Whether you’ve read every book there is to read on the Holocaust, or have never read anything about it, this book makes for essential reading on the subject.
Zdenka Fantlová is a survivor of the Holocaust. She is a Jew from Czechoslovakia who, at just seventeen, was evicted from her home during the Nazi Occupation and survived through five different concentration camps. The Tin Ring recounts her terrifying ordeals through the camps, forced marches, starvation, disease and immense grief.
Underneath all of this is the powerful story of a young woman trying to maintain her sanity, and relying on her survival instincts throughout unimaginable and enduring horror. Her story presents an honest and emotionally confusing account of life in the camps. All at once, the reader feels pity and sadness for the degraded state that Zdenka and the inmates find themselves in, but also massive respect and admiration for their solidarity and perseverance.
By beginning with a few short chapters on her early life and experiences before the outbreak of war, Zdenka establishes a connection between herself and the reader which makes the pain of the events of the Holocaust even more sharply felt. However, it also gives her the opportunity to very cleverly link how decisions made long before the war impact on her survival in the end.
What struck me most about Zdenka’s story are her survival instincts, and the way she expresses what so many have wondered since the liberation of the camps: how did people survive? Her youthfulness and naivety are brought into harsh contrast with her surroundings, and she explains extremely articulately how simple things led to her survival: water, speaking English, and withdrawing herself from her surroundings.
Central to all of this is the tin ring itself, a gift from her great love the day before he is taken away to the camps. Like Zdenka herself, their love survives in stark contrast to the grim reality surrounding them.
Overall this is a dark, thought-provoking and harrowing tale, as you would expect. However, what makes this story an essential read is the style with which Zdenka tells her story of relentless perseverance, creativity and ultimately hope.