Cover Image: Not Without My Sister

Not Without My Sister

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Member Reviews

I’ve read a lot of books of this genre, all of them really excellent reads, but this one is one of my favourites.

Right from the start this book captured my attention, and I found myself totally captivated by it. It’s a story we’ve heard about so many times, families separated and taken to these horrendous camps, but each story is so personal, and this one feel so real and authentic.

Mindel is so young, and to see them camp through her innocent eyes is really heartbreaking. To hear how such young children get through the horrors, and even manage to form friendships with other children and play a little, is just so poignant. Rachel feels responsible for her little sister, but because she is older, she has to work, and is separated from Mindel. Rachel never gives up hope of being reunited with her sister, and her strength is a remarkable testament to the human spirit.

This book is so many things, it’s an important reminder of the evils of the past, it’s a story of friendship, family and the bond between sisters. It’s horrendous and it’s heart-rending, but it’s also a story of hope and of courage.

I was totally engrossed in this book, it’s a really hard book to put down. It’s definitely a book that will stay with me for a long time.
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Mindel Epstein is a confused four year old. She has been ripped away from her parents. Her brothers ran away when she and her sister Rachel were captured by the Nazis. The sisters are Jewish and sent from camp to camp before arriving in Bergen-Belsen where they are cruelly separated. Will they find each other again...?
Not Without My Sister is a highly emotional historical novel set in Nazi Germany. It shows the experience in concentration camps for Jewish female and child prisoners. The setting is quite unique as the camp at Bergen-Belsen was quite different as it wasn't an extermination camp. The brutality and devastation still strongly resonates and several times I had to put the book aside.
I found this book particularly upsetting as it outlines the experience of children and my own youngest child is the same age as Mindel. Knowing the horrors she witnesses and the heartbreak at being separated from her sister, I found particularly difficult to read.
The book includes the most famous inmates of Bergen-Belsen: the Frank sisters. I think this was done to add an authenticity to the novel but was a little superfluous. The majority of the inmate characters in the book demonstrate the best of humanity in the face of the Nazi atrocities. There are some who focus on their own self preservation and this felt realistic.
Rachel and Mindel's journey and their frequent 'almost' reconciliations provides a new perspective on the Holocaust. The different elements of camp life are explored sensitively but the author never shies away from the brutal reality.
Not Without My Sister is a book that is difficult to enjoy due to the subject matter, but it is utterly engaging and emotional.
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What a harrowing, anguishing story about young children and teenagers and women and men in horrendous conditions. They were tortured by extreme abusive people who were under the control of propaganda talks and leaflets. 
I cried as I followed the story of two sisters who managed to stay hidden for a time, but then found and then at the last possible moments were separated and split into two different camps. A four year old with no one to guide her or aide her was at first left to her own devices until a savvy seven year old boy took her into his little family of orphans that had no parents. 
The sister was put into work conditions that would have broken most individuals, but her only thought was to survive for her sister. It was years before they were united. 

This book is a trek through the horrors they endured and the people they met along the way that aided them to endure Hitlers death camps. These girls survived in total different ways, but that they did is amazing. The author does a superb undertaking in revealing the characters and how they progressed under the rigors of such dire circumstances and consequences. The storyline flows and the historical aspects are so factual and informative.

I definitely would recommend this book to family and friends.

I received a free advanced copy from NetGalley and these are my willingly given thoughts and opinions.
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Today I’m part of the Bookouture blog tour for Marion Kummerow’s WWII historical novel of two sisters separated at Bergen-Belsen who defy the odds in finding each other and surviving the war.

Here’s the overview:


1944, Germany. Two sisters seek to overcome impossible odds to be reunited, in this utterly devastating and unforgettable novel about sisterhood, courage and survival.

All they had left was each other. Until the Nazis tore them apart.

After years of hiding from the Nazis, Rachel Epstein and her little sister Mindel are captured by the Gestapo and sent to the concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen. The only ray of light for either girl is that they are together.

But on arrival they are separated. As she’s seventeen and deemed an adult, Rachel is sent to work in a brutal factory whilst four-year-old Mindel is sent into the so-called “star” camp for Jewish prisoners. All on her own, Rachel knows her sister will have no chance of survival—unless she can find someone to take care of her.

