Category Archives: Sphere

Wendy Holden – Author Guest Post

Wendy Holden

Wendy Holden – Author Guest Post

I am delighted to welcome back to my blog an author I have had the pleasure of working with for my not only my blog but also as part of  Meet the Author interviews and also a radio interview on Somerset Cool back in 2019.

Wendy Holden has written a Guest Post: Light in the Darkness which is about two of best-selling books Born Survivors and One Hundred Miracles. A new and updated version of the internationally best-selling of Born Survivors (Sphere) was released on April 30th to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII and the paperback edition of One Hundred Miracles (Bloomsbury) is released tomorrow 14th May.

One Hundred Miracles

Summary:

The remarkable memoir of Zuzana Ružicková, Holocaust survivor and world-famous harpsichordist.

Zuzana Ružicková grew up in 1930s Czechoslovakia dreaming of two things: Johann Sebastian Bach and the piano. But her peaceful, melodic childhood was torn apart when, in 1939, the Nazis invaded. Uprooted from her home, transported from Auschwitz to Hamburg to Bergen-Belsen, bereaved, starved, and afflicted with crippling injuries to her musician’s hands, the teenage Zuzana faced a series of devastating losses. Yet with every truck and train ride, a small slip of paper printed with her favourite piece of Bach’s music became her talisman.

Armed with this ‘proof that beauty still existed’, Zuzana’s fierce bravery and passion ensured her survival of the greatest human atrocities of all time, and would continue to sustain her through the brutalities of post-war Communist rule. Harnessing her talent and dedication, and fortified by the love of her husband, the Czech composer Viktor Kalabis, Zuzana went on to become one of the twentieth century’s most renowned musicians and the first harpsichordist to record the entirety of Bach’s keyboard works.

Zuzana’s story, told here in her own words before her death in 2017, is a profound and powerful testimony of the horrors of the Holocaust, and a testament in itself to the importance of amplifying the voices of its survivors today. It is also a joyful celebration of art and resistance that defined the life of the ‘first lady of the harpsichord’– a woman who spent her life being ceaselessly reborn through her music. Like the music of her beloved Bach, Zuzana’s life is the story of the tragic transmuted through art into the state of the sublime.

Born Survivors

Summary:

Among millions of Holocaust victims sent to Auschwitz II-Birkenau in 1944, Priska, Rachel, and Anka each passed through its infamous gates with a secret. Strangers to each other, they were newly pregnant, and facing an uncertain fate without their husbands. Alone, scared, and with so many loved ones already lost to the Nazis, these young women were privately determined to hold on to all they had left: their lives, and those of their unborn babies.

That the gas chambers ran out of Zyklon-B just after the babies were born, before they and their mothers could be exterminated, is just one of several miracles that allowed them all to survive and rebuild their lives after World War II. Born Survivors follows the mothers’ incredible journey – first to Auschwitz, where they each came under the murderous scrutiny of Dr. Josef Mengele; then to a German slave labour camp where, half-starved and almost worked to death, they struggled to conceal their condition; and finally, as the Allies closed in, their hellish 17-day train journey with thousands of other prisoners to the Mauthausen death camp in Austria. Hundreds died along the way but the courage and kindness of strangers, including guards and civilians, helped save these women and their children.

Sixty-five years later, the three ‘miracle babies’ met for the first time at Mauthausen for the anniversary of the liberation that ultimately saved them. United by their remarkable experiences of survival against all odds, they now consider each other “siblings of the heart.”

A heart-stopping account of how three mothers and their newborns fought to survive the Holocaust, Born Survivors is also a life-affirming celebration of our capacity to care and to love amid inconceivable cruelty.

 

LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS

by Wendy Holden

THIS week (May 14) sees the paperback release of a book that almost didn’t happen. One Hundred Miracles tells the incredible true story of Zuzana Rüžičková, a young Czech piano prodigy who survived three concentration camps and slave labour to become one of the world’s foremost musicians.

