Book Review: Dancing Through Darkness by Ann Markham Walsh

Book Review: Dancing Through Darkness by Ann Markham Walsh

“Many will not want to know my story. For some, it is too painful…” Selma Engel begins in her memoir, Dancing Through Darkness, written by Ann Markham Walsh. And in fact this story is filled with so much tragedy it threatens to leave you breathless. But it is quickly shadowed by shafts of hope, courage and unrelenting love in the face of the impossible.dancing through darkness

Selma Engel’s (born Saartje Wijnberg) story begins in Zwolle, Holland where she along with her mother, father and three brothers lived their lives happily, ordinary. Her family owned and ran a quaint hotel in Zwolle and her parents worked diligently to provide a good life for the family. Selma was a sheltered girl whose needs were more than met as she helped out when needed but spent much of her time playing with friends. She was only ten years old when Adolf Hitler began serving as Chancellor of Germany in 1933. His nefarious plans for the Jewish people were completely unbeknown to this budding family.

Her life and that of her family were abruptly interrupted in 1942 when Nazi SS troops invaded the family’s hotel in Zwolle. They were ordered to take only what they could carry and forced to flee. By this time Hitler had already banished the Jews living in Germany, to ghettos. They were forbidden to use the libraries, parks and other public places.

Over the years the brutality of Hitler’s actions, and the commands carried out by his army have been well documented. But this is not a documentary. It is one woman’s story. It is one account. It is personal.

In 1943 Selma was sent to a death camp in Sobibor. It was there she met Chaim, a young, Jew from Poland. Their meeting was through the humblest of circumstances; hungry and weak from days without food, they were forced to dance with each other for the sport and amusement of German soldiers. What could have proven to be an embarrassing time by two young strangers turns out to be a moment where love fills the heart of both and soon after the two become almost inseparable, (careful of course to remain under the radar of trigger happy guards whose wrath could be inflicted anytime for almost any reason). The atrocities that these two witnessed weakened their resolve and threatened to break their will, but the hope that they would one day have a beautiful life together outside of the walls of death empowered their will to survive. Regardless of this hope there were no exit strategies for those sentenced to death camps.

Selma recounts on more than one occasion that Chaim almost lost his life. On one occasion, every man in the camp was lined up and every tenth man was shot. Chaim was number nine that night. Another time, on the night of the unlikely and dangerous escape from Sobibor, Chaim was forced to kill a guard, because another escapee
became too afraid to; it was either kill or be killed.

Ms. Markham Walsh deftly injects historical facts which, coincides with Selma’s experiences. Much of Selma’s diary has been transcribed and included as well as love letters the couple wrote to each other. Many of the diary entries were written while in hiding after her and Chaims’s escape from Sobibor; and Selma’s pain can be felt with each entry. Many times it sounds hopeless, but such is the reality when all has been stripped from you—except your resolve to survive.

The story is candid and frank as Selma shares her thoughts on those who deny the atrocities ever happened; and of those powers that claimed they weren’t aware of what was being done to the Jews. She also lends her thoughts on granting forgiveness to the man who was the overseer of the annihilation of more than six million human beings. Her story is a reminder of the humanity and courage of others. It is a story of how love can conquer in the direst of circumstances, and that hope is always possible.

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