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Ester and Ruzya: How My Grandmothers Survived Hitler's War and Stalin's Peace
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Ester and Ruzya: How My Grandmothers Survived Hitler's War and Stalin's Peace

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  516 ratings  ·  60 reviews
In the 1930s, as waves of war and persecution were crashing over Europe, two young Jewish women began separate journeys of survival. One, a Polish-born woman from Bialystok, where virtually the entire Jewish community would soon be sent to the ghetto and from there to Hitler’s concentration camps, was determined not only to live but to live with pride and defiance. The oth ...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published October 25th 2005 by Dial Press Trade Paperback (first published October 26th 2004)
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Average rating 4.10  · 
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 ·  516 ratings  ·  60 reviews

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Mar 22, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: ww2
3.5 Stars

A memoir of two Jewish women and what it ment to be a Jew under Hitler's rule and equally brutal Stalin's rule. Researched and written by their grand-daughter Masha Gessen the book is rich in history and family research. I tend to enjoy this blend of historical depth with personal experiences and Ester and Ruzya stories are full of character and life as they bring us through the terrible times of the twentieth century. Books like this are important and tend to give a valuable insight

This is an amazing book. It is definitely getting 5 strs. Who should read it? Those who are interested in life in the Soviet Union starting from the 1930s all the way up to 2002 and those interested in the persecution of Jews in Poland prior to and during WW2. You have to be interested in these two subjects. This book packs an emotional punch. It is about motherhood, friendship and survival. About humor and of course history. It is about how people are SO different. Sure we can sea
Dec 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating account of persecution by the Nazis and the Soviets told in a very engaging style. Masha has the wisdom to be non-judgemental of her ancestors and the difficult compromises they had to make in order to survive.
Shonna Froebel
Nov 17, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've started to go back to one of my earlier book lists and read books that I put on the list years ago. This is one of them. Finally tracked down a used copy.
Masha was born in Russia, but emigrated to the United States with her parents and younger brother when she was a young teen in 1981. She had fond memories of her grandmothers and went back to Russia as a young journalist to spend time with them. She became intrigued with their stories and managed to get a grant to write this book. She has
Dec 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A super good book. Amazing way to explain to American readers how people lived under Stalin
Derek Shouba
Sep 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: masha-gessen
I like Masha Gessen so well that she could interfere in Russian elections and I’d still acquit her. Her books are like Spike Lee films, often sloppy but always intelligently original. This book tells the often tragic story of Moscow, Poland, and what Snyder calls the Borderlands from the point of view of her grandparents. Lots of Russian and Polish anti-semitism uncovered by Gessen in this essentially oral history.
Jul 09, 2010 rated it liked it
I like that this granddaughter investigates and writes about the personal experience of her grandmothers during World War II and their experiences in Russia and Poland. I really like both the grandmothers' (Ester and Ruzya)stories. They are determined, intelligent and have a zest for living. I have read a good number of books that take place in Germany and the different perspective was interesting. The difference between Ester and Ruzya's stories were frequently difficult to follow. Unfortunatel ...more
Mar 01, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, world-war-2
I found a lot of food for thought in this book despite its mediocre writing. Stories of WW2 are endlessly fascinating to me; I am amazed at both the victim's strength & the victimizer's capacity for evil. Where those 2 roles overlap, the ethics get murky and dirty and real. ...more
What I know of the Soviet Union is confined to the lesson plans of my Higher history class. This book offered so much more than that, and the family love which flows between the lines stops it from ever being dry. Informative, with a heart of gold.
Just A. Bean
Mar 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history, wwii
It's pretty rare for me to chew through non-fiction this fast, but I couldn't put this one down.

The storyline follows the lives of the author's grandmothers, both Jewish one from Moscow, one from Poland, from their birth through to the present day, with a focus on how they survived WWII and Stalinist Russia. The book illuminates their careers, their loves, their children. It shows better than anything else I've read what living in Russia int eh '40s and '50s felt like, and at its heart it's abou
Jan 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I’ve always been fascinated by stories that revolves around or centered on Hitler, the Holocaust, and the European Theater of WWII. I’ve also been fascinated by memoirs of people who lived during that time. In Gessen’s book I found myself immersed in both loves.

This is a captivating work is both a labor of love and cautionary tale for the rest of the world. In using her grandmothers’ stories, Gessen offers a peak behind the Iron Curtain before such a term even existed. We learn of a religious id
David Vitt
Apr 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
I'd whetted my appetite for WWII-related literature by watching a documentary series on Netflix. My wife had purchased this book years ago, so I picked it up and gave it a try. First, Ms. Gessen is a very talented writer, and she shares a compelling story. I was probably looking for more on the historical side of things than the book intended to give. The book is really more biographical, as Gessen weaves together the narrative of her two grandmothers as they lived through WWII and the antisemit ...more
Oct 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have known many Soviet/Russian Jews and heard their stories. I visited the USSR three times between 1986 and 1990 as an official guest. Consequently, I learned the "Party line" first hand, and from my Soviet/Russian contacts there, in Israel, and the United States.

Masha Gessen's writings are worth seeking out and her interviews (on National Public Radio) always enlightening.