The resilience and courage of this tiny woman was inspirational to me from the beginning. When I first met her in Prague in September 2017, she was a 90-year-old widow in poor health and yet she worked tirelessly with me to answer all my questions. Her family told me later that she was determined to bear witness to history. I left her on Friday and she died the following Tuesday. This book, compiled from those interviews and others that she gave along with the testimonies of many who were with her on the same journey from the ghetto to Auschwitz to slavery to Bergen-Belsen is her legacy, along with her remarkable canon of music.

Zuzana’s story begins in the city of Pilsen, Czechoslovakia in the 1930s, where she had an idyllic childhood with devoted parents, marred only by a weak chest. At the age of nine when she was suffering from yet another bout of pneumonia, her mother begged her to get better and promised her anything she wanted. Zuzana’s eyes flicked open from her sickbed and she replied hoarsely, “Piano lessons.” Her wish was granted and her new tutor immediately saw her ability. It was ‘Madame’ who introduced her to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach which, Zuzana said later was, “Love at first hearing.” When she discovered that Bach would have composed most of his works on the harpsichord, she begged to study the antiquated instrument and was promised an apprenticeship in Paris with a famous player once she reached the age of fifteen.

The arrival of the Nazis in Czechoslovakia in 1939 changed all that and Zuzana and her family, being Jewish, were dispatched to the ghetto of Terezin, where they remained for nearly two years. During that time she lost both her grandparents and her beloved father. Her mother – broken by the losses – was almost catatonic by the time the pair were sent to Auschwitz in December 1943. In her pocket, Zuzana carried a small scrap of paper with the opening Sarabande of Bache’s English Suite No 5. She told me, “As long as I had this talisman, I had proof that beauty still existed.”

Incredibly, and because of what she said were ‘one hundred miracles,’ she and her mother not only survived Auschwitz and then slave labour that ruined her pianist hands, but also the “worst part of Hell’ – Bergen-Belsen. By the time they were liberated on April 15, 1945, they each weighed just four stone. The tragedies that befell them after the war – with the loss of their home, their business and all of their family – still didn’t defeat them and Zuzana went back to basic piano classes to retrain herself and restore her damaged hands. In 1947, she was accepted into the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague and – despite ongoing anti-Semitism and years of persecution by the Communist regime that took over her beloved country – Zuzana became a world renowned musician and helped spark a global revival in baroque music. With the love and support of her mother and her husband, she became the first person ever to record the entire keyboard works of Bach.

Zuzana’s story, told movingly in her own words, is a profound and powerful testimony of the horrors of the Holocaust and a testament in itself to the importance of amplifying the voices of its survivors today. It is also a joyful celebration of art and resistance that defined the life of the ‘First lady of the harpsichord’ – a woman who spent her life being ceaselessly reborn through her music. It was one of the greatest privileges of my life to chronicle her testimony and I am so proud of One Hundred Miracles. I only wish she was still alive to see it published in seven countries, especially in this important commemorative year in which we mark 75 years since the end of WWII.

And, unusually for any author, it is in this time of memories that I have another Holocaust memoir out in paperback, with the release of a special 75 years commemorative edition of my international bestseller Born Survivors, now published in 22 countries and translated into sixteen languages. This tells the true story of three young mothers who hid their pregnancies from the Nazis and gave birth in the camps. Both books have powerful messages of hope in times of despair and in this strange and surreal period of lockdown I cannot help but draw on the spirit of Zuzana and the three mothers I have written so immersively about and take comfort from the fact that light can always be found in the darkness.

Wendy with Zuzana

Wendy with Zuzana, one week before she died

 

  • One Hundred Miracles: Music, Auschwitz, Survival and Love by Zuzana Ružičková with Wendy Holden. Bloomsbury £9.99

Small One Hundred Miracles

 

  • An extraordinary memoir … A moving record of a life well lived in the face of appalling obstacles” – Sunday Times
  • A compelling story of terrible suffering surmounted by incredible bravery” – Daily Telegraph
  • Zuzana’s humanity shines through all the inhumanity …Vivid and moving” – The Jewish Chronicle
  • Through Auschwitz and the brutalities of the early Soviet era, the music of Bach shines like a beacon of hope” – Financial Times, Books of the Year

      ~

  • Born Survivors: Three Young Mothers and their Extraordinary Story of Courage, Defiance and Survival by Wendy Holden, Sphere £8.99 (special WWII 75th anniversary edition with a conversation with miracle ‘baby’ Eva Clarke added to the audiobook)

