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2 inspiring journeys out of and beyond Holocaust

More than 60 years after the holocaust of some 6 million Jews in Europe, there are still some who deny it ever happened.

But for the survivors of the Nazi extermination order, the events of the time are indisputable.

As more survivors succumb to old age, their stories become a lasting record of not only the atrocities but the power of the human spirit to overcome even the worst of situations.

Told from different points of view, "Gertruda's Oath" and "Saving What Remains" are two such stories.

"GERTRUDA'S OATH: A Child, a Promise, and a Heroic Escape During World War II," by Ram Oren, Doubleday, 320 pages, $24.95 (nf)

When Gertruda Bablinski takes a position as nanny with one of the wealthiest Jewish families in Poland, she has no idea the future ramifications of her decision.

As a Catholic, Gertruda struggles with the thought of working for a Jews, but before long, she has become part of the family.

Michael Stolwisitzky is just 3 years old when the Nazi occupation of Poland forces his family to leave their palatial home. Michael's parents become separated and his mother becomes ill.

Through it all, however, his nanny, Gertruda, is by his side. When Michael's mother has a stroke, she makes Gertruda promise to protect her child, raise him as her own and eventually take him to Palestine where he can be raised according to Jewish traditions.

Gertruda manages to keep her promise but not without some unexpected help along the way. Among those who help her is SS officer Karl Rink, who, after the murder of his own Jewish wife, makes it his mission to save Jews during the war.

Translated from the original Hebrew, "Gertruda's Oath" is just one of thousands of survival accounts, each with its own unique series of events. What stands out here, though, is Gertruda's unwavering devotion to Michael and the bond that was never broken.

Because of the subject matter, "Gertruda's Oath" could be dark and depressing, but it's not. There's a brightness, a quality of hope, that is present throughout, leaving the reader encouraged rather than downtrodden.

"SAVING WHAT REMAINS: A Holocaust Survivor's Journey Home to Reclaim Her Ancestry," by Livia Bitton-Jackson, The Lyons Press, 208 pages, $21.95 (nf)

At the age of 13, Livia Bitton-Jackson and her family were forcibly removed from their home in Czechoslovakia and, along with 516 other Jews from her little town, were herded to the train station and locked into cattle cars destined for Auschwitz.

Livia, her mother and brother survived, eventually immigrating to America and Israel.

Decades after leaving Europe behind, the family learns that a dam project on the Danube River will soon flood the Jewish cemetery where Livia's grandparents are buried.

Desperate to save the last remaining evidence of her family's existence in Europe, Livia's mother asks her daughter to return to Czechoslovakia, exhume the family remains and bring them to Israel for reburial.

At great risk to herself, Livia and her husband, Len, enter the communist country. During the journey, Livia is forced to relive horrifying memories. But there is joy in the process, too, as Livia reunites with childhood friends and makes new ones along the way.

"Saving What Remains" is an easily accessible look at one family's effort to preserve its history. Often, we read of the horrifying events of the Holocaust, but what happened after is forgotten. The stark realities of before and after are realized here, giving readers a complete picture of just one family's experiences.

e-mail: jharrison@desnews.com