Working in the windowless, airless factory—filling munitions casings with chemicals that burn her fingers and make her eyes sting—the only thing that keeps Rachel going is the thought of her little sister. Because if there’s even a chance Mindel is alive, Rachel knows she must try to save her.

But, separated by barbed wire, and treated brutally by SS guards who do not even see them as human beings, can either of the orphaned sisters ever dare to hope that they’ll find their way back to each other? And to freedom?

A completely heartbreaking, utterly gripping tale of courage, loss and overcoming impossible odds, perfect for fans of The Tattooist of Auschwitz, The Ragged Edge of Night and The Orphan’s Tale.

I enjoyed this story. I’m always struck by the resiliency of young people surviving war, be it in the past or in present day. The ONLY thing that I would have changed in this book is that Mindel seemed older to me – more like seven than four. It kept jumping out at me that she seemed (developmentally) older than four. I had the good fortune to connect with Ms. Kummerow on this very point and she shared that she used her own daughter and things she was saying at the same age as her model. So there you go!

Overall I enjoyed this story and I always appreciate an ending with a good resolution! I loved the characters, especially Mindel’s special friend, Laszlo. This is the first novel my Ms. Kummerow that I’ve read. I’ll need to look for her others as she often writes about WWII.

Thank you for my review copy and making me part of the tour!
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An often bleak story about two sisters, separated in Jewish concentration camp, and their efforts at reunion.

Teenaged Rachel has always been a caretaker for her four-year-old sister, Mindel, but when they and their two brothers are forced to flee their family farm, Rachel becomes solely responsible for Mindel after they lose their brothers. While both endure unimaginable hardship and suffering at the hands of the Nazis, their determination to find each other is the one thing that sustains them. Rachel is forced to work, nearly to death, while Mindel needs merely to survive, which is no easy fear for a four year old on her own. She finds a group of other orphans and forms a deep friendship with the plucky Laszlo, a few years her senior.

This heartbreaking novel is not always easy to read, but really brings life to a historical period, and does end on a hopeful note.  #NetGalley #NotWithoutMySister
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The book was OK, but not my favorite historical fiction about the concentration camps. I really wanted to like the book. The characters were not my favorite. Rachel feels guilty for being separated from her little sister and will do anything to reconnect with her. Although, every time she's close to finding her sister, something always happens. Rachel seemed to draw the short straw when getting her work assignments. She's lucky to survive the ammunition factory and the salt mine. Rachel never stops blaming herself for what happened to Mindel in the camp. Honestly, Mindel didn't have the worst experience. Rachel had it worse than her sister. Some parts of the book I found hard to believe, especially Mindel's story. Would a four year old be able to survive in the concentration camps without an adult? I would have thought that a four year old would know her last name. I'm not sure the appearance of Anne and Margot helped the story.

Give the book a try, it just wasn't for me. I look forward to reading more books by the author. I love the cover f the book.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bookouture through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
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I read a lot of historical fiction, much of it set during WWII, but this story was very different from any I had read before. Not Without My Sister was told from the POV of Rachel, 17 years old and her sister, Mindel who was only 4 when they were captured and sent to the Nazi Camps. Most of the story is set during their time in Bergen-Belsen. When they arrived, they were separated and Rachel spent the rest of her time there trying to be reunited with her sister. Things were not easy and she was unable to get into the other side of the camp where Mindel was living.

This was a difficult story to read, and some of the atrocities described are a bit graphic, but not overly so. Hearing about the conditions the prisoners lived under is awful, but thinking of children dealing with this, some of them born there, was horrific. Somehow, Mindel hung onto her doll, Paula, that Rachel had made for her 4th birthday. It gave her hope and strength. This is a character driven story. The goal and belief by both sisters that they would eventually be reunited kept them alive. I cried at parts of this story, where the loss was heartbreaking. As Mindel grew up in the camps, we see the innocence and questioning of the young children. Being young was the thing that kept them alive and allowed them to deal with certain things. Marion Kummerow did a lot of research to write this story. Anne and Margot Frank, who were prisoners in Bergen-Belsen, make an appearance. There are also characters who were actual people, and had important spots in this book. Rachel's experiences of working in the munitions factory are also taken from history and the description was terrifying. Make sure you read the author's notes at the end of the book as she writes about her experiences when she visited Bergen-Belsen as well as interviews with people who had been children there before they were liberated. I think this would be a good story for anyone who reads historical fiction, but also a great book to use in high school history classes.
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Oh my goodness I almost don’t know where to begin with this book.  This was such an amazing novel. It is a very emotional, heartbreaking and gripping story. I absolutely loved it but when you read this phenomenal book, a box of Kleenex by your side is a must. 

