Claiming My Place: Coming of Age in the Shadow of the Holocaust

Claiming My Place:

Coming of Age in the Shadow of the Holocaust

by Planaria J. Price

A Junior Library Guild selection

Claiming My Place is the true story of a young Jewish woman who survived the Holocaust by escaping to Nazi Germany and hiding in plain sight.

Meet Gucia Gomolinska: smart, determined, independent, and steadfast in the face of injustice. A Jew growing up in predominantly Catholic Poland during the 1920s and ’30s, Gucia studies hard, makes friends, falls in love, and dreams of a bright future. Her world is turned upside down when Nazis invade Poland and establish the first Jewish ghetto of World War II in her town of Piotrkow Trybunalski. As the war escalates, Gucia and her family, friends, and neighbors suffer starvation, disease, and worse. She knows her blond hair and fair skin give her an advantage, and eventually she faces a harrowing choice: risk either the uncertain horrors of deportation to a concentration camp, or certain death if she is caught resisting. She decides to hide her identity as a Jew and adopts the gentile name Danuta Barbara Tanska. Barbara, nicknamed Basia, leaves behind everything and everyone she has ever known in order to claim a new life for herself.  

Writing in the first person, author Planaria Price brings the immediacy of Barbara’s voice to this true account of a young woman whose unlikely survival hinges upon the same determination and defiant spirit already evident in the six-year-old girl we meet as this story begins. The final portion of this narrative, written by Barbara’s daughter, Helen Reichmann West, completes Barbara’s journey from her immigration to America until her natural, timely death. Includes maps and photographs.


Editorial Reviews

“Price has boldly elected to tell the story in Basia’s own first-person, present-tense voice. The result is a dramatic, suspenseful account of survival in extremis, told in collaboration with Basia’s American daughter.” ―Booklist

“Price's rendering of West’s mother’s early life reads like suspenseful historical fiction, telling a rarely heard side of the Jewish experience during WWII . . . Family, friendships, and romance give poignancy to this unique coming-of-age story, which is further enhanced by maps, a glossary, and an afterword.” ―Publishers Weekly

“A rich exploration of a Holocaust survivor’s sheltered childhood, the atrocity that failed to destroy her, and her later life as an immigrant.” ―Kirkus Reviews

“I was completely engrossed by this drama of survival. Barbara Reichmann's story is quite extraordinary. It is sad, and terrible, and yet somehow captivating. The whole story of those who survived the Shoah by passing as Christians and working in Nazi Germany is an often forgotten part of the historical record.” ―Kai Bird, Executive Director, Leon Levy Center for Biography at CUNY Graduate Center, and co-author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer

“As occurs with The Diary of Anne Frank, this book merges the dire circumstances of the Holocaust with the tenuousness of being a teenager. But Claiming My Placeexpands the view provided in the diary for one critical reason. Anne Frank’s story is told within an isolated cocoon. In Barbara’s story, however, the Holocaust is in full view as her experiences unfold.” ―David H. Lindquist, Ph.D., IPFW College of Education and Public Policy / Regional Museum Educator, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

“This frightening true story of a young Jewish girl's flight from the deadly grip of the Nazis celebrates the surprising ingenuity and raw courage found only in the depths of the human spirit. Risking what few others dared, Barbara Reichmann, née Gucia Gomolinska, speaks with wisdom and uncommon self-awareness through her detailed, colorful, and evocative recollections from earliest childhood. In the final portionof this book, her daughter, Helen West, continues Barbara’s journey in aninsightful and loving overview of Barbara’s life from the family’s arrival in New Orleans in 1951 until her death in 2007. This is a great read with the suspenseful, inspiring and uplifting appeal of a novel, about a character whowill capture the reader’s heart.” ―Allan Holzman, Peabody and Emmy Award-winning director and editor (Steven Spielberg’s Survivors of theHolocaust, Old Man River, The Native Americans)

"Gr 7 Up–During her childhood in Piotrków Trybunalski, Poland, Gucia Gomolinska had access to a good education, and she actively participated in a Zionist youth group. All of that changed in 1939 when Nazi Germany invaded Poland. After losing her mother to typhoid and seeing many family members, friends, and neighbors murdered by German soldiers, Gomolinska realized that her survival depended upon hiding her identity. Under the name Danuta Barbara Tanska, Basia for short, she moved away and found work in Polish and German towns that were safer because they were supposedly Judenrein, “cleansed of Jews.” Told in a present tense, first-person narrative, this true story was written based on extensive interviews with Basia. The account describes how she survived the war and also tells the stories of family and friends, such as Heniek, her longtime boyfriend, and Sabina, her companion and roommate. Basia’s determination and strength of character is skillfully emphasized. An episode from her early childhood hints at this for readers (she refused to wait a year to start school after her father forgot to register her). VERDICT Thanks to the detailed memories and the conversational tone, this book provides an engaging and informative reading experience with as much appeal as a fiction title. Recommended for most YA nonfiction collections." – Magdalena Teske, West Chicago Public Library District School Library Journal

"Each Holocaust survivor’s story is unique and cries out to be told. Some have been lost, others submerged in collective histories. In Claiming My Place: Coming of Age in the Shadow of the Holocaust, Gucia Gomolinska/Basia Tanska, a Jewish woman who survived by passing as Aryan, has found a vehicle for her tale of loss and survival. ...... the book is a searing personal account full of unforgettable details, as well as broader questions about the ultimate meaning of her experience.

The daughter of an affluent family in Piotrków, Poland, Price (in first person, from Gucia’s perspective) begins the book by describing her privileged childhood and ends as a grateful immigrant to America, having survived the war with a false identity card, which enabled her to work as a Polish Christian in Germany. Each chapter is a dated entry in which Gucia, later Basia, chronicles her friendships, romantic relationships, and family life—until the German invasion abruptly destroys this world. By the time her ghetto is facing annihilation, she is desperate to be considered an “essential worker,” whose life may be spared because of her utility to the Nazis. Such insights into her radically altered existence link the book’s events into a cohesive account.

To suggest that this book is in some sense a work of historical fiction does not compromise its essential honesty or validity.

Claiming My Place is recommended for readers 14 and older. It offers an excellent opportunity to discuss the ways in which we reconstruct and remember the past." – Jewish Book Council Review by Emily Schneider

"Truly a celebration of the human spirit." "Nothing short of magical!" "a talented writer who could transport you into the very soul of this deeply courageous woman." "Great literary achievement!" – Rabbi Lynn Brody Slome, Wilshire Boulevard Temple

About the Author

After graduating from Berkeley and earning a Master's Degree in English Literature from UCLA, Planaria Price began her career teaching English to adult immigrants in Los Angeles. She has written several textbooks for University of Michigan Press and has lectured at over 75 conferences. In addition to her passion for teaching and writing, Planaria has worked with her husband to save and restore over 30 Victorian and Craftsman homes in her historic Los Angeles neighborhood. Claiming My Place is her first book for young adults.




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