Motherhood is probably the most important role a woman can take on during her life. She carries her child inside of her for nine whole months through the hardships and struggles. When the child arrives, the mother can not help but forget about all her pain and be joyful in giving life to another human being. The most painful experience a mother can endure is having  her children forcefully taken away from her, or worse yet, knowing that she could have done something to save them but yet she did not. Sometimes it is almost impossible for a mother to continue with her life knowing she could have saved her children in the face of danger. Sophie’s Choice, by William Styron, and Five Chimneys, by Olga Lengyel, tell the stories of two mothers who are put in the unimaginable situations that millions of other mothers went through during the Holocaust. Though Sophie's Choice is fiction and Five Chimneys is not, the reader of both gets a vivid sense of the heartbreak a woman experiences after losing her dear ones to the hands of cruelty.

    Sophie's Choice, William Styron's novel, though fictional, could  very well have been based on the lives of many of the mothers of the Holocaust. The main character, Sophie Zawistowska, is a Polish survivor of Auschwitz. Before coming to America, Sophie lives in Cracow, Poland. She is the daughter of a university professor who she later learns is anti-semitic. She is forced into a marriage with her father’s protege. One day while typing up a speech for her father, she learns of her father's real intentions for the Jewish people. She realizes that he is just another "aspiring Jew-killer" (Styron 243).  Even though he is one of them, the Nazis came and take him away, along with his son-in-law. Sophie lives with her two children, Jan and Eva, in Warsaw after her father and husband are murdered. Sophie is taken prisoner in 1943, after being caught stealing a piece of meat for her mother. Along with her two children, Sophie is taken to Auschwitz.

    When the train finally arrives at its destination, Auschwitz, Sophie is faced with the most horrific situation a mother can ever imagine. She is faced with a special kind of "selection" when the S.S. officer makes Sophie choose between her son or her daughter. Sophie cannot believe he actually wants her to choose between keeping one child alive over the other, but when she says she can not choose, the S.S  orders both of them to be killed. In order to save one of her children, Sophie makes the choice which will haunt her forever. She chooses to let her daughter go, "Take the baby! Take my little girl!...She would forever retain a dim impression that the child had continued to look back, beseeching" (Styron 484). Because she survives the concentration camp, Sophie feels implicated in Nazi atrocities. She is ashamed of her father’s fascist beliefs and guilt-ridden for having typed his pamphlet advocating the extermination of the Jews, for failing to protect her children, and for using her father’s views as an argument to wangle her freedom from the camp.  In the end, Sophie's overwhelming guilt takes over and she no longer has  the will to continue with a life without meaning.

    Five Chimneys tells the real-life story of Olga Lengyel, who is a survivor of the Holocaust. Olga and her husband live in Cluj, the capital of Transylvania. When her husband, Miklos Lengyel, is called upon by the Germans all of a sudden, the family simply thinks they are in need of medical assistance for the war. Miklos is the director of his own hospital and Olga, being devoted to medicine as well,  is her husband's first surgical assistant. Since there is a shortage of medical men in Germany Olga thinks it is reasonable for them to request the assistance of her husband. When Olga asks the S.S. officials if she can accompany her husband to where he is being taken, the officers not only agree but encourage her to go as well. This is when Olga makes the decision that changes not only her life but that of everyone in her family, too. Olga feels that the family should remain together through thick and thin, no matter what comes their way. Olga's parents try to convince her to stay behind, "After all, if your husband were called to the colors as a soldier, you would not be able to follow him" (Lengyel 5). However, when they realize that she can not be convinced, they go along with Olga and her two sons.

    When the family boards the train that was obviously meant for animals, they realize they are not being taken to a hospital or clinic in need of assistance. The people are stuffed into a space that could have held eight horse at most. They are kept in that space for seven days with almost no food or water. Olga and the others have no idea where they are being shipped off to. After seven days of what they think is the worst possible situation they could ever be in, the trains arrive at Auschwitz-Birkenau. When they get off the trains, they are exposed to the first of many horrific situations at the death camps, the infamous "selection" process, which means the elderly and children under 12 are sent to the left and the healthy adults fit for work are sent to the right. Olga, not knowing that going to the left means immediate annihilation, lies about her son's age in order to spare him from arduous work. She not only sends her older son to the gas chambers but asks the S.S. guard to include her mother as well so she can look after the children. Later when Olga learns the truth about the "selections", she is burdened with the thought of sending her family members off to their deaths.