It’s 1944 in Germany and World War II continues on. Rachel and Mindel are sisters and are sent to the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen, however, once they arrive they are separated because Rachel is seventeen and considered and adult and sent to work in a factory while Mindel who is only four years old, is placed with strangers in the camp.  So Rachel does everything she possibly can to locate her sister. But working such long days and nights in the factory, it leaves little time for her to find her little sister. Mindel has no one to look after her and help her but then she finds a small group of children that are in the same devastating situation as she is. One of the young boys in the group, named Laszlo becomes friends with Mindel and he takes her under his wing and becomes her protector.  You are certainly going to find yourself cheering them on to survive the most horrible situation of their life.  This emotional rollercoaster is one that is sure to stick with you for a long, long time.  

Thank you so much Marion Kummerow for this phenomenal unputdownable story.  I can’t recommend this one enough, it is must read for anyone that is a fan of historical fiction.
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Marion Kummerow is a new discovery for me in the historical fiction genre and this book, Not Without my Sister, is an impressive story. At times it is a difficult read given the subject matter and the fact that one of the main characters is only four years old. It made me think of my own niece who just turned four and I really couldn’t imagine something like what befell Mindel happening to her. Set during the last few years of the war the story follows two sisters torn apart as they are taken to the Bergen Belsen Concentration camp. What follows is a heartbreaking story and yes that word is perfect to describe what both Mindel and Rachel go through. 

Heartbreaking is a term used many a time to describe books of this nature but here it is very true as I couldn’t believe what was unfolding and it was quite upsetting and harrowing everything that the girls experienced. But throughout it all hope, courage, strength, resilience and bravery are the dominant traits that shine through. The title couldn’t have been more apt as both sisters are determined not to be without each other and will do anything in their power to be reunited. The odds are stacked firmly against them and your heart is in your mouth at nearly every turn of the page and as you are kept in suspense throughout. It’s a very well written story, with brilliant descriptive and emotive writing, that will have you on the edge of your seat and experiencing a wide range of emotions the further the story progresses.

For the majority of the war the Epstein family remained working on their farm in the German countryside. They are Jewish but thanks to the generosity of a neighbour who bought their land when new rules of ownership were introduced, he has allowed them to stay on and work for him. They don’t have much but toil away on the land and do their best to remain unnoticed but all that changes one day when Rachel, Mindel and their two brothers are out foraging in the countryside. News reaches them that the mayor of the town and his cronies have arrived to the farm and taken their parents away. Rachel at 17 is the eldest and she takes charge protecting her siblings and a plan is set in motion in order to achieve their freedom. But just when things are about to fall perfectly into place Mindel and Rachel are captured. The two boys manage to escape to freedom or subsequent capture, who knows?

Rachel had felt that the family should have left the area a long time ago but now nothing can be done and their fate has been sealed. The sisters are moved from camp to camp until they arrive in Bergen Belsen. But as the new arrivals are separated into various sections of the camp, the worst happens and the sisters are separated. What makes their situation even worse is that Mindel is only four. Her fourth birthday celebrated with her family on the farm has a significance throughout the story as this memory and its connection to apples crops up at various points when the girls feel they have reached their lowest ebb. I loved the use of this visual and it showed how pleasant and important memories sustain us through the toughest of times.

Mindel, despite being such a young age, was the stand out character for me throughout the book. The initial raw innocence and ignorance of her can’t be overlooked. Nor can the image that inspired her character get out of your head once you look it up on the author’s website. How can a beautiful little girl with only her rag doll, Paula, as her companion make it through the horrific experience the prisoners in the camp were forced to endure. Mindel does not know of, nor does she understand, the bigger picture and perhaps she is better off. She wonders, why am I here? What have I done? Wasn’t I good? Her entire character really makes you sit back and think about the incarceration and brutality that existed for innocent people. Seeing the war and its repercussions from such a young child’s perspective gave this reader an entirely new outlook on an aspect of the war that I had already read so much about. What stood out for me is the loneliness that Mindel experiences when she realises that Rachel is in a different part of the camp to her and she doesn’t know whether she is still alive or what has exactly happened to her. She was abandoned but not through choice and I questioned whether she could survive. As most inmates were trying to look after themselves and survive the hell they were living through how could they look after a four year old they didn’t know?