Of the many stories I have heard and books I have read, Ester and Ruzya stands out for so many reasons. How very differen
Feb 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a marvelous pair of personal stories in context of 'history book history'
Few thoughts ---
Tensions over jewish & national identity; i am not Jewish and at some level I cannot fully understand the pull of a jewish identity versus a national one. But I can imagine and see where two friends (and later family, the eponymous grandmothers) came at this from such different directions because of where and when they were from.

is surviving by doing a bad job (being a censor) good? as a child of sum
Sally Seymore
a heavy read, but one so worthwhile! Masha tells the story of her grandmothers' lives in a time when Hitler's war and Stalin's policies persecuted Jews terribly. First it was in Poland and then in Russia but they stuck it out, especially as it was not easy to go anywhere else. The two grandmothers later became best friends and eventually the one's son married the other's daughter and the author was born.

It is a book that gives insight into the haunted Jewish nation; especially the details of Ru
Sherry Leffert
Aug 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was hard going in its account of the suffering of the Jews under Hitler and Stalin. My mother was born in Poland but left before the war and she always talked about her town of Ticocyn. I was very saddened to learn that the Jews of the whole town were decimated by the Nazis. If she knew about about it, she never mentioned it. My mother also talked about Bialostok which was nearby and I enjoyed reading about the details of the town. The historical information in the book was very thorou ...more
Jan 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018-books-reas
A wonderful, intimate look at two Jewish young women (who become friends) and how they each navigated to survive and in some ways thrive through WWII and Stalin era. Mid way through when times were the most difficult, I wasn't sure I would get through it simply because it's hard to read about man's constant inhumanity to man. But it is important we never forget history and seeing it through the eyes of two bright, ambitious women of the time is an encouraging reminder of the strength of the huma ...more
Mar 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Ordinary lives in extraordinary times. Author writes about her grandmothers and how they managed to live through WWII and Stalinism in the former Soviet Union. The author also includes her life story with her grandmas and where they are now. It is an important look at how people live, how does one get an education, food, a home while a war rages all around. How does one exist in a totalitarian regime, the jobs that are available, the compromises that must be made. Powerful story.
Mar 08, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
After reading about 60% I unfortunately cannot read any more of this book (I rarely leave a book unfinished). I found the writing disorganized and hard to follow. I am happy that Ms Gessen has been able to piece together her family history but it presented as just that - pieces of her history. The book is not without merit, just did not hold my interest. I read a lot about this time in history, but prefer to read something else.
Sue Meyers
Jan 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a moving memoir about struggles, losses and compromises these 2 different and courageous Jewish grandmothers had to make over the course of the 1930s - 1950s primarily in the Soviet Union but also in occupied Poland. I learned a lot about WW2 from the Russian perspective, the fear and terror of living under autocratic Stalinism and the extent of anti-semitism in education and employment.
Aug 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-club
A well-written biography of two Jewish women who survived World War II in Eastern Europe, this is also a personal story of the two grandmothers of the author. The portrait of oppression in Soviet Russia is devastating. The insight into and the exposure of the Soviet totalitarian and anti-Jewish regime make it clear why the Soviet Jews were willing to risk life in the Gulag and death to escape the Soviet Union whenever there was the smallest loophole that allowed them to leave.
Paulo Santos
Aug 20, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I came to know Masha Gessen through her chronicles in the New Yorker, and then I read her great book about how totalitarianism reclaimed Russia. This is a very good book about Soviet history and how Jews were harshly persecuted under Stalin. It's also a tale of survival, of how one commits to what one disagrees with in order to survive. I liked it for being non-judgemental, including about the role of the men in the Judenraten during the Holocaust and the way both her grandmothers had to comply ...more
Jan 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So interesting

This book was good from the very beginning. It was fascinating to learn about life in Russia, but also heartbreaking.
If you enjoy books about oppression and the unbelievable courage of the oppressed - read this book.
John F
Jul 18, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sharp insights

Sharp isight into the politics of state oppression through the experience of two women who endured it under Nazi and Communist regimes. The personal insights are deep, nuanced, and moving. The two grandmothers depicted are profiles in courage and humanity.
Aug 15, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating telling of "ordinary lives" lived under extraordinary times. These are the lives my grandmother and her sister might have lived if our family had emigrated prior to WWI. ...more
Feb 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Wonderful example of family history set in the larger context.
Margaret Rosen
Feb 13, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: book-club
Ester and Ruzya lived through horrifying, fascinating, amazing times and they are intriguing women, but the writing style kept me at a distance rather than drawing me into their stories.
Feb 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book was a very emotional read. It's not for everyone. But it gave me a lot to think about & reflect on. ...more
Jennifer Townsend
Mar 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a wonderful history of the lives of 2 women as told by their granddaughter, a talented writer, journalist and one of today's most perceptive and knowledgable commentators on Putin's Russia. ...more
Jun 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Amazing story of two strong women
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Masha Gessen (born 1967) is an American-Russian journalist, translator, and nonfiction author. They identify as non-binary and use they/them pronouns.

Born into an Ashkenazi Jewish family in Russia, in 1981 they moved with their family to the United States to escape anti-Semitism. They returned in 1991 to Moscow, where they worked as a journalist, and covered Russian military activities during the

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