Isaac: Robert Karmon
Would you give up your identity and all that you were taught to survive under conditions that would forever change your life forever? Would you forgo your heritage, your family background and become someone you’re not in order to fight for survival? Would you be able to thrive and be on the threshold of death and somehow consciously or unconsciously stay alive believing that God put you here for a reason and wanted you to live? Isaac Gochman was more than brave, he was relentless in his pursuit to find some sort of salvation, hope and not give into the fact that he would at an early age be left with nothing and no one to care for him. Hope is a powerful word and when you hear his words and his story as dictated over 30 years ago to our author, you will meet a young man who fought many battles, weathered more storms, dealt with near death experiences and managed to survive one of the most horrific wars WWII and the prejudice, hate and indignities incurred by so many at the hands of not only the Germans but the Russians too. Isaac Gochman was 16 years old and had just arrived home from school. He lived with his family in Rovno, Poland a city plagued with the threat of German occupation and death. Near fatal experiences, forewarned and yet false alarms little did he know that on November 6, 1941 his family would be annihilated and along with him left to die in a mass grave. Tragedy, horror at the hands of the sadistic and sick SS officers that killed, hunted, defamed and cast many indignities on these 20 thousand innocent Jewish people that just wanted to live their lives in peace. His family dead, his friends gone and witnessing the murder of his brother Sol, a doctor who was asked to kill young children by transfusing their blood for German soldier’s that were injured. When he refused to take their blood for these transfusions he was shot down. Isaac shot in the head with a superficial wound, in the grave manages to climb out and there begins a journey that author Robert Karmon had related to him by Isaac himself as you hear his words, relive his journeys and feel the pain, the injuries, the hate, the death threats and the final outcome of a young man that you might at the end call more than just a hero.
Could you live in a forest for over eight months, climbing trees to find shelter, dealing with snowstorms, eating whatever nature offered and even asking an old friend of your family for something to take along on his journey, given meager rations. The Polish forest was dense, dark, cold and the world was filled with dangers from the Nazis and Isaac would come to terms with his plight and then have to make a decision that would change the course of his life and who he really is. When a group of men from a Russian Partisan Brigade find him their leader wants him dead but a miracle happens and a close friend whose brother he once safe comes to his rescue. Pietka defends him, convinces the leader to allow him to join the group as a medical person and here is where his life, mindset and journey becomes more than just survival.
Isaac became Sergei, a Russian Christian in order to stay alive. Working with Stepan a cruel leader, Wasic who seemed to have various personalities and was quite volatile if anyone tended to disagree with him and Aloysha, and who created his own rules for the group. Brash, tough, at times cruel each of these men would either be an ally to Isaac or his downfall. Only time would tell. His roles would increase with time as he would be chosen to blow up trains, carry back the supplies and rations that he found yet never keeping anything for himself accept some basic necessities. Women were up for grabs as each leader had his own woman and when leadership changed so did their woman. Each one would help tend to the wounded and take care of the fire and the meals. Isaac seemed to adjust to a point but could not eat until challenged later on when he proves just how much he valued his new comrades and his will to survive. The tension rises, the mood remains somber and the men begin to bomb, kill and take whatever they can from the Germans. Death tolls rise, even within the camp they argue over the women, whose going to fight which battles as Isaac helps the wounded, is quick on his feet and is able to bomb and take whatever he can find but his will to live is stronger even though you wonder some times if his body so frail and thin will eventually give out.
Kolpak became their new leader and your allegiance to this man had better be his without question. Taking a liking to Isaac from the start and speaking to the new recruits Isaac soon becomes even more proficient at bombing, killing and taking care of the wounded and even at times finding someone he feels he can care about. But, Pietka is his strength and ally and never falters from their friendship and the bond between them will hopefully save them from what is about to happen next. Left to tend to the fire and the camp some new soldiers come and want to kill him but helping a wounded soldier and drinking some strong liquor hoping not to get sick, the challenge to stay alive again was met.
Isaac wanted to be accepted and when Stepan was killed and others losing their lives more arguments and dissention occurs as the author introduces male jealousy, ownership of the women and don’t take what is mine. Wasic was dangerous and would do anything to win his point but a little boy that comes into the camp and his tragic end would bring tears to your eyes.
At the end of the war things change as a young girl named Ducia, a Russian Nurse wins Isaac’s heart. Honest to a fault why does he tell her the truth about his past? What happens will surprise readers yet their relationship took off in an unusual and private way but as wars go and medical facilities are short of what is needed to save lives, the end result would not be what he had hoped. Isaac at this point realizes that Ducia is ill and needs to leave the camp but when he learns her fate it changes it all for him and he wants to leave and find a life in America. But, Pietka is hurt, his loyalty to him is undying and before Ducia leaves she and Soya hope to rally him back to health.
The ice, the snow, the harsh cold, the lack of warm clothing, the boots that were coveted by others, the will to live and the loyalty of a true friend are just some of the issues that the author relates through Isaac. Major Golavan would rule next and his woman that he needs to tend to his needs belonged to Wasic who was out on a mission. When he returns the scene is deadly, tense and the end result would change the course of this man’s war within himself. Each one trying to be on top and each one just wanting whatever the other has in order to live and survive.
When Isaac finally leaves his weathers more rough terrains, more storms and more dangers as she comes upon the women of Slovakia who once again want to kill him, distrust him but in the end they need him to protect them as these valiant ladies all lost their husbands and the will to survive was just as great in them as in Isaac.
Leaving them after proving his loyalties in different ways, Isaac comes upon more violence, more chances of death, German’s take want to take him prisoner and an ending that will bring hope, tears and courage not only in the heart of Isaac but renew faith in God’s miracles in the reader.
When more people’s lives would end how does Isaac stand up to the Nazi officers? Why do they finally give up and drop to their knees? Who would become his savior and his hope to live? An ending that changes it all for him and one person who would bring him his dream as Isaac for the first time remembers who he is, can be the person he was before but where will his destiny and final journey take him?
Author Robert Karmon takes us all back to 1941 as we take the journey from the moment he climbs out of the mass grave, has little time to mourn the death of his family to a war that really did happen, to a war that many refuse to admit occurred as the Germans took the lives of innocent people because they felt they were inferior to what they felt were their superior class. The Holocaust did happen. The war within some of the survivors never ended and to those who did not survive and to Isaac who if alive today would be an inspiration to everyone I dedicate this review.
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ magazine