Mindel becomes resourceful and honestly for the majority of the novel, I truly forgot how young she was. She forms a friendship with fellow orphan Laszlo. He is only 7 but he becomes her protector, confidant and best friend almost like a brother and father all rolled into one. The loneliness abates for Mindel as they form a gang with some other children and steal from the kitchens in order to get some extra food or they try and find things they could trade. But always at the back of Mindel’s mind is her beloved Rachel and she does anything she can in order to get news or to make contact. I loved the introduction of the Mother Brinkmann character. Herself and her husband took in orphans and were more or less left alone by the guards. That’s not to say they had things easy. No one did behind the barbed wire but this character acted as a matriarch for Mindel and gave her some much needed security and comfort. Yet the hope still remained deep within Mindel that she would be reunited with Rachel. Given all that unfolded form both sisters perspectives I didn’t think this could be possible and I kept rapidly turning the pages to discover where the much longed for reunion could or would happen and if it  did how affected would they both be by their differing experiences.

Rachel, on the other side of the camp, has to dig deep within herself to find the strength to face many moral dilemmas, to make difficult decisions and to continue to fight for what was right. Alternate chapters are told from Rachel’s viewpoint and we can see the breaking down of her body both physically and emotionally the more she is put through. Chosen for work detail, first in a munitions factory and then in the dreaded salt mines her spirit is eroded. She becomes like many of the other inmates almost like there is an absence of a spirit inside her and she is merely a walking shell. There were several times where I thought this is it for her she doesn’t have enough physical strength remaining to keep going but then she would surprise you and rally and keep taking things hour by hour in the most inhumane of circumstances.

Rachel was resilient but this characteristic was tested time and time again. She wants nothing more than to find Mindel or at least to know for certain what happened to her and just when that crucial point is within touching distance the author throws a major curveball and you literally want to throw down the book in disgust that what is much hoped for has yet again evaded Rachel. She is a remarkable young women and it’s only the thought of the love she has for Mindel and that her parents would want her to do her best to locate her again that really keeps her going. Without this goal, I feel Rachel may just have laid down and given up as many others did and who could really blame them or her ? The callous acts inflicted by the guards are hard to read about. They are sadistic and love to see pain inflicted. There is a scene with Mindel and the children that involved counting and it really is stomach churning but it’s important that no detail was spared no matter how challenging it was to read as it only enhanced my understanding of the subject matter and gave me an even deeper appreciation of what brilliant and courageous people both Mindel and Rachel were.

The only thing I would say is I found the inclusion of Anne Frank and her sister in the story just came out of the blue when they become barrack mates with Rachel. Yes, they too were at Bergen Belsen, but given their story is one which so many people know of and Anne’s diary is world famous what really was the point of including them in this book. I saw the connection but I just felt overall it was best to leave them out. I felt slightly uncomfortable reading about them in this story and didn’t feel their inclusion was merited.