Small Born Survivors

  • “An exceptionally fresh history, a work of prodigious original research, written with zealous empathy.” New York Times
  • “A work of quite extraordinary investigative dedication. Born Survivors is a moving testament of faith.” Sir Harold Evans
  • “A sensitive, brave, disturbing book that everyone should read.” Rabbi Baroness Neuberger DBE
  • Packed with harrowing detail and impressively well researched…. intense, powerful and moving… a worthy testament to these three women and the miraculous survival of the children.” Jewish Chronicle

 

Because of the lockdown, Wendy Holden has moved her creative writing courses online and the next one is June 9. See www.wendyholden.com or strangemediagroup/courses for more information

Wendy Holden can be found on Twitter: @wendholden

and Instagram: @wendyholdenbestsellingauthor 

Both One Hundred Miracles and Born Survivors are available to order through Waterstones, Amazon and also through your local independant bookshops. During the pandemic lockdown your local independent bookshops need our support during these difficult times and many are offering deals on delivery. Please contact your local bookshop for stock and also delivery.

The 2018 Quick Reads Launch by The Reading Agency

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The 2018 Quick Reads Launch by The Reading Agency

Thursday 1st February 2018.

 It is a great honour to have been asked by Annabelle Wright to be a part of the promotion to launch the 2018 Quick Reads by The Reading Agency with the Official Launch Day being today 1st February.

Reading has been my life and at one point even saved my own life when I hit the lowest point of my life some years ago. Evidence shows that reading is a vital part of our mental and physical wellbeing. Reading can take us to many places and even walk in other people’s shoes.

In recent years I have made a point of handing out books to homeless people who sadly do not get access to books. Also handing out books to patients in hospitals and also to those living in sheltered accommodation. In recent years it has been a real privilege to go into some schools to help some children with reading difficulties.

With the ever present threat to our much loved local libraries, reading and access to books is now more important than ever before. By sharing my passion and also my love of books and reading can help spread the word of just how important reading is in today’s world.

You can follow Quick Reads on Twitter using the Hashtag #QuickReads 

 

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The Six Titles that make up the 2018 Quick Reads by The Reading Agency released today. Each copy will cost £1.00 and will consist of around 100 pages.

Cut Off by Mark Billingham (Little, Brown): A punchy, taut urban thriller about that moment we all fear: losing our phone! For Louise, losing hers in a local café takes a sinister turn. Billingham has sold five million copies of his novels and has twice won the Theakston’s Old Peculiar Award for Crime Novel of the Year.

 The Great Cornish Getaway by Fern Britton (HarperCollins): As the sun sits high in the sky over Cornwall, and the sea breeze brings a welcome relief to the residents of the seaside village of Trevay, a stranger arrives in need of a safe haven. The former presenter of This Morning, Britton is now a Sunday Times bestselling author and this story is full of her usual warmth and wit.

 Clean Break by Tammy Cohen (Transworld): A dark and twisty portrait of a marriage coming to its bitter end, from the mistress of domestic noir. Can Kate rid herself of her jealous husband before it’s too late? Cohen’s acclaimed novels include The Mistress’s Revenge, The War of the Wives and Someone Else’s Wedding.

Inspector Chopra and the Million-Dollar Motor Car by Vaseem Khan (Hodder & Stoughton): An enchanting Baby Ganesh Agency novella from the bestselling Khan set in the bustling back-streets of Mumbai. Inspector Chopra and his elephant sidekick have two days to solve the mystery of a missing – and very costly – car for its gangster owner, or there’ll be a heavy price to pay.

The Beach Wedding by Dorothy Koomson (Arrow): A gripping short read featuring a wedding, family drama, and old secrets. Tessa is thrilled when her daughter arrives in Ghana to get married but memories of the last time she was there haunt her; can she lay the ghosts of the past to rest or will they come back to haunt her daughter’s future? Koomson is the bestselling author of 12 novels including The Ice-Cream Girls, My Best Friends’ Girl and most recently The Friend.

