Category Archives: Wendy Holden

Five Minutes of Amazing – Chris Graham with Wendy Holden

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Five Minutes of Amazing (My Journey Through Dementia) – Chris Graham with Wendy Holden

The Last Word Review

On the back cover of the book there is a quote “I’m being forced to consider dying at an earlier than most. Am I scared? I don’t know I never died before” Five Minutes of Amazing is Chris Graham’s story written with the bestselling writer Wendy Holden.

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At the young age of just 38 Chris received the devastating news that he was suffering from a rare form of Alzheimer’s disease. He lost his father to the same disease when he was in his forties and his brother is in a nursing home also in his forties. To anyone this would be shattering news seeing his brother in a home would be a mirror image of what life could be like for Chris. He had a long-standing career in the army, so well respected yet now faces a life away from serving his country. Chris’s girlfriend Vicky was expecting their first child.

Life suddenly has been turned on its head for the couple. For Chris though he was not going to submit to what amounts as a death sentence lightly. He wanted to leave a legacy and so it was just after the birth of their son’s birth Chris set off on an adventure. Any other time most would consider what was to come as sheer madness but not for Chris. This was going to be an epic 16,000-mile solo cycle around North America raising money for Alzheimer’s research. Now just imagine this for one moment. Here is a man knowing that fate has dealt him the cruellest of hands yet leaving Vicky at home with their baby son he will set off on his cycle with just his own humour to keep him going. This is a remarkable story of that adventure a legacy to research. So it was in the Spring of 2015 Chris said an emotional goodbye to his family and set off for Canada the starting point of this 16,000-mile race against time.

When you consider that Chris has been diagnosed with this rare form of Alzheimer’s and then sets off on a 16,000-mile cycle trek across a land that is strange to him, just consider the challenges he would be facing at given moment. Frightening just thinking about it. This whole story from start to finish is nothing short of inspirational. There is lots of emotion in the story but also great humour.

Five Minutes of Amazing is touching and heart-rending and I found I could not put the book down. Chris’s story is one that will touch anyone who has been through seeing a loved one suffer from this terrible disease. Sadly, for me I have and subsequently went on an adventure raising money for the same cause in 2013.

Chris made it home just before Christmas 2015 and was re-united with Vicky and their son Dexter determined to spend whatever time was left with his family. A deeply moving story and one I whole-hardheartedly recommend everyone to read.

The words at the end of the book will stay long with me as I am sure they will to anyone who has read them.

My thanks to Wendy Holden and to Sphere for the advanced review copy.

Five Minutes of Amazing by Wendy Holden is published by Sphere in hardback and is now available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.

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The Sense of Paper – Wendy Holden

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The Sense of Paper – Wendy Holden

The Last Word Review

 I had one major problem with The Sense of Paper by Wendy Holden in that it is truly compelling that when I started I had real difficulty in putting it down. It is truly compelling and I was struck at just how beautiful Wendy Holden’s writing really is as a novel.

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A story that explores the many facets of humanity to its lowest points anyone can reach. If I said that The Sense of Paper is a work of art I really would actually mean it is just that in many ways. Art plays a major role in this story of War, obsession and love as well as the history of art. Anyone like me who loves the work of the artist of JMW Turner will also enjoy this book.

Charlotte Hudson (Charlie) a reporter who has spent years covering one conflict after another, but now Charlie has been home in London for some time and after a shocking ordeal while covering the conflict in war torn Kosovo she is left with not just the physical wounds but also the emotional wounds that have gone with it. The scars have taken their toll on Charlie and she is left at the lowest point anyone can reach. At times alcohol became her best friend.  Sometimes the only way to seek any form of solace after an ordeal like that is to share your experiences and Charlies book covering her time there as a journalist receives acclaim for her writing. But the flashbacks and the nightmares continue.

To seek some form of solace and keep her mind off the ordeals Charlie now turns her attention on her second book based on her grandfather’s love of the artist JMW Turner and visits an arts store and looks at the various quality of paper artists would use. It is here she meets the expert on Turner’s work Sir Alan Matheson soon they are talking over coffee and Matheson encourages Charlie’s passion in her writing project and the qualities of paper that Turner would use. Soon Charlie falls in love with Matheson but here is a journalist that has been left broken by the horrors that Charlie went through and Matheson is at the top of his game in the world of art but there is darkness in both their lives.

Charlie now must seek the truth about Sir Alan’s past is this a way that can heal some of her own demons and will love find a way in the end for them both. Trust is something that Charlie has lost in the years since returning home. She wants to trust Matheson but may be the journalist in Charlie want to know the truth surrounding him and so a mystery story now plays out.

The backdrop of this story one of art and the sense of history as well as paper play a key role but the characters are truly outstanding and the heroine in Charlie is simply incredible, a modern day love story set to the backdrop of art that reads like a literary classic. This is a must read and its themes will appeal to many. Do not miss this book. It will linger with you for some-time to come.

