On Sunny Days We Sang

A Holocaust Story of Survival and Resilience (Holocaust Survivor True Stories WWII)

Non-Fiction - Memoir
210 Pages
Reviewed on 11/02/2022
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Author Biography

I am a Venezuelan professor, researcher, and writer. Born in Szczecin. Poland in 1946, to Polish Holocaust survivors who came from Wlodawa. My family immigrated to Venezuela, settling in Maracaibo. I received my undergraduate degree in French from Wellesley College. In 1970, I went on to receive an MA in Spanish Literature from New York University via their extension program in Madrid and in 1976 I was awarded my MA in the teaching of French from the Université de Paris III. I was a professor of French Language and Literature at the Universidad del Zulia in Maracaibo from 1971 to 1996.

Finally in 2013 I moved to Miami, Florida with a purpose in mind. As Second-Generation Holocaust Survivor, My parents' trauma was always present in my life and I felt the need to understand what happened to the family I never had. From 2013 to 2018 I was accepted as a Research Scholar at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, focusing on Holocaust studies.

As a result, I wrote On Sunny Days We Sang that was first published in Spanish in 2018 under the title En los días claros cantábamos. It is my first full length work, telling the story of my parents' survival in Nazi-occupied Poland during the Second World War.

    Book Review

Reviewed by K.C. Finn for Readers' Favorite

On Sunny Days We Sang: A Holocaust Story of Survival and Resilience (Holocaust Survivor True Stories WWII) is a work of non-fiction in the historical and memoir subgenres. It is best suited to the general adult reading audience and was penned by Jeannette Grunhaus de Gelman. As the title suggests, the work follows the events in the life of Second World War Holocaust survivors Hil and Alexandra, who were the parents of the author. As they travel from ghettos to secret hiding places and try to escape Nazi oppression and persecution, the chances of survival for this young couple seem bleak, and every decision counts toward fighting for a brighter tomorrow.

This was a highly moving and inspirational story that I found incredibly poignant and well-paced in terms of its emotional journey. Although the tale is shocking and sad, and rightfully so, the tone and atmosphere are much less gloomy, and the story is focused on love, survival, and mutual support amongst those who want to help Hil, Alexandra, and thousands like them, and fight against the Nazi regime. Jeannette Grunhaus de Gelman delivers a heartfelt and culturally sharp narrative that highlights all the wrongs done to Polish Jewry as a whole, and her dialogue and passionate narrative parallel modern-day persecution and discrimination just as poignantly as she covers the heinous and unspeakable judgments made during the Second World War. I would highly recommend On Sunny Days We Sang to fans of WWII memoirs that resonate deeply in one’s heart.

Pikasho Deka

Jeannette Grunhaus de Gelman was born to two Holocaust survivors, Hil Grunhaus Beckerman and Alexandra Lederman Beckerman, in 1946. Through On Sunny Days We Sang: A Holocaust Story of Survival and Resilience (Holocaust Survivor True Stories WWII), Gelman tells the story of her parents' harrowing trials and tribulations in Nazi-occupied Poland and their eventual escape to a new life in Maracaibo, Venezuela. The book offers an in-depth account of how the shtetl of Wlodova was turned into a Nazi concentration facility where Jews from all over were rounded up and persecuted. Hil and Alexandra found themselves trapped amid the targeted genocide of Jewish people, having to live one day at a time, change identities, and rely on the kindness of strangers to hang on until the defeat of the Nazis. Even after the war, they had to navigate anti-Jewish sentiment to find their way to freedom.

Jeannette Grunhaus de Gelman sheds light on one of the darkest chapters of human history in this heartbreaking memoir about her parents' lives in war-torn Poland during World War II. Gelman's connection to the events makes her account even more impactful. As a reader, you can't help but wonder how any human being can commit such atrocities on others. On the other hand, people like Bernhard Falkenberg went out of their way to help Jewish people at their own risk. On Sunny Days We Sang is a story about survival, loss, resilience, and the fight for freedom and dignity. An intimate account of a dark period of human history that should never be forgotten. Highly recommended.

Susan van der Walt

On Sunny Days We Sang: A Holocaust Story of Survival and Resilience forms part of the Holocaust Survivor True Stories WWII. With great courage, Jeannette Grunhaus de Gelman shares with us the life story of her parents - Hill Beckerman and Alexandra Lederman. From the start, it is clear that the author has done extensive research, not only about her parents' genealogy but also about the events during the Holocaust and specifically the town of Wlodawa. This book gives us a different perspective on the Holocaust. Unlike similar books which speak about the atrocities and death in the Nazi camps, this book provides us with a look at the raids on Jewish towns and the cruel ways many Jews died at the hand of Nazi soldiers.

Although Hill Beckerman and Alexandra Lederman survived the Holocaust, the trauma of their experiences affected them for the rest of their lives. Most significantly, it caused episodes of severe clinical depression in Alexandra, which only became less frequent after three years. I had to admire her courage and bravery when, as a widow, she decided to revisit Wlodawa. Accompanied by her daughter for this visit, she finally found peace before her death in September 2000. Reading about the Hanover trial of the Nazi soldiers, I was shocked by their refusal to take responsibility for their actions, but even more by the light sentences they received for murdering thousands of Jews. On Sunny Days We Sang by Jeannette Grunhaus de Gelman is an excellent read for people interested in the history of World War II.

Joe Wisinski

On Sunny Days We Sang: A Holocaust Story of Survival and Resilience by Jeannette Grunhaus de Gelman is the story of the persecution of a Polish Jewish family after the Nazi invasion, along with subsequent events. The author’s family lived in the town of Włodawa in Poland. Most of the author’s family were killed, but her parents survived. However, they were in constant danger of being rounded up and killed or sent to concentration camps. They survived with the help of others, by going to hiding places, and by using false identities. The family eventually moved to Venezuela, and the account concludes with returning to Poland on a visit many years later. The book includes photographs and a list of sources the author used.

On Sunny Days We Sang is a fascinating, although tragic, story. The author, Jeannette Grunhaus de Gelman, does not shy away from presenting the horrors of life in Poland, including her parents’ town of Włodawa, especially for the Jewish people, after the Nazis invaded. The account is heartbreaking, but at the same time, the reader is inspired by the courage of the author’s family, as well as by the assistance they received from some fellow Poles and even by a German who tried to help as many Poles as he could. I highly recommend this book to everyone, whether they’re familiar with the terrors of the Nazi regime or not. We must never forget what happened, and this book will help us to remember.