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We Must Not Think of Ourselves
by Lauren Grodstein

Published: 2023-08-08T00:0
Hardcover : 272 pages
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A vibrant and intimate novel of love and Jewish defiance set inside the Warsaw Ghetto, inspired by the actual archives people kept at the time so their stories would survive World War II.

Adam Paskow is a school teacher forced to share a cramped one-bedroom apartment in the Ghetto with ...

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Introduction

A vibrant and intimate novel of love and Jewish defiance set inside the Warsaw Ghetto, inspired by the actual archives people kept at the time so their stories would survive World War II.

Adam Paskow is a school teacher forced to share a cramped one-bedroom apartment in the Ghetto with two other families. He has been continuing to teach children in the Ghetto, diving into language and poetry to help them endure their unbearable situation, when he is recruited to take testimonies from his students and others. Adam pieces together what is helping them survive in a place where young boys set up their own black market, where young girls try to pass as Aryan, and each day brings new realizations about what will happen to them all.

His interviews with flatmate Sala Wiskoff turn into sweet conversations, and over the months of confinement, Adam falls in love with Sala, who is stoic, determined, funny?and married. They carve out intimacy in their shared moments, even with her husband just a few feet away, their relationship feeling both impossible and vital, their connection keeping them alive. So, when Adam manages to procure just a few kennkartes to escape the Ghetto, he tries to figure out whether he can save himself, the woman he loves, and those she loves most: her children.

Inspired by the testimony-gathering project known as Oneg Shabbat, New York Times bestselling author Lauren Grodstein draws readers into this world, into the lives of people living on the edge, with vivid detail and heart-rending emotion. Beautifully written and utterly engaging, We Must Not Think of Ourselves is a piercing story of love and determination. 

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Discussion Questions

From the publisher:

1. Why did Emanuel Ringelblum create the Oneg Shabbat project? How did the project’s goals change as the novel progressed?
2. Why do you think more people didn’t try to escape from the ghetto?
3. Everything in the ghetto is a trade. What are some of the various economic systems that keep the Jews alive?
4. In what ways are the children at the heart of ghetto life?
5. What is Szifra’s attitude toward her brothers? Why doesn’t she abandon them?
6. Although Adam never had children of his own, he takes on various paternal roles throughout the novel. What kind of father figure is he to Szifra? To her brothers? To Sala’s boys? What is he attempting to teach them through poetry?
7. What kind of man do you think Nowak, the guard who helped Adam, really is?
8. Midway through the novel, Adam encounters a fellow Oneg Shabbat archivist who tells him the ghetto has exposed the rot of Warsaw’s Jewish citizens. What do you make of his speech, and of Adam’s reaction to it?
9. If Kasia were alive, do you think she would have accompanied Adam to the ghetto? Would they have been able to escape before the war?
10. What role does Yiddish play in We Must Not Think of Ourselves? What does it symbolize? What is its power?
11. How did you feel about Henryk Duda, Kasia’s father? Did he love Adam, or did he just want to use him for his own ends?
12. Is Sala and Adam’s affair—in the same apartment as her husband and children—immoral, or do you think morality can take different shapes in certain circumstances?
13. What do you make of Adam switching out the photos in the kennkartes? Were you disturbed by his choice to do so, or do you think you might have done the same?
14. Do you think Sala’s husband knew what was going on between her and Adam?
15. Have you ever been in a situation where every one of your options is a compromise, that there is no way to do right by everyone? How did that make you feel? Nearly every character in the novel finds themselves in this situation. In what ways did this story broaden your understanding of life during the Holocaust?

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by Jessica J. (see profile) 01/31/24

Didn’t like the audible, but storyline was okay.

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