Apart from the minor issue mentioned up above, I found Not Without My Sister to be a gripping read and a story that I flew through. The raw emotions emanated from every page and the fierce loyalty the two sisters have for each other is inspirational. In fact, the entire story is inspirational and thought provoking and makes me appreciate even more the many sacrifices people made for our futures during the war years. Marion Kummerow, has definitely written a book that is well worthy of a read and I look forward to reading more from her in the future.
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This is a new author for me. Not Without My Sister broke my heart so much. I’ve read historical fiction set around the same time dealing with WWII and the actions of the Nazi’s but not any that’s actually set in and around the Nazi camps focusing on the exploits of the persecuted Jews. This was new territory for me. The book tugged at my heart-strings early on when Mindel and Rachel are separated and refused to let go until I finished and I’d cried myself hollow. Hats off to the author for writing something so haunting and brutal yet full of hope and love. I loved the fact the chapters alternate between Mindel and Rachel’s POV as they each search for other while trying to survive the camps. This is haunting, riveting read.
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Two sisters split apart by hatred and brought together by LOVE!
What could be better than this?
Marion Kummerow has brought us a heartbreaking historical fiction that results in some thoughtful reflection upon Nazi prisoners in concentration camps who were abused, humiliated, tortured, and sadly murdered by individuals seeking domination and control over one race.
Yet, Rachel Epstein and her 4 yo. sister Mindel knew that being taken by the Gestapo and to camps labeled as "star" camp for Jewish people might just result in their death.
Rachel was captured and taken to work at the factory while witnessing many go hungry, starving to death, and being brutally abused her sister experienced similar mistreatment.
However, it was the ending of this that brought hope, light, and love.
Through all the trials and tribulations one thing was certain- their lives were meant to be meaningful and they would die trying to maintain a sense of dignity and respect.
Rachel and Simon were such a perfect couple until the newest addition to their family was declared and everyone's hearts melted.
A perfect ending for this memorable new work by Marion Kummerow.
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NOT WITHOUT MY SISTER; A POIGNANT STORY OF COURAGE, LOVE AND RESILIENCE

Concise and beautifully written in a simple manner, Not Without My Sister is a powerful character driven novel focusing on an aspect of World War II that is not often explored – very young children abandoned and left to try and survive the concentration camps.

Be warned – you’ll need your hankies to read this one but it is worth it. It is heart wrenching and in a sense, written in a matter of fact style. This enhances the rawness of the story. With no subplots or romantic elements to this novel (which I found very unique), this further enhances the poignancy of the narrative. It really drew me in and captivated me.

Yet believe me, Not Without My Sister is not a novel full of doom and gloom – it is story of determination, love and hope. It is also full of the beautiful innocence of childhood and the resilience that comes along with that.

Not Without My Sister is an emotionally raw narrative as it tells the story of four-year-old Mindel who is brutally separated from her seventeen year old sister Rachel as soon as they arrive at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp after being captured by the Nazis.

Both Mindel and Rachel are Jewish, yet with a lot of the story told from Mindel’s point of view, she doesn’t even know what a Jew is, never mind understand why the SS guards are so cruel. She just knows that she misses her family with all her heart, especially her older sister. She is also desperate for a friend. Mindel’s story is truly heart wrenching, especially as it is written from her innocent, four-year-old point of view as she tries to make sense of a world gone mad. But her story is heart warming too as it is full of innocence, spirit and friendship.

Not Without My Sister is also Rachel’s story, a harrowing story of survival and despair. Living as a prisoner of war, Rachel asks ‘what had the Nazis done‘ to her and her fellow prisoners? Rachel’s conclusion is that the Nazis have reduced them to ‘beast-like sub-humans…People with no qualms…Where survival was at stake, nothing else mattered: not decency, pride nor basic humanity.’

Yet Rachel’s story is also a story of courage and hope. It is the fragile glimmer of hope in being united with her younger sister that I feel stops Rachel from completely giving up.

Following a visit to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and ‘moved to tears many times‘ when it was hosting a temporary exhibition about Children in Concentration Camps, World War II author Marion Kummerow was inspired to write Not Without My Sister. In her moving account of this visit Kummerow says ‘even though the interviews were harrowing, they also gave me hope for the future of humanity, since the interviewed survivors have chosen forgiveness over hate.’ If you read the author’s account you will see a photograph of a small child tightly hugging a doll. This is a heart breaking photograph and it obviously really emotionally impacted on Kummerow as Mindel manages to keep hold of her beloved doll Paula throughout her time in the horrific camp. Sometimes Paula is her only friend.

This is the first novel I have read by Marion Kummerow, but I want to read more, especially as she was inspired to write historical fiction by her grandparents. They belonged to the German resistance and fought against the Nazi regime. I am so happy to discover Marion has written many other books in this genre. I can’t wait to read more.

Thank you to Sarah Hardy from Bookouture for inviting me to the blog tour of Not Without My Sister, which was published by Bookouture on 19th March 2021. To follow the blog tour and read the reviews from my fellow book bloggers also on the tour, please see below.
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This is my first Read of this author and I think she's done an amazing job.

It's about two sisters Rachel and Mindel who are taken to a concentration camp and separated.

