Mala’s Cat by Mala Kacenberg

Mala’s Cat is the incredible true story of Mala Kacenberg, a young girl from the Polish village of Tarnogród. Beginning at age 12, Mala navigated dangerous forests alone, outwitted Nazi soldiers, and survived against all odds with a stray cat she named Malach as the only companion she could trust.

Mala writes from her perspective as a child, but you still get her adult lens at times, too, especially when she’s gently critical of her child self’s thought processes and naïve hopes. But she also gives that younger self grace as she remembers the circumstances that forced her to make truly impossible decisions.

Mala Kacenberg often hid in plain sight. But no matter what setting she found herself in, she could never let her guard down. Not only does Mala tell us how she survived the Holocaust, but she shares her experience in that period right after the end of the war, when she’s a refugee. When she finally starts connecting with other survivors, she begins to process everything that’s taken place. For most of the memoir, I felt drawn into Mala’s constant fight or flight world. So the book’s full impact hit me in that final section.

I appreciated the focus on countries on the far eastern side of Europe. Mala shares the Nazis’ cruelty toward pretty much everyone in Poland, whether Jewish or Gentile. But many of the Gentiles still took part in oppressing Jewish people, even well after the end of the war.

The writing style of Mala’s Cat is engaging and deeply intimate. It felt like listening to a beloved grandmother share openly and honestly about her childhood. A childhood unimaginably harrowing and difficult to talk about. You get a keen sense of how important it is for Mala Kacenberg to tell us this story, and for us to receive this story. Reading it is as much an act of love as her sharing it is.

Also Recommended:

Israeli luthier Amnon Weinstein devotes his time to the restoration of violins Jewish musicians played during the Holocaust. Each violin has its own remarkable story as a liberator, comforter, savior, or an avenger, or perhaps as the only remaining memento of a dear relative. In Violins of Hope, musicologist James A. Grymes uses the violins in Weinstein’s collection to tell these musicians’ stories.

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