I have the unusual and distinguished position of church librarian. It is my job to replace returned books and file new ones. And that’s how I came across this book about this time last year. It looked interesting, (and the author had my name,) so I started reading and made it through the first few chapters. Then I put it down, mistakenly thinking that the interesting part was over.
Around rolled my birthday, a few months later, and my grandparents sent me this very book in the mail. Deciding to do it justice, I took up where I had left off before and read straight through to the end.
After their mother is killed in a Cossack raid, Sarah, Yente and their sister move from the countryside of Poland into the Warsaw ghetto. While Sarah eventually moves to England, Yente falls in love with the son of a prominent Jew, Benjamin Sitenhof. Against his parents’ wishes, they are married. After a turbulent beginning that spans the continent, Yente is at last accepted as Benjamin’s wife and into the Sitenhof family. Peace prevails until a Catholic man comes to the cabinetry shop that Benjamin’s family owns. The man gives Benjamin a Bible, saying that his religion does not allow him to read it. Fascinated, Benjamin reads the New Testament and is converted. Now he is the one rejected by his family, and he leaves Poland, his wife, and children behind him.
Mr. Ludwig Sommer, a preacher from Kassel, Germany, prayed many years for the opportunity to minister to a converted Jew. His prayer was answered when young Benjamin Sitenhof arrived at his door. He disciples Benjamin, who sends for Yente to be with him. She comes reluctantly, and after much struggle, is converted as well. The new believers are filled with a burden for their Jewish friends and family. Benjamin travels to far-away Argentina, a popular destination in the early twentieth century for Jews fleeing persecution in Europe. Though the opportunities are great, the climate has a bad effect on his health, and he returns to Europe on the eve of WWI. Yente divides her five children among friends and goes to England to care for him. But the five young Jewish refugees are not welcome in Germany. After months without word from their parents, the government prepares to send them to Siberia, even farther from Yente and Benjamin, who, in England, are desperately trying to reach them.
The story was incredible. Some who read it complain about the lack of plot, but it is a record of the Sitenhof family’s history, not a novel. I think Mrs. Buksbazen did well to write the story without fictionalization or sugar-coating. It goes on to describe their experiences as German immigrants in England during WWI, the family’s ministry to Jewish refugees in Gdansk in the twenties, the author’s sibling’s stories, especially her brothers as they sought to enter the ministry, her own frightening stay in Germany on Kristallnacht, and her future husband’s experiences in Poland just before WWII, ending at Yente’s death.
The time frame is one of my favorites to study in history, and this was a unique and fascinating glimpse into it. This is a story you will not regret reading.