________________ CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 8 . . . . October 23, 2015


Hidden Gold: A True Story of the Holocaust.

Ella Burakowski.
Toronto, ON: Second Story Press, 2015.
314 pp., trade pbk. & epub, $12.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-927583-74-6 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-927583-75-3 (epub).

Grades 8-12 / Ages 13-17.

Review by Val Ken Lem.

*** /4



They had been riding for quite a while, and Shoshana had spoken most of the way. She was determined to force Nessa to view her mother and siblings as real people who had suffered, just like her. If Shoshana could succeed in that, perhaps Nessa would break down and divulge what lay ahead. It would be easier for Nessa to betray her husband and the farmer, Hanosz, if she could relate to the Golds as human beings who had been victimized just like her. Shoshana needed to exploit Nessa's guilt.

"Nessa," she said, her voice dropping to a whisper. "I know you have something planned for us," she hesitated. "From your silence, I can only assume it's not good. The first words out of your mouth were
Do you have money. It can't be money alone that you want, or you would have robbed us and left us by now. I know someone else must be directing this, Nessa. Is it the farmer you mentioned? What will happen to us when we get there? Tell me what this man has planned for us. Nessa, why can't you look at me?"

The Golds were a prosperous merchant family living in the Polish town Pi&ngrave;czòw. Shoshana and Esther, the elder children, helped their parents, Leib and Hanna, run two businesses. David, the only son and the youngest by nine years, was born in 1930. This novelization of the Gold family's experiences during the Second World War and their survival of the Holocaust begins with David's birth. As the last living member of the original family, David helped his niece, Ella Burakowski, reconstruct her family's story for this powerful narrative. Burakowski sprinkles Yiddish, Hebrew, Polish and German words and phrases into the text, often followed immediately with the English translation, in order to give the story local colour and authenticity. A four-page glossary and several pages of relevant family and historical photographs appended to the novel remind the reader that the characters and events are true.

      The early chapters set in the 1930s lay out the historical background of growing anti-Semitism in Poland and Europe. They are also the weakest part of the novel, suffering from heavy amounts of telling rather than showing. Shortly after Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, German soldiers burned Pi&ngrave;czòw to the ground. Many Jews were killed, but the Golds all survived. Things had changed irrevocably though as the occupiers introduced policies of removing Jews to ghettoes, forced Jews to wear white armbands with a blue Star of David and restricted Jewish businesses severely. In a haunting end to the first part of the novel, Burakowski concludes: "Although times were hard, once again the Golds, like many Jews in Poland, became a little too complacent." It is impossible to avoid foreshadows of the horrors to come.

      In the fall of 1942, the Nazi rulers tried to round up all of the Jewish residents of Pi&ngrave;czòw and forcibly removed them to the death camp at Treblinka. The Golds managed to flee with help from some selfless Poles and aid from others who agreed to provide shelter in exchange for scarce currency that the family managed to hide in their clothing. Leib was separated and lost, but the surviving members of the family succeeded in staying together. The bulk of the novel follows their treacherous escape from certain death if they had been removed to Treblinka in October 1942 until the Russian army liberated Poland from the German forces in 1945. The story includes narrow escapes from capture, unexpected alliances, and more than two years of hiding in a hayloft in very small quarters with a Jewish couple that almost turned them over to a farmer who killed Jews after they paid him for shelter. The story is engrossing. Burakowski illustrates many of the hardships in a sensitive manner. Lice, rodents, the shared bucket that served as the communal toilet, the lack of privacy, the shortage of food and variety of food, the inability to bathe properly, the loss of weight and muscle mass, and the extreme boredom of living in hiding are all revealed. Secret travels through the woods by moonlight and an effort to retrieve the family's buried wealth contribute tension and urgency that will capture a reader's attention.

The brief final chapter is really an epilogue that notes the post-war lives of the three Gold children and their mother Hanna, and includes David's return to the site of his Polish ordeal with his own grandson.

      Hidden Gold is a perfect title for this book that pays tribute to the strength of family and the resilience that each member drew upon to help them individually and collectively survive the ordeal. The book will nurture empathy in readers young and not-so-young alike.


Val Ken Lem is an arts and humanities liaison librarian at Ryerson University in Toronto, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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