The journey that Milton Kleinberg takes us is one of survival and danger. At a young age, he and his family were forced to relocate, simply because of their Jewish faith, during World War II. Born in Poland, he grew up knowing a life of hunger, fear, and fighting to survive from day to day.
As they journeyed through the Siberian landscape, their father left the train one day to look for food, and never returned. Milton’s mother did the best she could, caring for three little boys, doing her best to keep food in their mouths through the meager rationing they were able to get. Since his father had all the ration cards with him, there were times they were turned away, but there were times the guards gave them their rations anyway. Through his mother’s tenacity, and the hard fought lesson of survival, Milton grew up to enjoy a different life. While one brother died as an infant, and the other was lost after becoming sick in one of the schools they were in, Milton refused to give up. He continued to fight, forging alliances with other boys on the playground, and pushing the limits on being able to steal enough food to keep hunger at bay. While the school fed them, for growing children, it was never enough to completely make the hunger go away. His mother did her best through bribes and gifts to the school officials and guards to make his life better, the war made it hard for all. Having only a few articles of clothing, shoes that were worn out, and one pair of socks, they made do. When the war ended, he was reunited with his mother, and surprisingly of all, with his father. His father had remarried, and had two little girls with his second wife. When his mother found out, she was livid, and went through the proceedings with the Rabbi to get a divorce from her unfaithful husband. On a chance encounter on a bench, she met Milton’s stepfather, who never treated him as if he was anything other than his son. After their relocation to America, the family settled down to rebuild and reforge the bonds that had been tried and strengthened through the war.
I really enjoyed reading this book. In fact I read it in one sitting. I am a bit embarrassed to admit that it sat on my shelf for about two years before I got around to reading it, simply because I did not know what to expect when I opened the cover. I was hesitant to read it, for many reasons. Stories involving children are hard for me – they force me as a mother to look at my own sons and wonder what I would have done to protect my children. They make me examine myself and wonder if I would have the fortitude to stand up to what these families went through, and what these mothers endured for their children. I finally decided to set the book for a book club that I was doing, and sat down to start reading. There were tears, there was laughter, and some anger in a few parts. But I didn’t stop. I read through to the end, and then I read the authors notes.
When it comes to a book, sometimes you have to start with the authors note. It can give you an idea of what you will expect inside. Let me tell you – I was in for a surprise. I thought when I read through it, I was going to see some finger pointing, maybe some blame cast, and perhaps a “should have could have” segment. There was none of that. What I found was hope. A hope for a better future, hope for the remembrance of the past, and a hope for the newfound country that the author found himself living in. He loves America. Why? Because, in his own words “I have seen the rest of the world. And the more I have seen and experienced the rest of the world and its history, the more I have come to venerate America and the great nation it has become. (page 196) ..The idea here in America is that you don’t have to live or die how you were born. You can move, you can advance, you can change your attitude, and, by doing so, you can change your circumstances.” (page 204).
I sat back and thought about all that he had been through, all that he had seen, suffered, and lost. That he can sit here, and not point fingers at the ones that were responsible (not that he has forgotten – or ever will forget), but his willingness to not let the past hold him back. He pushed forward. He survived. He wrote this book so that others will know what happened, and learn from the past.
Read this book! You will not regret it!