Thank you to Wendy Holden for the review copy of The Sense of Paper.

The Sense of Paper by Wendy Holden is published by Renaissance Literary & Talent and is available as a Kindle download from Amazon.co.uk

The Sense of Paper – Wendy Holden

cover

The Sense of Paper – Wendy Holden

The Last Word Review

I had one major problem with The Sense of Paper by Wendy Holden in that it is truly compelling that when I started I had real difficulty in putting it down. It is truly compelling and I was struck at just how beautiful Wendy Holden’s writing really is as a novel.

wendy

A story that explores the many facets of humanity to its lowest points anyone can reach. If I said that The Sense of Paper is a work of art I really would actually mean it is just that in many ways. Art plays a major role in this story of War, obsession and love as well as the history of art. Anyone like me who loves the work of the artist of JMW Turner will also enjoy this book.

Charlotte Hudson (Charlie) a reporter who has spent years covering one conflict after another, but now Charlie has been home in London for some time and after a shocking ordeal while covering the conflict in war torn Kosovo she is left with not just the physical wounds but also the emotional wounds that have gone with it. The scars have taken their toll on Charlie and she is left at the lowest point anyone can reach. At times alcohol became her best friend.  Sometimes the only way to seek any form of solace after an ordeal like that is to share your experiences and Charlies book covering her time there as a journalist receives acclaim for her writing. But the flashbacks and the nightmares continue.

To seek some form of solace and keep her mind off the ordeals Charlie now turns her attention on her second book based on her grandfather’s love of the artist JMW Turner and visits an arts store and looks at the various quality of paper artists would use. It is here she meets the expert on Turner’s work Sir Alan Matheson soon they are talking over coffee and Matheson encourages Charlie’s passion in her writing project and the qualities of paper that Turner would use. Soon Charlie falls in love with Matheson but here is a journalist that has been left broken by the horrors that Charlie went through and Matheson is at the top of his game in the world of art but there is darkness in both their lives.

Charlie now must seek the truth about Sir Alan’s past is this a way that can heal some of her own demons and will love find a way in the end for them both. Trust is something that Charlie has lost in the years since returning home. She wants to trust Matheson but may be the journalist in Charlie want to know the truth surrounding him and so a mystery story now plays out.

The backdrop of this story one of art and the sense of history as well as paper play a key role but the characters are truly outstanding and the heroine in Charlie is simply incredible, a modern day love story set to the backdrop of art that reads like a literary classic. This is a must read and its themes will appeal to many. Do not miss this book. It will linger with you for some-time to come.

Thank you to Wendy Holden for the review copy of The Sense of Paper.

The Sense of Paper by Wendy Holden is published by Renaissance Literary & Talent and is available as a Kindle download from Amazon.co.uk

Meet the Author – Wendy Holden

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MEET THE AUTHOR

WENDY HOLDEN

~BORN SURVIVORS~

Wendy

In the Fourth of a series of Meet the Author Interviews I talk to Wendy Holden about Born Survivors and the story of three courageous women who defied death to bring life and why this has become her ‘legacy’ work.

You have written a number of historical books, what made you want to write about the three incredible and brave women?

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I came across an online obituary of a woman who’d been in Auschwitz and who’d had a baby there that had died. It made me realise that I had never before read a book that gave a full account of any babies born during the Holocaust who had survived. I was staggered to discover that in 70 years no such book had been written to my knowledge, so I decided to investigate further.

 Born Survivors is about three women. Priska, Rachel and Anka who were all pregnant when they entered Auschwitz II-Birkenau. How did you come across their stories?

My research first led me to Eva, Anka’s baby, who happened to live an hour from me in Cambridge, England. After spending an emotional day with her as she told me about her mother, I asked if she would allow me the privilege of writing her story and that I believed it to be unique. She told me she had been waiting for me for 70 years but that five years previously she had discovered almost by chance that two other mothers who had shared the same journey as her mother had also given birth to babies who’d survived.  Each of them were only children and had since become “siblings of the heart”. Even though it would be three times the research, I knew then that I had to encompass all three stories into one epic volume.

What were the main challenges you faced during research and writing Born Survivors?

Keeping control of my emotions. It was extremely harrowing to visit Auschwitz and the other key places in the story with my three mothers so fresh in my mind. I have a vivid writer’s imagination and it was painful to see these sites through their eyes and walk in their footsteps knowing how frightened they must have been. But I also knew that unless I did that and felt some of their fear then I wouldn’t be able to convey that to the reader.

Their stories are remarkable & incredibly brave, how did they manage to keep their pregnancies secret?

Each of them would say that it was luck – luck that they were relatively young, fit and healthy when they were first sent to Auschwitz. Luck that they were thrown inappropriate random baggy clothing that hid their tiny bumps. Luck that they were fed little more than a liquid diet for seven months and each went down to under five stone (70lbs). Luck that they didn’t injure themselves or die of disease or lice infestation along the way. Luck that their pregnancies weren’t spotted by the SS guards who would have sent them back to Auschwitz and Dr Mengele.

