Broken Promises

The Story of a Jewish Family in Germany

Non-Fiction - Genealogy
314 Pages
Reviewed on 12/12/2021
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Rabia Tanveer for Readers' Favorite

Broken Promises: The Story of a Jewish Family in Germany by Bonnie Suchman is the story of the Heppenheimer family and their life as they lost everything in the Holocaust. The author researched and compiled all of this information after she learned that her father-in-law kept his life in Germany hidden from his family when he was alive. However, after his death, author Bonnie Suchman looked deep into his family tree and found that the Heppenheimer family came to Germany and became leaders in scrap metal dealerships in the country. Their affluent lives came to an abrupt end when the Nazis rose to power and destroyed their lives just because of differences in religious beliefs. The book recollects what happened to this family and how no one was safe from the wrath of Nazis and their misplaced rage.

I still have a hard time believing why someone’s religion can enrage a group of people to cause so much hurt and pain. The author did a great job of compiling the information and digging deep to gather all the data that goes back generations. Reading about the life of the Heppenheimer family was sad because they had a simple yet successful life before the Holocaust happened. The narrative felt like listening to a beloved professor sharing information on a topic they feel passionate about. I was surprised by how deeply the author researched. From the Heppenheimer family’s migration to Germany after the Thirty Years War and their life there from the 1700s until the Nazi regime, Bonnie Suchman held nothing back. By the time I reached page 37 and saw the pictures of the documents she uncovered, I knew this was going to be an exceptional book. She went into details about all of the ancestors, what happened to them and how drastically things changed after the Nazis came into power. I would highly recommend Broken Promises to anyone who would like to read about a more human perspective, rather than a narrated perspective.

K.C. Finn

Broken Promises: The Story of a Jewish Family in Germany is a work of non-fiction in the family history genre. It is suitable for the general reading audience and was penned by author Bonnie Suchman. The book shares the journey of the author as she discovers a family history that her late father-in-law could never bring himself to discuss openly. As the stories unfold of distant relatives either fleeing the rise of the Nazis in Germany or being forced to face the horrors of the concentration camps, a complex tree of family members forms with each branch leading to a different fate for each member.

This was a challenging book to read due to its subject matter; the painful reality of the Holocaust is still within the lifetime of people alive today and with the rise of the far-right in the western world, there is a growing fear that the lessons we learned in the 1930s and 1940s have been forgotten. Bonnie Suchman is both a skilled historian and writer and through her unflinching examination of the horrible truth of the 20th century, the stories of one family cease to be numbered in the death toll and come alive as real people who were struggling to stay alive in a society that became more hostile toward them by the day. Each story of a particular member of the Heppenheimer family had me on the edge of my seat with dread for their wellbeing, such was the investment that Broken Promises engendered in its characters. However, it never detracted from the simple humanity of the people whose world was destroyed in the wake of fascism's rise.

Joe Wisinski

Broken Promises: The Story of a Jewish Family in Germany is an account of what happened to one family when the Nazis came to power. Most members of the family successfully escaped, but some were killed in the Holocaust. Author Bonnie Suchman became interested in the family’s story after her father-in-law, who was one of those who escaped, died. She learned that he had lost relatives during the Holocaust, but had not told his family members about those deaths, or much about life in Germany during Nazism. Suchman’s book tells the story of the family, who had been well-to-do, and what happened to individual family members. The book also shows that Jews were persecuted and denied opportunities even before Nazi Germany. In addition to the text, the book contains historical records, maps, photos, and other information that helps tell the family’s story. There’s also an index and footnotes.

Everyone who is interested in history, and particularly the history of the Jewish people and/or their plight during Nazism, should read this book. Broken Promises: The Story of a Jewish Family in Germany is not only a fascinating and detailed story of one family’s life, but it’s also an account of the horrors of Nazism and the Holocaust. Author Bonnie Suchman’s book is extraordinarily well researched, with almost 1,200 endnotes. But that doesn’t mean it reads like an academic tome. Although it’s a non-fiction, historical account, it reads like a novel, because Suchman is a fine writer with a deep interest in her topic. This book is a reminder to remember the Holocaust and its victims and to warn us that Jews, or any other minority, could again become prosecuted. I highly recommend this excellent work.