The author tells this story through the eyes of the two children and all the terrifying and frightening things they went through and witnessed.

This book is heart wrenching from start to finish.

Loved it!
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A heartbreaking book following two sisters 17 and 4 in the nazi concentration camps. Beautifully written but dealing with a very heavy subject. 100% worth a read by anyone with an interest in ww2 history as it gives real insight into what life might've been like for a small child in the camps
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This one will break your heart.  There's a lot of WWII fiction out there right now but this is the first novel I've read about a very young child- four years old- in Bergen Belsen.  Rachel and Mindel lived a good life until the Nazis came and took them from their farm. Rachel, 17, held tight to Mindel,, protecting her and making sure she had something to eat- until they were split.  While Rachel's life was horrible, it's Mindel who stands out here.  It's horrible to imagine that this could happen to anyone, let alone small children.  Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.  Hard to read but it is important to remember.
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World War II-era novels are some of my favorite reads, so I was excited to read this one. It didn't disappoint.

The story focuses on two sisters (Rachel, 7, and Mindel, 4) who are taken (and separated) to concentration camps, which is where the majority of the story takes place. It's very emotional to read about children in these camps. The sister's bond shines through the darkness around them, which is heartwarming. I loved how the author included Anne and Margot Frank, as well!

Rachel and Mindel are strong, smart characters, and it's easy to root for and relate to them. They can't help but touch the reader's heart.

The author obviously did her research, as the story is detailed and heartbreaking. Through it all, themes of hope and love are key.
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Two sisters, Rachel 17, and Mindal 4, are taken by Nazi's to concentration camps. The story takes place almost entirely in those camps, so it is not for everyone. Reading about a 4 year old in a concentration camp is not easy. It is a tear jerker, very captivating and thought provoking. The power of sisters, the power of family and love. Thanks to Net Galley and the publisher for the opportunity to read an advance copy.
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Not Without My Sister follows two sisters, the eldest of four, Rachel, who is seventeen, and the youngest, Mindel, who is only four, as they are sent to multiple concentration camps after being caught fleeing their hometown in Germany with their two brothers.  

The novel’s chapters alternate between Rachel and Mindel as they learn to survive the Holocaust during their stay in Berg-Belsen.  Split from each other as soon as they arrive, we read about the sisters’ different experiences in camp and their multiple attempts to be reunited with each other.

Rachel’s stay in the camp is arguably tougher as she is older and forced to join multiple work crews, where the Nazi officers literally work her almost to death.  She is forced to work in an ammunition factory that exposes her to dangerous chemicals, as well as a salt mine that literally rubs salt into her wounds.  Friends like Linda, who she meets upon arrival, help her learn to survive the awful conditions and constant worry for her baby sister.   

Mindel, with the help of her young friend Laszlo, learn how to stay out the SS officers way while finding ways to get a little more rations.  With the help of Mother Brinkmann, who runs the orphan barrack at the camp, Mindel gets some sort of normalcy with bedtime stories and an adult looking out for the children’s well-being as best she can considering the circumstances.  

Fair warning, this novel almost in its entirety is set in a concentration camp and can be hard to stomach.  Reading the horrors of concentration camps from the viewpoint of a four-year-old was particularly tough on me.  Not Without My Sister comes out on the 25th and I would recommend picking it and a pack of tissues up! Thank you to Netgalley, Bookouture and Marion Kummerow for allowing me to read an advance readers copy. The opinions expressed are entirely my own.
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Although the market is literally flooded with these types of books, there are some that stand out amongst the rest. NOT WITHOUT MY SISTER is one of them. Unlike many others of its kind, it is not bogged down with historical fact and descriptions, giving it a textbook-type feel, but focuses on the actual on the two sisters and their stories. This makes it a page-turner, but not in the usual sense, but rather in the way the reader wants to know if the sisters survived the terror and deplorable circumstances in which they found themselves in.

I must add that this book was inspired by author Marion Kummerow visiting the former concentration camp Bergen-Belsen in Germany where she was viewing an exhibition about children in concentration camps. There was one particular photo that caught her eye. It was of a very young girl - of no more than 4 or 5 years old - with a stuffed animal in her arms. The photo is indeed very moving and heartbreaking. You can see the photo and read about Marion's visit to Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp at https://kummerow.info/bergen-belsen-concentration-camp. After seeing this photo, Marion was inspired to create the character of 4 year old Mindel.

