When Sofie Mecklenberg married Jan Rijnfeld in Amsterdam in 1937 she knew she was becoming stepmother to six daughters. The oldest was 21 and about to be married herself, the youngest was 11. Sophie knew she would have to work hard to be their friend and a stand-in for their mother who had died five years before. She didn’t know her commitment would take her to a Nazi work camp and then Auschwitz.
Far Above Rubies by Cynthia Polansky is historical fiction that is based on the true story of a woman who volunteered to accompany her six stepdaughters when they were called out of Amsterdam and sent to a work camp. Vowing to her husband she would do all she could to keep them safe, she packed her suitcase and headed to the train station with them. She had no way of knowing what awaited them once they left home.
Sofie’s unfailing strength of spirit kept her going until the Russians liberated Auschwitz and during the hardships after the war. While Sofie’s circumstances are true, the story has been fictionalized to allow us a glimpse of what every one of the real people may have been thinking as the story unfolds.
The result is a cross between documentary and fiction that helps the reader get through the worst passages about Nazi atrocities. The title is based on a quote from proverbs: “A woman of valor who can find? For her price is far above rubies.” Polansky has insured that Sofie’s story of sacrifice and selflessness in the face of inhuman acts will not be forgotten. Mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 15 and up will be able to explore how Nazi occupation affected Amsterdam, the realities of life in a concentration camp and how those incarcerated often kept their humanity by small acts of kindness.