Lovers in Auschwitz: A True Story

  • Review
By – January 22, 2024

In this debut work of non­fic­tion, jour­nal­ist Keren Blank­feld tells a sto­ry of instant love and poignant loss. Her book is full of musi­cal motifs, an homage to the singing tal­ent that helped save the life of a young Pol­ish Jew while he was impris­oned at Auschwitz.

Sev­en­teen-year-old David met twen­ty-five-year-old Zip­pi dur­ing a work detail at the infa­mous death camp and felt an imme­di­ate con­nec­tion. Their love blos­somed despite the death and despair all around them. But when they were lib­er­at­ed from the camp, their bond was shattered.

David nev­er for­got Zip­pi. He set out on a search that he hoped would reunite the young lovers, now grown old. Sev­en­ty-two years had passed, each of the lovers had been mar­ried and lost a spouse, and the end was near for Zip­pi. But David’s strong will brought them togeth­er in a last gasp of shared memory.

The sto­ry is heart­warm­ing in every way. In the camp, David sang to the guards and offi­cers in his oper­at­ic tenor, hop­ing they would keep him alive for the enter­tain­ment he pro­vid­ed — and he was right. Through­out his impris­on­ment, he felt there was some­thing else work­ing in his favor, some­thing he couldn’t quite fig­ure out. It was only when he reunit­ed with Zip­pi that he found out how she’d used her influ­ence to keep him safe, and alive, at Auschwitz.

In order to write the book, Keren Blank­feld relied on exten­sive inter­views, rich oral tes­ti­monies, and mem­oirs both pub­lished and archived. She spoke at length to David, but Zip­pi had already passed away, at the age of nine­ty-nine, when Blank­feld began her research. In the pro­logue, she express­es her firm belief that the sto­ry of the star-crossed love affair deserves to be told.

In each sec­tion — titled Over­ture,” Aria,” Duet,” Inter­lude,” and Caden­za” — Blank­feld dili­gent­ly pieces togeth­er the pair’s sto­ries. David was from War­saw, and Zip­pi, Slo­va­kia. Yet they had enough lan­guage in com­mon to trade mem­o­ries about their pasts. They met in a des­ig­nat­ed spot in a bar­racks between two cre­ma­to­ries, a tiny space Zip­pi arranged for them at the top of a makeshift lad­der. Although David was bro­ken by the fact that his entire fam­i­ly had died in the War­saw Ghet­to, his con­ver­sa­tions with Zip­pi allowed him to regain a sense of the world that was filled with light and beauty. 

Today, when first­hand accounts of the Holo­caust are few and anti­semitism is once again on the rise, read­ing a warm, acces­si­ble sto­ry like Lovers in Auschwitz offers par­tic­u­lar val­ue. It cap­tures the mir­a­cle of love in a place of hor­ror and reminds us that, at the very moment the world is tear­ing us apart, cer­tain forces might bring us back together.

Lin­da F. Burghardt is a New York-based jour­nal­ist and author who has con­tributed com­men­tary, break­ing news, and fea­tures to major news­pa­pers across the U.S., in addi­tion to hav­ing three non-fic­tion books pub­lished. She writes fre­quent­ly on Jew­ish top­ics and is now serv­ing as Schol­ar-in-Res­i­dence at the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al & Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau County.

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