Enjoying a quiet, hardworking life on their small farm in Bavaria Germany, Rachel and Mindel Epstein live with their parents and two brothers, Israel (10) and Aron (7). They are Jewish, but non-practicing, though that matters not to the Nazis. Mindel has just turned 4 and the children have been sent out to collect fruits to preserve for the winter months, although Mindel has eaten half of her basket already. As they neared their farm, the old woman Mindel was always frightened of as being a witch warns them not to return home as the Nazis have arrested their parents and laid claim to their farm. With nowhere to go, the children survive by hiding in the outbuildings of neighbouring farms and finding small morsels of food to fend off starvation. When they receive word that a convent will take them on as orphans, a friend of their's arranges for papers to be falsified to allow them entry into the safe haven.

Then in the blink of an eye, 4 year old Mindel and her 17 year old sister Rachel were snatched by SS officers and sent to various Nazi concentration camps before ending up at Bergen-Belsen. Upon arrival, the sisters are immediately separated with Rachel imprisoned in the women's camp and Mindel sent to the neighbouring compound known as star camp. 

All at once, Mindel went from the safety of Rachel's presence to being all alone with only her rag doll Paula. She didn't even have her cup for the tasteless soup that was dolled out to them in rations as Rachel held on to them both...and the rule in the camp is "no cup, no food". So Mindel found herself not only alone, but without food also. Star camp, she was to discover, was filled with young children like herself and women of various nationalities like Dutch and Russian...although Mindel had no idea what that meant. A young lad named Laszlo took Mindel under her wing, found her a cup so she could receive rations and introduced her to the other children. Although Laszlo was just 7 years old, he became Mindel's best friend, brother and protector. He taught her how to survive the deplorable conditions of the camp by teaching her how to get scraps of food and collecting various items that could be used as currency in the future. They survived by making everything a game - such Jews and the SS as well as who could wrap their hands around their ankles or wrists the most and who was the thinnest.

One day a woman told Mindel about the orphan's barracks at the far end of the camp, run by a woman and her husband who take in various children and care for them as their own. Mindel thought this sounded wonderful and told Laszlo about it...but he wasn't so thrilled. He said they take care of each other and don't need anyone else. Besides, he says, you can't trust adults. But Mindel begged and pleaded until Laszlo relented on the proviso that he would make no promises. But as soon as they met Mother Brinkmann, Mindel felt safe and knew that she wanted to stay there. Laszlo wasn't so keen but he grudgingly agreed. Soon, it felt as if it were a real home outside of the confines of the camp. Here, in the orphan's barracks, they were largely left alone. There were no roll calls and the SS left them to their devices. Although there were around forty children, and they each had to share their bunks, it was clean and they were cared for. Mother Brinkmann read them the same story every night from the only book they had but the most favourite part of all was the stories about Fluff. All the children loved the adventures of Fluff, a dog who took them out of the confines of the camp and into a whole different world of adventure and discovery. Everyone looked forward to hearing about Fluff each night with the children taking turns in choosing his adventure.

Despite her new home in the orphan's barracks with Laszlo and Mother Brinkmann, Mindel still yearned for her sister and wondered if she was still alive. She knew she had been taken to the compound beyond the wire fence but she had never seen or heard from her again...her parting words "I love you Mindel. I promise I will find you again!" rang in her ears but after many many months Mindel wondered if it were true. Would she ever see Rachel again? She had to believe she would. So when Laszlo came up with a plan to escape to Switzerland, Mindel refused to leave for fear of never finding her sister again. Besides, at least here she was safe with Mother Brinkmann.

When Rachel was wrenched away from her sister and imprisoned in the women's camp, she made every effort to find out where Mindel was. She knew her little sister would not survive these harsh conditions on her own but her questions largely fell on deaf ears. In Bergen-Belsen, you needed all your energy to look after yourself. There was nothing left for anyone else. But Rachel would not be swayed. She despaired over how a little girl, a toddler no less, could  possibly manage the deplorable conditions they were in. She soon learnt that Mindel would more than likely be in star camp which was just beyond the wire fence in the next compound. But the fenceline was heavily patrolled and there was no way to cross over. Unless she went to the infirmary...then she could get a message to the star camp than she was looking for her sister. But that came at a cost...usually in cigarettes. But as Rachel had none she had to find ways to earn the coveted cigarettes. When she finally had enough, she was suddenly selected and sent to another camp miles away to work at the munitions factory. Rachel could have cried...she was so close.

