Holocaust Educational Trust Ambassador Blog

August Reviews - Hitler, Stalin, Mum & Dad

“Truth lies at the feet of liberty” – The first line of this incredible book, and a real testament to the story within it. Daniel Finkelstein’s mother, Mirjam Wiener was born in Berlin, Germany in 1933, the daughter of Alfred and Margarete Wiener.

At the end of AmCon 2023, ambassadors received a signed copy of ‘Hitler, Stalin, Mum and Dad: A Family Memoir of Miraculous Survival’ by David Finkelstein. Photo by Jack Nicholls.

This book touches on her happy childhood, how when her family settled in Amsterdam, they had gone to school and synagogue with Margot and Anne Frank, and how she could sense the importance of her father’s work, even at a young age. Alfred Wiener is credited for his work in fighting antisemitism during the Holocaust, and documenting and gathering evidence of the anti-Jewish hatred unfolding in Germany. All would change when Alfred moved to London to protect his archive of documents, when Mirjam and the rest of her family were sent by the Nazis from Amsterdam to Westerbork transit camp, and later onto Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

Daniel’s father, Ludwik Finkelstein, was born in Lwow, Poland in 1929, the only child of Adolf and Amalia Finkelstein.

Ludwik’s story is much like Mirjam’s – he had a happy childhood, was fussed over by staff that worked in his family’s home and cherished deeply as the only child. However, things again would change when in 1939, the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact divided Poland between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Ludwik’s father, Adolf, was arrested by Soviet forces and sentenced to hard labour in the Gulag, whilst Ludwik and his mother were sent into exile in Siberia. This book is centred around the turmoil Jewish people faced during World War Two and during the Holocaust, but it is fundamentally a story of survival. Both Mirjam and Ludwik survived the most unimaginable of events and went to live prosperous lives. Their children, Anthony, Tamara, and Daniel stand as great testament to that.

Earlier this month, at our Ambassador’s Conference, Daniel Finkelstein spoke with Matt Chorley, touching on a number of points including what his parents would have thought about him writing this book and his mother’s response to Ronald Reagan visiting Bergen-Belsen was “so what? I’ve been”, but there is one moment that has stayed in mind – when Holocaust survivor, Janine Webber BEM, shared her connection to Daniel’s family story. Both Janine and Daniel’s father were born in Lwow, Poland – what is now known as Lviv, Ukraine. It is a simple connection, but the genuine interest Daniel had to hear Janine’s story was palpable, and the joy Janine had in sharing that was just as clear. It was a real heartwarming moment to witness.

To those who have not yet read this book, I cannot recommend it enough. It is told in a way that truly honours the survival and courage in both of Daniel’s parents, and their families. It discusses family, how questions can go both unasked and unanswered, how surviving such trauma does not equate to seeing oneself as a victim, and how Daniel’s parents did not necessarily forgive and forget what happened to them, but instead they tried to transcend it.

By Abigail Harrison