    In the beginning, Olga is in denial herself, just like the many others who refuse to believe what they have previously heard about the concentration camps. When the older internees warn the incoming women about the perils of the camps, they dismiss them because to them it was quite hard to believe anyone could be so cruel as to burn bodies alive or keep healthy women locked up for no reason. Olga justifies her denial this way: "Evidently, 'I told myself,' these women are abnormals, and that is why they are isolated" (Lengyel 17). However, as time progresses, Olga begins to comprehend the reality of things and in turn tries to warn newcomers just as she has been on her first day: "Tell them that your son is over twelve....Don't let your daughter say that she is ill...Tell your son to stand up very straight...Always tell them that you are in good health" (Lengyel 85). Unfortunately, the same cycle continues and the incoming naive women just look at Olga with scorn in their eyes, probably thinking. "What does this dirty woman want? She must be mad" (Lengyel 86).

    When Olga first arrives at the camp she brings a vial of poison along with her just in case she things take a turn for the worst and she can no longer bear to live anymore. However,  as she spends more time at the camp, she changes her mind about giving in to the the Germans and letting them win. As she witnesses the atrocities committed by the Germans, she no longer wants to end her life but to fill it with purpose:

    I had then two reasons to live: one, to work with the resistance movement and help as    long as I could stand upon my feet; two, to        dream and pray for the day to come when I     could go free and tell the world, ' This is what I saw with my own eyes. It must never     beallowed to happen again!'(Lengyel 76)

These reasons give her hope to live on even though she knows it will be difficult to escape from the wrath of the Germans. She feels she owes it to continue with her life and tell the stories of all those that have perished all too quickly.

    Olga is exposed to all kinds of difficult tasks, but her work at the infirmary is her most important accomplishment in the camp. It is strenuous work, because the infirmary is understaffed and they have to look after several thousand women a day. Nonetheless, the women try their best to help the ailing even though they lack medicine, surgery equipment, and bandages (Lengyel 61). Olga commits herself to aiding the helpless, and yet sometimes her good deeds are useless because the Germans take the patients straight to the gas chambers after being treated. The most devastating problem the women of the infirmary face is the "accursed births." The S.S. had a strict order of sending the mothers and their newborns to the gas chambers immediately after birth. Olga, along with the other women, agrees they have obeyed  the orders of the S.S. long enough, and they feel they must to do something. The women are faced with yet another "selection" of their own, and they have no choice but to try to save the lives of the poor mothers: "...we pinched and closed the little tike's nostrils and when it opened its mouth to breathe, we gave it a dose of a lethal product...As far as the camp administration was concerned, this was a stillbirth" (Lengyel 100). One cannot imagine what these women must have felt, after committing the same acts the Germans have done to their very own children. Olga can only console herself by knowing she has at least saved the life of the mother who would otherwise be burning in the crematory along with her child. Olga marvels at how the Germans not only kill the innocent but make them kill their own as well.

    Olga does manage to escape from the horrors of the Nazis and she keeps the promise she vowed to keep while in the camp. She copes with her guilt about her family through the book she has written for the world to see the heinous acts of the Nazis. While in the camps she knows her only resistance to these people will be to come out alive and one day expose the truth to the world no matter how many "vast piles of paper they burnt" (Lengyel 196), trying to hide the records of their crimes.  She knew her memory alone would provide her with enough of the horrid details of her ime spent there.

    Both Sophie and Olga experience the horror of losing their children in front of their eyes yet their reactions are not quite the same. Olga has to live with the guilt of sending her children away voluntarily for the rest of her life and yet she knows that she must go on with her life. Olga finds strength to help those around her through her work in the infirmary and she strives to make sure the same atrocities are not committed against other helpless families. Sophie, on the other hand,  loses her family and  manages to hold on to her dear life until the war is over but after she comes to America she  finally lets go and realizes she has no other reason to continue a life without her loved ones. Sophie cannot bear to live a life with as much sorrow as hers.

    Sophie’s Choice, by William Styron, and Five Chimneys, by Olga Lengyel, provide an understanding of the lives of mothers of the Holocaust. These mothers were often forced to look on as their children were forcibly taken away from their arms and led to their deaths in the most horrendous ways. Sometimes they had to live forever with the guilt of knowing they could have saved their children. While some felt they could no longer live child-less life, others like Olga chose to fight for a resistance against the Nazis. She swore she would make it out alive,  so she could share her story with the world which remained oblivious to the atrocious acts of the Nazis. It is impossible to comprehend what a mother actually goes through when she loses her child, and it is something no mother should ever have to stand by and watch.

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