Two Roads Home: Hitler, Stal­in, and the Mirac­u­lous Sur­vival of My Family

  • Review
By – September 18, 2023

In this book, one fam­i­ly faces two forms of evil: the Ger­mans and the Sovi­ets. Yet despite the heart-wrench­ing expe­ri­ences that Daniel Finkelstein’s par­ents endured — their shat­tered fam­i­lies, their forced star­va­tion, their tor­tur­ous work and treat­ment — they were able to cre­ate lives of love and suc­cess in a new world.

Two Roads Home is a tes­ta­ment to the strength and per­se­ver­ance of the Euro­pean Jews caught in the nets of both Nazi and Sovi­et ter­ror. Writ­ten by Finkel­stein, a polit­i­cal colum­nist for the Times of Lon­don, the book blends metic­u­lous research with ten­der fam­i­ly feelings.

Finkel­stein is the grand­son of Dr. Alfred Wein­er, the founder of the world’s old­est Holo­caust archive. He opens this book with a sear­ing epi­graph from Wein­er: I am pre­pared to for­get, as long as every­one else remembers.” 

Despite its descrip­tions of incred­i­ble suf­fer­ing, Two Roads Home is uplift­ing and deeply sat­is­fy­ing. Finkelstein’s research relies on numer­ous sources: a diary writ­ten in Bergen-Belsen, let­ters sent to Siberia, and per­son­al tes­ti­mo­ny, among many oth­ers. He care­ful­ly traces his par­ents’ indi­vid­ual, and very dif­fer­ent, expe­ri­ences of the war before they met and formed a fam­i­ly. His mater­nal grand­fa­ther was a Ger­man Jew­ish intel­lec­tu­al leader who was able to relo­cate his fam­i­ly to Ams­ter­dam when there was still time. But their safe­ty was tem­po­rary: Finkelstein’s grand­moth­er and their young daugh­ters, includ­ing his moth­er Miri­am, were caught and sent to Bergen-Belsen.

Finkelstein’s father’s fam­i­ly was Pol­ish and, before the war, pros­per­ous. When Stal­in took con­trol, his grand­fa­ther was sent to Siberia, while his moth­er and grand­moth­er were deport­ed to Kaza­khstan, where they lived in an ani­mal sta­ble in freez­ing con­di­tions and worked almost beyond endurance.

Told in acces­si­ble seg­ments that alter­nate between his par­ents’ sto­ries, the nar­ra­tive shows us how the two coped with the destruc­tion of all they held dear, and how they mirac­u­lous­ly man­aged to hang on and come out whole. Finkel­stein offers us a ful­ly con­ceived, three-dimen­sion­al por­trait not only of their per­son­ae, but also of the cul­tur­al, polit­i­cal, and social forces that shaped who they became.

In an age of so much con­fu­sion and obfus­ca­tion, we are for­tu­nate to have a book with a clear voice that is so com­mit­ted to truth-telling. Pro­fes­sion­al Holo­caust schol­ars and gen­er­al read­ers alike will find much to learn from it.

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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