Six Foot Six by Kit de Waal (Viking): A charming novella from Costa First Novel Award shortlisted author de Waal about finding friendship in the most unlikely of places. Everything changes for Timothy, a 21-year-old with learning difficulties, when local builder Charlie calls on him for help. De Waal worked in criminal and family law and was a magistrate for many years before her international bestseller, My Name is Leon, was published.

Free to enter Prize Draw.

I am delighted to offer one lucky reader the chance to win a copy of Cut Off by Mark Billingham and also Six Foot Six by Kit De Waal just head to my Twitter page at @thelastword1962 and Follow and also RT the prize draw message to stand a chance of winning both copies. Very sorry but this is a UK prize draw only. Draw will close at 7pm Friday 2nd February. Prize will be sent via Sent via Annabelle Wright at ed Public Relations.

 

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Cut Off is by the number one bestselling crime writer Mark Billingham

 It’s the moment we all fear: losing our phone. Leaving us cut off from family and friends. But for Louise, losing hers in a local café takes her somewhere much darker.

After many hours of panic, Louise is relieved when someone gets in touch offering to return the phone. From then on she is impatient to get back to normal life.

But when they meet on the beach, Louise realises you should be careful what you wish for….

112 Pages

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Six Foot Six by award winning author Kit De Waal and author of My Name is Leon

It’s an exciting day for Timothy Flowers. It’s the third of November, and its Friday. And it’s his twenty-first birthday. When Timothy walks to his usual street corner to see his favourite special bus, he meets Charlie. Charlie is a builder who is desperate for Timothy’s help because Timothy is very tall, six foot six inches. Timothy has never had a job before – or no work that he’s kept for more than a day. But when Timothy and Charlie have to collect money from a local thug, things don’t exactly go according to plan….

Over the course of one day, Timothy’s life will change forever.

73 Pages.

My thanks to Annabelle Wright for the invitation to help with the launch of the 2018 Quick Reads titles through The Reading Agency.

 The 2018 Quick Reads titles are launched by The Reading Agency and are published on 1st February 2018 and are available to through W.H. Smith and many local book shops.

Born Survivors by Wendy Holden

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Born Survivors by Wendy Holden

Review Date: 11 June 2015

Author: Wendy Holden

Release Date:  7 May 2015

Publishers: Sphere (Little,Brown Book Group)

ISBN 10: 0751557382

ISBN – 13: 978-0751557381

400pp

Available in Hardback and Kindle.

Authors Website: http://www.wendyholden.com/

The Last Word Review:

‘One of the most important Holocaust historical accounts of modern times. A story that had to be told. Deeply moving and poignant’. 

 

‘Good morning pretty lady, are you pregnant?’ These where the infamous words from Josef Mengele, the so-called Angel of Death, at Auschwitz II–Birkenau concentration camp. If found to be pregnant then – with a flick of Mengele’s glove – the women would have been taken away to face certain death in the gas chambers.

Born Survivors is the story of Priska, Rachel and Anka, three women who had never met but were transported to the camp late on during the war. The book tells the story of how at the beginning they believed they would be fine and survive, then as the Nazis moved in to their respective countries how they then tried to stay free from capture.

All three young women were married by the time they entered Auschwitz that day in 1944. Little did they know what was to lie ahead for each of the three women and this is their story in a new book Born Survivors by Wendy Holden.

All three women were pregnant as infamous trains transported them to be met by brutal SS guards with their ferocious guard dogs. During the coming hours they were stripped and their heads shaved before standing naked as Mengele went through the selection process. When each of the women were asked if they were pregnant they instinctively replied “Nein” which saved them from the gas chambers.

All three women who were separated from their husbands with no knowledge of their whereabouts were deemed fit for slave labour. None of them knew from one day to another whether they would face being selected for the gas chamber or work.

This was just the beginning for each of the three women. Their food rations could only be described as dishwater and crumbs of bread. Living conditions deteriorated by the day as did their health. Priska, Rachel and Anka managed to hide their pregnancies from their fellow inmates, knowing if they were found they would face certain death at the hands of Nazi killing machine.

