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A Life Rebuilt: The Remarkable Transformation of a War Orphan

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Born in Belgium in 1939 to Jewish parents who had been forced to flee their beloved home in Berlin six months earlier, Sylvia Ruth Gutmann spent the first three years of her life in hiding with her family in the south of France. In the summer of 1942, three-year-old Sylvia, her two older sisters, and her young mother were arrested by the Vichy police and shipped to the French internment camp in Rivesaltes. Shortly thereafter, her mother was deported to Auschwitz, leaving her three children behind. Six months later, Sylvia’s bedridden father was also deported to Auschwitz. Sylvia and her sisters would never see their parents again.

Deeply traumatized, Sylvia arrived in New York City at age seven, where a well-meaning uncle and a cruel aunt took her in. Don’t speak of it. Put it behind you. Move on, they told her. The messages she received in America forced her to again keep silent and hide in full view. She spent the next five decades struggling to put the pieces of her life back together and to fully understand the past she was too young to remember.

A Life Rebuilt: The Remarkable Transformation of a War Orphan chronicles an odyssey that spans sixty years, three countries, and thousands of miles. Remarkably, at age sixty-two, Sylvia developed a relationship with a young man, forty years her junior, and against all odds she moved to Germany to live with him. Here she began to share the story of her family’s fate with German students, senior citizens, and even neo-Nazi groups. By doing so, Sylvia reconciled with the people she had feared and loathed, and resurrected the lives of the parents she cannot remember, and cannot forget. Heartbreaking and ultimately inspiring, this memoir of loss, love, resilience, belonging, identity, and authenticity has a surprising resolution, told in an intimate voice with candor, substance, and heart.

318 pages, Paperback

Published July 7, 2018

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Sylvia Ruth Gutmann

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Displaying 1 - 11 of 11 reviews
Profile Image for Dyan deNapoli.
Author 2 books24 followers
July 2, 2018
I loved this book! A LIFE REBUILT is the gripping memoir of Sylvia Ruth Gutmann's extraordinary and colorful life. Orphaned at the age of 3 when her parents were killed in the Holocaust, this intimate chronicle of Sylvia's life is a captivating and moving portrait of love, loss, grief, resiliency, and hope. Her writing is riveting, and her journey to healing is inspiring. We can feel Sylvia's deep yearning for the parents she does not remember, but cannot forget. And we are there beside her as she honors her missing parents in a healing ceremony in Berlin 60 years after their brutal and untimely deaths. A LIFE REBUILT is a beautiful and compelling read - once you pick it up, you won't be able to put it down. For anyone recovering from trauma, this book offers hope. And in today's charged climate of fear, hatred, mistrust, and misunderstanding of 'the other', it should be required reading for all. A LIFE REBUILT is an important book; a hopeful book; and a powerful reminder of what it means to be an innocent refugee trying to survive and adapt to life in a strange new land.
Profile Image for Beth.
1 review1 follower
June 21, 2018
Everybody has a story to tell, . . . . and Sylvia's was one of the best.
I read this while on vacation, and halfway through the book I had to slow my pace because I didn't want the story to end. When it did end, I found myself wanting more.

I read a lot of historical fiction, especially about the holocaust. Therefore it was emotional to me to read someone's own account, especially through the eyes of a young child.

Kudos to Sylvia for sharing her story.
1 review
June 25, 2018
A Life Rebuilt is a story of loss, love, then the power to change. The scene that will always haunt me is when Sylvia's mother is torn away from her!
Profile Image for Ishy Creo.
1 review
May 7, 2018
I simply could not put this book down! I started reading it mid-day, and read through the entire night without stopping (something I never do). A Life Rebuilt is an incredible journey of an incredible woman. Just when you think her life can't possibly get any worse, it does. Though the book is told without mercy for the reader, you quickly feel you are in the hands of an intimate friend. Our current political crisis has led to a resurgence of ethnocentrism, xenophobia and white male dominance. A Life Rebuilt is a timely memoir that serves as a reminder of what happens when we allow these evils to prevail.
4 reviews
February 14, 2019
I was fortunate enough to hear Sylvia Gutmann speak this week and purchased her book. It is one of those books that you cannot get out of your head until you finish and have time to reflect. I think the strongest moments of her account are when she realizes that her speaking had the power to touch the empathetic core of young audiences.
1 review
August 9, 2018
Sylvia Gutmann tells the most harrowing of tales in the most human way. This memoir is as beautiful as it is raw, as inspiring as it is gut-wrenching. Who knew that the story of a holocaust survivor could be so very relevant today? It is. It is impossible to read her story at arm's length. The fact that Sylvia is alive to tell it and had the courage, will, determination and talent to write it in such a stunning way, just makes her an incredible and inspirational narrator. Not only does she survive, she ultimately thrives and is even able to honor her long lost parents in a beautiful and moving way. Sylvia Gutmann is an important voice. And she tells a riveting story. We could all take a page from her book when it comes to resilience, playing the cards we are dealt and moving forward in meaningful ways in our lives. Brava, Sylvia!
Profile Image for Lucy Meeker.
234 reviews84 followers
September 4, 2018
This memoir was very well-written, and I love reading the stories of those who lived through hardship and terror. Their stories need to be told. No matter how many of these stories I read, I am still in awe. It is unbelievable the situation they were in, the things they saw, and the challenges they faced. Very good read and highly recommend!
Profile Image for Karen.
608 reviews8 followers
November 13, 2021
Valuable memoir.

Every law and every new restriction that the ____ passed was meant to exclude the ____ from daily life and social structure, and, most of all, to threaten them. These laws shouted . . subhuman! vermin! Despicable -----

1935 and on in Germany
Profile Image for Hannah Martens.
45 reviews
May 17, 2022
An important reminder that the past is not nearly as far as we think it is and that trauma has effects that last long after infliction. This book calls the reader to reflect on history and use it to work towards a better future.
Displaying 1 - 11 of 11 reviews

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