The International School for Holocaust Studies
Gertruda’s Oath: A Child, A Promise,
and a Heroic Escape During World War II
Reviewed by Yael Weinstock
Translation by Barbara Harshav
In this work of nonfiction written in the style of a novel, Ram Oren weaves together two different stories of the Holocaust, and intertwines them brilliantly, leaving the reader pondering situations that he may have considered previously. Karl Rink, a German, marries Mira, a Jew. When Karl joins the SS he is happy to be earning an income and reassures his wife and daughter, Helga, that no harm will come to them and that the party’s anti-Jewish ideology has not penetrated his thoughts. While he was incorrect about the former, he held true to what he told his family and chose to help Jews throughout the war, both in Poland and Vilna, even as he was promoted within the ranks of the SS. As luck would have it, one of those Jews was the young Michael Stolowitzky.
Michael was the only child in a wealthy Jewish family in Warsaw. When war broke out, his father was away on business and his mother decided to try and flee the city. After a stream of unfortunate events, Michael was left alone with his loving and devoted Catholic nanny Gertruda Babilinska, who swore to his mother that she would treat him like a son for the rest of her life. They survived the war and eventually made their way to Israel, despite an array of challenges along the way. This touching story is a testament to the human spirit as well as to the righteousness of a select few, who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.
This book has difficult parts, but grips the reader immediately, and has you identifying with the characters on an emotional level. It could be used in a high school classroom and would bring up the issue of an SS man married to a Jew, a topic not often discussed.
For further information about the remarkable story of Gertruda Babilinska, please see this page about the Righteous Among the Nations.