The three women gave birth in differing circumstances. What happened?

Priska gave birth on a plank in the slave labour factory while her SS guards leered and took bets on the gender of the baby. Rachel gave birth in an open coal wagon on a 17-day train journey to be gassed, surrounded by dead or dying women. Anka gave birth on a cart full of dying women at the gates of the camp they were finally sent to.

The fact that all three women and their babies survived shows there was an element of luck as well as their mothers’ determination to make sure their babies survived ?

As discussed, luck played a huge part but knowing that they had a tiny life growing inside them and hoping that they would one day be reunited with the husbands they had married for love definitely kept them going.

In the end how were they liberated?

The Nazis had run out of gas by the time the mothers arrived at Mauthausen, the final camp, so they were left to rot or starve in the barracks as the guards fled. A week later the Americans arrived and were horrified to find such conditions in the camp. Although 40,000 prisoners were initially liberated at least 1000 died in the days following liberation – of disease or from eating food after months of ,starvation.

How poorly were the mothers and their new babies when they were liberated?

They described themselves as walking skeletons and were extremely vulnerable to typhus and other diseases. The babies were suffering from chronic malnutrition and both mothers and children were riddled with sores from lice bites

At the wars end, when they were finally allowed to go home, what happened to the three women and their children, with no home to go to, where did they finally settle and call home?

Going home was traumatic – they each lost large numbers of their immediate families their homes and possessions had been stolen from them so they had no money and nobody to support them. Rachel ended up in America after a few years in Israel, Priska returned to her home country – now Slovakia – and stayed there until she died, and Anka came to live in Cardiff, UK. Rachel and Anka remarried and all made new lives for themselves and all lived to a ripe old age.

We have been talking about Priska, Rachel and Anka and there newborn babies but what happened to their husbands. Did any of them survive the concentration camps?

Sadly, all three husbands were murdered by the Nazis and each almost at the end of the war having suffered great privation in ghettos and concentration camps. It was my dream to be able to find out precisely what happened to each of them and where they might be buried but I soon discovered the problem that so many survivors faced which was that it is likely that nobody wil ever know.

As the three children grew older did their mothers confide in them as to how and where they were born?

Each of them grew up knowing that their fathers were killed during the war. Many of their schoolfriends had also lost parents and grandparents in the war so it didn’t seem that unusual. Mark’s mother told him he had been born on a train and he assumed it was a regular passenger train until he discovered the terrible truth later. None of them discovered the full horror until they were teenagers and mothers fed them snippets of information over the years.

The story of Priska, Rachel and Anka and giving birth to their children under the most horrendous conditions is one of courage and hope, do you think that the fact the women were preganant helped in their determination to survive and give their babies a future?

Undoubtedly. I think they emerged from the war with something positive – unlike millions of others. In the early months they didn’t yet know about their husbands and still hoped for the best but by the time they learned the truth, they had small babies to care for and that helped occupy their minds.

Have the children been back to the places where they were born?

Yes. Priska has been to Freiberg and took Hana with her as a teenager. Mark isn’t sure exactly where he was born on the train but he has driven its route, and Eva has been to Mauthausen many times.

Looking back on your experiences during writing Born Survivors, what effect has this had on you?

I have developed a great passion for these women and their babies, Born Survivors has become my legacy work and much more than just another book. These ‘babies’ will be the last survivors of the Holocaust and I call them the ” voices of the voiceless”. It has been one of the greatest privileges of my life to chronicle what happened to them. I feel humbled.

Your book was launched on May 7 and has since been published in 18 Countries and translated into 14 Languages and you are also on a book tour at present, how is this going?

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It’s all been incredible – moving and emotional and exciting. We launched the book at the camp in Mauthausen, then came to London and appeared on multiple TV and radio shows, then we went to Chicago to launch the book at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and meet the sons of the U.S. Liberator of the camp, whose grave we visited. Then Eva and I have just been in Madrid. Next we go to Portugal and – later in the year – to Slovakia and hopefully the Czech Republic, Poland, Germany and back to the U.S. We have also been invited to the Austrian Embassy in London for a special presentation. I am sure that there will be more invitations for us to talk about these amazing women as word gets out.

Any plans for a UK book tour during this year?

Eva and I will be attending several book festivals this year – at Dartington Hall in Devon, Henley, Southwold and the Isle of Wight. We will also be on tour as part of Jewish Book Week next year and making multiple other appearances including a book signing at Heffers book store in Eva’s hometown of Cambridge in September.

I am extremely grateful to Wendy for taking the time out of her busy schedule to take part in ‘Meet the Author’. If you would like more information on Wendy’s work or further details of Born Survivors or any of her previous best-selling books please visit http://www.wendyholden.com/

*Stop Press: As this interview was being published it was announced that Born Survivors is to be published in China making the total now 19 territories and 14 languages.

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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