get together some stale bread, mustard, weak tea (no sugar), a potato peel, some watered down potato soup (cold and with no seasoning), and/or some macaroni and the water you cooked the noodles in and sit down and eat. Give time to each portion of food, to taste and consider what it was
like to eat almost nothing but that bread for three years and forty-one days. How does the noodle
broth really taste?