The emaciated and lice-ridden women faced  afurther ordeal as they were selected to help the German war machine by being transferred to Freiberg working as slave labours in a factory making parts for aircraft. During their time here the allies were advancing and bombing raids were daily, during which the women were locked in a room on the top floor of the factory while their Nazi captors hid in shelters. As their health deteriorated and being so thin the three women still managed to hide their secret. Rachel who shared a bunk with her sisters did not even dare tell them out of fear.

Then on April 12 1945 Priska gave birth to Hana on a plank laid on a table. The Nazi captors even joked and had bets as to what the sex of the baby would be.

With little food and water, the newborn was vastly underweight at 3 pounds. Then along with the other 1000 or so women they were evacuated from the factory as the Russians and Americans closed in. They were boarded onto trains with little or no food and water. How mother and baby survived on meagre rations living in rags at this time no-one knew. Nor did they know their destination with Allied bombing raids causing great confusion as bombs fell.

Rachel weighing under 70lbs and in one of the crammed open coal wagons with little food and water she gave birth to a baby boy she named Mark. They were halfway through their 17 day journey in hellish conditions when she went into labour, with only a rusty blade to sever the umbilical cord. In hope of saving her baby she told her guards the baby was born on Hitler’s birthday (April 20), so the SS guards joked ‘another Jew for the Fuhrer’.

Their final destination was the infamous Mauthausen Camp (known as the Bone-Grinder) situated in Austria close to the Danube. This camp had the reputation of being the final destination – once through the gates you entered hell never to leave alive. Many in Mauthausen died from the appalling conditions including hard labour, lack of food, illness, being gassed or from the sheer brutality of the SS guards.

It was on the final part of the journey to the camp that Anka gave birth to baby Eva on the back of a cart filled with the dead or dying women after being pulled off the train.

The war was close to its end and the Allies were closing in on the Nazi regime and the hilltop camp. The guards herded many of the latest arrivals into the gas chambers only to realise they had run out of Zyklon B crystals used to gas those they wanted to kill.

Within days the Americans arrived, spearheaded by the US Thunderbolts headed by Sgt Albert J. Kosiek a veteran of the Battle of the Bulge. A hardened soldier, he had seen and witnessed much but nothing could prepare him or his men for what they found at Mauthausen. Many of the men broke down when the sheer horror unfolded in front of their eyes. The war was finally over, Priska, Rachel and Anka though nothing more than skeletons had survived with their babies despite the horrors that they were born into. Born Survivors indeed.

Many of the American servicemen who liberated the camp refused to speak of what they found at Mauthausen. The sheer horror would never leave them and would haunt them for the rest of their lives.

The three mothers who defied death to give life were eventually allowed to leave and head home to try and find their husbands and rebuild their lives. Their journeys would end in heartbreak as their husbands were never to return and their homes and possessions all gone. Some of the women  would be ostracised and had to move on to find a new home.

Priska, Rachel and Anka are sadly no longer alive but their memory lives on in their children Hana, Mark and Eva, almost certainly the last living survivors of the Holocaust.

Just very recently, on 10 May 2015, the Austrian authorities marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Mauthausen in the presence of relatives of survivors and those still alive who helped liberate the camp. Also present were Hana, Mark and Eva, celebrating the day the Americans arrived to set them free.

The legacy of Priska, Rachel and Anka will live on through their children and their grandchildren and they deserve that.

Born Survivors is a book of defiance, courage and hope. The author Wendy Holden deserves the plaudits for the painstaking research for this book and also the accolades that surely will come.

For this reviewer I shed tears at the close of this book and the profound effect it has had on me. I for one will remember Priska, Rachel and Anka and their courage to defy death to bring life.

I would like to thank both Wendy Holden and the publishers Sphere (Little, Brown Book Group) for giving me the opportunity of reviewing one of the most important and historically significant books of 2015. This is a book that deserves to be read.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Meet the Author:

Wendy Holden

Wendy

Wendy Holden was a journalist for eighteen years, including a decade at the Daily Telegraph where she worked as a foreign and war correspondent.

She is author and the co-author of more than thirty books, including several bestselling wartime biographies, includingTomorrow to be Brave, Til the Sun Grows Cold, and Behind Enemy Lines.

She lives in Suffolk, with her husband and two dogs and divides her time between the U.K. and the U.S.

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