Click here to read reviewer Dave Roy's take on Surviving the Reich.
Ivan Goldstein’s life had not been without trials by the time he was drafted to serve in World War II. His father died when he was young and his mother, Ida, became the sole support of three sons. Growing up in the Great Depression, Ivan and his brothers worked in the jewelry shop that Ida determinedly kept open with her “Silent Partner,” her way of referring to God. Later, young Ivan learned that his widowed mother had been urged by relatives to put her sons in an orphanage and look for a new husband to take care of her, but she refused. Her courage was an inspiration to her children and undoubtedly helped Ivan to persevere during his long period of suffering and deprivation in the war.
Though he went to college he did not avoid military service and was soon shipped off to Europe, winding up in Belgium to fight in the Battle of the Bulge. The night before his first experience of combat, Ivan remembered that Ida had urged him to take his tefillin (tiny boxes with verses from the Torah inside) with him, and he found a quiet time alone to get out the
tefillin, say his ritual prayers and ask sincerely for God’s protection.
Serving on a tank, he and his buddies were soon captured. Ivan, who had endured anti-Semitism in the American military, then knew real terror as he was identified as a Jew and heard he was to be executed the following morning. The American forces struck, and by luck or divine intervention, the execution order was forgotten. Instead, Ivan and the others were marched off to a prisoner of war camp. Thinking of Ida at that time he recounts, “Fortunately, she couldn't see her Ivan now, a prisoner of war - a Jewish prisoner of war - being led into the German version of Hell.”
Ivan and his fellow captives survived to the end of the war, but when released they looked like skeletons. A day or so more and he would have been dead of illness and starvation. Reuniting with his family, especially the stalwart Ida, was both joyous and poignant, since he looked so terrible and needed to time to recover from wounds both inner and outer: “Beneath the layers of conscious recovery, emotional memories of unbearable magnitude lurked...” In a military hospital for several months, he was often terrified by the sound of airplanes at the nearby airfield.
Ivan successfully re-entered civilian life and married, but later found opportunities to reunite with some of his war buddies. In a stranger-than-fiction saga, he went back to Belgium and the site of his capture, and there met up with and subsequently kept in close touch with a few of the military men who, like him, had bravely endured many ordeals.