Gertruda’s Oath by Ram Oren is a beautiful account of a true Holocaust story.
In 1938 Warsaw, Gertruda Bablinska sees a job ad that will change her life for ever. Jacob and Lydia Stolowitzky, a wealthy Jewish couple, are looking for a nanny for their two-year old son. Influenced by the antisemitism which permeates Poland, Gertruda is reluctant to accept the job but she desperately needs the money. She soon grows fond of Michael and becomes devoted to the family who employ her.
A year later the war breaks out and Jacob Stolowitzky is stranded in Paris. His wife Lydia is persuaded to leave Warsaw and flee to Vilna where the Jews hope thy will be safer in a Lithuania which is under Russian rule. Lydia’s health deteriorates and on her deathbed she asks Gertruda to promise that she will raise Michael as her son and eventually take him to Israel.
The book also focuses on Karl Rink an ordinary German who is married to Mira, a Jewish woman. They have a daughter and lead a quiet and happy life until Karl is laid off. Lured by Nazi rhetoric and the hope for a better life, Rink naively accepts an invitation to join the SS. He won’t listen to his wife’s fears and prefers to believe that soon everything will be back to normal.
One day Karl Rink is sent for by the Nazi hierarchy who demand that he divorce his wife but Karl loves her and doesn’t obey. When Mira disappears, he realizes it is high time to send his young daughter to a kibbutz in Israell and get her out of the country before it is too late. Troubled by his conscience, Karl Rink does what he little can to make life easier for the Jews he comes into contact with, one of whom turns out to be Michael.
The story develops and we follow Gertruda’s determination to be true to her word and find a safe place for Michael to grow up. Near the end, personal life story meets History when the two embark on Exodus 47.
As well as being a powerful account of Gertruda’s struggle to keep her promise, Gertruda’s Oath is a book about the choices ordinary human beings are faced with and how theses very choices can turn them into heroes.