Grant Leishman

Broken Promises: The Story of a Jewish Family in Germany by Bonnie Suchman is a personal genealogy of her husband’s Jewish family in Germany and, later, mainly in the United States. After the death of the author’s father-in-law, revelations of a family caught up in the Holocaust that he had never mentioned to his family, even his wife, emerged. The author was intrigued to not only discover her husband’s connection to the Holocaust but also that other members of the extended Heppenheimer family had perished in the Nazi concentration camps and in World War II Germany, in general. Deciding to research the family, she embarked on a massive project that would take her back to the eighteenth century and the original Heppenheimer's decision to leave Poland, where they were regularly subjected to pogroms and harsh treatment, and seek a better life in nearby Germany. She traces the family tree from these original immigrants right through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries but concentrates mostly on the descendants in the 20th century. Many of them fought for their beloved Germany in WWI, only to be despised, decried, and ultimately murdered just some twenty years later as the Nazi war machine, the madman Adolf Hitler, and the general anti-Semitic sentiment of Germany finally caught up with them.

Broken Promises is, on the surface, just another genealogy of a Jewish family and their survival through the trials and tribulations that Jews all over the world have experienced but Bonnie Suchman has provided a story that is much more than just a dry recitation of dates and facts. Certainly, for the extended Heppenheimer family, I have no doubt this will be an invaluable family resource that will be perused and treasured over the years. However, it is also a detailed insight into the daily lives and the trials Jewish people have faced in Europe through history. For me, as an uninvolved spectator of this family, it was both eye-opening and revelatory. Like most people, I was aware of the Holocaust and the horrific crimes of the Nazis during World War II but to have these broken down to a personal family level and see the impact on individuals and their desperate attempts to escape certain death was both humbling and rewarding.

I particularly enjoyed the author’s conclusion as to how the German people attempted to justify this horrendous genocide. To them, Jews seemed to disproportionally control the German economy and apparently were the cause of Germany’s economic travails. As the author points out, this was in fact because the Jewish people, so long held down and controlled, had finally experienced true freedom under emancipation rules and were determined to enjoy that to the fullest – simply, they were overachievers and were reviled for this. More than a genealogy, this book is a fascinating, incredibly well-researched, social history of the Jewish people in Europe and Germany, in particular. I can highly recommend this read.

Nicola Jenvey

Bonnie Suchman’s father-in-law, alongside other family members during the 1930s, emigrated to the US from Nazi Germany in 1937 but kept secret the life, family, and experiences he had left behind. Hence, the family was surprised to discover he had lost a grandmother, two aunts, and other friends and family to the Holocaust. Suchman’s interest was piqued when her husband Bruce had reminded his mother about his father Curtis Heppen (formerly Kurt Heppenheimer) addressing their son’s bris – and being told it would be too painful for him to do so. Broken Promises evolves as a journey of discovery of why Curtis never discussed his past, even with his wife, as Suchman unwraps the story of the Heppenheimer family and their nearly 250-year history in Germany.

Anyone who believes the stories from World War II have been wholly uncovered is mistaken. Broken Promises is one of those stories and, in its telling, reflects a microcosm of the broader German Jew conundrum. Questions such as why Jews did not leave Germany during the 1930s when the Nazi Party’s intentions became increasingly clear, will have haunted anyone drawn to this history. The Heppenheimer family’s story provides some insight – this was a family whose roots in Germany dated to the early 1700s; who had grasped every opportunity offered as German laws slowly opened up its economy to Jewish participation and who had lost sons fighting for their country during the Great War. These were people who genuinely believed the Nazi era would pass as had previous pogrom regimes, but for whom the promises were broken. Broken Promises is a simple, yet beautifully told story of a family who loved their country at a time when their country hated them – and they were not alone in missing the signs before it was too late to escape.

Naomi Freeman

Amazing research to determine exactly what happened, even to the deportation details.