Book Reviews

Among the Reeds: The True Story of How a Family Survived the Holocaust by Tammy Bottner

My edition: Kindle Unlimited
Pages: 217
Series: Holocaust Survivor True Stories #1
Genre: Nonfiction, War
Published: June 6th 2017
Rating: 3.5 stars


During the dark days of the Holocaust, a Jewish family struggles to survive.

When her son was born, Tammy Bottner experienced flashbacks of being hunted by the Nazis. The strange thing is, these experiences didn’t happen to her. They happened to her grandmother decades earlier and thousands of miles away.

Back in Belgium, Grandma Melly made unthinkable choices in order to save her family during WWII, including sending her two-year-old son, Bottner’s father, into hiding in a lonely Belgian convent. Did the trauma that Tammy Bottner’s predecessors experience affect their DNA? Did she inherit the “memories” of the war-time trauma in her very genes?

In this moving family memoir, told partly from Melly’s perspective, the author, a physician, recounts the saga of her family’s experiences during the Holocaust. This tale, part history, part scientific reflection on epigenetics, takes the reader on a journey that may read like a novel but is all the more fascinating for being true.


Fair Warning spoilers ahead.

But when she could no longer hide him, she got a basket made of papyrus reeds and waterproofed it with tar and pitch. She put the baby in the basket and laid it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile River. – Exodus 2:3

This is the first-ever story I have read that the family actually made it through without going to a camp.

It’s a different view for me. Most stories I read the family is in Poland or Germany. I don’t think I have read or really did deep research into what it was like for the Jewish people in Belgium. Big eye opener.

There was much written in this book that I didn’t know about before that answered a few questions I didn’t even knew I had. We always ask ourselves “how did they comply so easily?”, “how was it possible this happened so fast?”

The Nazis robbed not just the Jews of their humanity; they robbed everyone else of their fundamental decency, in fact of their humanity, as well. Everyone, Jews and non-Jews, was thrust into the impossible choice of either cooperating, or at least passively accepting, the barbarism of the Nazis, or risking their own and their family’s annihilation.

Not only did Nazis use fear but they used hatred that already existed. In Poland and Ukraine anti-Semitism was high and rampant. Jews were killed in pogroms way before the Nazis took over. All it took was a little push and the Nazis had the local non-Jews helping out. But this wasn’t the case everywhere.

In Belgium the Germans implemented their anti-Jewish laws more slowly, but by September 1942 they had begun rounding Jews up for deportation. While initially claiming to be transporting these people to work details, the brutality of the roundups, and the inclusion of the elderly and the infirm, children and babies, made the deportations’ sinister conclusions fairly obvious to anyone with the courage to face the truth.

Not only did Jews have to watch out for Nazis but they had to watch out for other Jews. If you are not familiar with the Holocaust, you may have read that statement again. What it means is that some Jews switched sides and helped the Nazis round up their neighbors, family, and friends. But there were non-Jews who did not cooperate with the Nazis and helped save many Jewish lives.

Collaborators were everywhere. You didn’t know whom you could trust. It didn’t matter how well you knew someone, or even if they were Jewish. People were so desperate to stay alive that they helped the Nazis by turning in friends and neighbors. So we lived in fear.

Unfortunately, I cannot add all the quotes I want to or all the information I learned but if you are like me and are a WWII junkie, this book is a great read. It shows a side of the war that isn’t very popular. A side where the family only faced the horrors of being caught and killed in the camps.