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Signs of Survival: A Memoir of Two Sisters in the Holocaust

A Memoir by renee hartman with Joshua M. Greene

Two sisters: one deaf, one hearing. This is their true story.

I was ten years old then, and my sister was eight. The responsibility was on me to warn everyone when the soldiers were coming because my sister and both my parents were deaf.

Meet Renee and Herta, two sisters who faced the unimaginable — together. This is their true story.

As Jews living in 1940s Czechoslovakia, Renee, Herta, and their parents were in immediate danger when the Holocaust came to their door. As the only hearing person in her family, Renee had to alert her parents and sister whenever the sound of Nazi boots approached their home so they could hide.

But soon their parents were tragically taken away, and the two sisters went on the run, desperate to find a safe place to hide. Eventually they, too, would be captured and taken to the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen. Communicating in sign language and relying on each other for strength in the midst of illness, death, and starvation, Renee and Herta would have to fight to survive the darkest of times.

This gripping memoir, told in a vivid “oral history” format, is a testament to the power of sisterhood and love, and now more than ever a reminder of how important it is to honor the past, and keep telling our own stories.


"This is a compelling story, exploring the role that senses play when one is in danger as well as presenting the candid recollections of everyday details of two children navigating appalling conditions during wartime. An extraordinary tale of sisterhood and survival."



"Signs of Survival is a compelling story... should be required reading."

This Bliss Life


Chapter Excerpt

October 1944 – Auschwitz Death Camp

IT WAS BITTER COLD the night police forced me and my mother into a cattle car and sent us from our home in Krakow, Poland to Auschwitz, the largest of all Nazi killing centers. There were 300 women prisoners in that cattle car. I was fourteen years old, one of the youngest. We arrived at Auschwitz late at night. Guards slammed open the doors of the cattle car and yelled at us to jump out. Then they marched us into a long wooden barrack with rows of benches along the walls.

“Take off all your clothes!” the guards shouted. “You will be brought back here to collect your things later—after your shower.” I had no idea where we were going. We might never come back from their so-called shower.

The guards shoved us into a room maybe twenty-feet by twenty-feet. It was dark but we could see pipes running the length of the ceiling. Back home in Krakow, we had heard rumors about what happened to Jews in concentration camps. What kind of shower was this? Were we going to die?

There are no words to describe what the death camp at Auschwitz was like. If you were not there, you cannot imagine it and I cannot truly describe it. Still, for most of my adult life I have been trying as best I can to teach about the Holocaust in middle-grades and colleges, in church groups and synagogues. Like many other survivors I feel an obligation to tell my story again and again. The Holocaust was the scientifically-designed, state-sponsored murder of the Jewish people by Nazi Germany and its allies. The Holocaust should never be forgotten and never happen again—but how can we protect against that? You, dear reader, can help. One person with courage to stand up for the innocent can make a big difference.

I should know. I’m alive thanks to someone who refused to stand by and do nothing. His name was Oskar Schindler.

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