Life was tough at the munitions factory. While the work wasn't hard, her body paid the price with the chemicals used to pack the bullets turning her hair orange, her skin yellow and creating breathing difficulties. After an accident resulting in burns to her hands and broken ribs, she is sent back to Bergen-Belsen to recover from her injuries. She finds herself in the camp's infirmary - ironically, where she had been trying to get all along - and asks makes enquiries about Mindel. When she next sees the nurse she learns that a little girl who says she is 4 is looking for her sister called Rachel. It's Mindel! Rachel is elated. Her sister is alive. She asks the nurse for another favour but is declared well enough to return to work and is sent back to her barracks. Before she could make any further enquiries, she is sent out to yet another camp to work in the salt mines. Conditions are so bad that Rachel gives up. She sees no point in going on anymore. Every time she gets close to finding Mindel, something happens to stand in her way. Mindel is probably dead anyway...so what is the point anymore?

With so many books relating the atrocities of the horrible experiences endured in these camps, Marion Kummerow has given us something so uniquely different. A child's perspective. As seen through the eyes of Mindel. And  while what Rachel suffered was deplorable, it was Mindel's story that touched me the most. It is unique and heartbreaking to say the least as little Mindel navigates her way through the horrid conditions to find hope through compassion. Some of the things she saw no child should ever have to see. There is even a short appearance of two well known real life siblings who are wise beyond their years and help give Rachel hope. And you'll wish you could hug all of the children in star camp, some of whom were born there and know no other way of life, but mostly the toughened seven year old Laszlo for his care and protection of a frightened little girl.

Written in an easy style, NOT WITHOUT MY SISTER is a touching story that will tug at your heartstrings and you will find yourself reading through tears as it comes to a close. Although fictional, the appalling conditions and the cruelties of the Nazis are well documented truth upon which books of this genre are generally based. The vivid descriptions are horrific and a stark reminder of the atrocities that took place in reality and in the hope that they will never ever happen again.

I enjoyed the oscillating perspectives of both Rachel and Mindel in each alternate chapter as the sisters take turns to tell their stories. They are both complementing and different in contrast to the other. While Rachel sees the horrors and the camp for it is amidst the systematic neglect and starvation and cruelties, Mindel's naivety protects her unaware of the depths of horror that take place around her. Your heart will break as you follow Mindel's story and you just want to wrap her in your arms and keep her protected forever.

NOT WITHOUT MY SISTER is poignant and heartbreaking but is not without hope. That even in those darkest times when it would be easier to give up, there is hope. As Rachel and Mindel carry hope in their hearts that they will see each other again, that this war will end and that there is a better and brighter world out there waiting for them...if they can just survive the war.

Grab your tissues because you will need them! NOT WITHOUT MY SISTER is so emotional, so heartbreaking and so brutal at times that it will live with you long after you have finished. 

A book to inspire, NOT WITHOUT MY SISTER is perfect for fans of this genre. A definite 5 star read!

I would like to thank #MarionKummerow, #NetGalley, #Bookouture for an ARC of #NotWithoutMySister in exchange for an honest review.
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An extremely hard read.  A set of sisters are separated on their way to a Nazi concentration camp and they must hold onto the dream of reconciliation to get them through the hardest of the days.  At four and seventeen years old they have very different experiences and the book switches between their points of view to show two different sides of survival in a concentration camp.

I have read a lot of World War II books and even some that take place in a concentration camp, but for some reason this one was harder to read than most.  I think I can contribute the heaviness of the book due to the fact that it is through a child's eyes.  Mindel who is four is experiencing things no one should and at such a young age without a family member nearby, that is beyond anyone's imagination.  It was a bit easier to read Rachel's story, but to watch her bounce between handling it and almost losing it - I was thankful this one was short.  

I would add this to your reading list if you feel as though you have read all the books in the World War II genre and are ready for this one, but this is worth the read if you can handle it.
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